New York, #7 Train, Bullet Proof Vests and Chicago

The flight was due to depart at 1050. Accordingly, I arrived at hartsfield at 1015am with E-ticket itinerary in hand and headed to the E-Service center to check in. Unfortunately, all 6 machines were "out of order" and the agent told me to head straight to the gate and use one of the machines there.

I arrived at D16 around 1030am and tried to check in at the machines there, but got a message of "Flight Oversold - Please See Agent". So I walked over to the gate and stood in line with 6 other people in front of me. Sure enough, I was one of the poor souls selected for the involuntary bump. NW yield management really screwed up badly on this flight, because in addition to 13 volunteers they wound up denying 7 of us who wanted to fly - a total of 20 pax on an aircraft that carries just over 100.

A quick look at the day's loads had the agent offering me either a trip to DTW at 8pm with no connection to LGA till the next morning (NW would provide Hotel at DTW), or the 620am flight to DTW connecting to LGA a little later in the day. Neither of these were acceptable to me since I had to be at Shea stadium before 7pm on Friday evening to drop off tickets at will-call for various clients. A search through MEM and MSP connections revealed nothing available either. I asked the agent to interline me to another carrier but she said that she could not do that.

Rather than argue the vagaries of Rule 120.20 with her, I asked for Shirley (the supervisor who had saved my bacon a few times before) and she turned up shortly with many apologies and immediately printed up $500 compensation vouchers for each of us. We then turned our attention to rebooking us on other carriers. All but two of us were headed to DTW, so those people were immediately interlined to a DL flight leaving in a couple hours. The guy going to BDL was interlined to a US flight through CLT. That left me. CO had an ERJ leaving for CLE with an LGA connection and Shirley printed out my coupons, endorsed them over to CO and off I went to their gate.

I activated my standby listing and watched with a sinking heart as CO too asked for volunteers. They wound up taking 5 of them for the ERJ, which sent me back to Shirley looking for more alternatives. US was showing 2 seats on an ATL-DCA flight with a shuttle connection to LGA arriving at 6pm. I hurried over to US to check-in, calling some friends along the way to see if they wanted to meet up at DCA. Just as I get in touch with one of them, I see the flight status change to "Cancelled". Aagh. I was ready to cry. I picked up my cellphone and began calling airlines to find even the most obscure routings. The best I came up with was ATL-DFW-CVG-LGA on AA/DL but that too got me into LGA too late. Checked options for JFK, EWR, HPN, ISP and SWF too but nothing convenient would get me there in time.

I went back to Shirley and got her to endorse my coupons over to DL now, and headed out to the DL concourses to take my chances as a standby on their plethora of overbooked flights to the NYC area. First stop B18 where JFK was boarding. Watched pathetically as the flight left without me. Next stop T3 for LGA where I once again sat and waited as another standby list cleared sans moi.

I was wandering down to T2 where the next EWR was due out when I suddenly heard an announcement "LaGuardia passenger Gardner please report to T1 immediately". My heart leaped. Turns out the flight was from earlier in the day and had been delayed due to maintenance problems. I rushed to T1 and asked them if I could have Gardner's seat if he didn't show up. The agent went "Ok, we are closing the doors right now - give me your ticket". YES! There is a God!

The agent tore up Gardner's boarding pass, issued the seat to me and I scrambled aboard into seat 24C pausing only to gate-check my carry-on bag. The flight itself sucked pretty badly. One bite of DL's "Bistro Snack Service" reminded me why I try to avoid them with a passion. Nonetheless, we touched down on runway 13 at LGA around 235pm and then taxied for what seemed like eternity. My bag took a while to come out as well, but I finally made it to my room at the Wyndham Garden Hotel just after 330pm. I grabbed some food from a local lunch truck and got back to the room only to find a message from my friend who was driving up from DC that he was stuck in traffic and would meet me directly at the stadium.

Around 5pm I commenced my ritual for the game. Ballistic vest and Rocker jersey were donned, straps tightened and trauma plate inserted. Left the room just before 6pm and had the doorman get me a cab. I received my first "You are a brave man" from the doorman, a sentiment oft repeated through the evening.

Traffic was hell and we arrived at the stadium just after 630pm. I began to walk across the parking lot amid shouts of "Go home you redneck *expletive*" and "*expletive* you Rocker!". There were NYPD officers everywhere and a mounted patrol sergeant came over and trotted about 30 feet behind me as I walked through the parking lot. I had to speak to someone at the Mets ticket office and arrange for tickets to be placed at will-call, and once I emerged from their office I had an officer walk up behind me and tail me for the rest of the evening. When I went to the concessions, he went. When I went to the restroom, he went. Quite funny actually!

My friend turned up in the 2nd inning and we spent the next couple hours chatting with the Mets fans around us. They had their share of cracks about the Rocker jersey, but at NO POINT did I ever feel even mildly threatened by them. These were BASEBALL fans, and they respected John Rocker for his talent just as much as they despised him for his words. What a great place to watch baseball!

The game itself was great for the first 7 innings, but then the Braves proceeded to self-destruct and gave up a MAJOR LEAGUE RECORD TYING 10 runs to the Mets with 2 outs in the 8th inning, finally losing 11-8. Needless to say, I received my fair share of taunts after this but it was all in good fun. There was a fireworks display scheduled for after the game, so we decided to head out to the train station and watch the show from there.

The fireworks show was impressive and we headed to the platform at Willets/Shea station, still being tailed by my personal NYPD officer. I got on the train and suddenly the friendly Shea stadium fans weren't so friendly after all. I took the precaution of telling my friend to sit away from me on the other side of the carriage, just in case something happened.

The first few stations were fine, but around 82nd/Jackson Heights the ridership began to change from game-goers to locals and the attitudes too changed from good-natured taunts to more serious threats. I had a few folks get in my face with a bunch of abuse, but the NYPD officer standing impassively by the doorway deterred them from doing anything beyond that. One somewhat inebriated guy tried to shove me at one occasion but came up against the vest and his eyes opened wide as he backed away apologetically whispering to his buddy that "the dude's a f***ng undercover cop".

The train slowly emptied as we rattled on towards Manhattan, until we reached 42nd/Grand Central and pretty much everyone exited, including the NYPD officer who had been *guarding* me for the last 4 hrs. It was just me and my friend left in our compartment, with a smattering of folks in the other bogies. I glanced over and saw a guy sitting in the next compartment who looked kinda familiar, which set off warning bells in my head. As the train pulled into 42nd/Fifth Avenue, I abruptly jumped up and stepped onto the platform, to be mirrored exactly by the guy next door. Just as the doors were about to close, I stepped back in and he followed once again into the next compartment. Thankfully, a few other people also boarded in each compartment. I walked up to the door seperating the two compartments to get a closer look at the guy. He walked to his door and we were face-to-face across the compartments with just these two doors seperating us. The tension was electric as he pulled up his Mets shirt to reveal what appeared to be a .22 caliber revolver tucked into his waistband.

I was not sure whether to panic or be relieved at this point. Panic for rather obvious reasons, but relief because I was confident that my vest could stop a .22. Weird thought, eh? Anyway, I quickly activated what had become my backup plan just in case something like this happened. My friend was carrying a backpack with him that was almost totally empty. I signalled to him to follow me and we exited at 42nd/Times Square and headed seperately towards the Port Authority Bus Terminal exit with the majority of the crowd. I was trying to shake the guy, but he was pretty slick and managed to stick with me through the crowd. Anyway, I headed down the stairs towards the Greyhound area (which is always PACKED around midnight) and entered into the men's room, followed by my friend with the backpack about 10 seconds later. We waited by the sinks for about 30 seconds to make sure he didn't tail us in and then went into adjacent stalls at the end of the aisle. He then slipped the backpack under the divider to me. I proceeded to shed the Rocker jersey and the vest and dump them into the bag. I was wearing a plain white T-shirt under the vest and I pulled out a cap from the backpack and brought it down low over my forehead. I then exited the restroom with the backpack and walked right past the gunman who was camped outside without him even giving me a second glance. My friend followed a few seconds later and also got past the guy safely.

It was just past midnight at this point and Times Square was rocking. We were approached by a bejewelled pimp who offered us "hot Indian girl" for $200. We declined, at which point he asked if we "prefer Indian boy? I have that also". Once again we declined and headed off to get something more conventional to eat.

No visit to New York is complete without a trip to Tad's Steak House and this was no exception. Even at midnight, the succulent T-Bone with baked potato, garlic bread, onions and salad for $8.59 is one of the best deals you can find! We enjoyed our meal and then wandered around the square for a while before heading back to the subway station around 130am. We alighted at 82nd/Jackson Heights and caught a cab to the hotel where we proceeded to watch a replay of the Braves' self destruction on Sportscenter before turning in for the evening.

Woke up around 845am for the 1115am departure. We got ready quickly and headed out on the 10am hotel shuttle to LGA. Tried to check-in at the E-Service center, but it would only allow me to do the first sector. Headed out through security and was pleasantly surprised that the pin in my jaw didn't set the machine off. Grabbed a quick breakfast at the cafeteria and then my friend headed back out to DC while I headed off to gate 7 where the DC9 was just beginning to pre-board.

I had selected seat 5A at the E-Service Center which is the first row of coach allowing me extra legroom, but the disadvantage of being in the last group to board. Anyway, I was horrified to find a lady with FOUR carry-on bags trying to preboard. She spent a while arguing with the agent that she should be allowed to preboard so that she could find space for all 4 bags. I glanced at her boarding card and to my utter horror it said 5B. This was gonna be a long flight.

Nevertheless, she sneaked on board when they called rows 15 and higher and the boarding process was immediately slowed as she attempted to stow her 4 bags in various places. The flight was pretty open, so the crew chose not to enforce the one carry-on rule, which was probably a good thing since this gal could talk the hind leg off a donkey if you gave her half a chance.

I trundled on board at the tail end of the process as usual and assumed my seat next to Ms.Carry-On. We proceeded to push back and began the lengthy process of waiting in line for takeoff. I tried to doze off, but she kept trying to engage me in conversation. We were discussing the delay when I mentioned that the East Coast had a lot of trouble due to ATC.

She then remarked that ATC was a huge problem everywhere, especially because of language problems. She told me a story about "a Boeing 747 flying from China to Washington National that crashed and killed 400 people because the pilots didn't speak English". I figured that discretion was the better part of valor here and mumbled "Oh really, I don't seem to remember that one".

Thankfully, she was able to stike up a conversation with the guy behind her and I was able to grab a little shuteye once we finally took off. Service was typically efficient, although Ms.Carry-On spent a while arguing with the F/A over whether they used bottle water to make the coffee. We arrived at E12 in DTW around 45 mins late, but still ample time for my connection.

I headed out to gate D11 where the incoming aircraft for flight 489 was just arriving. So I wandered back to the food court and grabbed me a roast beef and swiss sandwich from the City Deli. Returned to D11 around 230pm for a 305pm departure and tried to get a boarding card. I was told to take a seat and wait since there were no seats available at present. Announcements were being made for volunteers, but only 2 people offered. Finally, with 10 minutes left before departure, they cut the seats loose and printed boarding cards for the lucky few of us. Mine was just about to be handed to me when up comes a panting NW agent with 2 unaccompanied minors in tow. Sure enough, once again I am the lamb selected as the sacrifice on the altar of involuntary denied boarding. The kids are escorted on board and I am left to once again collect the $500 voucher and get myself rebooked.

The NW staff at DTW were absolutely great about the situation though. Curlee, Deborah and their supervisor John had our vouchers out and ready within minutes of the aircraft departing and also furnished us with two options - coach on a DL non-stop or first class on NW through MSP. Most people took the DL option, but I figured that since I was late enough already I would go with the MSP connection. Deborah also plied me with about $40 in meal vouchers valid for 7 days (instead of the usual 24 hrs) saying "you can eat well on us this week". The entire transaction was quick and painless and I traipsed off to gate C5 for my flight to MSP after visiting the Starbucks and spending my first voucher on a Venti Frappucino Mocha.

Boarding on the 757 commenced around 430pm for a 450pm departure. We were delayed a little during pushback because of another aircraft pushing from an adjacent gate who was blocking us. Nonetheless, we were quickly airborne for the short hop over to MSP. I was seated in 3D and had a great view of Lake Michigan as we passed overhead with barely a cloud in the sky.

The service was exceptional and we were addressed by name. Immediately after take-off the F/A came around for our drink order (I picked a Vodka Orange) and later with the snack. The food was exceptional, a turkey club on croissant. The bread was soft and still warm and the sliced turkey was miles better than the congealed lump of mystery meat you get in coach.

We touched down at MSP around 6pm local time and taxied to gate 78 on the Green Concourse. My connection was at 630pm from Gate 17 on the Gold Concourse, a veritable 20 minute walk away.

I arrived at Gate 17 somewhat out of breath only to find that the flight was going to be delayed due to the incoming aircraft being delayed out of Fairbanks. Nonetheless, we boarded around 7pm and I took my seat 1B next to a NW captain who had just brought a DC-10 in from SEA.

We got to talking during the flight and wound up discussing the merits of the Airbus avionics system versus that employed by the US manufacturers. It was highly interesting stuff. We also discussed whether NW would go with the A330/A340 over the 777 as a replacement for the 747-200s. His verdict was that the Airbus was "highly unlikely" and that the Boeing order would be announced as soon as the Farnborough airshow later this month.

Once again, the service was exceptional and we were addressed by name. I ordered a Vodka-Orange right after take-off and also a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon with the meal. Dinner was one of the best I have eaten aboard a US Domestic Carrier. The salad was fresh and the lettuce was still crispy. The entree consisted of steak in a wine sauce with mashed potatoes and sauteed vidalia onions. Finally, they finished it off with a slice of fresh Strawberry cheesecake. Since First Class was so empty, I found it a nice touch that they brought each passenger their food individually and course-by-course, rather than saddling us with a tray from the cart.

We touched down in Atlanta around 15 mins late, and I immediately grabbed a cab home as I had to be back at the airport in a few hours for my Chicago trip.

I was supposed to be flying ATL-CLE-ORD on Continental, so I went online once I got home to check if my flights were running on time. Unfortunately, the webpage showed that my CLE-ORD flight had been cancelled. So I called CO and after much load checking, they rebooked me ATL-EWR-DTW-ORD. The nightmare weekend of travel was continuing.

I got to the airport around 1015am for my 11am flight and breezed through the check-in lines only to find that CO could not issue me a boarding card for the DTW-ORD sector since their code-share pre-seating allocation quota was maxed out for that flight. I would have to get with NW directly at DTW to get a seat.

I boarded the 737 and quickly assumed my seat 20C. The flight was totally full, and I was glad to have landed an aisle seat with such a late rebooking. The service on the flight was poor - the F/A was somewhat rude to passengers who requested the full can of soda ("If we gave everyone in front a full can of soda there wouldn't be any left for the back") and the food was atrocious. I have had my share of bad turkey sandwiches over time, but the lettuce in this one was soggy and awful. One passenger asked the F/A for peanuts/pretzels/snack mix in lieu of the sandwich and was told that "this is a snack service flight - you get the sandwich or nothing". Fortunately, I was able to sleep through the flight and we landed in EWR with no major incident.

I had to transfer from Terminal A to Terminal B for this flight so I grabbed the monorail and headed out. I had a great view of the International ramp which included a Singapore Airlines 744, the SAS 763 in STAR alliance colorscheme and a BA 777 among others.

Arrived at Gate 41B just as pre-boarding was commencing on the DC9 to DTW. I was highly annoyed that they allowed a tour group of around 40 teenagers to pre-board since one of their chaperones was a Silver Elite. By the time I got on board, the overhead bins were saturated with stuff like pillows and stuffed toys which meant that I had to stow my bag under the empty seat next to me even though the flight was less than half full.

Fortunately, I had managed to get an exit row for this sector so legroom was not a problem. I tried to doze off, but excited teenage girls chattering loudly and giggling over the young male flight attendant made this kinda hard so I sat back and read through Sports Illustrated for the short flight. We touched down at DTW almost 20 minutes early, but had to taxi for 25 minutes all the way around the new Midfield terminal construction site to get to our gate, so our actual arrival at E7 was around 5 minutes behind schedule.

My connection was right across the hall at E4 so I walked over and got myself an Exit Row seat for the DTW-ORD sector pretty easily. The flight appeared to be totally open, which surprised me since CO had told me that they couldn't issue me a seat as it was full. I queried the agent about this and he told me that CO had inadvertently booked me on flight 173 two hours later, but he corrected the record. I thanked him and took a seat in the waiting area.

Around 445pm, the pilot came out and told us that we were going to have a ground hold before we could take off for O'Hare, but he wanted to board the aircraft and hold short for an active runway so we could get underway as soon as it lifted. Everyone seemed agreeable so we pushed back on time with no more than 40 of us on board the A320.

I was seated in 11D and had an Asian gentleman (who turned out to be a Professor of linguistics at the University of Chicago) across the aisle from me in 11C. Ahead of us, in the other exit row 10C was a Caucasian woman. The flight attendant walked up the aisle to us and pointedly asked me and the Asian man in 11C if we spoke English, as it was a requirement for sitting in the exit row. I replied impassively in the affirmative, but the man in 11C took offense to the question especially since the lady in 10C was not asked. To pacify him, the F/A asked her too and was mortified when it turned out that the lady was from Eastern Europe and DIDN'T ACTUALLY SPEAK ENGLISH! She was accordingly reseated and the now red-faced F/A offered both of us profuse apologies. It just goes to show how deceptive appearances can be sometimes!

We taxied to the runway threshold and held there for over an hour until we finally got a clearance into ORD. Flying time was a brisk 47 minutes and we touched down at ORD at 623pm right behind an AI 744 that was coming in from LHR.

The Executive Plaza Hotel is located smack on the river in downtown Chicago, right across from the Sun-Times building. The room was excellent as usual with a bedroom with 2 queen beds, a living area with a foldout couch and a small dining room/work area with a table and a few chairs.

My mom wanted some rather obscure prints, so our first stop for the day was the store at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was a beautiful day, so we decided to walk the mile or so down Michigan Avenue from the hotel rather than take a cab. Spent around an hour there scouring portfolios for the right prints.

The next stop was the Field Museum, to see Sue the dinosaur. The entry lines at the Field were pretty long, and we stood about for almost 20 minutes before we got in. However, it was well worth the wait. The restored skeleton of Sue was remarkably breathtaking. The sheer size of the T-Rex surprised me, but I was even more impressed by the excellent condition that the skeleton had been restored to. The rest of the museum was also impressive and we spent around 3 hours wandering around the various exhibits. Notable "must-see" sections were the Egyptian mummies, the Africa resource center and of course, Sue.

After the museum, we headed back along Michigan towards the Buckingham Fountain and the "Taste of Chicago" festival. For those not familiar with this, it is a huge open-air festival that takes place in Grant Park every year around the July 4 weekend. There are amusement park rides, promotional tents (Pepsi Taste Challenge, etc...), but most notably there was every conceivable kind of food available. We wandered the aisles for a while and gorged on an assortment of exotic cuisines ranging from "Sauteed Goat Meat with Plantains" to the more conventional "Ice Cream with fresh Strawberries"

Took a cab back to the hotel after that, where I proceeded to call NW to check my flights for the next day. To cap of a perfect weekend, my DTW-ATL flight had been cancelled. I then spent another hour or so trying to find flights that had availability on them. Finally, we found a routing MDW-CLE-IAH-ATL on CO that had available seats and I got myself booked on that just as it was turning dark. The room provided a decent view of the fireworks display so we watched the explosions and then grabbed a late-ish dinner at a local eatery.

Mid-morning, I called CO to double check my flights and was informed that the IAH-ATL flight had now been cancelled too. By now, I was so used to this that I actually laughed at the irony of the situation. The telephone agent was "glad that you are taking it so well - most people freak out and start yelling at me". We spent another while looking for connections and finally concluded that I would have to leave earlier in the day than I had intended. CO/NW had availability between them for a 230pm ORD-CLE-DTW-MEM-ATL and NW was oversold (but still selling) for a 4pm ORD-DTW-MEM-ATL. I decided to take my chances with NW and went for the 4pm without a confirmed seat assignment.

We had a light lunch in the Hotel's restaurant (excellent Linguine Marinara with Sauteed Shrimp on the side) and then headed up to the room where we finished packing. The doorman told us that he could arrange a stretch limo to the airport for only $35, which was about the same as the cab fare so we decided to take him up on his offer. Sure enough, he came through and we rode all the way into ORD in luxury.

While checking in with NW at ORD, once again my name came up in the system with a SECURITY flag on it, meaning that I was escorted to a side room and made to open up my carry-on luggage, etc.. before they would allow me to collect my boarding pass. My check luggage was also sent through for an X-Ray and explosive residue inspection before I got my boarding pass. I asked the agent why I kept coming up with a Security flag and he replied that officially it was a random selection, but unofficially they used it to target people with "abnormal travel patterns". Looks like my mileage run last month triggered something in the WorldPerks system.

Apart from that, check-in was painless and I headed over to E15 for my flight. The 727-200 was packed to the gills, and I was glad that I was able to snag an exit row aisle seat. Once again, a quick and efficient flight to DTW and we taxied in to gate E6 around 15 minutes early. Back to Detroit airport, my *home away from home* for this weekend!

I was originally supposed to be on flight 283 leaving at 645pm, but I saw a large teenage tour group camped out at the gate and did an immediate about-face and headed back to E concourse where I switched myself over to the 710pm flight. This flight was also full, and although I did manage an aisle seat, the exit rows were unavailable. Ah well, you can't have it all. My seat was 23D which is four rows from the rear and the noise difference compared to the forward seats was quite considerable.

There was a snack served on this short flight, consisting of a miserable excuse for a turkey sandwich and a cookie. I took one bite of the sandwich, put it back on its platter and spent the remainder of the flight dreaming about the Chopped Pork Sandwich at the "Interstate BBQ" on concourse B in Memphis! We arrived on time and I almost sprinted over to B17 where my flight was leaving from, conveniently located right across from the BBQ place mentioned above!

The line for BBQ take out was around 15 people deep, but that did not deter me. The smell of succulent pork dripping with gooey, tangy barbecue sauce wafted over to the gate area and the gathered minions there stared back with yearning and almost envious looks at the intrepid souls who had braved the long lines to satisfy their cravings. I finally reached the front of the line just as the flight was commencing boarding, but I still took my time to savor the delicate sandwich (well, about as delicate as BBQ can get!) before wafting on board with the stragglers.

I was in an exit row seat 11B for this sector, and the F/A named Teddy (who reminded me a lot of Lenny Henry) managed to keep us entertained for the entire flight with his antics. For starters, he explained the exit row responsibilities to us and then promised a free buddy pass ticket to the person who opened their exit first in the event of an emergency evacuation! It was quite a sight to watch 10 people reach for their safety instruction card in unison!

During the safety demo, he proceeded to do a bit of magic with the oxygen mask. He showed us his empty hand as he reached up, but an Oxygen mask dropped out of his sleeve as he brushed the overhead unit. At the end of the safety demo he announced that in the event of a water evacuation, he would be teaching swim lessons at the rear of the aircraft on a first-come first-serve basis. Most of the cabin was in splits by now, but he sure as hell got the point across!

Service was excellent for a short flight and Teddy kept us entertained with gags like the plastic *spilled soda can* and the $20-bill-on-a-string dropped by a passengers foot! We were lucky to take off from Memphis right at 9pm, so we got a great view of fireworks during takeoff. On approach into Atlanta, the Braves game had just concluded so we got another whole display there. It was kinda strange to watch a fireworks show from above (especially from an aisle seat!), but it was pretty spectacular nonetheless.

At luggage claim, my bags failed to show up which annoyed me and I set off to file yet another claim with NW. I arrived at the office and started giving my info when the lady suddenly smiled and told me that my bags had made it in on an earlier flight (a sold-out ORD-MEM-ATL) and were waiting for me in the storage room next door. I was very relieved. I collected the bag, hopped on the MARTA train and was home just after midnight. What a hectic weekend! Home       Trip Reports Index       Whine And Cheez Index       Discussion Forums

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