Even though I don’t live there anymore, Silicon Valley still finds new and entirely creative ways to really piss me off. Further reminder that we just should not put our faith in technology. Ever.
Here’s the foreshadowing:
“Delays due to rain” has all new meaning in San Francisco, where the founding fathers wisely chose to build their aerodrome in the fog belt that divides San Francisco from The Valley. Inexplicably, a light-to-medium drizzle typically closes one or two runways, causing planes to divert to San Jose or just orbit perpetually.
The entirety of San Jose airport is gated by one four-way intersection with a stoplight, which conveniently also gates downtown San Jose and North First Street, where all the big companies like Cisco, SONY, Phillips, et al are located. This is wise civic planning at its paramount. Compound this with the fact that the intersection marks the beginning of a highway (87) and is 1/2 mile off of the 101, and you see what I’m driving at here. Oh — and it’s under construction!
Try going anywhere in Silicon Valley and not taking the 101 at some point on your journey. Next, try driving on the 101 at the peak of rush hour, in any direction. You will grow old. You will weep. You will come within a hair’s breadth of getting out of your car and leaving it there, REM-style.
And now our story:
At 4:30PM on Friday, your hero-protagonist departed his offices in Palo Alto, graciously given a ride by a co-worker, for SFO to catch his usual 5:42pm Alaska flight to Vancouver.
Arriving in fine style at the airport 30 minutes prior to departure, I cruised my way straight to the gate, illegally-sized carry-on luggage in hand, and presented myself to the gate agent. Curiously my flight # was not, as it usually is, displayed above the gate desk.
When I said who I was and where I was going, she seemed immediately concerned. She quickly fired off a boarding pass and sent me dashing, OJ-style to the front check-in counter, where some mysterious shepherd would lead me to a shuttle to take me to San Jose. You see, due to “rain” all Alaska Airlines flights had been diverted to San Jose. My plane would depart from there at 7PM.
So off I go into the van. I knew it was going to be dodgy. It was 6PM when your humble protagonist left the terminal, squished into a van with 10 irritated travellers as we crawled our way down the 101 to San Jose. Now.. if the planets align with Orion descending on a fogless, windless, sunny summer day where everyone inexplicably rides their bikes to work, it takes about 1/2 hour to get from SFO to SJC on the 101. It’s really only about 15 miles as the crow (or, as in this case, Alaska Airlines flight #685) flies.
I was supposed to go to dinner with a friend that night. I kept trying to dial her number – denied. Cellular service sucks in the Bay Area. Especially on the 101, at night, in rush hour, behind a fleet of BMWs.
Ironically, everyone in the world called my mobile phone (or tried) during that time, further sandpapering the nerves of my cabin mates, the proximity of my immediate neighbor’s ears and stinky breath making conversation especially uncomfortable. I became unnervingly claustrophobic and began to breathe more rapidly. I had to get out. I was trapped. Deep breathing kept me from turning into Lou Ferigno, tearing my clothes, and carrying the van on my back into the parking lot of the airport. The parking lot, placed cruelly beside the highway and walled by a chain link fence, torturously portrayed happy parkers gliding onto airport buses and heading off to the terminal.
At 7PM we were two miles from the airport on the 101 in bumper-to-bumper traffic. At 7:10PM we were another mile down the road, on the offramp. I had to do it. It was here that I took decisive and affirmative action. I began to incite an uprising that gathered steam slowly as my dazed fellow passengers, woken from their mental slumber, began to realize that the plane might leave without them. I had the driver put the thing in park (conveniently, it already was) and we began to hop out.
I booked for the terminal, watching for the telltale Alaska Airlines logo on a moving aircraft tail, and ran the 1/2 mile, dragging my now shredding but just-barely-legally-sized carry on luggage behind me. In a moment of true clarity I guessed where the plane would be leaving from and was correct — I dashed to the gate, ran up to the agent, dripping with sweat (me, not the agent) and announced my presence — “Is it too late?”.
Deflated, I shrunk to the nearest chair, to the amusement of the other waiting passengers (who had done the same only moments before). Then I joined them in giggling as the yet more fledgling passengers approached and croaked their attendance in desperation — some of which were my former van-mates, whom I had far outpaced.
Then I did what any mild-mannered business traveller would do in such a situation. I called Mom. Well, I tried to call Mom. Then I tried again. In fact, signal quality was so bad and the cellular network was so busy that I kept either getting disconnected before the call setup could complete or I would just plain get denied by fast-busy tones (AKA the dreaded “switch is busy” tone). I actually said “FUCK!” to my Mother (sorry Mom!) when I finally reached her and vented the tale of my desperate struggle.
Finally, after another 45 minutes, (time check: 8PM) the flight attendants arrived to a loud cheer! and we started to board the plane. At this point I was looking forward to airline food. I wanted it — dare I say, I coveted it. Nothing could have tasted so good to me right then as some overboiled chicken and a few shriveled green peppers over saffron rice with a needlessly crusty bun.
One last attempt to call my friend to tell her I wasn’t going to make dinner in 1/2 hour. Denied. Switch busy. I turned off the #&@%ing phone. The $600/min. AT&T seatback phones weren’t working then, either. ARGH.
Ok. Sit Tight. Here we go.
We waited on the TarMac still longer, supposedly for more passengers being transferred by conveyor belt from SFO. They never arrived.
The inflight reading materials were poorly-edited and the articles were trite. No, I don’t want to read your pithy droning about Sport Fishing near Port Hardy. Give me some hard-hitting journalism, you poofter!
I played a futile series of solitaire hands on my Thinkpad (my Thinkpad, of course, always takes 10 minutes processing some inexplicable task on start up whenever I reeeeally need it). I did email. I edited a couple of documents. I ran out of battery juice.
I tried to pedal reaaaally hard. The plane wouldn’t budge. Another hour passed. At 9:15 they pulled up the chocks and the pilot announced that we weren’t going to wait any longer. Then we started taxiing. We taxied out to the runway. Now THIS was progress. My delayed gratification would finally bloom in all of its glory! YES!
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be waiting here for 15-20 minutes while San Jose Airport clears up some backlogged traffic. Thank you for flying Alaska!” The engines powered down.
Oh, jesus. I turned to “SkyMall” magazine. The faux-brass towel warmer looked interesting. I couldn’t escape.
At 9:45 we finally took off. 4 hours late.
My stomach actually in pain from the hunger, I could now focus on the impending airline food. I lingered more on the pasty mashed potatoes and the greasy salads that would soon arrive. As the food cart approached me with merciless sloth, I attempted to satiate my desire with a quick whiff. Nothing. When I finally was greeted with the cheerful “Dinner?” query I practically leapt to my feet to bury my face in the cart.
I was handed a light-ish basket. It contained… a salad. AIGH! I withered. I inhaled it, but was not satiated. I was condemned to watch my neighbors savor their meals with delight, torturously pulling open their unopenable plastic packages with all the delicacy of a fine French waitress spreading a napkin on your lap.
Two more salads later, at 11:45 we landed uneventfully in Vancouver. 7 hours after my journey began.
No wonder that guy nosed his 767 into the Atlantic.