You know that feeling you get when you buy a box of cereal just to get the awesome decoder ring, and then you dump the whole thing out in one big bowl and dig through it and dig through it until you are absolutely, positively certain that there is no prize in the box? That feeling of being duped? That feeling of having been cheated out of the awesome that is rightfully yours?

We had one of those moments yesterday. Only our cereal was Bush Intercontinental Airport, and our decoder ring was our flight to Paris.

We arrived the obligatory two-and-a-half hours before the flight and went through the check-in. I know that check-in is usually where most airline horror stories begin, but really this was incident free.

Actually, there was one slight issue. Kara's ticket is under the name "Karams Turmlinson" for some reason. Since that doesn't match the name on her passport, ("Osgawld McFlyingpants"), we had to wait for a Continental representative to come wave a badge at a computer and bully it into submission.

On to the security line.

Folks, I know that my usual rant about airport security is "the loss of civil liberties," and "a violation of our rights." And I do not withdraw that now. I was expecting a huge, HUGE hassle when I showed my little ID card for my pacemaker. But the truth is, the whole thing went really smooth. I was taken through a different line while my bags went through the X-ray machine with Kara's stuff. The guy, a sort of "I've heard 'em all" type, asked if I wanted this to be private, to which I said now (violation is more fun when it's shared). And he was careful about announcing what he was doing as he did it, so that I knew when to clench my buttocks or allow my junk to dangle just so. Mental image is my Christmas present to you.

Of all things, it was one of Kara's bags that stopped the line and forced them to re-run it through the scanner. My stuff, the miles of wound cables, batteries, and electronic devices, went through without a blink while I was quietly groped at the end of the line. Go figure.

We breezed through the airport after that, luggage in tow. When we got to the food court closest to our gate, we stopped for lunch.
There's something I should say about Kara and traveling: She gets grumpy. It's just that she's a detail person (as opposed to me, the "big picture" guy). She worries and fusses over everything. She panics if something goes sideways. She stresses over possibilities. I'm not very good at accommodating this travel stress. I get pissed and mouth off, when I should probably just nod and apologize for being a useless human being who can't turn off the funny.

So when we took a seat at the gate, we were already a little tense. We just wanted to get on the plane and get going. It was going to be a magical trip, dammit.

"Yeah, I was supposed to go to Paris but the flight was cancelled."

This came wafting to us over the airport ambiance.

"What did she just say?" Kara asked, a flare of panic in her nostrils.

Oh boy, here we go. "Baby, she's probably on a different flight. No one has said a word about our flight being cancelled."

"Can you go check?" Kara asked.

Heavy sigh from Kevin. "No problem" I said.

I made my way to one of the little kiosks near a gate. "Hi," I said. "Can you guys check on a flight for me?"

I hand over my ticket.

Sharp-inhale-condescending breath, "Oh, yeah ... that flight was cancelled. Sorry." Hands back ticket.

Seriously. It went exactly like that. No, "You'll need to go here, or there, and ask for him, or her." Not even a, "Wow, that really sucks. I wish there was something I could do to help." Just a statement of fact, said the way you might tell someone you hate that you're really sorry to hear their dog died.

When I came back to Kara, I could see the look of near-tear that was in her eyes. "We have to go find customer service," I said, making up a fact based on what I had seen on our way through the airport earlier. I had, for some reason, noticed a Continental Customer Service kiosk. Win.

We rolled our huge pile of luggage back and stepped into line behind a few hundred other unhappy non-Paris-visiting folks. After about 40 minutes, we hadn't moved more than the three or four inches of "personal space" around us.

That's when a nice guy in a red coat came by. "Hey folks," he said, somehow smiling. "We're going to take everyone from here," indicates person standing directly behind me, "to the end of the line over to another customer service desk outside of security."

"Awesome," I said. "It's awesome that I'm not at the end of the line. Awesome."

The woman in front of us must have felt the same way. "Oh, please, can you' start here? We've been here for 45 minutes! We're pretty much halfway in the line. Please? PLEASE?"

The man, who looked a lot like Captain Kanagroo, said, "Sure, I can do that."

Sweeeeeet.

So we truck our way through the airport, O.J. Simpson style (jumping luggage, driving white SUVs, straining to pull on gloves). Eventually we end up at a check-in kiosk, and a few minutes later we're chatting up a nice red-head with a sunny disposition, but no useful advice.

"We can get you on a plane on Wednesday."

Wednesday. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but Wednesday is a full four days after Saturday.

"3:50 p.m. on Wednesday."

Holy crap. Our two-week vacation in Europe just got knocked down to one week.

"Umm," Kara said, valiantly fighting the tears and rage, "Is there anything we can do? A connecting flight, maybe?"

It came out, eventually, that we could get on a plane to Frankfurt on Monday afternoon, and connect to Paris from there, arriving Tuesday morning. Better. Still, we would completely lose a trip to Munich that we had both been looking forward to.

"Can we just get off of the plane in Frankfurt? We were already planning to be in Germany that day."

The second appearance of the sharp-inhale-condescending breath. "I'm sorry, that would cancel out the rest of your tickets. You have to arrive in Paris. You can't just get off the plane wherever it lands. That would cause chaos. The universe would explode. Baby Jesus would cry."

I'm not really sure what lame-ass excuse we were given for not being able to stay in the country we were planning to be in on that day anyway, but the end result was that we would land in Germany and fly to Paris, just in time to completely miss out on everything.

That was essentially the best deal we were going to get. Continental, for all its sterling reputation for great customer service (hehe), is just completely unwilling to help in any way.

But there was still a chance. Someone could cancel a flight. Someone could die (wait ... no, that would suck). Someone could find another way to get to where they were going, and a couple of seats might open up for us.

So we were to stick around. Hang out at the airport for the next few hours, calling periodically to see if something had opened up.

We got our luggage and proceeded to push a very heavy cart around the loop of the underground subway. We ended up at the Marriott hotel, sitting in their comfy lobby, listening to Christmas music, sipping Rock Star and bottled water, and obsessively checking the internet and calling customer service to try to find a way around waiting until Monday.

The best we managed was to get on a waiting list for a flight leaving Sunday. If it came through, we'd be out of here. But it meant sticking close to the airport. We decided that we should get a hotel room for the night, in our own home city, and attack the problem rested and fresh the next morning.

It was 9:30 p.m .before we decided to hike our way back to the terminal and out to the pick up area.

"Where's my coat?" Kara asked.

Oh. My. God.

This coat, the one that was currently nowhere to be found on our cart or in our luggage or on Kara's person, was a hard-won treasure. Kara had gone through multiple online purchases and returns to find the coat that best fit her idea of "perfect coat." She had paid a pretty decent chunk of change for it, too. And then she had paid to have it altered to fit just right. So, in summary, THIS COAT WAS IMPORTANT.

And now it was gone.

I could see the tears starting. I could feel the rage building. I could sense the imminent collapse.

"Let's ask the hotel's lost and found," I said.

It was a long shot. We had been sitting in a different spot earlier, and Kara had been wearing the coat there. But honestly, it could have dropped off of the cart at any point in the airport. It could be draped over the armrest of some lucky traveller to Bangladesh, for all we knew. But what we had under our control, at that very moment, was the hotel's lost and found.

Please God, give us this win. Kara really needs this win.

Kara got in line at the reception desk and waited. I hung back, luggage piled high on a cart. I was sagging and exhausted, but in good spirits (despite the lost coat). Strangely, I had been in good spirits through this whole thing. Sure, Kara and I had some tiffs every now and then, but really I had to admit something odd to myself: I was enjoying this.

Guess it doesn't take much for me to feel like I'm having a vacation. Running around in an airport and lounging in a hotel lobby where I'm not a guest can do it. Go figure.

While Kara was waiting, I met two nice kids on their way back from Ecuador. Michael and Anna Marie were trying to get home (to Pennsylvania, I think, but I can't quite remember). But for some reason, Continental had set their connecting flight at only one hour after their arrival in Houston. They had not, it seems, taken into account that CUSTOMS IS PURGATORY.

A few hours later, when they finally made it through customs, Michael and Anna Marie were now trapped in Houston, with only a tiny little voucher to help them find a place to sleep for the night. It was not enough to comp them a room at the Marriott. It wasn't even enough to give them a comfy spot in a Men's room.

Kara came to me, jubilant. They had her coat! Win for us (thanks, God). And while they retrieved it and brought it down, I filled Kara in on Michael and Anna Marie's story. We felt bad for them, and even talked about paying for a room for them. But in the end, they were happy enough for us to get online and find them a cheap place to stay nearby. Win for them.

So, closing in on 10 p.m., Kara and I dragged our bags to one of the parking lot buses, rode back to our car, paid $5 for our stay, and then drove to the nearest Holiday Inn. We ate dinner at The Kettle, then checked in to our hotel and crashed, dead to the world.

Now we're trying our best to convince someone to have mercy on us and get us on a plane to Paris, so we can reclaim some of our lost time.

But I'll be honest, and if you tell Kara this I may have to smack you: I'm enjoying myself. It's true. I am actually loving this whole thing.

Yes, I want to be in Europe right now. Yes, it sucks that our flight was cancelled, and Continental is useless. Yes, it gets tense every now and then when Kara starts to think about it, get frustrated, and get upset. But really, I'm digging the whole experience. Maybe it's the writer in me. Maybe I love a good story, including its conflicts, even if I'm smack in the middle of it.

Yeah, I can't wait to get to Europe. But I think I'll take my vacation wherever I happen to be at the moment.

More to come ...


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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