Another Day of Travel

Yesterday was another day of travel, as we moved from Ohio to California.

Due to jet lag, I got about three hours of sleep and awoke at 3am. Fumie didn't do much better. Anthony awoke at 7am just as we were starting to drift back to sleep. Oh well, it looks to be a loooooong day ahead.

In the end, we arrived without too much trouble, but it was somewhat of an ordeal at times.

Leaving Ohio

We called the hotel's front desk for luggage assistance (we had a lot) at 11am, but it was a busy time and they had no carts available (as if “morning checkout” should be a surprise? They have 209 rooms and only something like 5 luggage carts). So, I start making trips to the car, although they finally showed up for the last trip (after I noticed an empty cart and reminded them that we'd been waiting for half an hour).

As I said, we had a lot of stuff:

  • Three large suitcases
  • A large duffel bag
  • A backpack heavily laden with electronic equipment we didn't want to check in (my laptop, cameras, VoIP modem, etc.)
  • A medium-sized duffel filled with Anthony stuff for the flight (books, toys, change of clothes, diapers)
  • Fumie's carry-on small suitcase
  • Anthony's small milk cooler pack
  • A full-sized baby stroller (which we haven't used with Anthony for a year, but it's very helpful in schlepping luggage about the airport)
  • A two-part child car booster seat (base unit and back unit)
  • A three-year-old child and his Curious George monkey, and new little bunny friend, “Bunny”

Our car was a Pontiac Grand Prix, which was not bad. It had a huge trunk, and we could fit our vast amount of stuff in the car with a few square inches to spare. We headed off to Cleveland airport.

Thankfully, Hertz had a huge luggage cart at the car-rental return area, so we could move all our stuff to the shuttle bus. The lady driving the shuttle bus had a nice name I'd not seen before: “Verita”.

While I was checking in at the airport, Fumie was dealing with Anthony, who decided that was the time for a total meltdown. Luckily, it was the only one for the trip. I had to move 7 pounds of stuff from one large suitcase to another, to avoid a $50 heavy-bag fee. I'd forgotten that the domestic allowance is a lot less than the international one.

The biggest hassle of going through airports with a stroller and a kid is going through security, because you have to take the kid out of the stroller, and then deal with all the security stuff (emptying pockets and shoes into the bin, taking laptop out, folding stroller, etc.) while still dealing with the kid. This time, while emptying out my pockets, I was surprised to find the keys to the rental car. Ooops! Fumie waited with Anthony while I ran out to the curb and gave them to a passing shuttle-bus driver. For good measure, I called the Hertz rental counter to tell them that the keys were on the way, only to find that they didn't seem to care much. I got the feeling that they figured that the keys would turn up some time or other, or, perhaps not, and in the end, it didn't seem to really matter. Odd.

The first leg of the flight was on a relatively small (70-ish passenger) short-haul commuter jet to Chicago, on America West, apparently in partnership with United Airlines, which I thought I was flying. Because the plane is small in every dimension, an announcement was made that large carry-on bags should be gate-checked. This turned out to be great, as we gate-checked four items (stroller, two-part booster seat, and Fumie's carry-on suitcase) which made getting on and off the flight so much easier.

Chicago O'Hare

After 48 minutes in the air, we arrived at Chicago. The last time we were there we taxied for 25+ minutes to get to the gate, so I was happily surprised when we zipped there directly this time. Unfortunately, it was to Terminal F, which is far away from our connecting flight in Terminal C.

Soon after getting off the plane and collecting all our gate-checked stuff, we came upon a line waiting at a “Shuttle to Terminal C” sign. Beyond the sign was a set of narrow twisty looks-like-it's-emergency-use-only stairs, manned by a United Airlines employee who looked like she' be more comfortable working at a DMV. I asked where the elevator was, and was informed there was none. I asked what do I do with a stroller and a ton of luggage, and without an ounce of compassion, she told me “you carry it”. I asked, not at all aggressively, what would someone in a wheelchair do, and with a look and tone that said “I've had just about enough out of you” she clearly enunciated “Call - Customer - Service”.

So we wait in line and after a while a few people are let down the stairs. After a longer while, we, too, are allowed. With much sweating and grunting and bumping of elbows, we make it down, and then to the little bus where we have to break things down again. We make the drive across the tarmac and repeat the whole series of events in reverse. A young but horribly overweight lady was physically laboring with her luggage and herself with each step up the stairs, so to avoid the impending cardiac arrest, I whisked her luggage up for her, then attended to ours. I think she made it alive.

At the top of the stairs there was a line of people blissfully unaware of what they were about to get into. On the ride across the tarmac, it had seemed that the airport building went around from Terminal F to Terminal C, so I asked the much friendlier lady guarding this entrance if it was not possible to walk it. Sure, you could, if you had the 20 minutes it would take. Well geez, I would have much preferred to stroll for 20 minutes than struggle with the luggage for 20 minutes on the staris+bus+stairs -- why didn't the sign or the uber-unfriendly lady mention this option?

Flight to San Jose

Like our first flight, this one to San Jose, CA, was overbooked and it was a minor madhouse boarding the flight. Our three seats were not together: we had one pair together (window + middle) and one window seat in the row behind, so we thought we'd ask the aisle seatholder if he or she would like to switch for the singleton window seat. As we waited, our hopes were dashed with two very, uh, “plus-sized” people sat in the middle+aisle seats next to our singleton window seat. Ugh, no one will want to swap now. )-:

As I was giving up the idea of asking, another plus-sized lady showed up for that aisle seat next to our pair. I'd been standing at it trying to decide what to do, and a bit flustered at the turn of events, found myself telling her in a somewhat sheepish voice that we'd been thinking of asking for a swap. To my delight and no small amazement, she said “sure” and seemed to immediately click with the plus-sized lady she was about to sit next to. The row behind us became very, very packed, but they chatted like old friends the whole flight, so I hope they got something out of it.

Non-alcoholic drinks are free on the flight, but the rest of the food service was “snacks for sale”. It was a small gesture, but I told the flight attendant that I'd pay for anything the three in the row behind us wanted, but that they should be told that they were today's lucky row, or something -- if they knew it was me paying, they might feel hesitation to order what they wanted. In the end, over the entire flight, as a group they got only one $5 snack box.

I thought for sure that Anthony, up for a long time by now, would sleep during much of the flight, but he played nicely the whole time. He's such a sweet boy. (Usually. Well, sometimes.)

San Jose, California

We arrive in San Jose at 5:30pm local time (8:30pm to us), collect our gate-checked stuff, and head out for the car-rental shuttle bus. The bus that's waiting when we get there is fairly full, and with all our stuff we don't want to try it, so we wait for the next one (which arrives, almost completely empty, 30 seconds later). We get our stuff situated, sit down, and finally breath a “we made it” sigh of relief.

Moments later, I rocket out of my seat, grab our stuff, and as I'm shoving it out the door, I get around to mentioning to Fumie that we neglected to pick up our checked luggage. Oops! The moment we “de-bus”, the driver closes the door and takes off.

It was easy to find which luggage carrousel was ours because the entire flight was waiting -- it was a long time before any bags showed up, and when they did, it was at a snail's pace. After the longest time, we got our four checked bags and headed off to the rental bus again, then to the Hertz counter at the remote car-rental site.

Renting a Car

Fumie watched Anthony while our massive cart of luggage waited in the corner and I waited in the short but unmoving line at the rental counter. When it finally became my turn, the guy asked for my Hertz frequent-renter card (which I don't have). It turns out that the building we were in was for VIP renters, and that we should have been in the neighboring building. Arrgh.

When he saw my luggage and child, he took pity on me and said he'd take care of me, especially when he found out that my reservation was for a mid-sized car that probably wouldn't handle our amount of luggage. It took a while, but he eventually got an SUV-ish something called a “Yukon” for me, at what he said was a steep discount. It still ended up being 2× the cost of my original reservation, but for substantially larger vehicle.

I didn't know what a Yukon was, so when I got out to the lot and saw it, my jaw just dropped. It's not that it's the size of the Queen Mary, but that it could carry the Queen Mary inside (and still have room for luggage). I've driven a large flatbed truck before, but the thought of driving this monster scared me. We put our luggage in and still had room for eight adults. I kid you not. Anthony sat in the middle row, and I felt I needed an intercom to talk to him from the front seat. Further back, there was a full row of plush, empty, seats between him and the luggage.

The more I think about it, the more I feel that the Hertz guy that “took pity on me” really took advantage of me. I see on their web site that they have equally large vehicles available at that location today, for half the price I got. (They're more “soccer-mom minivans” than “monster SUV” and so their lower cost makes sense, but he didn't even offer them.) And when it comes down to it, it's way Way WAY more size than we needed. I think he saw how tired I was and took me for a ride, so to speak. I'll take it back tomorrow and exchange for something that makes more sense, even though I'll probably have to bite the $100 I pre-paid for fuel. Poop.

The House

So we launch ourselves in this boat/tank toward Cupertino, and head to our old house. It's been empty for six months, and so was dusty and had spider webs, but it was nice to see. (On the other hand, I see how much work will be needed to dispose of all our stuff we still have, and to clean it up for sale, and I feel dread.)


Getting extremely tired, we pick up some food and head to the Cypress Hotel, about two miles from our house, for the evening. Having been up since 3am, I finally lie down at about 10pm local time (1am to me) for some much-needed sleep.

Three hours later, I'm up, wide awake, with jet lag. This sucks. And I have to be at the house at 8am to meet a cleaning guy. Ugh.

[UPDATE: the second half of my next post has an update]

All 3 comments so far, oldest first...

Well, this car would scare me too
If you drive theese cars in austria you can’t pay the fuel!

good luck for your yourney

— comment by Michael Nitschinger on July 18th, 2006 at 1:03am JST (18 years ago) comment permalink

Hey Jeffy, why do you ‘prepay’ for fuel? It’s generally a *really* bad idea. The only way it makes sense is if you dial it in to return it completely empty. Most people use only a little fuel but they pay for an *entire tank* which goes directly to the bottom line of the car rental company. The euphamism for this type of deal is “upsale”.

— comment by Mikey on July 18th, 2006 at 11:52am JST (18 years ago) comment permalink

Mikey, prepaying for the gas is perhaps a bad *financial* idea, but can be one that helps with stress. I prepaid for the Cleveland rental car’s gas, about $40 for the tank. I thought I’d use more, but in the end I used about 3/4th of a tank, so their bottom line got a $10 bump directly out of my pocket.

But had I not done it, I would have had to deal with putting gas in it close to the rental-car drop-off point, and particularly in Cleveland where the drop-off point is exactly 27 miles from anywhere, it was worth $10 to not have to worry about it. I wasn’t running late…..this time, but it can be well worth it to not have to deal with it.

In this latest case, I thought I’d have the vehicle for 6 weeks, and so I’d be able to plan the return-it-on-empty event fairly well. When I realized that I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of car it was, I tried to backpetal from getting the gas (just in case of this very “I want to return it soon” development), but the guy was sort of pushy about me taking it, and so I just went with it. I didn’t prepay the gas on the new car.

— comment by Jeffrey Friedl on July 18th, 2006 at 2:33pm JST (18 years ago) comment permalink
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