Nature Bats Last

BART station, SFO

I’m supposed to be, at this moment, taxiing out from the gate, making sure my seat back is in the fully up-and-locked position, at the start of an uneventful non-stop flight to Boston. Eyes closed, anticipating tonight’s (formerly Pearl Street) Psinging, joining old friends for a warm night of musicmaking by fireside, with ginger tea and tales of what’s-happened-since-we-last-met.

Right. But Boston’s closed for the Nor’easter that’s bearing down the coast laying waste to plans of mice, men, and airlines. Chaos at SFO, as you might guess, is reminiscent of some upper middle class refugee processing camp. People standing around in long, intertwining, ill-defined lines, hoping they’re in the right one (usually not, from my brief sample). United workers – the refugee camp staff – patiently taking their pace. There’s nothing to be done for the screaming desperate individual, any more than there is to a single grain of sand in the hourglass – we will all be processed in our turn.

The desk worker tells me that everything’s booked for the next two days; they can get me out on a Sunday night red-eye at the earliest. I am patient and cheerful (I think), but I am also skeptical. What about other airlines? “All booked – noone has anything.” I ask if I can stay by the desk while I make a few phone calls, and dial our corporate travel agency. After a little hunting, Tina at Carlson Wagonlit comes up with some options for me: a red-eye through Charlotte on Northwest tonight, or an early connection tomorrow morning with USAir. But, she says, United hasn’t released my ticket, so she’d have to book it at full fare.

I’m puzzled, and ask the United gate agent, who claims the contrary and reiterates a lack of alternate flights. Tina, standing by on the phone, gives me the flight numbers, which I relay to the United refugee-handler/ticket agent. She types for a few seconds and declares in (possibly mock) surprise “Got ‘em!” Rattles the keys for another few seconds and hands me the coveted slip bearing a confirmed ticket on USAir. Bless you, Tina.

The woman next to me is having less luck with her ticket agent, but doesn’t seem to be grasping the options. She’s trying to get to Newark, and being told the same thing I was: Monday morning. Her frustration boils over in a barely-contained scream– “But I have to be there by tomorrow!”

I decide to risk being useful: “Try calling USAir? That’s what I’ve gotten rebooked on.” Her ticket agent, sensing a lost United fare, opens up another alternative: “We can get you into Dulles tonight, and you can take the train up.” (Take it! Take it!) “Will you cover my train fare?” “Sorry, can’t do that for cancellations due to weather.” Another barely-contained scream “But you’re supposed to get me to Newark! I have to be there by tomorrow!”

I move along – there’s nothing I can do to help here.

I cross the meandering queue of travelers still waiting for their turn at exasperation, and a young couple asks how it went. They seem solution-oriented, so I explain how I managed to get booked as a small huddle forms around us. A dozen cell phones pop open in unison, and a dozen drowsy travel agents are roused from their morning coffee. Okay, maybe I can do a little good.

Time to turn attention to myself. Letsee, those books I’d meant to pick up from the pilot shop? Plenty of time now. I’d been lamenting missing today’s lunchtime concert at work: a celtic band with a Grateful Dead twist called “Wake the Dead”. Now, I’ll get to bike into the office (beautiful sunshine streaming down, herons and egrets along the Baylands bike path), and still be there in plenty of time for the music. Oh yeah, and I’ll get some work done, since my schedule for the day has been blocked out. No meetings – sweet!

Yes, I’ll miss Psinging, and I’m sad for that. Still, I’ll likely get to see a lot of the folks tomorrow night, maybe for a smaller musicmaking. But Nature bats last, and we just have to play the ball as it comes. It’s a good thing that Life doesn’t suck, isn’t it?

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