JISHOU, HUNAN – Somehow, my grand plan of blogging while traveling did not come to pass. The time and means to upload to my site were not always available. So, now you get the updates about a week late.
SOMEWHERE OVER THE ALEUTIANS, Aug. 14 — One of the problems in spur-of-the-moment traveling is coping with glitches. While my arrival in and departure from the US were all arranged, travel in between was a bit murky.
My plans were hang out in Los Angeles for a few days, fly to Chicago, see my son graduate from Purdue, do stuff depending on the plans of my family members, and then leave from Chicago Aug. 13.
Complicating this grand, if somewhat sketchy plan was a glitch with my credit card. My account was locked out because I made the honest mistake while in LA of changing my phone number and password at the same time. Dumb. The company’s fraud bots locked me out and the only way to unlock it was to send proof of my legal address in the States, which I wouldn’t have until I got to Indiana.
So I went the old-fashioned route –a human-based travel agency and cash payment.
But which one? My friend Isabella’s friendly security guard offered to help, but all he did was try to do the travel agency work himself online, which I had already done with better success, I might add. Not only that, he seemed more willing to talk to the pretty Chinese girl than the middle-aged guy about the whole thing. Can’t imagine why.
(Putting on my grumpy old man hat now: our specific request was, could he recommend a local travel agency near Isabella’s apartment complex? Did he follow through with that request? Of course not. Too easy. We were near effing Wilshire Boulevard, which is teeming with travel agencies. I assumed a local guy could suggest one. Instead, he tried to play the hero and found a fare online with Southwest Airlines for more than $800. Thanks, buddy. Stick to being a security guard.)
A little googling turned up a nearby agency, Senator Travel, that had some glowing recommendations. My agent Evelyn found me a better flight for half Mr. Security Guard’s that fit my timetable perfectly. Of course, since I had wasted a day fiddling with the CC company, the price had gone up by almost $100.
But at least I had a way to O’Hare. My vacation schedule had only three non-negotiable appointments: arrival, departure and the graduation Aug. 6. Fortunately, I had a big enough budget to compensate for such undue surprises. (An important piece of advice for travelers. Have enough money to recover from unhappy surprises.) With a definite flight out, I could enjoy the rest of my stay in LA and also calm my daughter, who was going to pick me up on her way from Iowa to Indiana.
Post-graduation: This part was also unplanned, since I and my son had earlier had no idea what would happen after the weekend. As it turned out, he was going to start a new job in just a week and would have to move. So for various reasons, I ended up at my former in-law’s house in southern Indiana for a few days. A day after I arrived, we five were joined by five more, as my niece’s power had gone out and her family and a freezer full of food needed a place to stay for two nights. So we had a little impromptu family reunion. I spent more time with six of my nieces, grandnieces and nephew than I had guess I ever had before. I am grateful that they are all really wonderful kids. Things could have been a lot worse.
Friday was the designated departure time. I had booked a hotel room near O’Hare for the night before. My son, who superhumanly was also moving into his new digs the same day, had offered to drive me to the airport — a five-hour drive. (This meant he was going to criss-cross Indiana four times in one day. Ah, youth!) Thanks to www.hotels.com I got a sweet deal on a room which I booked online with my now working credit card.
We got there at 2 am. I had called twice on the road to make sure they would hold the room. Both times the ever-cheerful night clerk assured me there was no problem. (I concluded after dealing with this woman that her cheerfulness quotient far exceeded her actual helpfulness quotient.) At no time did she mention, gee golly, the hotel was actually overbooked. So, we arrived only to find that our room in the cushy hotel was not available but another would be provided AT NO CHARGE at the nearby Comfort Inn. A step down in star-rating, but a free room with free breakfast. OK. I can live with that.
So, we finally crashed for the night. I only had enough time for four and a half hour’s sleep, so I left my son and his girlfriend to sleep in while I dragged my sleepy self to the terminal on the free shuttle. There were no other surprises, even from the dreaded TSA, who waved me and a college girl through the body scanner on our way to terminal E, which is about halfway to Wisconsin. I swear O’Hare gets bigger every time I pass through.
My next destination was Shanghai, via Tokyo Narita Airport. While I have passed through Shanghai several times, this would be my first real visit, with two student friends as guides.