Part 1: A Flight Most Fouled
This is the first of a series I’ll be writing about the trip my wife Sarajo (Sj) and I recently took to the D.C. area. I’m going to go day by day and go over our exploits so readers can learn what to do (and not do) in the area if they ever get out there. We were lucky enough to stay with our good friends Kathleen and Shea in Virginia, located right at the end of the Metro line into D.C. Before I get started, I feel the need to have a Lemony Snicket style preamble warning folks to look away now if they are averse to living out stressful and unfortunate events regarding travel. But at least it wasn’t a United flight…
Our epic journey began as most do, with frantic packing well after midnight before that day’s flight. At around this time Sj decided to just double check the timing of our 10 AM direct Delta flight out of the Minneapolis airport. “Your flight has been cancelled and we have arranged a 7:58 PM flight for you!” Awaited her. Say what??!!! And no e-mail, no call, no Delta App message about this “wonderful” change in our plans. Oh, and how about wasting a whole afternoon and evening of our short trip and getting in after midnight? Rage and dismay reigned supreme let me tell you. Being the proactive planner that she is, Sj promptly got on the phone (where Delta was not answering after 30+ minutes of being on hold) and the computer (where the Delta website was unresponsive and glitchy). Eventually the website started intermittently functioning and she was able to get us on a flight leaving at 7 AM through LaGuardia in New York. Great, now we have less than 4 hours to sleep before getting in the car to the airport and I get to pretend I’m a college student pulling an all-nighter again.
After a very fitful sleep of three hours or so later, we were up–looking and shambling like extras from The Walking Dead. Desperately in need of toothpicks to keep our eyes open, and a caffeine IV, we drove to MSP amongst the other droves of sleepwalkers on their daily commute into the cities. There we discovered yet more horrors awaiting us. Taking one look at the line to check in our bag–which snaked across nearly half of the entire ticketing area like some bizarre and angry human/luggage centipede–we rammed our way back out to the SkyCap. Walking away from successfully checking in our bag, the attendant called us back. For some reason he could only check our back into LaGuardia and not to our final destination! “You could wait in the regular line and try from there,” he said with a shrug, indicating the morass of humanity plugging up the ticketing area with miserable abandon. Looking at this endless line of delayed human suffering, we realized that we would not be making our flight if we tried this. Perhaps we would be able to talk to the gate agent about it?
Getting through security, avoiding random body cavity searches, we made a bee line to our gate in hopes of getting the luggage situation cleared up. Strange. Why is no one at our gate? This is where our printed out boarding passes say we should be. Sj bullied her way into another line to figure this mystery out. Oh, look they somehow let us print out boarding passes for one flight but we were booked on the 9 AM flight instead. What???? The???? Actual???? Hell???? How is that even possible? Ruefully shaking our fists at the oblivious travel gods (and all of Delta) we discovered we had more time on our hands–and we could have perhaps have waited in that snaking bag-check line to get our luggage to the right place. But supposedly the gate agent put a call out to look for our bag and get a new tag for it. So all is correct with world right?
Finding ourselves with more time than expected (oh for another 2 hours of missed precious sleep) we decided to get breakfast at the new Stone Arch restaurant and bar. There, celebrating our lack of rest and thinking that it must be noon somewhere, we had some breakfast vittles and booze. Sj got a mimosa and I got a sampler of local Minnesota beers. I tried some more obscure beers from Gull Dam and Lakes & Legends but I admit my palate wasn’t the fine-tuned machine it usually is. After a fair but not stellar breakfast, and a bit of rare relaxation, we moved on to our actual gate.
And then our flight was delayed.
Eventually we made it onto the flight and then to LaGuardia without further mishap. OK things are looking up right? Finding that our flight was out of another terminal we asked directions and followed somewhat poorly marked signs until we found ourselves completely out of the airport waiting for a shuttle bus. Our next flight was due to start boarding in 45 minutes so this was looking more and more suspect. Finally on the bus we had a white-knuckle-death-ride around the very busy streets of New York–somehow managing to be violent and nerve-wracking while at the same time ticking by at a snails pace–taking a full 30+ minutes to get to our new destination. We were then dropped off without direction at a shady looking accessory terminal built in 1939 to handle sea planes. Wandering through the rain with a gaggle of other bewildered travellers we went in and out of this terminal a few times before realizing there was another building nearby that was supposed to be our final goal. Frantically we dodged and weaved to get to another security line…minutes counting down to missing our connecting flight.
Arriving into a terminal that’s been in use since the 1980’s for flights from NY to D.C. we found it to be packed with a press of bedraggled and beleageured humanity, spilling over all the 1970’s chairs and older carpeting. We waited in another line at the gate to attempt to have them locate our luggage. Yup sitting in the main terminal baggage claim in LaGuardia, not on the way to this flight. “We’ll make sure they send it along to D.C. Wink wink nudge nudge. Sure…”
Then we were delayed yet again due to weather conditions in D.C. (as our friend in D.C. texted us that there were blue skies there). Most curious. On the positive side we got to meet Nora O’Donnell from CBS This Morning which we watch most days prior to work. Even her connections couldn’t get her out of LaGuardia! After another hour of standing (no room sit down) we were eventually herded onto the plane, seated, flight-checked, and finally ready to pull onto the tarmac. At which point we were told to get all of our things and disembark from the plane because the weather had worsened. By this point we were all beaten-down shells of human beings, just shuffling off the flight into the now even more crowded minescule terminal like hollow eyed victims of some slow death march. The shining ray of light came when we discovered that the one tiny cafe still had food and beer left. I gratefully waited in line for a sandwich and a Victory Golden Monkey, while Sj cruised the area like a vulture until she swooped down upon a recently vacated seat near a table. I’ve enjoyed that Victory beer before, but let me just tell you how wonderful that particular glass of beer was! There I told you. Running out of all glassware, Sj’s second wine (hey we were there a while) came in a paper coffee cup complete with sippy lid. Klassy with a capital K–but it does the job and everyone else just thinks you just like coffee!
After another hour or so the rain slackened and we went through the brass-knuckle street fighting that is finding space for your bag in the overhead bins once again. Sj is great at flattening the competition. Second ray of light on this trip? A free can of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA on the flight. Oh and our flight attendants were great fun. The rest of the flights out of that terminal didn’t happen that night, so we barely escaped. This whole process was like a low budget version of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, but woefully lacking in Kurt Russel and Donald Pleasance. And when we finally reached our destination of DCA–“I’m sorry, your bag is still circling around a carousel in LaGuardia like the sad last pick in a children’s kickball game.” And, “I’m sure it will arrive tomorrow…” This accompanied by an evil supervillain ironic chuckle.
Poor Kathleen, who had stayed late at work and then sat endlessly in the cell phone parking lot of Dulles, eventually was able to pick us up. Ready for some real food, we drove to Fairfax, Virginia to B Side. This is an amazing bar and restaurant connected to a small butcher-shop/market called Red Apron. They have a small (15 seat) bar and a few small tables within this dark and narrow space. Our servers were incredibly helpful (thanks Luis) with directing us through the menu and extensive beer and coctail lists. They have a plethora of rare (and expensive) bottled beers from the likes of The Bruery, Wicked Weed, Allagash, and countless others. A smaller curated tap list of 12 beers included some local-ish gems like the Pappy Van Winkle barrel aged Enlightened Despot from Lickinghole Creek (yes please laugh, I know I did) as well as the sour Captain Lawrence Rosso e Marrone. Whilst sipping on these liquid treasures we ordered up an obscene amount of house made charcuterie done sushi style with a check-box menu. Man was this place a find! I put this in my top 20 favorite beer bars anywhere I’ve been in the USA.
Full, tipsy, and exhausted to our very cores we eventually made it Kathleen’s townhouse in Virginia and a much needed rest. Not as much accomplished on this day–but certainly an adventure! Day two would be much better…