Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Coast to Coast: The Endless End

Getting home after being gone for seven weeks proved to be much more difficult than I had anticipated. 

I got to LaGuardia airport yesterday with plenty of time to catch my 4:05 pm flight to Dallas that would connect me to Phoenix. While I was waiting in line to check my bags I got on email from Southwest saying that my flight was delayed and would now be departing at 5:30 pm. Not a big deal and not unexpected. I finally boarded my completely full flight around 5:45 pm. After we were all on the plane the pilot announced that LaGuardia was at full capacity and were the 25th plane in line waiting to take off. Nearly an hour passed with us just sitting on the plane waiting to leave the ground. Then the pilot announced that we were number six in line, but there was some electrical problem that he needed to have checked out before we could take off. Frustrated groans were heard everywhere as we returned to the gate. The pilot assured us that the mechanics would take a quick look at everything and we should be gone in about 15 minutes.

I heard the women sitting next to me use some colorful language with every successive announcement after that. First it was taking longer than usual to diagnose and fix the problem. Then they had to turn off power to some of the aircraft which resulted in a very hot, muggy plane. Then we were allowed to deplane and return to the terminal. Then they had us all get back on the plane. Then they announced that we would all miss our connecting flights. Then we were also told that because there were some conventions going on in Dallas there would be no hotels for the airline to put us in. Oh, and one more thing. They gave us the option of not flying to Dallas that night and booking a later flight with the caveat that there were no available flights out of LaGuardia for three days. No one took that last option.

Each time the flight got pushed back I got more and more anxious. I just wanted to get home and since I had no idea when I'd be arriving in Phoenix I didn't know how I would get to Tucson. But once I knew that I had no viable options but to fly to Dallas and sleep in the airport the situation switched from being stressful to being an adventure. I mean, why fret when I had no other options? I might as well enjoy the adventure, right? We took off around 10:00 pm, six hours late.

When we landed in Dallas they gave all of us who had missed our connections new boarding passes and $200 vouchers. All the hassle was suddenly felt worth it as I held $200 in my hand. My new flight was supposed to depart from Dallas at 8:00 the next morning. However, right after the customer service agent gave me my voucher she said, “Wait, where are you going?” I said I was going to Phoenix and she said, “Honey, there’s a flight to Phoenix leaving right now at the next gate.” I said, “Can I get on it?” and she replied, “If we hurry.” It turns out that I had the same pilot on both flights so my connecting flight was also delayed six hours because they had no pilot. That really sucks for everyone on the plane, but it was great news for me. So I got on my original connection and got $200.

As the plane made its descent into Phoenix I was so thrilled to be so close to home after being gone for seven weeks. Then something happened that I hadn’t experienced in the dozens and dozens and dozens of times I’d flown before. The plane was about to touch down when suddenly the engines roared and we pulled up again. The pilot decided he wasn’t going to nail the landing so he pulled up, gave us a quick tour of Phoenix as we circled it one more time, and then landed very roughly on his second try. It was such a jarring landing that the woman in front of me puked a bunch. I felt bad for her, but was mostly just glad we had made it safely.

When I got to the baggage claim obviously my luggage wasn’t there. I mean, that would have been too simple. So I filed a missing luggage report with a really nice lady named Que (pronounced like the letter Q). I asked her how to get a shuttle to Tucson and she gave me a card with a number to call and even let me use her office phone. My conversation with the shuttle company went like this:

Me: “I’d like to book a seat on the next shuttle to Tucson, please.”
Agent: “The last shuttle today left at 12:30 am.”
Me: “It’s 12:28. Can I still make it?”
Agent: “It’s 1:28, sir.”
Me: “Oh…”

So I booked a seat on the first shuttle at 4:30 am, bought some food at the only open restaurant in the Phoenix airport, and camped out for three hours. It was so cold in the airport that I eventually went and sat outside. I got dropped off at the shuttle stop in Tucson and walked to my house. I thought about calling a friend to pick me up, but it was 6:15 am and I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone when it would only take me 25 minutes to walk home. I hadn’t slept all night and my body was still on east coast time so I was mentally and physically exhausted. Walking up to my house felt so very good. I was thrilled to be back. And then I walked into my bedroom and my friends had made me a welcome home sign with a pun on it. It’s perfect. I knelt down and said a prayer and then promptly went to sleep.

I got home two days later than expected, but I made it. Now I just need my bags to show up so I can wear clean underwear again.

My campsite for three hours in the Phoenix airport.
The man sitting next to me slept the entire time.
The sunrise as my shuttle pulled in to Tucson
My walk/tired stumble across campus this morning
Home! Also, you can see my reflection the window
I have the raddest friends

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Coast to Coast: Maine to New York

My mom, Lindsay, and I said farewell to Laura in a Chipotle parking lot in Bangor, Maine. We parted  ways in a restaurant parking lot last summer, too so it’s kind of becoming our thing. Laura headed off to Vermont while the three Schilatys went to Acadia National Park. Lindsay and I made our mom hike Gorham Mountain and she did it like a champ. When we’d praise her for conquering a mountain at 67 she would say, “I’m a tough, old bird.”
She's an athlete!
After leaving Maine we drove to Cape Cod and we made my mom ride an eight mile bike loop which, in hindsight, was probably not the best idea. Since she had hiked a mountain no problem I thought a nice leisurely bike ride would be a piece of cake. However, it was way hotter than we had anticipated and the hills were much larger than expected and we nearly killed her. But she survived and didn’t complain at all.
She's alive!
I also got to meet up with Marcie Glad in Cambridge. She is now one of my few friends who I have seen in four different states. She took me on a tour of Harvard and entertained me with her wit and stories for two hours.
Marcie explaining something to me at Harvard
The next day my mom and sister flew home from Boston and I took a bus to New York to spend the weekend with my friends Josh and Kelsee. Kelsee is doing a rotation with her company in New York and they live in an awesome apartment in the middle of Manhattan. After spending so much time in rural areas being in Manhattan was super-cool. While I like fields and stuff, seeing buildings and people and cars everywhere is kind of invigorating (I know, so very extroverted of me). I also enjoyed being in places that are mentioned on the Newsies soundtrack (you know, like Uptown, Grand Central Station, or City Hall). I really like the city and Josh and Kelsee took me to the most delicious restaurants. Everything we ate was so good. They also took me to the beach on Saturday which I didn't realize was even a thing in New York. They were fantastic hosts and their couch is superb. 
New York's beach. I had no idea that this was a thing.

They were kind enough to be tourists with my and walk
walk the Brooklyn Bridge
The view from Josh and Kelsee's apartment
Yesterday as I was getting ready to leave for the airport I got an email informing me that my flight had been cancelled. I immediately called Southwest and after being on hold for 30 minutes I talked to a really nice women who told me the earliest flight to Tucson I could take would be on Thursday – in four days! This news was a little overwhelming. I offered that maybe they could fly me to Phoenix sooner and after being on hold for a few more minutes the nice woman on the phone had found me a flight to Phoenix for the next day (which is today). She then told me that I would have to pay $390 for the difference in ticket price. My first reaction was shock that I would be asked to pay anything and then when she insisted that the fee could not be waived I asked to talk to her manager.

The manager sounded quite annoyed when we first spoke. She explained that they could refund my ticket and I could just purchase another flight myself. I told her that that was unreasonable since I had purchased the ticket months before and buying a last minute flight would be way more expensive than the ticket I had purchased. I told her that I was already very inconvenienced by the flight cancelation, that flying into Phoenix was also inconvenient, and that I wouldn't pay to fix a problem that I had created. She then offered to waive the fee and booked the flight to Phoenix for me all while making it sound like she was doing me a huge favor. When I got off the phone I wrote a well-worded email to Southwest. 

I was pretty annoyed after the phone call, but I calmed down and managed to enjoy my unplanned extra day in New York. And I'm super-excited to finally be going home. After seven weeks of traveling I've been to eight new states (South Dakota, Minnesota, Indiana, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut) and five new provinces (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia). It's going to be very nice to sleep in my own bed again. 
Google's summary of my travels

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Coast to Coast: Nova Scotia to Maine

After Prince Edward Island we hopped back into Laura’s CR-V and drove to Nova Scotia. We weren’t particularly pumped for Nova Scotia like we had been for Prince Edward Island (since going there hadn't been a childhood dream for anyone on the trip), but there was plenty of cool stuff to see. On the way to our house we stopped at Parrsboro, NS to see the world’s highest tides. The tide there fluctuates about 50 feet every 12 hours. When we first got there it was kind of a letdown. It just looked like an uninteresting rocky beach. Then I walked down to the water and the tide was going out so fast that I could actually see the water lowering. It was nuts! I shouted for Laura and Lindsay to come down (the tide was already quite low at this point) and Laura didn’t want to walk all the way down to water because it was so far, but I told her I’d carry her back if she didn’t like it. No piggyback rides were necessary because both of them thought it was so cool they took videos of the receding water.
If this were a video you'd see the water receding

This little boat got stranded when the tide went out 
The house we stayed in was far from everything. Like, really far, but it was perfect. It’s the kind of place that I wish I could have just hung out at for a week. It was super-old and had creaky wood floors. The house had been redone and it looked like the after version of a HGTV remodel. There was a beach right across the street from the house and a tiny graveyard overlooking the sea with headstones dating back to 1836. It was pretty neat. The only issue with the house was that my bedroom faced east and at dawn the sun shone through the white curtains making my room at 5:30 am lighter than noon day. 
The view from our yard 
Our perfectly adorable house
Spooky grave yard
I'm assuming this cemetery adjacent shack is where the ghosts live
We visited the old fishing town of Lunenburg which was kind of cool, but not nearly as cool as Peggy’s Cove. My mom has been fascinated by rocks this entire trip. Maybe she was always interested in rocks and I just didn’t notice until this trip. We all loved the rock formations and took too many silly pictures.
Lunenburg is beautiful, I suppose
Okay, it has some charm

Peggy's Cove with my rock lovin' mom

Fun at Peggy's Cove
Rocks everywhere
The next day we woke up bright and early to head to Maine. Laura’s car had been leaking oil the entire trip thanks to a mechanic who did a very bad job changing her oil. We checked the oil every day and kept it topped off and there were no issues. As we were driving through Nova Scotia we smelled burning oil so we pulled over, opened the hood, and the engine was smoking. Now, I’m no mechanic, but that seemed bad to me. A super-kind gas station attendant called a nearby mechanic who offered to see us right away. We were hoping for a quick fix, but it turned out that the engine block was cracked and we’d be stuck in Nowheresville, NS for at least eight hours.

Laura was understandably worried and the three Schilatys tried to figure out how to proceed with our trip now that we were stuck in Nova Scotia. We looked up flights and ferries and realized that getting out of town was going to be very expensive. Danny the mechanic and Joann the receptionist were absolutely phenomenal and tried every solution they could think of so that Laura wouldn’t be stuck in Canada for the rest of her life. Danny had Joann order a part and so it would arrive quickly she wrote “for stranded tourists” on the invoice. I don’t know exactly what Danny did, but four hours after arriving at the mechanic shop we were back on the road. As we drove away I said, “I did not expect to be driving this car today. I thought we were gonna be stuck here forever.”

As we were driving down the freeway a small car with one passenger pulled up next to us excitedly waving a small American flag. We all waved back, of course. As he passed us we noticed his Louisiana license plate. This fellow American must have seen Laura’s Colorado plates and decided to greet us with a small American flag that for some reason he had on hand.

The four of us cheered that afternoon when we crossed the border into Maine. We had made it home and had avoided being forced to start new lives in Nova Scotia.

While at Peggy's Cove Laura coined the term "smellfie"

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Coast to Coast: Prince Edward Island

"Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no
 mistakes in it yet." -Anne Shirley
After seeing Quebec City Laura, Lindsay, my mom, and I piled into Laura’s CR-V and we drove to Prince Edward Island. The drive was quite long and went through New Brunswick which, in my estimation, is nothing but trees. Laura coined the term “Boo Brunswick!” which we all shouted whenever something was annoying or didn’t work out right. We drove by a town called Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!. Read the name of that town with a French accent and you’re sure to giggle.
"This way to Prince Edward Island!"
Dreams came true during our three days on Prince Edward Island. Lindsay and I are both big Anne of Green Gables fans and we’ve wanted to come here for years. We stayed in a house with a lovely view of the water and terrible Wi-Fi. We complained plenty about the Wi-Fi.
The view from our backyard. Our neighbors wanted to remind
us we were in Canada.
We toured the actual Green Gables which was way fun. Obviously Anne Shirley is fictitious, but L. M. Montgomery used a relative’s house for her description of Green Gables in the book so the house and surroundings are quite real. I loved it all and learned loads about L. M. Montgomery’s life and how she singlehandedly saved the north shore of Prince Edward Island by making tourists visit it. The only disappointing thing we learned was that the movies were filmed in Ontario. There was an “Anne” walking around the park all day and I got my picture taken with her twice.
Me: Is it okay if I put my hand on your shoulder?
Anne: Why sure! Thanks for askin'. 
Me: Can we get a picture with you?
Anne: Didn't I already take a picture with you?
Me: Yeah, but you were wearing a different outfit.
Lindsay became inexplicably obsessed with dunes and lighthouses during the visit. We went to a beach that supposedly had the best dunes and Lindsay shouted, “Dunes!” when she saw them (which is a perfectly logical thing to do). Laura and I started saying “Dune!” in the same way that a surfer might say “Dude!” We ran with that joke for a while. In Lindsay’s zeal for lighthouses we drove on a dirt road to see one. The road was made of PEI red dirt, so that was cool. But then the road got really rough. Like, so rough that a car couldn’t make it through and Laura’s Honda CR-V jostled, swayed, and bumped like the cars on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. But then we got a beautiful view and all was right with the world.
The lighthouse was a letdown, but the view was superb
My favorite place we visited on the island we discovered quite by accident. Lindsay saw a painting of it at a restaurant and said, “I want to go there. I want to go to Thunder Core.” Laura responded, “Do you mean Thunder Cove?” She did, she just read it wrong. It took a little sleuthing to figure out where it was, but the old man at the information booth told us exactly where to go. As we were walking along the beach to the cove we realized we were on the famed “singing sands” that make a whistling sound when you drag your feet across them. Super cool and I’m sure there’s some science reason for why that happens. The cove isn’t very well known so it was just the four of us there and we laughed our heads off taking silly pictures.
Jump if you love Thunder Core. I mean Cove.
During the trip Laura got a glimpse of why I’m so full of myself. Out of nowhere and with absolutely no irony my mother would say things like, “Ben is just so handsome and smart. We just love him so much." One time when I was driving my mom said, “You’re doing such a great job driving, Ben,” and Laura and I burst into laughter because all I’d done was turn a corner which typically does not warrant praise. My parents have told me how awesome I am all my life and so I just believed them. But they’re totally right, I am awesome (or “rad” depending on who you ask). I’m a product of the Pygmalion effect.
My mom loves me even more than I do
Laura ordered invisible ice cream. Only really
smart people can see it.

While we were in Quebec City we had a really cute waiter that Lindsay and Laura were very taken with. After we left the restaurant Laura lamented that she hadn’t taken a picture of him and that she could have easily snapped a photo while pretending to take a selfie. For the rest of the trip whenever I’d see a cute a guy I’d say, “Laura, take a selfie!” and she’d pretend to take a picture. The only “selfie” she actually took was of our waiter at this delicious pizza restaurant in Cavendish. Not only was he cute, but he loved our banter so much that he told Laura and me that we should do improv. A guy who compliments us like that totally deserves to get his picture taken.
Jonathan the waiter talked to us for at least 20
minutes. He wanted us to like him and we did.