Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Oops! (A Tale of Forgetfulness)

I am one of those people with a built-in alarm clock in their brain. If I need to wake up at a certain time, I will invariably do so. I might not be all that conscious, and it might be a struggle to actually force my body out of bed, but at least my eyes will open and my brain will be functional enough to note, "Oh, it's 6 a.m." (or whatever).

I usually set my alarm clock anyway, but it's pointless because I wake up a few minutes before the annoying buzz. Only once in my life did my internal alarm ever fail me. It was like one of those dreams where you oversleep and miss something really important, only that time it was real. It happened many years ago, when I used to ride my horse in local shows. I was at a friend's house, spending the night with a group of people before a show. We stayed up till the wee hours playing Colecovision (yes, I am that old) and slept right through wake-up time the next morning. By the time any of us rolled out of bed, half the show was over. I was able to ride in a couple of classes, but I missed the ones I had been looking forward to most.

Still, in four decades of life, only one major screw-up isn't such a bad track record. But recently I nearly had another one...not because my alarm clock failed, but rather because my memory did. If my mental alarm hadn't gone off and saved the day, my poor husband would have been crammed in a middle seat on his flight home, probably cursing me under his breath the entire way since a weather delay stretched it out an extra hour.

When hubby returns to Chicago, he flies on Southwest Airlines. For those who aren't familiar with SW's boarding routine, they don't have any assigned seats. It's a first come, first served cattle call more akin in a Greyhound bus than an airplane.

But there is one small bit of organization in the midst of the chaos. SW boards in groups, which are designated A, B, and C. The first 40 people to check in get A, and so on. The As get to board the plane first, followed by Bs and Cs respectively. Thus, if you are an A, you'll have your pick of seats. If you're towards the front of the line, you can probably even score an exit row.

If you're a B, you'll generally still be able to get an aisle or a window, although it might be towards the back of the plane. If you're with a group of people, your chances of sitting together are still pretty good.

If you're a C, forget it. Resign yourself to sitting in the next to last row of the plane, in a middle seat between two professional football line backers. Behind you will be a hyperactive child who only pauses long enough to refuel with another dose of sugar before kicking out Morse code messages on your seatback for the duration of the flight, and the man in front of you will recline in your lap the entire way (and you'll soon realize, as you watch his dandruff flake off into your lap, that he forgot to use deodorant). There will be at least one screaming baby in close proximity, and if you're really lucky, its mother will decide to calm it by changing its poopy diaper on her tray table.

With all that bad C karma, an entire industry has sprung up around garnering a coveted A pass. There are websites where travelers actually pay to have someone check them in as soon as the clock ticks over at the 24 hour mark, when online check-in opens up. During the busiest times of the year, if you don't check in within the first hour (or sometimes even 30 minutes), you'd better resign yourself to lowly B or C status.

Hubby checks himself in when he can, but he doesn't always have access to a computer at the appointed time. Since both of my jobs revolve around my laptop, I'm almost always online, so I take care of it when he can't. That was the case on his last trip, and I set my mental alarm clock to go off precisely at 6:35 p.m. Florida time. I could simply toggle over to the Southwest website and snag him a coveted A. Then, with any luck, he could get his favorite exit row window seat.

I filed these thoughts in the back of my mind, and apparently the paperwork slipped behind the drawer in my mental filing cabinet. A friend called to ask if I'd like to have dinner at Max's, and I said, "Sure!" I had been thinking about running to A & W for a hot dog (which would have given me plenty of time to get home by the magic check-in moment), but I never realized that a sitdown meal would not fit into the timeframe.

We climbed into Crush (my NEV) and headed downtown. Soon we were busily tucking into delicious, cheesy chicken casserole. As we ate, I happened to mention my husband...and boink! The mental timer popped up, just like one of those plastic gadgets that pops out of a Thanksgiving turkey when its done.

"Oh my God!" I gasped, staring at my watch in horror. It was already five minutes past check-in time, and there I was in the middle of Downtown Celebration, nowhere near Duloc Manor and my trusty PC. In the time it would take me to get to Crush (parked a block away) and to rush home (I use the term "rush" loosely, since my turtle-NEV typically tops out at 23-24 MPH), I knew that the A passes would most likely be history.

In a panic, I told myself, "Think! Think!" Surely there was somewhere downtown with internet access. I would have called someone to do the check-in for me, but unfortunately all of the information was in my email. I needed to pull it up before I could actually do anything.

Since it was nearly a quarter to seven, most offices were closed. Next, my mind started frantically searching for people I know who live within walking distance of Max's. Bingo! One of my friends is an original Celebration resident, way back from the distant days of the lottery, and she lives on one of the very first streets. It was a few blocks away, but if I jogged I might still have half a chance to score a precious A.

I whipped out my cell phone and dialed her number...she wasn't home, but thankfully her husband was. He probably thought I was insane as I babbled out my tale of boarding passes and forgetfulness and the need for immediate internet access, but he said, "Sure, come on over."

I left my purse as a token of good faith and shouted to the waitress "I'll be back, I swear!" as I burst out the door like a mad woman. I must have been quite a sight, jogging down the street in capris and flip flops. I whipped down Market Street, across Celebration Avenue, and out behind the church, covering the distance in record time. Blocks had never seemed so long before; I felt that the rows of houses were stretched out to infinity, like a mirror reflecting a mirror reflecting a mirror...

Finally I reached my destination, and my friend's husband had a laptop all booted up and waiting. Quickly I retrieved the information, plugged it into the Southwest site, held my breath, and clicked the mouse. I felt like I was playing a slot machine...come on A, come on...victory! I had managed to squeak in as #34 of 40. Since you line up at the gate in the order you arrive, not in the order you check in, #34 was just as good as #1.

I sprinted back to Max's...not as frantically but still at a brisk pace so my dinner companion and the waitress wouldn't think I had skipped out on the bill (although I supposed they could have raided my purse). I had made it in 10 minutes, and my dinner was still relatively warm.

That night, I told my husband the story of my senior moment and the adventure of the A pass. He is a very laid back person, so it didn't phase him in the least. Still, I'm sure he was glad that I'd managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat when he was on his flight the next day. That was the day that tornados ravaged Tennessee and the surrounding states. The storms went up over 50,000, so hubby's flight had to be totally rerouted. Normally it's a two hour flight, but it stretched out well over three hours. I'm sure he was glad to be in his usual roomy spot instead of cramped in some undesirable C seat.

It will be a while before I need to do an online check-in again, but you can bet that I'll never lose track of the time again. I may have a swiss-cheese 40-something-year-old mind, but the memory holes of online check-in will be forever plugged with a vivid recollection of running down Market Street in a panic. There's nothing like a little trauma to keep your memory at its peak.

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