Scarlett’s Letter September 21, 2013

Do you ever feel like you’re on an episode of “This Is Your Life”? Or maybe “Candid Camera” or “Punk’d”? That’s how my day felt from the very beginning.

After checking out of my hotel early this morning, I headed to the Glasgow International Airport. It’s still dark, of course, that is pretty much my travel M.O.

I did a “dry run” last night. I knew approximately where the airport was from my arrival, but since I was being driven to the airport to retrieve my rental car after dark, after a very long day and a whole bunch of beer, I thought I’d better figure out exactly where it was. I remember the nice lady, an employee of Silver Airlines, telling us as she turned off the “highway” that there was only one sign indicating the airport was up a certain road. And, technically, after passing said sign a time or two coming back from a couple of the out-of-town restaurants I visited, it was just a picture of an airplane, no arrow, no words. Just an airplane. So, it is up to the driver to figure out what to do with that vague bit of information. In my first attempt in finding the airport, I actually approached from the other edge of town. I stumbled upon another airplane sign and ventured up the road that turned closest to the sign. And, indeed I found the airport. In all its majesty it stood there, perched next to a runway tinier than the very narrow road I’d followed up the hill. The entire facility was surrounded by very tall chain link fence. I drove the road along one edge and another road along another edge, but didn’t actually find the entrance to the airport. Nor did I find the other road, from the other edge of town, the one closest to my hotel and the one I’d hoped to use this morning. I ended up turning Andy’s rent-a-Buick around in some dirt driveway because I was on the beginning of what appeared to be a very long, narrow, dusty road to nowhere. I found my way back whence I came and drove to the other edge of town. I accidentally passed the street proximate to the airplane sign, but only because the airplane sign is only on one side of the road, the opposite side of the road than I was on, and so, not visible from the direction I was currently traveling. I made a U-turn, or, as we used to call it back in high school, “flipped a tit”. I approached from the other direction, now, and turned right immediately after passing the airplane sign. I ventured up the hill and found myself one “driveway” down from the dirt driveway I’d turned around in a few minutes earlier. Apparently the first “driveway” I passed was actually the road I was looking for. I find street signs so incredibly helpful, especially near airports. I should alert someone in Glasgow to this fact.  I turned left and ventured down the road I have now been down twice before in the last ten minutes. This time, however, I spot the tiny paved path, barely wide enough for a car, that is, apparently, the entrance to the Glasgow International Airport. And, it is. I am so glad I have decided to kill thirty minutes driving in circles and back and forth and back and forth tonight, rather than tomorrow morning. Heaven knows I don’t want to miss my flight. There is only one flight to Billings each day. With luck.

I make it to the airport without a hitch this morning, again grateful I successfully completed the reconnaissance mission the pervious evening. The airport is a bustling hive of activity. There is a TSA agent and someone behind the counter, I presume, who will be able to check me in, as this is not something that can be done online with this airline. I am also hoping to have both of my suitcases checked to the same destination I am traveling. I approach the counter and the nice lady addresses me by name. How did she do that? As I gathered, as other passengers arrived, it was by the process of elimination. I was the only “out-of-towner” taking this flight today. I very efficiently produce my California Drivers License and wait. A minute passes as the lady types very slowly with one index finger on the ancient keyboard. I strain to look at the monitor, I’m pretty sure it’s one of those old monochrome green monitors, but I actually don’t want to know. I would find that a little unsettling. I really, really want to get home. I only have a one-day weekend ahead of me and I really need to unpack, do laundry and pack again before Monday morning rolls around.

The terminal at Glasgow International Airpot in Glasgow, Montana. I spent entirely too much time here.
The terminal at Glasgow International Airpot in Glasgow, Montana. I spent entirely too much time here.

Another minute passes. She has stopped typing for a bit and has pulled out a four inch thick three-ring binder and is flipping through page after page, each page ensconced in a plastic sleeve, I’m guessing, because they are so frequently used the paper may wear completely out on a very frequent basis. I lower the forty-pound computer backpack off my shoulder and it meets the ground with a soft thud. Note to self, look up that chiropractor my friend recommended and schedule an appointment for some time in January when I may be home for more than just a Sunday.

She pokes deliberately at the keyboard some more. It has been five full minutes. At least. Not a word has been spoken. I’m trying to make a pleasant face. She seems really stressed out and I don’t want to end up in Egypt with my bags in Detroit. I can’t think of anything worse. Except for maybe staying here. She consults the binder again. Then jabs at the keyboard again. She has begun to narrate her actions and keeps talking about an “entry” that needs to be made. Is it her fist day? I’m trying really hard not to leap over the counter and push her aside. Certainly I could hack my way through whatever entry she has to make. I’m pretty good at computers and software and shit. I refrain. I shift from one foot to another. Ten minutes have passed and another passenger has entered the “terminal”, well, let’s just say, room.

At last she produces two luggage tags. I’m encouraged! I ask her if I’ll have to claim my bags in Billings and check them in with Delta as I did on my trip here. She told me, brimming with pride and confidence, that she was able to check them all the way through to Sacramento. At this point, I would have preferred to see my bags in Billings, to touch them, to lay hands on them and to check them again, with Delta. I’d be willing to pay extra to do so! And, Delta, truthfully, is not my favorite airline, not one I’m willing to say, with confidence, that I trust. But compared to what I’m witnessing presently, I’d trust Delta with the national deficit and the national defense, if I had to choose between the two. Dubiously, I take the claim tickets to my two purple suitcases that hold, pretty much, everything I need to survive a week on the road in the manner I’m accustomed to. And, if they were lost, I’d be hard pressed to remember exactly what all of those items are.  A cool plastic bowl, a couple of those roll up plastic cutting boards in ultra cool colors, my uber-sharp, high quality paring knife, my wine bottle opener and my beer bottle opener from the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo (definitely not easy to replace), my clothes, of course, my cute purple and pink blow dryer and pink and brown straightening iron, not to mention that elusive circumference curling iron I’ve had sine the 1980’s that I’m SURE is no longer made. You get the idea. Screwed. I’d be screwed if it were all lost, forever, in Detroit, by some keyboard jabbing incompetent.

She is still poking at the ancient keyboard, violently. My bags have a ticket to fly, I do not. She consults the manual again. Finally, she makes eye contact with me and explains her dilemma. For whatever reason, she can’t get my boarding pass to print. I wonder if she can email it to me, but based on the antiquity of the equipment, I’m guessing, “no”. Two more people have entered the room, I mean terminal, and have taken seats to wait their turn to have their tickets printed. It has now been a full thirty minutes. She picks up the phone, dare I look? Is it a rotary dial phone? No, it is definitely an old school, perhaps first generation, touch tone phone. I am mildly relieved. She jabs violently at the keys on the phone, looking first at the directory, then at the keypad on the phone, then at the directory, then at the keypad on the phone. Someone picks up the line, apparently, because the ticket agent begins to narrate her keystrokes, all of them, in detail. She references the information in the three-ring binder in her detail, and, after about ten minutes of one-sided dialog, there is a pause. The pause is followed by more violence against keyboards followed by a “nope.” More jabbing. “Nope.” More poking. “Nope.” This continues for another ten minutes. I’ve taken my Kindle out and am three chapters into that book I’ve been meaning to start. The ticket agent suggests, finally, “I can just hand write her a ticket.” Yes. Let’s do that. And I’m so glad I allowed my customary hour for check in and checking bags, in spite of the size of this airport. Stick with your schedule, either way, you’ll probably end up reading a book while your wait.

The ticket agent writes out my boarding pass, painstakingly, left-handed, and hands me two copies. She explains that she’ll collect one copy from me when I board. Okie dokie.  I take a seat. And in three minutes, flat, the other four passengers are all checked in, bags are checked and they have their computer generated, printed boarding passes. There are now three TSA agents and one comes around the corner and wheels my somewhat road-weary purple Samsonite suitcases into the secured area. I approach the security desk. Once issued your boarding pass and having checked your bags, you usually head for security screening. Nope. This is a new ball game. I am told to take a seat and that I will be called when they are ready to screen passengers. I couldn’t help but notice that the security agent who told me this is, literally, elbow deep in the larger of my two suitcases. He has in one hand my beautiful fuzzy, leopard print Jessica Simpson slippers with the black glitter bow and, in the other, my computer tool kit for those on the road repairs I’ve had to do while on the phone with my company’s tech support crew. I hate those. The calls to tech support, not the slippers. I love the slippers and, frankly, I’m more than a little uneasy with the fact that this large, cross-eyed, red-headed, mouth breathing, more than slightly awkward TSA agent in the middle of B.F.E. is fondling my J.S. slippers. He nervously sets them down, blushes, and tells me to take my seat in the waiting area, which, by the way, is well out of view of whatever he is doing. I am told that they will call us when they are ready for us to proceed through screening. I’m wondering where the two women TSA agents are, shouldn’t they be monitoring this guy, like when you have a pelvic exam? The doctor always has the medical assistant in the room while things are going down, as like, a witness. I’m pretty sure this guy should have a witness for whatever he’s doing to my J.S. slippers. Ew.

I, reluctantly, take a seat in the waiting room. The other passengers consist of a few men and a woman. One man looks like a guy that stepped right out of a Wrangler commercial. When I was a young girl in 4H, hanging out with all those cowgirls and cowboys, back in junior high, we used to say “Wrangler butts drive me nuts”. I think it’s a viable ad campaign, but one Wrangler has chosen to avoid, for whatever reason. The woman is interrogating the other two; one is an “oil people”, the most feared and most talked about breed around town. There are lots of “oil people” around Montana these days and they are to be blamed for anything and everything from climate change to any unsolved crime or odd occurrence, including the penny increase for gas at the pump. In fact, I could probably pin blame on this “oil people” person for my boarding pass not printing properly. I’ve got my own troubles, and my own profile, to deal with. The other guy is a railroad worker. The hotel I stayed at was full of railroad workers and “oil people”, and riff raff like me.  The local lady seemed to like the railroad worker guy and had a pleasant and lengthy conversation with him. He was from New Mexico. She was simply going to Billings for a bridal shower or some such thing. The rest of us were on to other destinations outside of Big Sky Country. Except for Mr. Wrangler. He never spoke a word and was never asked a question. But he got a boarding pass and made it right through security when it came time.  A man of mystery in his legendary jeans. Personally, unless riding a horse, I prefer Levi’s, both for wearing and for admiring. Wranglers have no raised inside seam, which for riding horses, or bulls, is very nice. Levi’s do. That’s the technical difference. Aesthetically, I think it’s just personal preference.

I hear a tape gun. I hear a tape gun. I have moved five times in five years, I know the sound of a tape gun. I have to say, with absolute certainty, I have never heard a tape gun in an International Airport before. I hear tape being spooled from a tape gun for seconds upon seconds upon seconds. I’m thinking they’ve spooled out about eight feet of tape! What in the world? My stomach sinks. My suitcase. The larger, and more expensive of my two purple Samsonite suitcases has a busted zipper. A busted zipper on every compartment except the main compartment. The zipper pulls are busted on the main compartment, but the zipper still functions. I just can’t lock the main compartment. I’ve gotten over that fact years ago. I swear by Samsonite. I’ve had these suitcases for most of my five and a half travel intensive years with my current employer. I have been shopping for a new large suitcase a couple of times, but have held off. Until the last zipper busts or the wheels break off, I’m going to keep getting my money’s worth out of this bag. No one every opens those other compartments, ever. The broken zipper is like an unspoken rule. Like rules of engagement. Like “Dude, if you open the compartments with the broken zipper, you can’t close them again and the poor lady (obviously, the bag is purple) is going to have to shell out $400 for a new suitcase”. A few minutes later, Mr. bulky, cross-eyed, red-headed, mouth breathing, more than slightly awkward TSA agent in the middle of B.F.E. comes rolling around the corner with my suitcases. The larger of the two is bound and gagged with several wraps of packing tape. He fails to make eye contact with me. For now. I whip out my phone, open up my calendar and schedule “suitcase shopping” between 12:00 and 1:00 on my only day off for the week. That should allow just enough time to get the new suitcase home, and packed, before going to bed at 4:30 PM because I have to get up at 12:30 AM for my next flight away from home for the next work week. I then open my notes app and begin drafting my letter of resignation. For the five hundred and twelfth time.

We are, at last, summoned forth to approach the security desk. I am, as usual, first in line. I can’t help it, it’s just me. Mr. bulky, cross-eyed, redheaded, mouth breathing, more than slightly awkward TSA agent in the middle of B.F.E. takes my California Drivers License and my hand written boarding pass. He studies it for several seconds longer than is necessary, then asks me to step aside. Meanwhile, my computer bag with two computers and every necessary cord and peripheral and my purse with my credit cards, my iPad, my iPhones and my Kindle, and every hope of ever being able to reach people back in civilization, slowly proceed through the scanner. Let us not forget my perpetual and somewhat rebellious experiment, my bottle of eye drops in my computer bag and my bottle of mouthwash and tube of toothpaste in my purse, both thus far undetected, unchallenged, though every airport through which I have travelled for four of my five and a half years of frequent travel.

I am asked to step aside. The locals look at me like I’m a terrorist. Yes. Of course. The next 9-1-1 is going to originate out of Glasgow, Montana and I’m the Muslim extremist, Al Qaeda perpetrator du jour. I have brown hair, large brown eyes, large features and I’m “not from ‘round here”. Mr. bulky, cross-eyed, redheaded, mouth breathing, more than slightly awkward TSA agent in the middle of B.F.E.  is conferring with keyboard abusive ticket agent lady. I’m fucked. She’s explaining how the computer wouldn’t print out my ticket and he’s explaining that he needs to be able to verify my ticket and my destination. Neither is listening to each other, they are just explaining, loudly, simultaneously. Everyone is staring at me like I’m “the evil” George W. Bush described. Meanwhile, our flight is now, officially, late. I’m such a bitch. I made a flight late. Because, obviously, I’m a frickin’ terrorist. With purple suitcases and fuzzy, leopard print slippers. God, I hope he didn’t touch my matching glittery, floral V.S. undies and bras when he ransacked my suitcase. The slippers were bad enough.

Ten minutes later, a resolution is met; keyboard abusive ticket agent lady wrote, in pen, my name on the ticket she prepared. It was absent that key piece of information beforehand. I’d noticed. I didn’t want to be rude and mention it and I thought since she was just collecting one of the two pieces of paper as I boarded, it probably wasn’t that big a deal. Well, it was. Now that my name was on the ticket, in still wet blue ballpoint pen ink, and the name, miraculously matched my California Drivers License, I was okay to board the plane. I ran. I casually observed that no fluid was leaking from either engine, that I could discern, and I boarded. I was in the back of the plane. We were all in the back of the plane. The local lady strikes up a conversation with me, asks me what I was doing in Glasgow. I tell her what I tell everyone, the best way I know how to describe what it is I do; I teach CPAs how to use software. She smiles and says, “Oh, so you worked with Richard this week!” Yes. I did. Not Richard, exactly, his daughter and a couple of other folks. She knew. She has known Richard, and his family, for, well, forever. I’m in. I’m O.K. And, more importantly, I’m on the plane. And it doesn’t appear to be leaking.

The pilot/flight attendant comes aboard and asks us all to take seats up front until we make our first stop in Wolf Point. Then we can take our assigned seats again. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and try not to think of the impetus for this request and follow instructions. We take off a few short moments later. At Wolf Point, we land and are allowed to stay aboard. A few other passengers board, we all assume our assigned seats and we take off for Billings. Never have I been so excited to be headed for a metropolis such as Billings, Montana. We make it there post haste, as fast as those two little prop engines can manage. I exit the plane and my only worry in the world is; where the fuck are my bags?

I have a couple of hours to kill in Billings. I exit the secured area and hang out, not too suspiciously, but, maybe, lurk, around the baggage carousel, just to see if I spot any unclaimed purple suitcases. I don’t see them. Detroit. I’m certain. Or Egypt, as I seem to be on course thus far. I go to the restaurant on the “outside” of security and have a miserable breakfast and a bottomless cup of coffee.

Yuck. At Billings International Airport.
Yuck. At Billings International Airport.

For lack of anything better to do, after breakfast, I make my way through security screening again, because one can never have too much fun in one day. I find my gate and sit, charging my electronics, hoping to be able to write, which I am unable to do because some lady is broadcasting her cell phone conversation for us all to hear. “Us” all being everyone in the boarding area for our gate and the three surrounding gates. She was, apparently, highly religious, and wanted everyone within a half-mile radius to know that she was blessed and that God loves us all and that she was in fellowship, via her cell phone, with people of God. I’m happy for her. But all I want to do is clasp my hands over my ears and yell “La La La La La! I can’t hear you!” and, maybe, collect enough unique, original thoughts to get part of an article written. Nope. No such luck. I unplug everything and put them all away. I sit and stare straight ahead and just wait for the boarding announcement. That’s all I can manage.

For lack of anything better to do, after breakfast, I make my way through security screening again, because one can never have too much fun in one day. I find my gate and sit, charging my electronics, hoping to be able to write, which I am unable to do because some lady is broadcasting her cell phone conversation for us all to hear. “Us” all being everyone in the boarding area for our gate and the three surrounding gates. She was, apparently, highly religious, and wanted everyone within a half-mile radius to know that she was blessed and that God loves us all and that she was in fellowship, via her cell phone, with people of God. I’m happy for her. But all I want to do is clasp my hands over my ears and yell “La La La La La! I can’t hear you!” and, maybe, collect enough unique, original thoughts to get part of an article written. Nope. No such luck. I unplug everything and put them all away. I sit and stare straight ahead and just wait for the boarding announcement. That’s all I can manage.

Our plane arrives, we board, we fly to Salt Lake City and there I wait. I have enough time for a couple of excellent, local beers and the worst airport food I’ve ever tasted. Mind you, the best airport food I’ve ever had has been at SLC, I just didn’t think I had enough time to go that far and make it back in time for my flight to Sacramento. I compromised. I regretted it. After my nasty bar fare and my Polygamy Porter and my Evolution Amber Ale, both by Wasatch Brewery, and both very enjoyable, I made my way to my gate for my final flight. As soon as I approached, found a seat next to an outlet and plugged in my iPhones, the gate agent announced that the flight to Sacramento was oversold and they were looking for volunteers, who would, of course, be compensated with travel voucher. My instincts kicked in, my fight or flight instinct, no pun intended. Like Wild Bill Hickok, who, by the way, is my fourth cousin, I unplugged my devices, stashed them in my purse and was to the counter before anyone could even blink. Yes, survival of the fastest. I secured myself a seat on the later flight to Sacramento and had in my hot little hands a $400 voucher, which, and I made sure, will work on Alaska Airlines and $18 worth of dining vouchers. I now had hours to kill and vouchers to spend, I was off to find the ladies room and a voucher worthy venue with power outlets.

I only got as far as the top of the escalator and was sucked in to the undeniable force that is Vino Volo. I kind of missed the step involving the ladies room. I sat myself down at the bar and ordered the “California Kings”, my usual, though the selections vary. As I waited for my wine to be poured it occurred to me, crap, well no, not crap, but I did really need to use the loo. My wines arrived. I tried my best to savor them, but I really had to go. I guzzled my three three-ounce pours, quickly paid my tab and ran for the ladies room. I couldn’t help but notice, though, that there was a whole new side to Vino Volo; beer. Vino Volo was now Vino Volo Winery and Ale House. I ran. I peed. I returned. I still have five and 7/8 hours out of six to kill. I took a seat at the other bar, the “ale house” side. You can have wine or ale at any spot in the venue, I was just a little embarrassed to go back to the same seat. For all the difference it made, I had the same waiter. I ordered three tastes, for free, three ounces each, which I savored with the spicy edamame. Based on my tasting, I ordered a large glass of the Desert Edge Brewery’s Latter Day Stout. So good. I enjoyed this robust brew with a fab spinach salad, for dinner. Because I had now been at Vino Volo for an embarrassingly long time, I cashed out and headed towards my gate. Still way too early, even by my standards, and, after verifying that the Sacramento flight was appropriately displayed on the monitors at the gate, and, finding no available seating, I headed to another bar adjacent to my gate, and had one more Polygamy Porter. For the road. Or the air. Or whatever. I will miss Montana and Utah brews once back home. Not that I’m going to be home long enough to even open a beer. Still, I’m seizing opportunity while in the midst.

 Vino Volo AND ALE HOUSE? Whaaaaat?
Vino Volo AND ALE HOUSE? Whaaaaat?
Vino Volo and Ale House at SLC. Beer. Wine. Food. What flight, where? Who cares?
Vino Volo and Ale House at SLC. Beer. Wine. Food. What flight, where? Who cares?
Desert Edge Latter Day Stout. Chorus of angels sing.
Desert Edge Latter Day Stout. Chorus of angels sing.
Vino Volo and Ale House and good food, too.
Vino Volo and Ale House and good food, too.
A final beer in Utah before my flight back to California. Wait. California. We make wine. And beer. Ok, I'm ready to go!
A final beer in Utah before my flight back to California. Wait. California. We make wine. And beer. Ok, I’m ready to go!

I enjoy my porter. I board my plane. I fly to Sacramento. I make my way downstairs and to the baggage carousel. I’m the first there, of course. That’s just me. Before the carousel is even spinning, and I’ve made a restroom stop along the way. I can move pretty fast, as evidenced by the $400 travel voucher in my purse! I look at the Delta baggage claim office and what to my wondering eyes appear? My two purple suitcases, waiting for me. They’d caught the original flight and were waiting for me, tape hanging off of them, zipper compartments gaping open. The only think I truly cared about in those zipper compartments was my travel yoga mat, which was, happily, tucked snugly within. I grabbed my bags and headed to the bus, to my car in the economy lot and then an hour and a half down I-80, home. Tomorrow; one routine followed by another. Lather, rinse repeat, then unpack, launder, pack, repeat. And so, the rhythm of my life. For now.

Scarlett’s Letter September 17 – 20, 2013

Greetings from Glasgow, Montana.

I feel like I’m living in a Prairie Home Companion episode, or the 1950’s, or both; everyone here knows each other, and, usually, are related through marriage, if not directly. There is a mild distrust of anyone obviously not a part of “the clan”. Like me. And all of the “oil people”. The town without a Wal Mart (link). I mean, Michigan City, Indiana has a Wal Mart, and I bitched about that! Glasgow, Montana. Life seems a little simpler here, for those accustomed to it. Unless you need something from a large retailer. I, personally, am struggling.

The view from my hotel room.
The view from my hotel room.

But, first, let’s talk about trust. With much effort, tenacity and perseverance, I managed to find a car to rent in this town. I Googled and Googled and Googled. I eventually found a rental agency, online, that rented cars in “rural Montana”. I carefully selected a car and filled out the reservation form. There were “safe” and “secure” transaction badges all over the site and the name of the agency even sounded vaguely familiar. But, after entering all of my information, there was an error message that the transaction couldn’t be processed, though no reason was given. Five minutes later American Express calls and tells me my card has been hacked and was used at a Home Depot in New York City. Hello? If you’re going to hack a card with no credit limit, really? Home Depot? For a hundred bucks? Were you desperate for light switch plate covers and masking tape? Tiffany, Barney’s, Louis Vuitton and Cartier are right around the corner, loser. Back to trust. I picked up the phone and called a real person at the hotel I made reservations at. A real person answered, no recorded phone maze and I didn’t have to press anything for English. Amazing. The nice lady at the hotel gave me two phone numbers for folks she has known her entire life, that might just have car for rent the week I’m going to be in town. How nice. One is a Ford dealership, the other a Buick dealership. I call the Ford one. I’ve owned a 1966 Ford Mustang and a 1992 Ford Bronco; I am a Ford girl. But, sadly, they don’t rent cars anymore. I call Andy at the Buick dealership. They still make Buicks? Whatever.  Andy is very nice, but, all three of his rental cars are spoken for. He will talk to the boss (his dad) and, maybe, they can “buy” another car for me. Alright then. Nobody’s ever bought me a car before. He’ll call me back. And he does!!!! I am blown away! Whoever calls back when they say they’re going to? “I’ll call you back” normally translates to “I can’t help you, I don’t want to help you, I want off the phone, now, and you’ll never hear from me again.” Andy called back and had a car for me! Wow. Amazeballs.

Andy instructed me thusly; when my flight arrives in Glasgow (link), the car will be in the parking lot, unlocked, with the keys tucked behind the visor. There will be a bright orange piece of paper hanging from the rear view mirror with my name on it. This is trust. Or naivety. Andy, obviously, has never tried to reserve a car in Glasgow, Montana online. Andy has, obviously, never had his car stereo and the contents of his trunk stolen from him in the dead of night, from his locked car, parked in his own driveway in the “best part of town”. Andy, obviously, doesn’t shop at Wal Mart often, because it’s three and a half hours away. How cool to live in a world where you can leave a car at the airport, unlocked, with the keys within and a sign that says everything but, “steal me”. There must be a catch. There is.

There is no AT&T cell service for miles, from what I’ve been told. Having arrived very late at night after my epic flight and non-flight, I sort of tumbled into bed, hoping it was clean, and I slept, I might have actually passed into death, briefly. I was tired. I didn’t glance at my phone as I readied for bed, other than to set the alarms for morning. When I arrived at my clients’ office, and, at break, went to send my Sweetie my customary “Good morning, Love” text message, I found “No Signal” where the bars should’ve been. My first thought was that my service had been cut off due to some gross bookkeeping error in some remote third world country where AT&T has outsourced their accounting function. I tried calling myself from my Verizon phone. I know. Geek. I tried texting myself, back and forth, to no avail. I finally worked up the gumption to ask the twenty something attendees in my class about cell reception. I was told that AT&T only comes in from the middle of the lake. I don’t happen to have a boat with me. Nice. Maybe Andy has a boat I can rent.

There are places I go, routinely, where there is little or no cell reception, and I am fine. Work is not one of them. When I am travelling for work, I really, really, really want to communicate with everyone in my life. It keeps me sane. Nearly. I could feel a mild state of hysteria overcome me as I tried to work out, in my mind, how I was going to manage communication without a cell signal. My Verizon phone is for “work purposes only”. I even had to sign a mile long “contract”, after watching an online slideshow/movie/presentation thing (for people in our company who can’t read, I guess), as to what is business and what is personal use of the phone and that, under penalty of death, we would not use our work iPhones for personal purposes. I’m totally fine with that. Until now. I have full reception on my work (Verizon) phone. There is a world out there I need to contact at random points throughout the day and night. This I must I do. Shit.

All day long I am thinking and planning and scheming on how, exactly, I’m going to communicate with everyone. And get away with it. I figure out that with my Verizon MiFi, which is mine, all mine, and, yes, seemed like an extravagant $50 bill every month, until now, I can turn it on and use my AT&T phone to reach part of my world; my kids via iMessage and Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare. That is pretty much the whole world, except my Sweetie, who, in the outskirts of Fairbanks, Alaska, though without Internet or Wi-Fi, is actually in a more civilized and amenity filled world than Glasgow, Montana.

My only solution to that, then, is to use my “work” phone to call my Sweetie. Sssshhh. But, gosh darnit, when you’re a thousand miles from home, alone, because of work, I’m pretty much thinking that being able to connect with your loved ones then becomes a business necessity. So. Fire me. Please.

I went out to dinner with several folks from the firm I’m working with this week. We had a lovely dinner at the one pretty good restaurant in town. I strategically seized a seat in the “middle” of the long, rectangular table, thinking I’d be able to hear everyone, and soft spoken as I am, would be able to project to all. I ended up playing conversational Ping-Pong. The folks on the left of me are all talking about hunting and fishing and epic adventures, the people to the right of me are all talking about travel, shopping, wine and dining out. My interests are divided, normally, but usually I can juggle them. This is just cruel, I am forced to decide, or be an idiot and keep trying to participate effectively in both conversations. I just swivel my head left, then right, left then right, and try to participate in both conversations. I order another beer and, with my MiFi on in my purse, I manage to check in from on all my social media, complete with pictures. After dinner, I head back to my hotel room. I pull out the useless weight in my purse, which happens to be the iPhone 5 I lusted after for months, I notice a sign of life, a faint pulse. A faint glimmer of life, of utility. There is a signal. Like, two and a half bars. I try to place a call, to no avail. I try to text, to no avail. So, it’s alive, but in a coma. And still, a useless weight, a lying, cheating, misleading useless weight. Bars imply functionality. Liar. Liar. Liar.

Dinner at Durum in Glasgow Montana
Dinner at Durum in Glasgow Montana
Shared dessert at Durum in Glasgow Montana
Shared dessert at Durum in Glasgow Montana

I eventually come to terms with my inability to easily communicate with people in the civilized world. People with a Wal Mart closer than three and a half hours away. Not that I, by any stretch of the imagination, consider Wal Mart an indication of civility, culture or even domestication. Still, there is a certain calm that comes with the acceptance of being so remote you no longer exist to the social media world. This is why I thoroughly enjoy backpacking as often as I can. This is why I find my visits to Alaska so grounding, so centering, so nutritive. I know I’m a junkie, a technological, social media needia junky. I’ve written about a trip to Alaska where I learned to overcome my six-shooter Google App for iPhone reflexes and remembered how to use dictionaries and other anthropologically important methods to find information, in order to prove my point, that I was right, or, in rare cases, to educate myself when I was lacking knowledge. I jest, of course. Of course.

It is often observed, in the Bible and in other historical accounts, that when things are the darkest, light ensues. After the floods, the sun on the fringe of the clouds and the rainbow, blardy blar, as an example. Somewhere, at some point, I decided, maybe decided is too strong of a word, I succumb to the fact that I was here, social media and decent cell service were not, and I could not do simple things, like Open Table, Foodspot or Yelp for restaurants, bank from an app on my phone, check in for flights and pay for bags from an app on my phone, or, even hold a simple conversation on my cell phone, text or talk. With acceptance, however unwilling, of these facts, the rainbow appeared and I decided to embrace a certain simplicity. To simplify in a way, or two, that may even leave a mark on my data enriched, or perhaps, data inundated, lifestyle back home. Besides, I was getting menacing emails from my Verizon MiFi data plan about approaching my limit for the month and the cost of overages. And I’m only ten days in to my plan month. Crap.

Does it mean something when your almost brand new iPhone 5 battery only lasts 2/3 of the day before requiring life support? With each new iPhone, I was pretty sure, the battery life was supposed to improve. Oh, wait, but so does the quantity and quality of all the apps for the iPhone. It’s like heroine. We start with an app or two, then ten or twenty, then a hundred or two hundred. Before long, we can’t get out of bed or measure the quality of our sleep without an app. Or two. The more apps we use to simply exist, obviously, the more battery life we consume in an ordinary day. I have lots of apps. I used to know I was an app junkie by the crazy number of notifications in the upper right hand corner of the “App Store” icon. I was normally in the triple digits. Embarrassing. I know. But, thankfully, I am oblivious to my addiction once again. With the iOS7 upgrade, my phone now automatically updates all my apps and I never see an update push notification. Since this marvel I have probably downloaded two-dozen more apps. It doesn’t help that apps are advertised on Facebook for iPhone. I fall for it. I click through, read the description, read the reviews and download the app. Free apps are offered on other apps I use, like the Starbucks app and EasilyDo. I even downloaded two apps while at the airport after watching popular media on TV. Shoot me. I have discovered some cool apps this way; Evernote and Dashlane, for example. I couldn’t survive ten minutes without either one of these apps on every one of my devices; phones, macs, PCs. Seamless. Unless, of course, I’m in Glasgow, Montana.

I’m quite certain one of the reasons my iPhone battery drains so quickly is because of the volume of crap emails I get. For the record, I hate email. Loathe, despise and hate, with a capital H-A-T-E. And I’m old enough to remember when email was the cool thing and not everyone had it, only the totally in the know, cutting edge, Avant-garde people had an email address. I remember the lengths I went to to have an email address of my own. I had a personal email long before I had work email. Alas, I have always been this way. Sigh. And for this; email hell. Every business I do business with, which for me, is lots, including every store I shop at, every social networking site I affiliate with and every app I have to register for, which is pretty much all of them, I get regular emails. And by regular I mean hourly. I spend more time deleting emails in a twenty-four hour period than I do sleeping, which is just wrong.

And what is the proper etiquette? My daughter was in a youth group for several years but has not been, now, for a couple of years. The daughter of a now deceased youth advisor for the same youth group has an MLM and, God help me, I’m on her list. I will never buy any of the shit she sells, even if I knew what it was, nor will I become a representative for any of the shit she sells, in fact, I find her quite tiresome not only in email format but on Facebook, as well. Can I “unsubscribe” and “unfriend”, or is that “uncool”? And with that guilty thought came a revelation. I’m fucking unsubscribing from everything. Today will be “Fucking Unsubscribing from Everything Day”. I’m going to the National Calendar Day page and requesting this as an official day! They may go for it, but I’m guessing they’ll edit the name a little. By the way, they need an app of their own. They don’t have one. I checked. Yesterday.

I made progress, while I was within range and within budget, on Wi-Fi. I couldn’t help but delete all the garbage emails as they came in, but then, in my free time, which I have lots of, since I can’t actually communicate with anyone in the outside world, the real world, the internet, only by email, I’ve been going through my email trash folder and systematically unsubscribing to everything. This is so liberating! I can’t wait until tomorrow morning when I have like, zero emails! I’m genuinely excited. I haven’t unsubscribed from shit in almost five years! I think I may even weigh less as a result! I’m going shopping for size fours! Wait. No I’m not. I’m in Glasgow, Montana AND I can’t reach MissMe.com. Fudge.

Irony. I tried to unsubscribe from the MLM youth group connection lady. The “unsubscribe” link resulted in an error, all forty seven times I’ve tried. My penance. Well, hell.

As the week progresses, I continue to opportunistically unsubscribe to all the emails I’ve been receiving, daily now, for years. I really do feel leaner, lighter, freer. I highly recommend this. How much time and energy do you spend every day mindlessly deleting email after email after email?

Are there other things in our life that drain us like unwanted emails drain our phone battery life? Think about it. Are there things we do, or things we endure, that make life more cumbersome? Poor health, an unhappy relationship, a job we don’t love. Is there something in life you dread as much as seeing a push notification for twenty-five new emails you know are all junk? Is it time to unsubscribe? Is it time to sleep more, and to sleep better, having put all this waste behind us. Like a juice-cleanse for the soul? Think about it. Then take action. Unsubscribe from all those unwanted emails, then unsubscribe from the unnecessary and tedious things in life that fill you with the same feeling of dread and trepidation as hundreds of crap emails. Be free.

I have actually been enjoying my evenings, here, in Glasgow, Montana. I’ve been eating well, in spite of the fact I haven’t been able to see how many stars or spoons a restaurant has earned from adoring fans. I have been receiving restaurant recommendations via “word of mouth”. It is so retro it’s almost cool again. This is how it works; someone ate somewhere and liked the food and they tell you, in person, and even suggest a menu selection. I know. Right? So you drive to the restaurant, and, thank goodness the Garmin still works here, because they’re all, like, fifteen miles from town, but totally worth the ten-minute drive (speed limits are pretty high around here once you get three feet out of town). And the local beer? Wow. Who knew? The only place in town that didn’t have an admirable local beer list, or any beer list, for that matter, was the pizza place. I didn’t know you could eat pizza without beer. It can be done, and, yes, the pizza was good … but. I ate a slice or two in the restaurant, had the rest boxed, bought beer at the market, and went back to my hotel to enjoy the rest, though sans people watching, at least, with a decent beer.

Lunch at Sam's Supper Club Glasgow Montana
Lunch at Sam’s Supper Club Glasgow Montana
Eugene's Pizza, Glasgow Montana
Eugene’s Pizza, Glasgow Montana
Eugene's Pizza, Glasgow Montana
Eugene’s Pizza, Glasgow Montana

The other place, out of town fifteen miles, that didn’t have a decent beer menu, may have, in fact, had a decent beer menu. Am I missing it? Is there some rule or law or code somewhere that says females only ever drink, or should only ever drink, shitty, pale, piss-water-beer? I don’t. I won’t. Example. I went to the hotel bar with a couple of the partners from the firm I’m working with. I asked about the beer menu. I could see about thirty different varieties, in bottles, in the cooler behind the bar. I was salivating. The bartender started naming off “beers” like Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite. I asked her “what’s the darkest beer you have?” She told me there was a Bakken Bock, but it was “dark” and I wouldn’t like it. I told her I would. She insisted, as in, argued, I wouldn’t like it. I politely insisted that I would, in fact like it, meaning, I’d enjoy it and bring me a goddam glass, please. She tried to suggest, again, that I really wouldn’t like it. I loved it. I had two. I went back another night and had two more. I want one now.

My last day with the client. We finish our session a little early, by design, because everyone in the office is going to the High School Homecoming parade. I time the conclusion of the materials and exercises expertly, they all walk out the door and down the street. I gather my things and get in Andy’s rental car, the Buick, which is quite nice, if you wanted to know. By now, however, the streets are all blocked off for the parade, the sidewalks on both sides are lined with people, all wearing read. Go Scotties. Woof. I try, unsuccessfully, for the next thirty minutes, to find a way around the parade route. The train tracks parallel the main streets “downtown”, the highway in and out of town are on the other side of the street, and the only track crossing is an underpass which is, clearly, part of the parade route, as evidenced by the cop car parked askance across the intersection in order to thwart unpatriotic out-of-towners like me from getting mixed up with the marching band and the floats. The parade route zigzags up one street and down another, I find, totaling, I’m sure, about eight miles in all and covering every bit of pavement the town has, with the exception of the highway, on the other side of the tracks. The tracks I cannot cross, the highway I now, desperately wish to be upon. At one point I get too close to the parade route and can’t turn around because I’ve run out of side streets and all the driveways are blocked by onlookers. I just drive my red Buick LaCrosse down the street. All the onlookers wave excitedly at my red car as they peer in to see who, exactly is driving. Their smiles all fade when they at last conclude that I’m just a dumb out-of-towner that got mixed up in their parade route. I exit the fan-lined street as quickly as I can. At long last, having now driven in circles, squares and up and down every street to find only dead ends and farm equipment impeding my escape, I approach the cop car at the intersection of the parade route and the underpass to freedom. The cop politely smiles and waves me on, under the train tracks and to freedom! So, I’ve been driving around like an idiot, crisscrossing the parade route multiple times, for nearly an hour. I’m a little embarrassed. I hope no one from the firm has seen me make a spectacle of myself.

Bergie's in Nashua Montana
Bergie’s in Nashua Montana
Bergie's in Nashua Montana
Bergie’s in Nashua Montana
BBQ pulled pork wrap at Bergie's in Nashua Montana
BBQ pulled pork wrap at Bergie’s in Nashua Montana
Ice Cream made at Bergie's in Nashua Montana
Ice Cream made at Bergie’s in Nashua Montana

So, on my last night, I went to a restaurant out by the lake. You know, the lake where AT&T has service. In the middle of. I don’t believe it. I am seated and a very nice though somewhat awkward, and, dare I say, backward, young waitress greets me. There is a vibrant bar with all kinds of “Montana-like” people at the bar, stout, swarthy men, stout, swarthy women. I’m thinking they’ve got to have stout swarthy brew! I implore. I am given the usual, “oh, you’re a girl, and not a particularly swarthy, stout one, so you must want a light beer, but only because our wine list sucks, otherwise you’d order a Chardonnay”. Wrong, on every count.  I don’t want a Bud Light, I don’t want a Coors Light, I don’t ever want Chardonnay. I want real beer, that tastes like beer, made from malt and barley and hops and maybe something exotic like chocolate or oatmeal. Or both. I settle on a Sam Adams because my waitress is dumbfounded and can only point at the bottles in the cooler behind the bar. She actually suggests Smirnoff Ice as a “beer” selection. I am trying to be tolerant, accepting and kind. I manage. Meanwhile, I see other people in the vicinity with beer that has color, like maybe an amber, even. Sigh. The waitress reads the specials to me, with labor, chicken “cord on balloon”, I have a visual, but she then describes the ingredients, in gruesome detail. I’m sorry, doesn’t everyone know what chicken cordon bleu is? I let it pass. She then goes on to tell me that the chicken “cord on balloon” is served with hhhhhhhhhherb mashed potatoes. She pronounced the “h”, with emphasis. Oh dear. My heart breaks a little for her, poor child. She doesn’t know what real beer is and she, obviously is under the impression that someone is serving chicken with balloons tied to it with cords. I tip her 20%, hoping she puts it to good use and gets out of Montana long enough to learn what cordon bleu means and that real women often drink real beer.

Gateway in Fort Peck Montana
Gateway in Fort Peck Montana
Gateway in Fort Peck Montana
Gateway in Fort Peck Montana
My favorite Montana brew, the Bakken Bock, enjoyed at Cottonwood Hotel.
My favorite Montana brew, the Bakken Bock, enjoyed at Cottonwood Hotel.

I’m ready to go home. In so many ways. I get back in Andy’s Buick and head for the hotel, where I stop in at the bar for one more Bakken Bock before I ready to leave for home, and civilization and cell service, briefly, tomorrow.

Montana scenery
Montana scenery
Lake at Fort Peck Montana
Lake at Fort Peck Montana

Scarlett’s Letter September 16, 2013

The first thing anyone from Glasgow, Montana will tell you about their town is, “the closest Wal Mart is three and a half hours away”. I’m not sure if they think that’s a good thing, or a bad thing. I’m not a Wal Mart fan, but, as there is no Target anywhere nearby either, I am a little distressed. I’m glad I packed EVERYTHING like I was entering some survivalist game.

I knew to do this simply based on the trials of making travel arrangements. We are “required” to use a certain online booking agency, with a special division devoted solely to our company, for all of our business travel. That way, all of our geographical price restrictions and limitations are integrated into the reservation making process. For example, if I want to book a hotel in a certain city, I must first consult a spreadsheet to see what the nightly limit is for that particular city, then remain below that limit, or request, in advance of booking, manager approval. This is new, by the way. The per day meal expense limitation was diminished last year. When I started, there wasn’t one. So. Not. Happy. When I started this job five and a half years ago, as long as you didn’t expense an extravagant dinner and bar tab for twenty at an upscale restaurant, you were golden. As long as you didn’t book the presidential suite and charge your pay-per-view movies, you were golden. Now we are budgeted on hotels and dining. Hmmm.

So, I’m online. I manage to book a flight. It’s hella expensive, but it is the ONLY flight that day to Glasgow and has a six-hour layover in Billings, Montana. That’s the easy part. I search for hotels and the online travel agency can’t find any hotels nearby. I’ve only been to two other places where I’ve encountered this; some place in Arkansas where I did actually have to commute from Texarkana, forty minutes, to the tiny burg the client had their office at. The other time was for this very client in Glendive, Montana. According to Expedia and their related companies, Montana has no hotels. It gets better, or worse. I try to secure a rental car. No such thing. I have only encountered this one time before, in over five years of frequent business travel, and, again, for this client, in Glendive, Montana.

I’m beginning to have post-traumatic stress syndrome-like flashbacks of business travel in rural Montana.

A couple of years back, and then some, I was on a very long, extended, multi-week trip. I had two consecutive weeks in New Jersey and Pennsylvania on my schedule, same firm, but at a different location in a different city, each and every day. There was virtually no way to get home on Saturday and out again on Sunday and, actually, I ended up spending Easter Sunday, by myself, three thousand miles from home, having brunch at a steak house somewhere in New Jersey. The third week, I was to be in Montana. Again, there was no way to get home and then to Montana in time for my sessions to begin the next week. I think there were a couple of flights that would have made it physically possible, but I would only be home, literally, three hours. The miles would have been great, but I’d already made Platinum with United and wasn’t close enough to 100k to exert the effort.

So, I headed to Montana directly from Philadelphia. That was an adventure. I flew from Philly to Denver on a 737. In Denver, I switched to some tiny little plane and headed for Billings. I’ve flown tiny little planes before, and really don’t mind, except that the pilots look younger than my kids. As we make our final approach into Billings, the pilot turns around, yes, turns around, and says, “We can’t land. The wind is higher than this plane is rated for. We’re going to circle for a bit and hope the wind let up.” Fine. Hope is great but should never be considered a plan. My only question; how much fuel do we have? The fuel tank can’t be much bigger than the one in my SUV. We make a few laps around the airport and, miraculously, the wind has let up just enough for us to land without the wings snapping off the airplane. Excellent.

From Billings, I board an even smaller plane. I am the only woman. Not that it matters, but, yah. We make one stop, somewhere, at a tiny airport, a couple of guys get off, a couple of guys get on. Then next stop is Glendive. We land. The airport is, pretty much, just a metal outbuilding you’d find for sale at Home Depot to store your riding mower and a couple of bicycles in. I deplane. I’m the only one that deplanes. I’ve made arrangements for “the” rental car with Earl. I meet Earl inside, a nice older gentleman that reminds me of Barney Pheiff from Mayberry. We get in Earl’s beat up old minivan. There are stacks of paper covering the entire dashboard and as much paper covering every seat but his and mine. We drive a quarter mile or so to a deserted hangar where I “fill out paperwork”. I usually rent cars from National, where I am delivered by bus to a large lot and I’m “on file”, as an “Executive Member” and I just go get in a car and wave a little as I pass through a kiosk. Not quite. But I stop at the kiosk briefly and provide my ID so they know I’ve arrived, per my reservation, and that’s it. Earl has me write shit down on paper and then sign it. I do.

Paperwork complete, we get back in the minivan and drive back to the airport. I see all the big, strapping men from my flight milling around outside the “terminal”. Earl explains that their flight to Sydney (Montana, not Australia) didn’t depart because there was ice on the runway there and they wouldn’t be able to land. They all climb in and we drive to the Jeep dealership. I’m thinking, “Cool! I get to drive a new Jeep!” Nope. We drive around behind the dealership to a dusty, lone vehicle parked on a gravel lot. I don’t even remember what it was. Nowhere near new and looking a bit decrepit, forlorn and neglected. The car. Not me. Yet. I get in, bid Earl, et al, adieu and chug off in the only rental car in town. I’m on my way to the hotel I found online, but not on the company endorsed website. I’m staying one night, then I’m to drive to Medora, North Dakota, an hour or so away, to a “resort” where the client has arranged a conference room and projector and this is going to be a retreat/training for the whole firm. Ok. My GPS instructs me to get on the Interstate and head in a certain direction. I chug along in my gutless, little rental car, which, by the way, has a serious front-end alignment issue.

I get about a mile and am approaching my off ramp for my hotel for the night. But the road is blocked with traffic, mostly big rigs. The off ramp is full and nothing seems to be moving. I see a cop car and flashing lights at the top of the ramp and I’m wondering “WTF?” I wait and wait and wait. I’m getting a little irritated but am helpless to move. At this point, I am in this tiny, seemingly ill and untrustworthy little tin can of a car and I am the only passenger vehicle amidst a sea of big rigs. At long last, traffic moves, directed by the cop. I make it to the top of the ramp and notice that the street is lined with big rigs, on both sides, in both directions, for as far as I can see. All I can smell are diesel fumes. I wind my way through the maze of trucks, to my hotel, one of three, all of which are no more than two stars. Combined. Thankfully, I have my reservation because every room in town has been taken. It seems that the road is closed one exit up, due to ice on the highway into North Dakota. Yes, the very highway I must navigate first thing in the morning, in a car with a shaky front end that pulls dangerously to the left when the brakes are applied. And, keep in mind, I’m a Cali girl. Do people actually drive in the snow? And ice?

There are no restaurants on Open Table, why am I surprised. But, according to the toothless fella at the front desk that looks like the poster child for too much fried food, the place across the street is pretty good. The best in town. Alrighty, then. I head over there, order a glass of red wine and something to eat. It was good, even if I can’t remember what it was. I order a second glass of wine, hell, I only have to cross the street on foot, so why not? When I order my second glass, the waitress smiles, leaves, and returns with the glass filled all the way up to the rim. She understands.

The “hotel” has no elevator. Mind you, I have two suitcases. Two heavy suitcases. I’ve packed for three weeks. I’m thinking the only reason they call this a “hotel” is because it has a second story with an interior hallway, but, really, it’s a motel that is two-story and has an interior hallway. I lug my suitcases upstairs to my room, open the door, and if I’d had any energy or emotion left, I might have cried. I think I curled up, in a fetal position, in bed, trying not to think about what else may have been curled up, in a fetal position, on this bed, in the recent past. I slept. The next morning, I went to the front desk to check out. Luckily, I was told, the highway was open. Icy. But open. I ventured on.

It was sunny as I headed in whatever direction North Dakota was. East, I’d imagine. There were tall snowdrifts on both sides of the road, and much to my dismay, every mile or so, the snowdrift was punctuated on one side, the other, or both, with a car that had gone off the road and was stuck, apparently hopelessly, nose first, in the snow bank. My only thought was, “and these people know how to drive in this shit.” I had a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel as I travelled cautiously down the highway. The steering wheel jittered in my grasp as the misaligned front wheels tried, in vain, to track true along the road. I saw something in the road ahead. The early morning sun was glaring brightly off the snow, off the wet road and was gleaming off of whatever was in the road ahead. As I approached the flat object on the pavement, it occurred to me, it was ice. Nice. Ice. My mind is doing a quick Ctrl + F to search for “how to drive across ice at an elevated speed”. No results found.  I gripped the wheel tighter, squeezed my eyes shut, turned my head slightly towards the left, I don’t know why, I do that in scary movies, too. I crossed the ice. And lived. This method seemed to work well on the next three hundred and thirty eight ice patches. I made it to Medora, North Dakota unscathed, a little shaky and very relieved. I had a lovely, lovely week with my client.

It is to the same firm I am returning this week. Same firm, different location. They have three. In the three least likely locations in Montana. This week, yes, Glasgow. Home of the Scotties and about three thousand people. And no Wal Mart.

I get up at my usual 1:00 AM for a 6:00 AM flight out of Sacramento this morning. I’ve done the math over and over and it is, absolutely, five hours from alarm clock to push back from the gate, no matter whether I fly out of San Francisco, Oakland or Sacramento. I choose Sacramento because it’s such a nice little airport, and, frankly, quite like home to me. I’m on a first name basis with the bus drivers from the economy lot. I fly Delta to Salt Lake City. I don’t normally fly Delta, in fact, I avoid Delta. The only thing I like about Delta is the fact that the miles I earn with Delta can be spent on Alaska Airlines. I like the airport in Salt Lake City, where, in fact, you will find the best drinking venues in all the U.S. SLC has an outstanding microbrew community offering some fantastic beers with some very clever names. I love the Polygamy Porter, for example. No time for beer this time. I switch planes on a fairly short timeframe and head for Billings and my six-hour layover.

In Billings I am to switch airlines from Delta to “Island”. I was told in Sacramento by the Delta ticketing agent that I’d have to deplane, claim my bags, check my bags with the other airline, and go back through security. I deplaned, claimed my bags, and went in search of my airline. Island Air. I’m not aware of any islands in Montana, but that was the name of the carrier. So I thought. But, as I walked up and down the ticketing counters in Billings, I only saw Delta, Alaska, Allegiant and Silver. Delta, Alaska and Allegiant had a regular line with the Disneyland type zigzag barricades. Silver had a very small sign taped to the counter and no attendant. Apparently, Silver and Island were one in the same, or so I was told upon my eventual inquiry. I stood at the counter for a period of time until, at last, one of the Delta agents came over to assist me. I was told my flight was delayed a few hours, and so, my bags would be checked for free. Nice. I guess. I handed over my luggage and considered what to do with my day. I thought about going in to town, but I was on cash basis today. My Corporate American Express had been hacked Friday and shut off. Some miscreant was at a Home Depot in New York City racking up charges on my Corporate Card. I love that Am Ex caught it in, like, ten seconds. They texted me twice on two phones, called and left voicemails on three numbers and sent me emails at three email addresses. I felt popular for a minute there. A new card was sent out to me, but due to timing, didn’t make the cutoff for overnight delivery to my house on Saturday. My new card would meet me at my hotel in Glasgow later tonight, Monday. I decided to hang around the airport, rather than tempt myself in town with dining and shopping possibilities. Another time. I’m sure.

I find the one and only restaurant outside security and head there for lunch. And beer. I’ve got eight or more hours to kill. I have pork tenderloin for lunch, which was good, but typical for this part of the country. Mostly meat, sad salad of iceberg lettuce and a waxy, orange tomato slice, big, fat, greasy fries and a pickle. And, the fries are entirely too close to the pickle and have soaked up all the pickle juice. Ew. I have two local beers with lunch. I go pee after lunch. I head to the bar and have two more local beers, all different. All good. I decide to make my way through security while I’m still upright. Now, I travel a lot, as you well know. I have been through most of the major airports in the U.S. And, if you’ve read many of my articles, you also know that I have a long-running experiment with TSA. I carry a bottle of mouthwash and a tube of toothpaste in my purse, which I never remove to the bin. I leave it my purse. I also have a bottle of eye drops in my computer bag, again, which I don’t remove to the bins as per instruction. I have had them in my purse for nearly two years and they have never been detected, even when the bags have been hand searched because of all the electrical cords I carry for all my devices. I usually skate right through security, I get a little pat on my ass for the bling on my Miss Me jeans, which is routine, and which I enjoy joking about, but that’s it.

Billings International Airport, apparently, seems to think they will be the origin of the next big terrorist event. There were no less than ten TSA agents milling about, pretty much just making everyone’s lives difficult. They re-ran everyone’s bags multiple times. They interrogated everyone in line. The guy checking ID’s almost didn’t let me pass because my name has a hyphen on my ID but not on my ticket, it’s all run together into one word. I’ve travelled this way without the bat of an eye for over half a decade. Anyway. I finally make it through security and head for the bar where I have a couple more local brews. And a slice of pizza. And another beer. About the time my plane was originally scheduled to leave I grew antsy. I decided to go to the gate and check on the status. My app on my phone never updated the departure time for the delay the ticketing agent spoke of. My app has never failed me. I teach tomorrow morning, I have to be in Glasgow tonight.

I get to the gate and, by golly, they’re boarding. App never fails me. Again. Always right, always true. I’ve known about delays and cancellations before the gate agents, on multiple occasions. It’s “Flight Track Pro”, if you’re curious. I swear by it. We board a tiny plane, about the same size as the one I went skydiving out of in July. I’m amused, of course I’ve had seven beers in six hours, everything is amusing. The very young pilots board and we take off, boarding to flight in about three minutes. As we take off, the man across the aisle from me notices some liquid coming from the engine, “that’s not right”, he says, and walks up to the cockpit and tells the pilot. No, there is no door, you can see the pilots up there, picking their noses and popping their zits. Yes, they still have acne. We land at the next little town, Wolf Point. We are told we must all deplane while they check out the mysterious liquid. Mind you, the man who pointed it out is at his final destination. The rest of us, three of us, are not. We have another leg of this flight. On this plane. I say, “the plane was flying just fine, can we just go?” Again, I’m amused, but no one goes along with me. We go into the terminal, not much more grand than the one in Glendive. We sit and wait. A big lifted truck pulls up. It’s the mechanic, he lives at the end of the runway. I’m thinking that’s great! Quick! Quick! And we’ll be on our way. Here’s the problem. The air service to these remote Montana towns is what is called EAS. Essential Air Service. And some airline agrees to serve these towns, and I assume, at a great financial loss. Last time I flew through here it was a different airline and one that was terminating their service imminently. As evidenced by the signs taped to every blank surface that read “it’s been fun, but …” this airline was supposed to have terminated its service a month or so ago, but agreed to hang on just a bit longer until the next, hapless airline takes over. Unfortunately, they’d already dismissed the mechanic that was now looking at our plane. And, as he wasn’t employed by the airline anymore, wasn’t willing to say whether the plane was okay to go on, or not. The liquid, as it was explained, repeatedly, was probably just water from the plane being washed down moments before we departed Billings, but no one was willing to sign off on that. A call was placed to headquarters (aka, the lawyer). An hour later, we were told we weren’t able to fly to our next destination. But, as luck would have it, an employee of the airline would drive an hour from Glasgow, pick us up and drive us there.

An hour passes. There is no beer. Thankfully, there is a cell signal, so I’m texting and talking on the phone. More time passes and still no ride. A woman pulls up, comes in, ignores us, collects the pilots, and heads off. They got a ride. We didn’t. But, a while later, another car arrives and we are beckoned forth. There are three of us, so I imagined a van or something to accommodate our luggage and all. Nope. It is a dismal passenger car from maybe the 1990’s. One of such poor design and workmanship that I didn’t even recognize the make and model as familiar in any respect. I’m thinking it’s probably in a worse state of disrepair than the airplane. We pile in and take off down a flat, straight, dark road. We are regaled with the high points of Glasgow; first, there isn’t a Wal Mart within three and a half hours, second, there is only one hotel worth staying in, and, thankfully, it’s the one I’ve booked, as has everyone else in the car, including the driver, as she is only in Glasgow until the airline departs for the final time in a few weeks. Third, there is a lake that is worth seeing, Fort Peck, with the largest earthen damn or some damned thing. I make a mental note, though I am really too tired to really take in much more stimuli today.

We stop by the Glasgow International Airport on the way in to town to pick up the rental car I managed to locate after an entire day of Googling and playing phone tag. I drive to the hotel. I check in. Despite the fact that someone else’s food is in the fridge, and God only knows how long it’s been there, and, there’s blood on the pillowcase on one of the two beds, I change into my jammies and I crash, in the other bed. By this point, I’ve been up nearly twenty-four hours and I have to get up in a few short hours to work. I didn’t even have the luxury of locating my clients’ office the night before as I routinely do. I’ll just have to get up earlier and manage it in the morning. And, so begins my week in Glasgow.

An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve

An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve An Effort to Evolve