Monday, July 26, 2010

24 Hours in Baltimore

Through a very effective (and, I'm told, purely accidental) application of cross-family guilt, my mother convinced my cousins to attend a family reunion in Baltimore this weekend, thereby prompting my aunt to guilt me into attending as well.  Excepting, since I was out sick earlier this month, I really couldn't justify taking any more time off work, so I had to fly in on Saturday and fly out on Sunday.  As it turned out, my flight on Saturday was scheduled to arrive at 6:09 p.m., which was my precise departure time on Sunday.  So I was looking at precisely 24 hours in Baltimore.

(My boss quipped, "That might be just enough time to spend in Baltimore.")

Flight out was eventful only in the sense that it was so oversold, I couldn't get a pre-assigned seat, and had to get one at the gate.  Fearing the worst (getting kicked to a later flight and having even less than 24 hours in Baltimore), I woke up extra early to arrive at the airport well in advance of everyone else on flight, where I watched my name slowly move up the monitor from "no seat assignment" to the very last person on the "assigned seat" list.  It was a center seat, but at least I was on the damn plane.

My father is the eldest of four siblings.  Reunion in Baltimore was attended by 3 of the four of them, all but two of their kids (i.e., my cousins), various spouses, and, where applicable, their grandkids (of which there were eight).  It was fairly impressive when you think about it, as we live on three different continents.  I haven't seen a few of the cousins in six years or more; most of their kids I'd never met at all.

Saturday night, after a barbecue at my aunt's house, a few of us (me, three cousins, two spouses) decided to go out.  As I learned later, we probably should have been a little more decisive on the where part before we left.  We generally figured on getting some food or drink or whatever -- but it turned out that two of 'em wanted dinner and two of 'em wanted drinks and two of us were just along to hang out with everyone else.

There was also some getting lost involved.  Well, no, that isn't exactly true.  We knew exactly where we were, we just sorta mis-guessed where our destination was.  Which ended up with us parking ... well, thanks to Google maps, I can now confirm that we parked a half-mile from our destination.  (Which was uphill from where we'd parked.)  Now, my cousins were all wearing nice, comfy walking shoes, and I'm the idiot in the three-inch heels.

We finally get to where all the bars and restaurants are, and it's nearly 11:00.  The kitchens are closed in most of the bars -- which are all playing loud music anyway, which isn't conducive to conversation -- and the restaurants are closing, too.  We're about to give up when we stumble upon the "No Way Jose Cafe," which is actually just starting Happy Hour.  We can be happy.  So, we settle in for some Mexican cuisine, while I subtley kick off my shoes and do a blister check.

It isn't pretty.  Two blisters have already burst, and I've still got that half-mile walk back ahead of me.

But, on the plus side, we've got a pitcher of Sangria.  

I'm not much of a drinker by nature, and, in fact, have never actually been drunk.  And, seeing as I drink so rarely, I haven't built up much of a tolerance.  I can get buzzed on one drink, and I've never had more.

I realize I have a half-mile walk ahead of me to get back to the car, and one thought is in my head.  That thought is the expression "feeling no pain," and that I should give it a try.  I ask my cousin to pour me some more sangria.  

I spend a delightful hour or so catching up with cousins who live on the other side of the planet.  It's a bit embarrassing that we know each other so little, so we're sort of catching up on the basics (like what we all do for a living, and what their kids' names are) and we end up bonding over the usual things people in my generation bond over (like the fact that my cousin's husband and I both have the Motorola Droid, except his was marketed in Israel as the "Milestone," and its keyboard is bilingual).  Yeah, tech is universal.  Wasn't too long before we were all bitching about Microsoft.  Hey, Zev, pour me another half-glass, will ya?

I did, in fact, make it back to the car without hobbling or bitching, although by the time I got back to my hotel and surveyed the damage, it looked pretty bad.  Good thing I travel with about a half-dozen of them high-tech blister bandages in my bag.

Did not go right to sleep, though, because I had less than 100 pages left of the book I'd been reading on the plane -- and I'd actually been reading that book since my last trip and really wanted to finish the damn thing.  Took longer than I thought, but once you hit that "point of no return" with a book, you're going to keep reading until it's done, even if that means you'll be up till 3:00 a.m.  Which I was.  I kept telling myself that this made sense since it was only midnight in "my" time zone, but since my alarm was going off at 9:30 Baltimore time, that was small consolation.

(How bad were my blisters, exactly?  Well, I woke up in the middle of the night because one of the bandages had started to come off and feeling the sheet rub against the open sore was actually painful enough to wake me up -- even in my state of exhaustion.)

This morning (and, honestly, I can't believe it was just this morning), we all gathered again at my aunt's house, this time for brunch.  (I switched shoes.  I always bring a second pair of shoes when I travel, even if it's just overnight, just in case there's an unfortunate blister incident.  And, yes, this was a lesson learned from experience.  Remember that Kennedy Center trip, mom?)  More getting caught up with family I rarely see.  (Not hungover, but exhausted because of the whole book thing.  And, might I add, when I finally finish a 700-page book I've been re-starting for more than a year, I expect the damn thing to be brought to a conclusion, not a "if you want your questions answered, read the next book" type of ending.)

[We pause here while I search Amazon for the second book, and discover a bunch of negative reviews saying he didn't answer the questions in that book either, and just sorta wussed out when it came to the ending.  Well, that just saved me quite a few hours.]

All right, where was I?  Baltimore.  Hugged everybody goodbye with vague promises of seeing them sometime within the next decade, and headed to the airport for my 6:09 flight.

Which was delayed.  Because the incoming flight came in late because of the storm.

Yeah, 102 degrees and a freakin' rainstorm.  THAT, my friends, is humidity.

So, I cool my heels at BWI ... which is apparently the Thurgood Marshall International Airport, although I never would've known that if the security line hadn't gone past a hallway with a bunch of offices where I saw it on one of the doors.  

United has oversold this flight too.  I'll get on it, but I'm in the last "boarding group" because I have an aisle seat.  And before my group gets on the plane, we're told we all have to gate check our roll-aboards because there's no more overhead bin space and ...

... we pause for a moment of anger-bordering-on-rage here, because this little detour probably added between 1/2 hour and 45 minutes to my travel time, when you add up how long the flight was delayed while we waited to gate-check everyone's bag, and the time I spent going to baggage claim at LAX rather than just leaving the damn airport...

Dear United Airlines:  WTF do you think is going to happen when you charge people to check their bags? A planeload of people trying to push the limits on what they can carry on.  FIRST, stop everyone at the gate whose "personal item" is a second carry-on in disguise.  SECOND, have your flight attendants watching people on the plane, and DON'T LET people put their personal item in the overhead space.  When I was walking off the plane, I saw tons of backpacks and shopping bags up there which totally belonged "under the seat in front of you."  I really don't blame my fellow passengers here as much as I blame United for not enforcing the rules, and thinking that gate-checking the bags of everyone with an aisle seat is a good solution.  Bastards.  

So, yeah, I part company with my bag, which irks me quite a bit -- but eventually I get it back at my destination.  Finally get home (insert here the first two shuttles to the parking lot being full, and the valet bringing my car out and then misplacing my keys), took out my trash at 11:00 p.m., hugged the cat, and now have to get ready for bed as I've got to be at work early tomorrow morning.

I started a new book on the plane ride home.  Don't let me near it.

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