Did you ever wish you had the chance to compete against a clock, dodging everyone and everything in your way as you make a mad dash in an effort to make it somewhere important on time.
Such a scenario came up recently. It was exhilarating. It was grueling. It was a great test of the human will.
Unfortunately, it also exposed some human frailties. So I came up short – by a meager one or two seconds – in my race to reach a shuttle to the Denver airport.
Could this really be happening to me? As I lay there on the sidewalk, exhausted, feeling almost helpless, I realized that I was living my very own “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” nightmare of a vacation.
* * *
My trip back to Naples, Florida, started out on a bad note and went downhill from there. I was flying out of Portland so I took a taxi service up there … only to find that I had somehow confused my itinerary and had already missed my flight!
My airline offered to bump me to another flight two days later, but I needed to be in Florida the next day for my Fantasy Football draft.
That’s right, this was a serious business trip. So my new one-way ticket wound up costing me considerably more than my original round-trip ticket.
As long as my fantasy leagues prove to be profitable (I’m 2-0 so far in both leagues), maybe the trip won’t be such a financial disaster. Of course, I’m the guy who drafted Andrew Luck as my quarterback, only to have him retire about four hours later. (Why am I always that guy?)
The Naples summer days were familiar, of course, as I lived there 23 years before recently moving to Creswell. Every summer day is very hot in Naples, usually punctuated by an afternoon thunderstorm.
* * *
The first leg of my trip home went just fine, as we flew from Fort Myers, Florida, to Denver. At that point, I had a 9.5-hour layover, so I decided to take a shuttle into downtown Denver. As it turned out, the Broncos were playing that night and the Rockies were at home, as well. After walking around for a while, I befriended an older gentleman selling Rockies tickets and he gave me a ticket to the Pirates-Rockies game. Pittsburgh took a 7-0 lead in the first inning and I left in the fifth inning. Coors Field is a nice ballpark – nothing special, but it’s nice.
The reason I left so early is because I wanted to be back at the airport super-duper hyper-early because I’ve already missed one flight on this vacation, I’m certainly not going to take any chances on missing another one. Nobody could do anything that stupid, right?
So as I headed out of the ballpark with the masses of humanity, I hopped aboard a shuttle – the wrong shuttle. It was a monumental mistake, because it cost me about 90 minutes trying to get back on the correct shuttle.
As we finally got back, the B-Train conductor pointed out that it was 8:57 and that the A-Train runs at 9:00, so I should be fine to get back to the airport by 9:30 and still make my 10 o’clock flight (my gate was easy access).
I just needed to run about 250 yards with my carry-on bag. I felt pretty good about this. Even though I’m 63, I’m somewhat of an athlete. I have no cartilage in my left knee, but I can still run short distances.
As soon as I started running, my phone showed 8:58. I picked up my pace; I knew I had to hurry. Coming down the backstretch, I was really hurting, but I thought I had it made when I reached the very back car of the shuttle. When I got two steps away from the entrance, the doors slammed in my face.
Truth be known, though, there’s another simple reason why I didn’t make that shuttle: I’m just too freaking slow! It’s always been a curse of mine. I was good at sports in high school, but wasn’t good enough for the “next level” because I was slower than Christmas. In any race, I was in the back of the pack. (Yes, I was always that guy.)
My lack of leg power burned me way back then, and it burned me again.
* * *
Spent that night sleeping in the Denver airport. Met a pretty cool ex-pilot who had lots of stories to tell. Didn’t want to spend yet another wad of cash on yet another airline ticket, so I decided to check off a bucket-list item: taking the train.
As the line was forming and awaiting the train’s 9 a.m. arrival, the guy in front of me – who later said he’s an MMA fighter from Oakland – was telling a friend on the phone: “I went to see this guy and he was dead!” Rough crowd.
But all in all, the train trip was fun, and I’ll surely take it again sometime. The people were fun and interesting. I’ll know next time to spend the extra few bucks for the sleepers; trains aren’t made for folks over 6 feet tall. (I’m 6-5.)
The scenery in Colorado is majestic. It’s like watching a movie as the train circumvents the state. It was my first time going through Colorado and I didn’t want to blink.
We had a layover in Sacramento, so walking around Old Town Sacramento was a treat, too. Lots of western-style shops, a vast array of restaurants, fun times.
I’ve never been to the Bay Area, and unfortunately, our train went through San Francisco in the middle of the night as I slept. I was happy to wake up in Oregon, though.
Compared to Steve Martin’s struggles to get home for Thanksgiving after getting stranded in Wichita with John Candy, my ordeal was small potatoes. It extended my vacation – against my will – by two days, but things could have been worse.
At first I was angry at myself. Angry at the airline. Angry at Andrew Luck. Angry at the world.
Then I put things in perspective and had a good laugh about my crazy vacation.
Ron Hartman is entertainment editor at The Chronicle. You can reach him at [email protected].