It is 2:30 a.m. when my alarm goes off. I've slept for about 4 hours, and I'm dog tired, but I pull myself out of my very comfortable bed and fall into the shower, hoping that the water will wake me up. It doesn't work. I skip shaving, but brush my teeth thoroughly. Despite how early it is, I decide to go ahead and take my meds for the day, washing them down with stale, warm Diet Dr. Pepper, and quickly get dressed. I packed last night, so there isn't much else I need to do. I leave the sanctity of a nice hotel room and head to the elevator. It's very quiet. I'm guessing not too many people are awake at this hour.
I reach the lobby, and the young man at the front desk is surprised to see me. He is casually dressed. I saw him yesterday and he was impeccably attired in a nice suit and tie. Now he is tie-less, and I can't be sure he's wearing pants behind the desk. He is sorting through papers. I tell him I'm checking out. He tells me they aren't ready to give out receipts, but he will be happy to email mine to me in a few hours. I decide that will be fine. I'll need the receipt to collect my on my travel voucher.
I sit on the lobby couch and text a message to my colleague, Greg. Greg is in charge of the rental car, and we are on the same flight. I hope he's awake. He replies immediately and says he's on the way.
I'm not sure how we ended up on such an early flight. It is scheduled to leave at 6 a.m. Since I have a full day of travel, my OA (office administrator) put us on the earliest flight out of Dallas, Texas. Since we're in Fort Worth, we have a 40 minute drive to Dallas Love Airport. Greg and I are both the types who need to be at the airport early in anticipation of any potential issues. We don't take chances.
Our car is first in the valet line. We begin looking for the attendant, and he's nowhere to be seen. We are nervous about getting to the airport on time, and not having our car keys is not helping. We check the car, but the key isn't in it, and it's locked, so we can't even place our luggage in the car. Greg is getting angry. I'm still very tired, and all I want is to sit down in the car and snooze to the airport. Greg's concern is contagious, though, and it becomes clear I'm not going to get any sleep.
We hear the roar of the car lift behind us, as the heavy steel doors open and a Toyota drives out. At the wheel is the attendant. He sees us, and immediately jumps out of the car and hands us our keys. He insists on helping us place our luggage in the trunk. Greg gives him his tip, and we jump in and take off. Greg drives us through the dark, empty streets of Fort Worth, headed towards the highway.
I set the directions to the airport into my iPhone and we're on our way. Greg remembers we need to fill up the gas tank before we drop off the rental, so our first order of business is to find a gas station. We figure we should stop close to the airport, but not too close, even if we're not paying for it. We take our first wrong turn when Siri tells us to take the next exit and there is no exit. We're headed north instead of east. We get off at the following exit and there's a gas station there, so we fill it up.
Back on the road in the correct direction, we make small talk. It has been a stressful week of decision making, and our organization has a lot to do in the coming days. We strategize a bit since we both lead groups that will need to work together. We have a plan. At least I think we do. I'm still pretty tired and and decisions I make must be tempered with exhaustion. I think I just agreed to give Greg all of my contractors.
We arrive at the exit for the airport, and we're headed to the car rental facility, which is off-site. After three wrong turns, we find it. There is a line of about 25 cars waiting to enter the facility. It's 4:15 a.m. Our flight leaves at 6 a.m. A security guard waddles over to our car and informs us that the rental office doesn't open until 5, though sometimes they open the gate at 4:45. As Greg and I begin to panic, the guard adds that the airport doesn't even open until 5. We'll have very little time to drop off the car, take the shuttle to the terminal, get our boarding passes, drop off our checked luggage, step through security, and race to our gate, hopefully with some breakfast which we both need desperately. Greg suggests that we abandon the car and hoof it to the terminal. It's a quarter mile, so it wouldn't take us that long. Our fear is that the line once we get to the terminal will be really long. I consider it. Then it occurs to me that I'm not the one who has to worry about the rental car, and I suggest that Greg drive ME to the terminal and I'll wait there for him. He doesn't trust me. We decide to wait.
Finally, cars start moving into the rental facility. We hop back into the car and realize that there is no order in the universe at this moment. Everyone waiting to drop off their cars is now funneling towards the gate. Civility is out the window. It's every man for himself. Greg has this look in his eyes, and I realize I'm now in the car with Mad Max. He cuts off three cars, hits a small ramp, and we're on two wheels as we skirt between a minivan and a Fiat, right into the drop off area. We're cleared by the attendant, and run towards the shuttle to the airport. We arrive too late for the lead shuttle, and the driver shuts the door in our faces. We reluctantly head to the second shuttle. The driver is nowhere to be seen. Since the engine is running, I'm tempted to take the wheel and get us out of Dodge, but soon the bus is loaded and we're moving.
We finally arrive at the terminal. It's now 4:55. The airport is PACKED. There are only two airlines that service Dallas Love, Southwest and Delta, and it becomes clear that everyone is flying Southwest. We get into a line, not sure if it's the right one or not. A guy in front of us tells us we need to get in the other line in order to print out our luggage claim, then we have to get into the line we're in now to drop off our luggage and get our boarding passes. It's a free-for-all. We actually move very quickly, and it becomes clear that working together is going to help us. Greg has maneuvered himself in front of me, though, and I don't trust him.
We are finally headed to security, and I'm hopeful that my luggage is on its way to the same destination as us. The security line moves fast, and we're quickly headed to the gate. When we arrived at the airport at the beginning of the week, I had spotted a Chick-Fil-A, and I'm anxious to get some breakfast, so we walk briskly towards a chicken breakfast burrito. However, it appears everyone in the airport had the same idea. The line is just too long. I grab a little snack at a convenience cart, and we're at our gate. I have a low boarding number, so I get in line just as they begin boarding. Soon I'm on the plane, and I begin to relax. It's a full flight, but at least I have my aisle seat, even if I didn't get an exit row seat. A very nice couple from Pittsburgh notices my Pirates jersey, and they ask if they can sit next to me. Hot dog! I get to fly home next to a couple of Yinzers! I just hope they're not talkers, because I'm going to be out cold as soon as this flight takes off. And within moments, we're in the air. And I don't remember anything else. Which means I was, indeed, out cold...
Have a great evening, everyone!