Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bogus Journey, Eh?

A couple of weeks ago, I took a week of vacation time and headed off to the out in Victoria, BC. I'd been promising my friend Ann that I'd come to see her new house on Vancouver Island anyway, so the Specialty seemed like just the right time to pay a visit. In addition, this was the show where Dinah won Best Puppy in Show last year, so I felt the need to come back and support this year's entries. (I supported them in a monetary sense, too -- I underwrote the cost of the trophies for Best Puppy and Senior Puppy Bitch.)

Greg likes to play word games, and will do so at any opportunity. He adores puns, spoonerisms, twisting letters around, and any other play on words (or parts thereof). That's probably what makes him such a crack Scrabble player, but some days it's also like friggin' Final Jeopardy just trying to decipher what he's saying when he's being clever. Anyway, it came as no surprise when he referred to the airline I'd be taking to Vancouver as "Untied Airlines." Maybe he's not so much a punster as a prophet.

Even though I showed up an hour and a half before my flight, the automated check-in kiosk at Manchester Airport informed me that I was too late to check in my bag, and that I would have to do so at the gate. After the usual security checks and other stuff, I arrived at the gate and offered my bag to be checked. The gate agent was none too pleased, but she understood the situation and tagged my bag for me. Perhaps she was the one who scribbled in the secret airline code meaning "Lose this one." I'll never know for sure.

Due to the usual bad weather in Chicago, our plane sat on the runway for 45 minutes or an hour after its scheduled takeoff time -- just long enough so that most of the people on my flight missed their connections, and I just barely made mine. The plane from Chicago to Vancouver was stuffed full of humanity, just as most flights are these days. I got to share the back end of the cabin with about a million crying babies, including a pair of twins right behind me who kept kicking my seat back, and who smelled pretty friggin' ripe after 4 hours in the air between diaper changes. I listened to my iPod, tried to hold my breath, and made significant progress on the second of Joyce's Tofutsies socks.

When I arrived at Vancouver, I discovered that my bag had been lost (big surprise there), and that I would have to fly my final leg on the seaplane to the island without it. This wasn't the first, or the fifth, or the 25th time that my luggage has been lost, so I filled out the usual forms, left the usual instructions, and proceeded to the seaplane terminal. In times past, my bag has usually caught up with me that same night or the next day. I wasn't terribly worried.

The seaplane was an E-ticket ride if there ever was one -- smooth, beautiful, and the Absolute Best Way Ever to see the area between Vancouver City and Vancouver Island. If I'd packed my camera, it would have been lost anyway -- but I still regret not being able to get any decent pictures from the air. The tiny camera on my cell phone just wouldn't have done the view justice.

Ann and Ray met me at the seaplane terminal on the island -- and they brought Penny, the world's silliest Old English Sheepdog, to greet me. Penny and I have had a long-standing mutual admiration society going. Even though we hadn't seen each other for a couple of years, Penny was still so excited to see me that she whimpered as she slimed me all over. That dog has always given a mean free facial, however slimy.

Vancouver Island is gorgeous, and my gracious hosts took me around to show me the sights, including in Coombs, BC, where they have goats grazing on the sod roof. I searched for some tacky postcards and couldn't find any, sad to say. They had some Wicked Good "Goats on the Roof" T-shirts, and I should have bought one -- but little did I know that my clothing situation was about to turn desperate.

In between jaunts out to see the island, I spent time on the phone to United -- er, Untied -- Airlines, trying to determine the whereabouts of my bag. My cell phone and Blackberry had already started showing the red logos meaning "Charge us now or you'll be sorry." Did I mention that my chargers were in the bag?

Every time I called the airline, I would be put on hold for a minimum of 20 minutes, waiting for some support rep in India to pick up the phone. (I have come to the conclusion that companies who outsource their customer support in India basically don't want their customers to bother them -- or they don't want customers at all, for that matter.) In typical fashion, the people I did speak to were unfailingly polite and unfailingly unable to help. In the meantime, my bag hadn't shown up for 3 days, and we weren't going to be home to sign for the bag if it were to arrive. We were headed to the dog show, and I had nothing but some very old and smelly clothes on my back.

Ann took me to the local Wal-Mart to buy enough shirts, socks, underwear, and toiletries to get by. I was also able to find chargers for my phone and Blackberry, so I was at least able to shed my stinky traveling clothes and get back in touch with the outside world. I have never in my life bought clothes at Wal-Mart -- for which I should sue the airline for pain and suffering -- but I'm glad they were there when I needed them. I found some that weren't too horrible, plus an emergency backup pair of black jeans (since my nice trousers were on tour, and we had a banquet to attend).

We attended a bag-stuffing party on the island the night before we left for the show. Ray and another generous Beardie person had put up the funds for the show's souvenir gift bags, and we would all be recruited to come to the show chair's house, enjoy a fabulous buffet, and help to fill the bags with all of the goodies collected from various sources and donors. We drank, we ate, we shared laughs with the Australian visitors, and had a great time smooching all the Beardies. Some hosts have the ability to treat an entire household of guests like one large extended family. Our hosts that night certainly did -- I feel as though we were all kinfolks by evening's end.

I called the airline yet again, sat drumming my fingers on hold for the obligatory 20 minutes, and was relieved beyond measure when a woman with an identifiably Southern accent finally picked up the phone. At last -- I'd found a support rep who was not only polite, but who understood my situation. I explained to her that we were leaving town, so no one would be home to sign for my bag. "First, let me find out where your bag actually is," she told me. This, after three days where no one knew where it was. She punched a few keys on a computer keyboard. "Apparently your bag is in London." She paused for a minute, expecting me to start shouting and spouting obscenities.

I really thought I was going to start shouting too, but I opened my mouth to reply -- and started to laugh instead. It was all I could do. I didn't have an obscenity left in me.

Finally, when I could stop hooting and the nice Southern lady realized I wasn't capable of killing her, I gasped, "My bag got a better vacation than I did!". She joined in the giggles, and then arranged with me to just have my bag sent back to Manchester. I could pick it up on my way home. (I had to take it on faith that the bag would not then be routed to Manchester, England. At least I could have had someone there retrieve it for me.)

A load of laundry and a borrowed duffel bag later, and we (and Molly and Summer, Ann and Ray's two Beardie girls) were off to Victoria for the dog show. Although I'd left my camera at home because I worried that my (lost) bag would already exceed the seaplane's 25-poun weight limit, I did try to snap some pictures with my cell phone. Here's a shot of the harbor where we waited for the ferry.

Pretty, isn't it? What you can't see is that there are not one -- not two -- but three bald eagles in that picture. Two are in the trees, and one is perched on a tree stump down near the water. (Ray couldn't capture them with his ultra-mega-zoom lens at this distance, either.)

We had a great time at the show. Ann and Summer received High in Trial in obedience and also qualified in CKC rally. Little Bess Burfitt (Breaksea Another Song), Dinah and Buffy's half-sister, was at the show with all of her co-owners -- plus Travis, another relative whose dad was Breaksea Gone West (Dylan). Bess is a carbon copy of Dinah and Buffy, and I was compelled to smooch her the entire weekend. She took first in her class at the specialty. There were all-breed shows going on at the fairgrounds at the same time, but I don't know how she fared in those. She might have taken at least one first place there as well. She didn't get to Winners Bitch, though. Bess is right at the stage where Dinah was this spring: obviously adolescent, and not likely to attract notice from judges looking for more mature specimens. I reassured her mom that Dinah had gone through the exact same thing, and Dinah was now starting to win shows again. Travis took Winners Dog at the Specialty from a very competitive field, and Laura (his mom) was so hapy she stood in the first-place slot, wiping her eyes. Travis also won a few times at the all-breed shows, but I'm not sure whether he advanced far enough to finish his Canadian championship while he was there.

One evening we were invited to dinner at the home of a friend who lives nearby. Diane is the local rescue coordinator for Beardies in that part of the world, and she was the one who got the call when Molly (Ann and Ray's three-legged Beardie rescue) was in need of help. Diane introduced us to Blue, a 12-year-old Beardie boy who had been neglected in his previous home. His people didn't take very good care of him, and they'd let him wander. The poor boy was bony and had some sort of problem with infected nails and feet, but he was sweet as anything and leaned on anyone who would scratch his ears. He looked exactly like my Duncan. I would have taken him home in an instant, only the airline probably would have lost him on me. Ann and Ray said they'd "think about it," but by the next morning, it was obvious that Blue was coming home to their house.

We also had the great pleasure of running into some friends of ours from Washington State and their handsome brown Beardie boy, Beo (short for Beowulf). Dinah met Beo at last year's US Specialty and thought he was mighty handsome. She even gave him the little ear-sniff she reserves for only her very favorite Beardie boys. His people, Pam and Geoff, are two of the nicest folks you'd ever want to meet. I only see them every year or every other year, but it's as though we just saw one another the week before.

Here's Beo (who has a CDX and at least one rally title, by the way):

After the show was over and we said our goodbyes to everyone, Pam and Geoff and Beo caravanned with us back to Ann and Ray's house. (We drove back instead of taking the ferry -- and it was scenic!) This photo is supposed to show the end of the bay where the ferry docks:

So much for the power of a VGA cell phone camera. Trust me, it was gorgeous. You could even see Mount Baker in the distance, and just the teeniest glimpse of the city of Vancouver.

Pam and Geoff own a VW camper van, and they camped out in Ann and Ray's yard for the night before heading out to see the sights of the island. We shared a couple of meals and a few beers at a pub the night before they departed.

The answering machine light was blinking when Ann and Ray and I got back to the house. Ray started listening to the messages. One began with, "This is Air Canada at Nanaimo Airport. We have a bag here...". Apparently my long-lost bag had finally made it to the island after all.

When I called Air Canada, the man in Baggage explained that he'd sent my bag back to Manchester when no one answered, and that the bag would be there waiting for me when I arrived home. I never did hear whether it had a nice time in London. As I packed my borrowed duffel bag for the trip home, I swore to myself that it would fit in the overhead compartment in the cabin. I even mailed some things home to ensure that the bag would remain unstuffed enough to maintain carry-on status.

My flight home on Air Canada was fairly uneventful, though I grew a bit tense in Toronto when it looked as though the long line at Customs might prevent me from making my connecting flight to Manchester in time. As it turned out, all of the other passengers on my flight were in the same line (and the same situation) as I was.

When I arrived in Manchester, the baggage office was (of course) closed. I peered in through the glass and found -- wonder of wonders! -- my long-lost bag standing with a flock of other bags. I returned to the check-in counter and stood in a mob, awaiting a chance to ask a clerk to send someone to open the baggage counter.

A surly woman arrived, displeased at the prospect of having to help people, and stomped off to the baggage counter, with those of us who'd lost bags flocking behind like ducklings. When we got there, another man had opened the counter and was reuniting bags with owners. The woman stomped off again, muttering. He brought my world-traveling bag out to me and mentioned that the airline was fairly good about honoring reimbursement requests. He reminded me to save all my receipts, and I mentioned that I had.

Finally, I dragged both bags out to the car and drove home, pulled into the garage, and yanked out my bags. I swore a solemn oath that this bag would never fly the friendly skies again. I'm not entirely sure I'm willing to give Untied Airlines another go, myself.


Anonymous said...

And don't fly Delta, either -- they are as bad as Untied! Glad you and Ray and Ann had a wonderful week. Remind me to tell you about Robbie's unscheduled walk-about. Heart-failure barely averted.

sue said...

what a great blog!!! and amazing trip.... thanks for sharing it with us!!!