I thought it would be nice to spend the weekend in Chicago.  Catch up with some local friends, eat some food, see some art, get away from the grind.  Synchronicity started working in my favor – other people I know were going to be in Chicago, I got good recommendations on things to do, the Asian American Jazz Festival is on, the Direct Marketing Association Conference is in town.  I was all set late last night having packed my things in a carryon-only format with minimal liquids and no film.

4:00am.  The phone rings.  I’m not a panicky sort of person, but when the phone rings at an odd hour like that, I tend to assume that somebody has been taken ill or worse.  It was nothing that bad, it was just AirTran calling to let me know that my 8:05am flight was cancelled, but not to worry, I was now booked on the 4:47pm.  A weekend is not a long time, and a flight delay of 8 daylight hours was going to put a real dent in my R&R.  Plus, I was now awake at 4am, which is almost never good.  I have to give credit to AirTran for having a live person call to deliver this news to me, but that live person was not able to give any assistance on other options so he transferred me to hold for 20 minutes.  After that I learned that the other option was to fly to Chicago with stops in Dayton and Atlanta, arriving mid-afternoon.  I extracted a promise that my fare would be refunded if I made other plans and I hit the net.

KayakUnitedJetBlueSeatGuru.  I found similar non-stop flights on United for a lot more money, but I was able to get them with 25,000 otherwise worthless frequent flyer miles, $5 in taxes and a $75 last-minute booking fee.  Bloodsuckers.  I called AirTran back to arrange my refund and begin my lifelong boycott of their service and sat on hold for almost an hour until I fell asleep.  Oops.

Logan.  Terminal C.  This used to be Delta’s terminal.  Looks the same.  Smells the same.  I’m on hold with AirTran again while awaiting boarding.  I’ve been on this flight before too, it continues to Hong Kong after a layover and a plane change in Chicago.  (How can it be the same flight number when it’s a different plane to a different place?)  Finally connected to AirTran, I get my refund squared away quickly.  They might have failed for reliability and hold times, but their agents were pleasant and competent.  Middle seat, but economy plus.  I use the premier boarding line so I actually get some overhead space for my bag.  I think I recognize one of the flight attendants.

O’Hare.  Arrivals.  Deep-dish pizza.  Hot dogs with lots of toppings.  I can walk faster than those moving walkways.  I can walk faster than most of the people walking on the walkways, including the speed of the walkways.  Text messages start arriving.  L is delayed at Logan, N is stuck in the middle of nowhere because his Westbound train knocked the Eastbound train off its tracks.  Nobody is injured, but hours of delay are promised for all.  Good thing dinner reservations are not till 8:30.  Fancy vegetarian restaurant, but we were planning to eat fatty pastrami for lunch to ensure balance.

Chicago El.  $2 fare.  Eighteen Blue Line stops to Monroe in the Loop.  Takes a mildly scenic hour, then a quick walk to the Palmer House Hilton, where N has warned me that the rooms are not all that grand and where my parents will be staying in a week or two for a family wedding.  My missions:  check in early, check the place out, try to weasel a better rate.

Lobby.  Renovation.  I realize too late that I’m on the regular line not the Hilton HHonors line, but my reservation includes that vital information.  Yes, they have a room ready now.  Yes, they have a rate for the Direct Marketing Conference.  No, they do not ask me for proof that I’m a member or conference attendee.  I’m not.  Shhh.  Vouchers so I don’t have to pay $3 if I open the bottled water in the room.  Membership has its privileges.  Room is renovated, clean.  Directions to Starbucks are on a sheet of paper on the desk.  Luck is changing.

Starbucks.  Tall soy no-whip mocha.  Toasted turkey sandwich.  Pastrami will have to wait, maybe for Monday.  These Chicago pastrami joints are so goyishe, they’re closed Sunday.  I see the barista make a drink, but he’s put whipped cream on it so it must not be mine.  Then he spoons off the whipped cream and pours more foam on top and calls the drink.  “Tall soy no-whip mocha!”  I ask him, “Didn’t you put whipped cream on that?”  “Yes,” he says, “but I took it off.”  I merely prefer soy milk and no whipped cream in my coffee drinks, but for all he knows, I could be deathly allergic to milk.  I’m offended that he’s trying to pass his sloppy barista-ing off on me and ask him to make it again.  He makes another one, apologizes and hands over a free drink coupon.  A free drink coupon specifically designed to apologize for service that was “anything but wonderful.” A free drink coupon that gets rung up as a “Recovery Cert.”

Maybe the AirTran people should spend some time behind the espresso bar.