Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Detroit, Delta, December

The season of Fancy's Birthmas is nearly over, and looking back, it's been an eventful season!

This adventure started on Wednesday, December 8th. I had taken the 9th and 10th off work for private time and for travel, and the fun was starting on the evening of the 8th with a party hosted by...well, an association of Econonerds. Since the event was just steps from my place, Etienne and I decided to have a quick supper at my place and go from there. He stopped to pick up ingredients, and he seemed to be taking a long time. He strolled in with about 20 minutes to spare, and this is where an event was born. I took the grocery bag and put it on the counter, and when I saw he was still in the doorway, I went over to see why; he told me to reach into one of his coat pockets, so I did, and I pulled out the most hilarious present...a small Darth Vader stuffed toy with an oversized head that cracked me up the minute I saw it in the store. At this point, Etienne proclaimed that the season of Fancy's Birthmas had begun, and he told me to reach into the other pocket, where I found a half bottle of Clicquot Veuve Ponsardin champagne, which he had picked up because I recently read a biography about the Widow Clicquot.

We made nachos and drank beer and champagne, and then we went off to party with Econonerds. Since I didn't have to work the next day, I was free to party it up, but instead, I watched as colleagues of Etienne's, who are not Econonerds, outlasted and outdrank every economist at the party. My boys closed the party down :)

On the 9th, after a later than anticipated start to the day, I took the bus all the way out to Orleans to pick up cat food before hauling ass back downtown to a hair appointment, which I then had to leave in a hurry because I had a christmas reception for work to attend! Then I had to rush around and grab last minute items and run home to pack and get ready because we were leaving for Detroit at 10 on Friday.

Now, as you may remember, I bought tickets to the Detroit vs. Montreal game in Detroit for myself and Etienne as a birfday present. It wasn't just about his team playing against was about finally making the pilgrimage to the sacred Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit! We found a cheap flight, and booked ourselves at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel downtown, so it looked to be a nice little weekend getaway.

On Friday, I rushed to get to work to drop off the keys to the cat sitter, and to the bank to pick up some US cash, and then home to strip the bed and wait for Etienne to show up. When he did, he pulled out a small bag, and, you guessed it...another present! This time it was a book of comics about the weird behaviours of cats, which I had laughed at while browsing at the Urban Behavior here in town. We said goodbye to the cats and grabbed the bus to the airport, where we were both randomly selected to undergo the controversial body scans. It was the start of our adventures in airports...

We landed in Detroit and took an expensive cab downtown to the hotel, checked in, and enjoyed a little downtime before the game. Then it was up and out to the Peoplemover, which is a small sky train system that makes a circle around the heart of downtown Detroit, and it takes you to the Joe Louis Arena. We ran into a lot of Montreal fans (as we learned from the US Customs agents at the Windsor crossing later, more than 1100 fans crossed just at the land crossing for the game), so Etienne had lots of company. We arrived at the Joe, and I was so giddy, Etienne had to remind me to take a picture of the Gordie Howe Entrance!

When we entered, we encountered some seriously old skool vibes...the Joe is an older arena, and it had an awesome feeling of history about it. We found our seats, and waited for the game to start, when something happened to threaten my happiness...I learned that there are some real asshole fans in Detroit. They booed during the Canadian anthem, insulted Canadiens fans, and shouted down anyone who was still trying to find their seats as the game started. I swear, I wanted to slap the woman beside me! But the game proceeded, and I'm happy to say that my Red Wings won 4-2 :)

On Saturday, we had room service breakfast, and got ready to stroll around and see the sights of downtown Detroit. I had wanted to go shopping, but to do so, you have to go out to the suburbs, and Etienne wanted to see the sites of downtown and remain close to a place where he could catch the Big Chill (an outdoor hockey challenge between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University), so he plotted out an itinerary that took us back to the peoplemover, this time in day light. And we saw it.

Detroit is a city that has suffered in the last 3 decades; unemployment, rising crime and lower incomes drove many people out to the suburbs years ago, leaving a depressed, former shell of a once-thriving city. To look at the downtown from the waterfront, it's a fantastic architectural view; these aren't cookie-cutter buildings, but rather there are some wonderfully-designed buildings with character. But once you leave the waterfront and move north, you see the full impact of a deserted city. A burned out, partially collapsed building on an empty block...plenty of empty storefronts...old, rundown buildings housing businesses that I would hazard a guess are surviving by virtue of a dedicated clientele. The full weight of the depressed downtown hit Etienne and I, as we walked around Greek town, which consists of two streets of restaurants and cafes, and a casino. We decided it was enough and headed north to a Bar dedicated to The Red Wings, where we sipped on beer and watched various sports (including the Big Chill game) until we decided it was time to go back to the hotel to rest and get ready.

My friend Allison lives in Windsor, so we had pre-arranged to meet up with her for the evening. She and her friend Tara came over on the tunnel bus from Windsor to the US side to pick us up and take us back to Windsor, where we had Asian food and went to a couple of Allison's favourite watering holes. Despite Windsor's depressed employment issues, the downtown thrives with lots of nightlife, and it was just what we needed after a day of seeing nothing but emptiness. At 12:30, we caught the last tunnel bus back to Detroit, and settled in for the night.

In the morning, we checked out and took another expensive cab ride out to the airport in Romulus, and as we drove, the snow, thick and wet, fell, making us a little anxious. We got to the airport, checked in, went through security, and wandered a little before heading to the gate. Coming into Detroit, I actually liked the Delta terminal; it has an indoor tram that takes you from one end of the massive A Terminal to the other, and a massive underground tunnel complete with music and a light show to take you to Terminals B and C. It was pretty cool, and I decided that the top 3 things we liked about Detroit was (in no particular order): the Red Wings/The Joe, Windsor (not Detroit, but hey...), and the Airport, with an honourable mention going to the Showerhead at the hotel (seriously...that thing was jacked!), and the Peoplemover.

We boarded the plane to go home, but I heard warning sounds coming from the cockpit as I boarded, which I first took to be just pre-flight testing. As it turned out, the plane had a mechanical issue, and they took us all off and directed us to another plane at another gate. So we board that plane...but by this point, the weather had raised, and the snow and ice started to build up, meaning that all these planes now needed de-icing, and the runways needed plowing. Our plane pulled away from the gate and waited in line to get de-iced...but fuck! The wait and the process took so long that our small plane didn't have enough fuel to take off and land in Ottawa, and what's worse is that we had to wait because nearly every gate was full, and we had to find one to be towed to.

We were told to leave the plane because now the winds had kicked up, and it was unsafe to fly the small CRJ-200 planes in that weather, but we had to wait to find out what was going to happen. Finally, a bewildered gate agent directed us to another gate, which, as it turned out, was the massive line up for Delta's customer was official. We were not flying on Sunday. While in the incredibly long (and growing) line with other people stranded because of weather and small planes, we tried to figure out our options. We called Delta and the agent on the phone told us that Ottawa was not possible to rebook until Tuesday night (!), but that there were seats for Monday night to Montreal. Just as we discussed what to do, she told me that two seats opened up for the Montreal flight at 7:40 am on Monday, and we took it; we figured even though we had very little money, at least getting to Montreal would make it possible to get to Ottawa somehow.

Now, because our flight had mechanical problems, the airline is automatically required to get us accommodations and provide meal vouchers, which they did, and because we rebooked on the phone, we got to leave the massive, snaking line of stranded passengers and go to a very short line for passengers getting their vouchers. The agent was very nice and gave us each a dinner and a breakfast voucher worth $6 a piece, and oddly, we each got a hotel voucher for the Best Western Gateway International Resort (in Romulus), despite the fact that we were traveling together. We were hungry by this point, so we stopped for food at a Mexican restaurant in Terminal A. The hotel has a 24-hour free shuttle, so we left the airport and joined a group of travelers on the shuttle, and when we got to the hotel, I gave them my voucher, and we got one room.

We emailed our managers and updated them that we would not be at work in the morning, settled in to watch TV, and went to sleep. At the ungawdly hour of 5 am, we woke up and got ready to go to the airport, mindful to check the flight status. We couldn't take advantage of the free continental breakfast because it was too early, but we figured we'd get something at the airport. So, back onto the shuttle, back to the airport to find...the fucking flight was canceled! So, back in line, where one agent refused to help anyone who had an issue (which was most of the people), instead choosing to check in people who had current bookings. So we waited until another agent was free, and explained the situation, but this woman was not understanding us: it seemed simple...We want to go back to Ottawa. Yes, we booked to Montreal because it's close, but we want to get back to Ottawa. And she still kept trying to book us on Montreal flights, even though we were asking to be booked to, and put on standby for earlier flights to Ottawa. After 20 minutes of frustration, we got her to understand this, and she said Delta had automatically rebooked us on Sunday to go out on the 10:25 am flight on Tuesday. She put us on the standby list for the Monday 2:25 flight (as the 10:25 was also canceled), but she couldn't issue us gatecards to get past security and get to the gate to try to get on the list. After some more uselessness, she told us to go and come back later when someone else might have luck doing it.

Trying to remain cool, we sat down to formulate next steps. At this point, I checked Etienne's hotel voucher, and saw that it was valid until 11 pm on Monday, December 13th. Knowing that so many other people were screwed, and figuring that we weren't likely to get on the standby flight, we decided our best bet was to return to the Best Western, get some free breakfast, and see if we could rebook the room on Etienne's voucher as a precaution (we could always phone and cancel it if we got on the flight). So we returned to the hotel, and after an exhausting night, the front desk clerk wasn't going to put up an argument that the voucher couldn't be used because it expired on the 13th; after I pointed out that it said it expired at 11 pm, she just checked us back in. So we enjoyed a full continental breakfast and went back to the room to relax.

Back to the airport at 11:30, we got into the massive check-in line up, where...who should we end up with? Why, it was the woman who wouldn't serve us in the morning! We explained that we were on the standby list, but couldn't get gatecards because the agent didn't seem to know how to do it...she was immediately disgusted because she saw that as just pushing the problem off on someone else. A few keystrokes, and we had our gate cards...back through security...are you counting? That's twice. When we got to the gate (which had changed 4 times since 11 am), we found chaos...the gate hadn't cleared the previous flight, and the gate agent had no idea what the hell was going on. Not to mention that the flight was already full, and the standby list was about 25 people long. It didn't take us long to figure out that we were not making this flight. After confirming this suspicion with the gate agent, we just said screw it, and went back to the Best Western.

Trying to figure out how to make this experience more pleasant, we decided it was date night! The hotel had a...what...lounge? You know the under-utilized, 2.5-star airport hotel off the highway...lounge. The Palms. Etienne was psyched! Cheap beer and pizza at The that's a Date Night! After supper, we went back to the room and settled in, but not before I washed a pair of socks and underwear in the sink...I'll be damned if I'm wearing dirty underwear, or the same pair for a 2nd or 3rd day! Etienne laughed at me for this, but hey...a girl's got to be resourceful. For good measure, I hung the soaked items on a lampshade to dry :) Now that's a classy addition to date night!

We settled in to watch movies on TV, and got a good night's sleep, ready for...well, whatever. Bright and early (but not too early), we were up, packed up, and back on the shuttle (for the 6th time) to the airport. We checked in, now pros at this whole process, and passed security for a 3rd time. By this point, our attempts at keeping our spirits up were failing, and I think Etienne was done with my sad jokes/complaints about being trapped in Detroit. Our flight was...what else...delayed, because it had been sitting out all night in the frigid temperature, and it needed about an hour to warm up...but we finally got on the plane, along with more than a dozen other wayward travelers who shared our woes. And I still refused to believe we were finally going to get back to Ottawa, even as we took off. I wasn't going to believe it until we landed IN Ottawa. After all, I had heard of people on Monday taking off from Detroit, and then just before landing at their destination, being turned BACK to Detroit because of weather. At about 2:30 pm on Tuesday, we finally DID land in Ottawa. Did I mention that I was fighting a moderately bad cold since the Friday? So,'s hard to keep your humour through all of this while you have a head full of snot and a box full of tissue you liberated from the hotel stuffed in your bag.

You think this is the end of this story? No way! Because you'll remember that this is all a part of the Fancy's Birthmas season! First off, I am pleased to announce that even after all of this, Etienne and I are still together :) You can tell a lot about a relationship by the way you travel as a couple, and well, we travel fairly well together! Second, the gifts continued! Since then, I have received two collectors magazines about the Red Wings (one from December 1959, featuring Gordie Howe on the cover), a miniature Red Wings jersey, the latest Bunny Suicides book, and...get Ipod Shuffle! I told Etienne that I wanted the new Ipod Nano because it clips on, so it's perfect for activities; so when Etienne won the ipod shuffle at a staff christmas party, he generously gave it (and the gift receipt) to me. I could return it and get credit, which I could use to get the Nano, but I'm thinking I'll happily keep it.

Oh gawd...there's so much more, but you get the idea...December has been a month full of surprises, adventure, and chaos!

Stay ain't over yet!


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