On the way home to Virginia from a week house-hunting in Ireland, the ice storm and I collided on the east coast. After seven hours waiting for my connecting flight in Philadelphia to Charlottesville, it was cancelled and I was switched to a flight two days hence to finish my journey. My luggage was god knows where and I was obliged to wear the same clothes for three days.
I was stranded in Philadelphia, a city no doubt full of interesting places to visit, but not by an old doll who can’t walk more than half a mile even when she knows where she’s going, in icy weather, snowing hard, in the dark. The airline said they would pay for one night, not two, and sent me on a shuttle to the Holiday Inn. On the plane I’d been offered my first (and last) Hot Pocket for lunch; one bite was enough. When I arrived, nine hours later, desperate for a glass of wine and dinner, it was the wrong Holiday Inn. I was sent back to the airport to phone the correct hotel and waited half an hour at the curb in icy gusts for another shuttle. At this hotel there were no nearby restaurants; it appeared to be an industrial area.
The receptionist informed me that it costs $130 a night to stay there. I only wanted to lie down. When I asked for something less expensive she said dismissively “Try Priceline.” I was tired after 21 hours travelling (up at 5 a.m. to drive 150 kilometers to Dublin, then seven hours sitting tightly upright over the Atlantic; the long wait between flights). I didn’t need two king size beds and a room big enough for walk-about. After a burger in the “Sports Bar” the only source of sustenance, I went to bed, determined to move tomorrow. I awoke at 4 a.m. with a new wind and my iPad, to tackle the Priceline website that looks so easy in the ads.
At first I tried phoning Priceline, hoping to steal a march on people with more sense who were still asleep. “Your call is important to us,” a voice claimed, “All our operators are currently engaged. Please hold the line or record your telephone number and we’ll call you back in approximately 25 minutes.” An hour later they still had not called.
Back to the website, hoping I could do-it-myself on line. “Name your price,” it invited and I typed “$80.” Surely February was low season? It ignored me, at least for the hotel I was in, so I tried looking at the city map on line, for another hotel within shuttle distance of the airport, aware of my ignorance and ineptitude. Then I saw an invitation on the website to “chat.” Aha. Instantly a man named Paul came on line.
“Can you help me? I’m trying to book something more affordable than $130 near the International Airport.”
“Try the website,” he typed back.
“I’ve done that and it ignores me. I don’t know how to handle it. Could you help?”
“I’m sorry; all I can tell you is to try the website.” (I was reminded of assertiveness training.)
“Well I have, and I can’t handle it. It won’t respond to me. I’d be so grateful if you’d help.” (I can be assertive too.)
“Sorry, try the website.”
“But it invited me to chat to get help, and you are not helping.”
“I’m very sorry, we can’t do that.”
“Well what are you FOR if you can’t help?”
“I’m sorry, I’d really like to but there is nothing I can do,” he typed.
I congratulated him on his patience and he typed “Thank you.”
I asked, “Have you thought of taking up counselling? How do you feel about that?” It was becoming surreal but making me smile. No wonder “all our assistants are busy with other customers,” I thought, chatting at length and to no purpose. I wished him goodnight. I felt for Paul. What does a job like that do to one’s psyche?
Back to the telephone: that in itself is a challenge. I was given an iPhone for Christmas and really can’t handle it. It has so many functions, nothing works. There is nothing intuitive about it; it doesn’t share my sense of logic. I’m embarrassed that it intimidates me. Recently a friend confided that she was so frustrated with her new phone, she threw it at the wall and the lid fell off. “Have you considered an anger management course?” I asked, and here I was, feeling like throwing my phone. In the early hours the line was still busy with other customers. Either dozens were similarly insomniac, or there was only one operator on a coffee break. Perhaps they’d switched to answerphone and gone home to bed. I gave up and resigned myself to another night failing to sleep at great expense.
In the morning a different, more amenable receptionist, offered me a second night at $89 and relieved, I went to bed for the day to deal with the jet-lag. I was so tired I didn’t even switch on the TV. I couldn’t oblige my eyelids to open. With two nights eating snacks in the hotel bar (no lunch) my bill came to $150.
You may wonder why I went to such lengths to save $50? Frugality is deeply engrained in my age group, born before the war. It’s because I watch expenditure that I’m able to pay $1,500 per plane ticket for the second time since Christmas, to look at two houses.
I tried to confirm my flight by phone, as bidden. “The recent bad weather has caused some delay in processing your calls. Press 1 to be called back within 20 minutes or hold the line and we’ll answer in the order calls are received.” I opted to be called back. No joy; an hour later I decided to call again and this time hold the line. When they finally got around to me 20 minutes later, I could hear the operator but she couldn’t hear me. I didn’t know how to turn up the volume on my phone (and how had it turned itself down?) so she rang off. Finally I called a friend in Virginia who confirmed the flight for me on her phone, from her car.
When I landed in Charlottesville they charged $110 for parking my car: no sympathy for enforced delay. I managed to drive home over the mountains before darkness fell. I’d been offered an earlier flight to Staunton, only 17 miles from home by taxi, but had no one to drive me 50 miles to Charlottesville later to pick up the car. Perhaps you can appreciate why I’m keen to live near my son.