Monday, August 02, 2004

Wait Problem

First of all, let me apologize. I’m very sorry this entry is coming so much later than my normal posts, but I promise, I have a valid excuse. I realize that you all have jobs, and don’t have time to be checking out silly blogs during your work day. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. I suspect that a large portion of you are at work right now, reading this when you should be approving some invoice, or checking inventory, or leading some important meeting, or entering some numbers into some spreadsheet. In fact, according to a recent Wired Magazine survey, over 92% of Americans surf the Internet for personal use during business hours, with the most frequently visited sites being online book retailers and sports websites.

Okay, I totally just made that up, but according to a recent Blogspot Readers Poll, over 89% of you just believed me.

All kidding aside, if any of you read my last entry, you know that I went to New York City for the weekend to visit my friends who, for the purposes of future blogs, shall be known as Penny and Aggie. I’ll be sharing details of my trip in a later post, but first, my excuse for such blatant tardiness.

I flew on American Airlines from Chicago to New York, in part because the United Airlines terminal in O’Hare kind of overwhelms me. Also, I usually like to take the underdog airline whenever I’m flying out of a major hub airport. I feel like I’m somehow supporting the little guy, fighting against the big bully… okay, really, American was just the cheapest.

So anyway, after a fun-filled trip to the Big Apple (does anyone from New York actually call it that?), I was packed and ready to head back to the Windy City (yes, people from Chicago sometimes do call it that.). About an hour before I was about to head off to the airport, I got a call on my cell phone. It was an automated airline customer service line telling me that my flight had been delayed two hours (Aside: although irritated about the delay, I did think it was pretty cool that a robot called my cell phone).

After numerous calls to the American Airlines customer service desk, and about 20 minutes on hold being told how much they valued my business, I finally got a live person who told me that even though my flight wasn’t leaving until 10:00pm, I still needed to check in at the airport at 6:00pm.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but I don’t know the exact reason for the delay. They told us to advise passengers to check in at their normal time.”

“So, you realize that this means I need to check in at the airport four hours before my actual departure.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m sorry. But that’s the direction they told us to give everyone.”

I’ve never understood why people feel that creating a sense of helplessness makes for better customer service. This must come from the highly effective, much appreciated, “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do” school of thought.

I really would have preferred that she tell me, “Jenny, this is entirely my decision, and it is very important to me that you show up at LaGuardia four hours early. I know this sounds crazy, but I really do need you to be here at 6:00pm. Is that going to be a problem?”

If Jackie from American Airlines Customer Service had actually said that to me, I would have thought, “Wow! Jackie really needs me! There must be something important going on. Maybe she needs my help with something. I should probably get there at 5:30 just in case.”

But alas, that’s not how it went down. Once I got to the airport, I was met with a sea of disgruntled customers who were equally irritated with Jackie from American Airlines Customer Service. But actually, after my pleasant cab ride through Spanish Harlem, I had pretty much calmed down, and was now determined to make the best of a bad situation by spending my four hours constructively.

I started by checking out the food court selections – Chinese, pizza, French bakery, Sunglass Hut. I finally decided on the Famous Famiglia Pizzeria. What really drew me to them was the impressive array of autographed celebrity photos plastered behind the register. I mean, if Katie Couric and the brother from Everyone Loves Raymond ate here, it must be good.

Plus, while reading their napkins, I learned that Famous Famiglia serves over 15,000 pieces of pizza a day throughout New York City. Oh wait – I mean “slices” of pizza. Apparently we only call it a “piece” of pizza in the Midwest, probably because we don’t usually cut pizzas into slices like a pie, but into little squares, hence the “piece” moniker. For more details on that riveting debate, please refer to my “Painfully Dull Anecdotes” blog.

After filling my belly, I decided to see if I could buy a Yankees hat for less than $40 since I forgot to buy one from the street vendors in SoHo who were selling them at two for $18. Of course, upon closer inspection, I did notice that “Yankees” was spelled with only one “e” on their hats, but in Chicago, who’s really going to notice?

Once I finally made my way to the gate, I still had a good two hours to kill. I had read all my magazines, and yet still wasn’t sure whether or not Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner were dating. As I was zoning out watching the Weather Channel, I suddenly heard the four magical words you so long to hear while delayed at the airport. No, it wasn’t “Flight is on time” or “Drinks are on me” or “American Airlines public flogging.”

It was the angelic voice of a ten-year old Asian boy yelling, “They have Ms. Pac-Man!

Ms. Pac-Man? It can't be true! My head snapped to follow the sweet voice that had called my name. And there she was. All pink and yellow and smiling. How did I not notice her earlier? God, she looks beautiful with that bow in her hair. Ms. Pac-Man was sitting right there, in gate D5, waiting for me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the little boy running toward the machine. Everyone but Ms. Pac-Man became blurry, and the world started moving in slow motion. I snatched my bags off the floor, hurdled over two girls playing patty cake with their American Girl dolls, and threw my body against the machine just as the little boy got there.

Boy: “Hey! I wanted to play that game!”

Me: “Yeah, well I wanted to not get to the airport four hours before my flight left, but look at me now!”

Boy: “That’s not fair!”

Me: “Look, squirt, here’s a buck. Go play Golden Tee over there.”

Boy: “But I don’t know how to play that. It’s a dumb golf game.”

Me: “Dumb golf game? Kid, do you think Tiger Woods earns $400 trillion a year because he wasted his youth playing Ms. Pac-Man? Here’s $2 and an Altoid, and that’s my final offer.”

Boy: “You’re mean. And pathetic. It’s really sad when a thirty-something unemployed amateur tap dancer has to shove a little ten-year old boy out of her way just so she can relive her lonely youth spent playing Space Invaders at the local arcade. Maybe you should have taken up golf at my age and you wouldn’t be in the predicament you’re in now – alone and unemployed, gaining weight, and getting cheap thrills by coming up with dirty three-letter words to leave as your initials when you get the high score. It’s just so sad. I pity you.”

Okay, I’m not sure if that’s exactly what he said, but that’s pretty much what I heard. Nevertheless, I gave him my best W.C. Fields “Go on kid, ya bother me” look, and nudged him on his way. I must have plugged about $15 into that machine before I finally heard those other four words I so longed to hear: “Now boarding Section Three.”

This gave me just enough time to maneuver Ms. Pac-Man through that wicked final maze, chomping up cherries and bananas along the way, until… YES! High score again! Let’s see, what can I use as my initials this time…? P. E. E. Ohmigod that’s too funny!

As I strolled onto the plane, proud of my accomplishments, I imagined all the giggles and squeals of delight that my video game wit would elicit from future stranded travelers. My job here was done.