I Pity The Poor Immigrant

The road to hell is cobbled with good intentions…a travel story:
I’ve mentioned Janeen McCrae before, the cycling writer behind yesiamprecious.com, whom I respect and admire and who’s writings on her blog and twitter I enjoy. After I met Janeen at last year’s Austin Livestrong Challenge I’d floated the idea of her coming to Austin to give a presentation about her trip and Precious’ website. She expressed some interest then, but nothing came of it.
Fast forward to the end of winter. Janeen is in New York, hating the winter, riding on rollers, and having to take some freelance advertising gigs she doesn’t seem to like to keep quality beers and cheese in her fridge. I start to feel bad for her and think, “what can I do?” So I shoot her a note and ask if maybe she’d like to come to Austin and do the presentation I’d suggested before. Get her down to Austin, where the weather and riding would be better than New York, give her a chance to talk about something she really likes, and pay her a modest honorarium – enough for a few days of quality beers and cheese.
To my delight, and (occasional) subsequent consternation, she said she’d be game. We then began a several weeks long back and forth over email and occasional phone calls working out the details and expectations about what she’d be doing in Austin. Ultimately we’d arranged for her to do a presentation to the Texas 4000, a team of riders out of UT who are riding from Austin to Alaska raising money for cancer research; have a half-day meeting with my web team to talk about Precious; a presentation at Mellow Johnny’s as a warm-up to her book tour (when she finishes the book about her trip); and a talk for our MIS students (management information systems) about the technology that went into Precious and the website, and what it was like to combine an IT project with her riding adventure.
She’d come down on a Monday, give a talk that night, then a few more over the next two days (with at least one day set-up for a long bike ride), then leave on Thursday. Shortly after we’d started talking about her coming to Austin, Janeen got involved in a big project with a big-name firm that ultimately took her on an extended trip to Portland for a few weeks just prior to traveling down to see us.

So the stage is set: Janeen is in Portland, working like mad on a major brand launch, then will be zipping down to Austin to give 4 presentations over 3 days, to very different audiences, talking about different dimensions of her ride and the site that recorded it. It is all going down April 25-28th.

April 21: I take the family to Florida for a quick weekend trip home to celebrate Jim’s 70’th.
April 22: Janeen sends me a message at 6:30 that evening – her Portland project is dead and she’ll need to fly back to NYC instead of back to Austin when she’s done. That’s not something that the University can easily accommodate, but I’ll burn that bridge when I need to.
April 23-24: Nice little weekend. Janeen has a nice bike ride on Saturday, I enjoy my time at home. We come back on Sunday and Janeen gets Precious boxed up and shipped home.
April 25: Here’s where things get a little unsettling…

Janeen was slated to talk with the Texas 4000, which she was really looking forward to, in the evening on the day she arrived from Portland. Unfortunately, the only way to do that was to get her a flight that left Portland at 6AM. I felt like a crappy host. Anytime you force someone to wake up at 3AM you’re not winning many points, but it was the only option and she didn’t complain about it. I felt bad anyway and I also had nightmares about her over-sleeping and not getting into town at all. Fortunately, she posted a picture from the airport on Instagram saying goodbye to Portland so I knew she was on her way. She’d have a brief lay-over at DFW (I was actually set that up on purpose, what are the odds something would go wrong from there?) then land in Austin at 2:45. I’d get her at the airport, take her to the hotel, then she’d have time to get ready before seeing the TX4k that night.

Janeen made it to DFW uneventfully and everything was going fine until just before her flight was supposed to leave Dallas. Since the flight from there to here is so short, I was already at the airport where I noticed that the arrival time was slipping a bit. At just after 2, with her flight now 20 minutes late, she texted me that her flight was cancelled. The plane was broke, a crowd was streaming to the ticket desk, and at least one gentleman lost his temper and had his outburst live-tweeted by Janeen. She had to stand in line for an hour trying to get another flight while we talked back and forth about whether or not it would be possible for me to drive to DFW instead of her flying down. In the end, she had to wait until 8:30PM and run halfway around the airport chasing cancelled flights (there storms near Dallas, ironically, in this period of extreme drought that destroyed the departure schedule) before escaping. Regrets were sent to the TX4K kids as there was no way she was going to be able to meet with them now.

She landed in Austin an hour later, some 18 hours after her travels started and after nearly 9 hours stuck in DFW. She landed, but not her luggage. We waited for it come down the carousel, but while there were hundreds of bags spilling off of it none of them were hers. She went back into a line to make a claim and we were told that her bag should arrive on the next flight and would be delivered really early in the morning. We decided to hang out and wait for the plane to grab the missing suitcase, rather than have them deliver it to her during the now all-to-short night. So we waited, somewhat awkwardly (“Hey, sorry your day has been so…long”), as guilt flowed from freely from my head to my gut.

Janeen was awesome – gracious, funny, and seemingly unfazed by events despite her obvious exhaustion. My dreams of her instantly falling in love with Austin, however, were dashed. The plane came, her bag eventually appeared, and I drove her to the hotel after giving her a t-shirt and cycling jersey as a welcoming gift. Pretty weak offerings, I felt, considering what she’d already been through.

April 28:

The rest of the trip went fine, more or less, but that’s a story for another day. We were able to change her departure travel without incident, mercifully. I took her back to the airport on a beautiful Thursday morning, said heart-felt goodbyes, and drove back to the office. Janeen tweeted a playfully mocking goodbye to Austin as she was getting on the plane, something about saloon doors and “lovely weirdos”. Apparently Texas took some offense. Moments later Janeen tweeted that the plane was driving around the tarmac and the flight was going to be delayed…for 5 hours! The culprit this time was bad weather in NYC, but I don’t think that Janeen’s going to have happy thoughts about Jet Blue for a while. All the Salt Lick BBQ at the airport couldn’t make me feel better about what was happening to our guest. I offered to pick her up, let her at least wait somewhere nicer than the airport, but she declined.

She did leave around 5, after nearly 7 hours at the airport, and landed safely at JFK. Then tweeted that the luggage carousel at thei airport was jammed and that she didn’t think she was ever going to get home. Sometime in the next hour things got cleared up and she did make it back to her apartment, presumably with her stuff in tow.

People who followed Janeen on Twitter expressed their own disbelief at the bad luck she was having getting into and out of Texas. It really did seem like some sort of mysterious force was at work to make sure that things were as bad as they could be without any actual physical injury. I told her that, should she ever be willing to come back, perhaps it would be best if she did it by bike. I felt awful about it, even thought I’d done everything I could and nothing that happened was my fault. But still, I was hoping she’d have nothing but great fun and positive memories about this trip and instead there was all this mess. Maybe next time?
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2 comments
  1. Noodle said:

    Don’t beat yourself up over it. I had a great time. And I don’t hate jet blue. They were very open about what was going on and I got a free beer on the plane. So there’s that.

  2. Anonymous said:

    Hey Noodle, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you had a good time and you did say you learned to take these things in stride – my discomfiture is my own doing and your example is better than mine. I’d been working so hard to make the trip something I hoped would be extra-special and it didn’t feel like it quite got there. Still, this has all been very cathartic. Writing is useful in that regard. Come back soon!

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