It was a dark and stormy night…
No it wasn't. It was a sunny afternoon. What's the problem?
As of 12:45 PM - no major problems. We drive from Stamford, CT to Newark-Liberty Airport and around 12:30 encounter a broken-down tanker in the left lane on the GW bridge. A minor annoyance, but life on the road thickens your frustration threshold for such things.
Here's the way our day is supposed to look:
- 1:30 PM - Arrive airport and return rental cars
- 3:29 PM - Depart Newark
- 4:47 PM (CDT) - Arrive Nashville
- 5:45 - after retrieving bags and different (but really?) rental cars, depart airport and drive 1.5 hours to Bowling Green, KY
That's it. Easy. From there, we simply have a concert the next day at 7:30 PM. Arrive at the venue on the 11th at around 5 PM to set up merchandise and begin our warmup, and we're all set. That means we have a rare evening free once we arrive in Nashville. And Nashville's a nice town, so let's enjoy what little we can. I happen to know that the best ice cream in the world (this is not hyperbole) was fairly recently created in Columbus, OH, and even more recently, has opened a location in Nashville. Casey happens to know that the best fried chicken he's ever had is also in Nashville. Matthew happens to know that there's a swanky shoemaker not far from the airport who might be willing to stay open an extra half hour to accommodate our flight schedule so he can check out a pair of shoes he's been coveting on the internet for months. Why wouldn't we check out swanky shoes, get seriously superb fried chicken and ice cream, and then MAYBE see if there's a show in Nashville worth checking out?
I'll tell you why.
We arrive at EWR (road managers often think in airport codes) and realize that we're departing from the small terminal that feels like being trapped in a carousel of broken dreams where even Jamba Juices can't be bothered to be made fresh but are pitifully dispensed from squishee machines. Thankfully, it's bearable for an hour or so.
And then it begins. Our flight is now delayed an hour and a half. You know what? No big deal. That makes Matt's shoe store the first casualty; otherwise, we can occupy ourselves until then. So many electronic devices. Before you know it, we're boarding a plane a few minutes after 5:00 PM. Still later than they said, but no trouble... we gain an hour flying west, and there's plenty of time still for chicken and ice cream.
5:30 PM - On the plane, at the gate, the Captain: "Due to increasing storms, our route has been changed; which means we need to have some more fuel added. As soon as that's done, we'll be on our way."
6:00 PM - We ceremoniously back away from the gate to begin our taxi. As ominous clouds begin to squash the sun, the Captain: "These storms have affected the routes of many of the flights flying out of Newark. Air traffic control has about fifteen planes in line ahead of us. We'll get you out of here as soon as we can."
7:00 PM - The rain and lightning begin. We have now been seated on this plane for nearly two hours.
7:30 PM - Our flight attendant at long last acknowledges us and finds it within her heart (job description?) to pass around cups of water; however, she is cut short of this service by the Captain's announcement that we will be heading back to the gate until further notice.
8:00 PM - We are finally at the gate after lightning subsides long enough for ground crew to come out of hiding and direct us in. The door is opened, but we are not offered the option to leave the plane because "we might depart at any moment." Why would we want to leave the plane anyway? We're not hungry.
8:45 PM - We again disembark from our gate. The Captain: "Folks, we should have you off the ground in 30 minutes." Uh huh.
9:15 PM - "Folks, it looks like we might be sitting here for a while longer." Our flight attendant awakens from her stupor to serve us a cookie. "And if you need a cup of water, let me know," she says with the personality of a bleached hotel comforter. For those not keeping track, we have been sitting on this plane, tethered to the ground, for more than four hours.
9:45 PM - El Capitan: "I'm told we should be leaving shortly. Another 15 or twenty minutes, and we'll be in the air."
10:15 PM - "I'm afraid that due to the storms, we won't be able to get out tonight, and this flight has been canceled." Road Manager immediately calls the airline and gets transferred to the group desk. The group desk is closed. Please try again later. Road Manager calls back to explain and gets put on hold.
10:30 PM - Five and a half hours after boarding, we "deplane." (Gotta love that word.) At this point, starving and dehydrated and fueled only by the challenge, I spot the Priority lane at the Customer Service desk with the eyes of a hawk (or it was clearly marked) and race to the unsuspecting service agent who is braced for impact, though not prepared for the gauntlet ahead.
Thirteen guys all need to get to Bowling Green, KY for a concert the next evening. And we don't need to get there in the nick of time. We need a margin for error. Chanticleer doesn't cancel concerts, and there's no telling what we're going to run into when we try all of this again tomorrow.
I don't know if you've flown recently, but airlines are no longer liberally throwing planes onto their schedules and allowing them all to be half-booked. These things are sold out and over-sold well in advance. Try getting yourself a last-minute ticket anywhere, let alone thirteen from an airport that has just canceled all of it's outgoing flights. Good luck.
I'll spare you the details of the next hour I spent working with the gentleman who was (literally) dripping with sweat by the time we were done with him, but after exhausting all options - including driving or chartering a bus for thirteen hours, which we agreed was only to be reserved for last resort circumstances - we came to this solution:
Nine of us would be staying in Newark and taking the 8:30 AM flight to Cincinnati, then driving the four hours to Bowling Green in order to arrive a couple of hours before showtime.
The other four (including our Music Director, Jace) would get in a car immediately and drive almost two hours to Philadelphia in order to take a 12:00 PM flight to Nashville the next day. And then drive another two hours to meet the rest in Bowling Green.
Yikes. We don't like to split up; it makes us nervous. Thankfully, these gentlemen trust me enough to know that this was the only option. A rental car and hotel rooms are reserved for the quartet traveling to Philly, and the rest of us head to baggage claim to reclaim our luggage. Now for a hotel room in Newark…
…directly after a flight-canceling storm. Hotels sold out. All of them. Well, almost. After some much appreciated help from the guys, we find a hotel, hop in a cab and arrive at the front desk at 12:30 AM. A handful of us head to a late-night diner because we haven't eaten since before 3:00, and then try to sleep as quickly as possible. I decide to just go to bed hungry in order to maximize what little sleep time is left.
Up at 5:45 AM and in the lobby by 6:30 AM for the shuttle to the airport. The flight is - of course - delayed (yay! more time in our favorite terminal!), but we get out of Newark within the margin of error and arrive in Cincinnati with enough time to drive to Bowling Green for the show. Whew.
It can't possibly be that easy, right? Right. The Philly Four made it to their hotel that night and then to the airport the next morning in time for their noon flight. Great. So far so good.
Wait. What noon flight? It would appear the gentleman helping Señor Road Manager the previous night never took the step to confirm the tickets despite all assurances to the contrary. Sometime in the middle of the night, they were deleted from the flight (don't you love being deleted?) because of the lack of that silly little step. So, while the rest of us were in the air, Jace was on the phone with the airline for an hour and a half trying to figure out how they might be rebooked onto some other flight. And in a hurry. Clock is ticking, folks. And we sing with twelve. Period.
Finally, at the suggestion of Matthew and with the help of our dear friend and office partner, Curt Hancock, they get booked on an entirely different airline which gets them to Nashville with just enough time to go straight to the venue, take a look at the stage, and sing a concert. If I may say so, I happen to think it was one of our better concerts, too.
And there you are. Just the beginning of an already busy week on the road in the middle of a three-week tour. I'd say we're usually quite lucky, though. With all of the traveling that we do, rarely do we run into circumstances so nearly impossible to navigate. When we do, the guys know to remain patient and stay nearby. Each of them is glad to help when requested, and by now we've all built a strong mutual respect for each other and know how to get each other through just about anything. I'm grateful that the rest of the Ensemble seems to trust me in these situations; I think they've learned that I like a challenge. And this one was quite a challenge.
The worst part?
We never got that chicken and ice cream.
Oh well. Next time.