Sunday, May 19, 2013

What A Trip!


I’m in San Francisco this week with my family, attending a pair of conferences. My husband and daughter are going to visit museums and zoos while I attend my meetings and get my continuing medical education credits. I love San Francisco. So I was really excited to come here, but wow it was a lot of work getting here. We had planned to take a 9:30 am flight directly from the airport near our home to the airport in San Francisco. It would have been a 6 hour flight and we would have arrived around 12:30 pm local time. The original idea was that we would arrive, grab a few groceries, and put our daughter down for a nap. Then I would attend my first conference event that evening. It was a great plan, but unfortunately the airlines had something to say about it.

In the words of my daughter “we got on the plane. Someone said no, no, no. we got off the plane. We waited. They didn’t fix it. We waited some more.” That’s a pretty accurate summation of events. We had just boarded the 9:30 am flight and gotten our daughter settled in her car seat when the captain announced that we had to deplane because there was a mechanical problem. They promised an update at 11:40 AM. So we got off and waited. The clever people went ahead and booked themselves on the next direct flight. The rest of us waited and were told at 11:40 that the flight was cancelled because they couldn’t fix it. Then of course there was a massive scramble for the customer service desk. My husband called the airline instead and managed to get us out on a 12:45 pm flight connecting through Chicago and eventually arriving at 8:00 pm local time in San Francisco. Which beat the option most of our fellow travelers found of getting out on a 5:45pm flight that connected through Chicago.

After that hiccup, though, the trip went very well. Our rebooked seats were three middle seats in separate rows but our fellow passengers were kind (or just self-interested) and were willing to swap so one of us could sit next to our daughter. We serendipitously found a great place to have a late lunch/early dinner in Chicago: Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayliss. The restaurant offers spicy, savory Mexican inspired sandwiches on grilled flatbread, guacamole that is smoothly dippable without being homogenized, crisp salty tortilla chips, and extraordinarily strong margaritas. My husband and I ended up pouring off the margarita we had bought to share into double the volume of mango-lime juice and it was still a little too strong for our taste. Although, obviously, we are light-weights when it comes to alcohol. The meal was something that I would have happily sought out for an evening out in our hometown if the restaurant only existed there. As it is, I will now look forward to connections through O’Hare a little bit more.

One advantage my husband and I have is that our daughter is an outstanding and experienced traveler for her age (she’s taken 38 separate flights on 12 different trips in her lifetime so far) and takes the vagaries of travel with a certain amount of joy and fun that I just can’t match as an adult. She told me on the flight from Chicago to San Francisco “I love people. They make me happy.” Which is a pretty accurate bit of self observation from a child who is 2 years and 8 months old. She happily strikes up conversations with passersby and generally seems to think a trip on a crowded airplane is a chance to make new friends. My husband and I are also pretty experienced as travelling parents at this point, so we’ve got the routine and the equipment down. The secrets to happy travel with a child, for us at least, are a foldable trolley for her car seat that converts it to a stroller, good snacks, and a kindle with plenty of Elmo and Sesame Street downloaded for viewing.

When we finally arrived in San Francisco we found our luggage had beaten us there by several hours. We grabbed our two suitcases, grabbed a taxi, and headed off to our lodgings. We are staying in a comfortable lower floor apartment of a converted firehouse in the Mission district of San Francisco. It’s not near the conferences but it is right on the BART (San Francisco’s subway system) and so getting to the conference site is a breeze. One of our travel lessons has been that trips away from home with a small child are more fun if we have a kitchen and separate sleeping spaces. We’ve also learned that we can often beat the price of a downtown hotel room if we do some searching on the internet and are willing to use public transit. My husband found this place on vacation rental by owner (http://www.vrbo.com) and the owner kindly met us when we arrived, showed us around, and brought us some milk since it was too late for the grocery shopping we had planed. 

I will say major travel delays are a good chance to practice mindfulness. I definitely spent a lot of time taking deep breaths and practicing radical acceptance. After all, getting mad and upset wouldn't have changed the situation. It would only make me unhappy and less effective in coping. It would have made my husband and daughter unhappy too, since that kind of distress seems to be pretty contagious. And really, in the big scheme of things, an 8 hour delay is just not a big deal. We arrived in San Francisco safely (and with all our luggage) over 3000 miles from our home in less than 15 hours. I have done a lot of traveling in my life, but I still think that's pretty amazing.