Sunday, June 05, 2005

A trip so good, it Hertz...

CAUTION: Long post alert. Don't say I didn't warn you. (and don't say "you didn't warn me" just because I told you not to say it.) But the ending will blow you away...

Well, well, well. Look who's back.

Everything went off without a hitch and I even had a few pleasant surprises along the way.

What happened, you asked? Well, I'll tell you.

I arrived at BWI Airport just in time to make my way through security and board my Delta flight. I had picked a seat using Expedia that was next to a window and had an empty one next to it because I planned to get some work done from the two days I took off this week. Sure enough, the seat was empty but just as I reached for my laptop, a video screen lowered down from above me and they ran the "don't-panic-if-we-should-crash" instructions.

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I thought this was pretty cool. I had seen them on newer planes before but what really impressed me was the new In-flight Information System (IIS). This was right up my alley.

Once the safety speeches were over, we took off and the screens switched to the IIS. They showed the planes altitude, air speed, ground speed, outside temperature, distance traveled, distance to go, heading, and wind direction. The system cycled through these informational screens (all with real-time info) and then displayed a map of the eastern U.S. with our plane's flight path (also in real-time). The map zoomed in to the state level and as we banked the little plane on the map rotated. SWEET! I was mesmerized . I wanted to learn more about it but I figured if I started asking all kinds of questions I would be detained and placed in a small, dark room with men in suits and no senses of humor.

So we land at the world's busiest airport and I proceed to the Hertz counter to pick up the "Mustang - or similar" car that I had reserved. I really, really, REALLY wanted to drive one of the new 2005 Mustangs, so I thought why not now? But I know how my life works, and my luck would naturally give me a Ford Aspire or something and so I didn't get my hopes up.

The extremely polite lady behind the counter greeted me with a smile, and I her. She pulled up my reservation and took my credentials and then informed me that she was all out of Mustangs. My heart sank a bit, but what are you gonna do?

I tried to coerce her into bumping one from someone else but no luck. She tells me that she's got me in a 2005 Solara. Now, I'm a car guy, so I start running models through my head trying to remember what a Solara looks like. Unfortunately, all I could think of was that it was a little Toyota. So I agree and she checks me in and sends me on my way to the lot via the shuttle.

We pull into the lot and I'm scanning the cars out the window, anxious to see what a Solara looks like. No luck. (But I did see a dozen Mustangs - WTF?) I get off the bus and begin to look for stall 102. I turn the corner and see a light from heaven shining down. I had to check my ticket THREE TIMES to make sure I had the right car. And I did. And all was good.

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And my friends, the woman behind the counter at Hertz is getting a Christmas card from me because yes, she hooked me up with a DROP-TOP, auto-stick sports car!

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I believe the phrase "screw the Mustang" came out of my mouth after seeing that. And perhaps the best part? I paid for a "standard" car. I should have been given a Taurus or something. But who was I to fight "the man". I can say that I've never enjoyed driving so much in my life! Plus you should have seen the look on my family's faces when I pulled in. Priceless.

Did I mention that I love the woman at Hertz?

So anyway...

The reason I made the trip was for my brother's high school graduation. There's really not much to say. I was proud of him. We all were. He had finally made it. We ate. We partied. We parted.

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Leaving out for the flight home, I took a wrong turn and ended up going in the opposite direction for about a half-hour so that gave me an excuse to "use" the car's talents to make up some ground, if you know what I mean. (*wink, wink*)

On the flight home, I had the privilege of sitting next to two soldiers that were headed home for 15 days leave from Iraq and Afghanistan. We talked the entire flight. I really cherish getting first-hand perspectives on things I normally have to hear from the news.

The two soldiers, the eldest being 23, shared their personal photos taken while in country. The younger one, informed me that it was his job to operate what he called an "88"(I think, I couldn't hear too well with my ears popping), and then showed me a picture. What I saw next was a once in a lifetime experience.

He flipped his digital camera on and showed me a picture of him driving this huge truck with a crane on the back. In the background, this is what was happening:

Yes folks, that's him driving the crane truck that pulled down the statue of Saddam. An event that will live in history, and I never even asked the man his name. I was so awestruck that I didn't know what to say.

But the one thing I did remember to do was tell the both of them "thank you" for risking their lives over there.

Two class acts, two flights, one graduation, and one slick car later, I was home.