I have been blessed to have had amazing travel experiences over the last four years, but with the good comes the bad and I feel compelled to share a small tale of terror with you.  I am realistic, so I do not want to report only the good as if everything is unrealistically perfect.  Life is an adventure.  And what an adventure I had just a couple weeks ago.

On Columbus Day weekend I had the distinct pleasure of flying American Airlines for the very last time.  I was set to fly out of Killeen, Texas at 6:30PM CST landing in Dayton, Ohio at 11:20PM EST, with a brief layover and connector in the ebola capitol of America, Dallas, Texas.  Seems easy enough, right?  I had made this trip on a Thursday night before and felt confident all would go as planned as I had an 8:15AM EST job interview in Lexington, Kentucky the next morning.  A tight schedule but doable, no less.  Or so I thought.

Waiting at the Killeen airport and convenience store I noticed that, while the screen showed my flight as being on time, there weren’t any planes being prepped at any of the six (yes, six) gates.  I asked a friendly TSA molester if he knew anything about the status of the flights and he simply kept repeating that the sign read “on time.”  To which I finally replied that that was impossible, it was 6:31PM for a 6:30 flight and the sign still read “on time” and there were no planes in sight.  This wasn’t my first rodeo, guy.

Thanks to the advances in technology, and probably something NASA had a hand in, I Googled (yes, Googled) my flight number and found out that my flight had been delayed by 55 minutes.  I used an iPhone to figure out information in 30 seconds that a regional airport was seemingly unable to provide to me in the hour leading up to the flight, despite air traffic being their entire reason for existence.  Apparently the crew was late to the flight coming in to Killeen from Dallas to begin with, which delayed our outbound return. Knowing I would miss my 8:05PM CST connector, I ran down to the American Airlines counter to try to find a later flight.

Full disclosure:  the two ladies at the American Airlines counter in Killeen, Texas were incredibly nice and helpful despite my slight frustrations.  And they literally had to do it all.  Not only were they the ones who printed my boarding passes, they also boarded the plane and I am pretty sure loaded it, as well.  With their help, I landed an 8:40PM CST connector direct to Lexington.  It was the latest connector they could get me that would be headed towards any of the Ohio-Indiana-Kentucky regional airports.  That would workout better, I thought.  I would be in Lexington before midnight instead of Dayton, so I figured all was well.  Not so fast.

After boarding the plane shortly before 7:30PM CST, we were delayed on the ground yet again because while there were 38 people on the plane, there were only 37 on the flight manifest.  The teacher took attendance and the numbers did not add up.  If everyone had a boarding pass I failed to see the issue, better to be one heavy than one light, I thought.  While waiting for American Failines to work out the paperwork issue, the flight attendant actually told me that this issue “happens all the time” but AA is the “only airlines that does this check.”  I have yet to corroborate her claims but I figured if nobody else was doing a headcount why did they care so much?  They clearly did NOT care to show up on time.

We finally took off shortly before 8:00PM CST and being that it is only a 27 minute flight from Killeen to Dallas — you literally spend more time taxiing than flying — I felt confident that I would have about 25 minutes to find my next gate.  I had flown dozens of times, and knew my way around the Dallas airport, so my travel was still on schedule.  Until we got to Dallas.

Now if you have never flown in to, our out of, Dallas, it is a highly congested airport.  Being as we were already late by well over an hour, our arrival gate had been reused and the overall schedule of the airport did not seem to have room for our little puddle jumper.  Another 10 minute delay later, the pilot finally parked and I sprinted off the airplane.  I had 15 minutes to spare.

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The Dallas airport is set up as three giant ovals with trams running clockwise and counter-clockwise to take you to each of the five terminals, with two stops a piece, or the parking structure.  It is fairly easy to navigate if everything is running smoothly.  Thursday night was not one of those nights.

I only needed to travel two stops counter-clockwise, except the counter-clockwise train wasn’t running because of course it wasn’t.  I expected nothing less.  Instead, I had to take the clockwise train and go through nine different stops before getting back around to my terminal.  Before anyone asks, I do not believe I was close enough to make it on foot.  The Dallas airport is MASSIVE, and I was already cutting it close, so I rolled the dice and headed clockwise.  Watching the minutes tick off my iPhone was the most exhaustive and lengthy 10 minutes of my life.  When we finally reached my terminal, I bolted off the plane with a hope and a prayer.  It was 8:41PM.

In retrospect I never stood a chance at that point — in fact they are supposed to stop boarding the plane 10 minutes prior anyways — but I still sprinted up to my gate and watched the jetway retract and the plane pull away.  It was like a scene out of a romantic teen comedy where the boy sprints up to the gate, after having second thoughts about giving up the girl, only to watch the plane slowly leave, taking her from his life forever (except, you know, for the fact he could just Facebook her in an hour and confess his undying love that way).  As he backs away from the gate, the camera gradually pans out to reveal the girl also had second thoughts and decided not to board her flight.  They embrace, the alt-rock theme song hits, and the airport starts the slow clap.  Except this is real life and I just wanted to choke the nearest American Failines employee I saw.

A nearby desk attendant verified that my missed connector to Lexington was, in fact, the last flight of the night to the general area of the country I needed to be in so I slowly made my way to the airport exit while calling my Mom to whine.  At the time, I had no idea if my luggage had made the flight or not so I had to track down my belongings before I took my gripes to the American Failines desk.  And wouldn’t you know it, my luggage had made it to Lexington but I had not.

At this point it was roughly 11:00PM CST and I was not sure if my prospective employer would be willing to reschedule my interview so I may not have been the most pleasant human being on the planet; however, I made it a point to NOT be disrespectful to the individual whom was helping me.  That individual, on the other hand, did not make that same pact.  After I informed the friendly desk employee that I would need to speak with a manager if he was unable to help me, he booked my return flight and my complimentary hotel and then condescendingly  let me know that had it “not been American Airlines fault” he would just be telling me “sorry about your luck.”  True story.

I was set to take a flight from Dallas to Louisville, Kentucky the next morning that would land shortly after 10:00AM local time, putting me an hour away from, and over two hours late for, my job interview.  I was also given a free night at a Super 8 Motel, in which there was nothing super about it.  The first room I was sent to looked like something out of a natural disaster, which was the expected icing on the day’s cake.  I finally found a clean room and went to bed, hoping Friday would be better but not knowing if anything would work out.

When I woke up Friday morning after a restless five hours of sleep, the only thing I wanted, aside from the whole nightmare to be over, was a cup of coffee to kickstart my day.  Thankfully, there was a single-serving coffee pot and coffee in my room.  Not-so-thankfully, the last guy’s grounds were still in the basket:

$9.00 for a cup of Starbucks no longer seems like a bad deal.

$9.00 for a cup of Starbucks no longer seems like a bad deal.

Friday was not off to a much better start so I took the Super 8 airport shuttle in to DFW and hoped to salvage some portion of the trip. (For the record, the very friendly and fun shuttle driver informed me that he transports “20-30″ American Airlines riders daily because of delays and cancellations.  I’m not sure if he was exaggerating but he was able to accurately predict my airline and my woes before I said anything, which was impressive.)

Luckily, once I arrived at the airport, I started to feel like I was hitting my stride.  I made it to the correct terminal well ahead of my departure time, I confirmed that my luggage was safely in Lexington, and my prospective employer happily agreed to move my interview to the afternoon.  Add in the fact that a dear, dear friend — whom we will call James, because that is his name — agreed to drive from Lexington to Louisville to pick me up, then take me to the Lexington airport to pickup my luggage, then allow me to use his place to get ready, and then, finally, take me to my interview that afternoon, everything seemed to be falling in to place.  The sun really does shine on a dog’s ass every once in a while.

Not to be out done, however, American Failines had one last, friendly f-you for me.  As we were boarding the flight in Dallas, the lady behind me correctly pointed out that we were going to be on a brand new Airbus aircraft.  Cool, I thought.  The plane was nice and each person had a screen in front of them for in-flight entertainment.  The momentum, again, seemed to be building in my favor.  Except for the fact that when I sat down I realized my personal screen was previously used as the bullseye for that kid that is always behind you kicking the back of your seat.

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Not that I needed my own, functional screen, it just would have been nice to use considering my experiences to that point.  Although the fact that my screen was completely distorted likely provided more entertainment given the circumstances than I would have gotten from any overpriced movie.

I landed safely in Louisville, made it to Lexington well ahead of time, and nailed my interview.  I also subsequently moved my return flight from a Dayton departure to a Lexington departure on Monday since, you know, Kentucky is where AA dropped me off.  The stressful portion of my trip was in the books and all I had to do was make it back to Fort Hood on Monday in time for work on Tuesday.  The adventure was almost over.  Well, sort of.

Of course this story would not be complete without an eight hour weather-related delay in Lexington on Monday thanks to what could only be described as Monsoon 2014:

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Now obviously I could not fault American Failines for the rain you see above but it was still no less frustrating after the weekend that was; plus by the time I landed in Dallas shortly after 11:30PM local time, all the airlines were closed for the evening.  I took a cab to a local hotel and figured I would, once again, work it out in the morning.

Tuesday morning brought me news that, because the delays were “acts of God,” American would not reimburse me for the hotel room I slept in.  To assume that they would was a risk on my part but I REALLY wanted a good night’s sleep in lieu of sleeping in the airport.  I decided to chalk that up as a loss and take my rescheduled flight and humility back to Killeen — a 9:30AM flight that was delayed until 10:00AM, because of course it was.

I landed safely (and finally) back in sunny Killeen, Texas shortly before 11:00AM and thankfully my supervisors in the Army were fully understanding and supportive the entire time.  I made it back to work by 1:00PM that Tuesday only to find out that I had, in fact, landed the job (more on that at a later date).   All is well that ends well….until American Failines decides to add one last insult to injury:

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Pictured above is my GPS unit that I had in my luggage (in its case, mind you) if I needed it while I was home.  Also pictured above is the shattered screen I found when unpacking my belongings after the adventure I just described, rendering the unit completely useless.  No wonder my luggage made it on to the original Lexington-bound flight that I did not, they were clearly launching my bags across Dallas-Fort Worth with a trebuchet.

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So needless to say, all of that is why I’ll never fly American Airlines again.

The Holy Land

Posted: July 14, 2014 in Israel
The walled Holy City of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock at center, as seen from the Mount of Olives.

The walled Holy City, or Old City, of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock at center, as seen from the Mount of Olives.  The Old City of Jerusalem is home to nearly 40,000 Muslims, Christians, Armenians, and Jews in just .35 square miles making it very much an active, living, and densely populated city to this day.

One of the great benefits to my time in Egypt was the opportunity to visit Jerusalem, the Old City, and surrounding sites on two different occasions.  In my attempts to try to describe these trips, the best way I have been able to summarize the experience is “surreal.”  Regardless of your religious inclinations, the historical significance of specific locations, as well as the general area, simply cannot be denied and seeing places that hold such importance for so many people across the globe was down right fascinating.  In terms of geopolitics now, the area as a whole still very clearly affects the entire world on a daily basis and I am incredibly grateful for such a profound cultural experience.

I highly recommend to anyone, especially those with deep religious roots, making a trip to Jerusalem if ever given the opportunity and the circumstances allow it.  The people of Jerusalem are very friendly and the area is very accommodating towards English-speaking tourists, Americans in particular.  Among the places we visited were the walled Holy City, including the Wailing Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Sea of Gallilee, Capernaum, Nazareth, from which Mary and Joseph both hailed, and the Jordan River baptismal site.  While I would have loved to go in-depth about the historical significance of every place we visited, I quickly realized that would take a number of days and far too many posts to fully do everything justice.  Instead, I have decided to share a few pictures and let those tell the tale.

One of the many narrow walkways within the walled Holy City.

One of the many narrow walkways within the Old City.

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Walking the streets of the Holy City.

The Wailing Wall with the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock just behind.

The Wailing Wall, or Western Wall, with the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock just behind.

The Wailing Wall -- the picture was taken at a distance due to the fact that electronic devices are not permitted in the worship area during Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath which falls on a Saturday.

The Wailing Wall — the picture was taken at a distance due to the fact that electronic devices are not permitted in the worship area during Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath which falls on a Saturday.  The Wailing Wall is currently the holiest site in Judaism as it is the closest one can get to the original Temple and it’s inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies.

Walkway towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The walkway towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- built in the 4th century by Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, is believed by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic tradition to be the site of Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion of Christ, and to contain the remnants of the tomb of Jesus.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre — built in the 4th century by Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, it is believed by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic tradition to be the site of Golgotha, the place of the crucifixion of Christ, and to contain the remnants of the final resting tomb of Jesus.

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Tying Up Loose Ends

Posted: July 14, 2014 in Egypt, Israel, The Army, The Blog
I'm just using this blog post as an excuse to include this picture because it falsely depicts me as a bad ass but its a reputation I hope proliferates via word of mouth.

I’m just using this blog post as an excuse to include this picture because it falsely depicts me as a bad ass but it’s a reputation I hope spreads like wild fire.

It has been an extremely busy two months but I am happy to say that I am back Stateside for the foreseeable future.  Now that the dust of our triumphant return from Egypt has settled, I have decided to quit being lazy and try to tie up a few loose ends from my time overseas.  The next few posts in the coming days/weeks/whenever I feel like it will include my trips to Jerusalem and Kuwait City, as well as a final word on my time in Egypt and at the Red Sea.  Why I didn’t use my down time while deployed to post these updates will remain a mystery to both you and me but better late than never.

Am I right or am I right?

Easter Morning Sunrise Service

Posted: April 20, 2014 in Egypt, Life

 

The sun trying to peak through the clouds over Tiran Island.

The sun trying to peak through the clouds over Tiran Island.

This morning I had the privilege of attending the Chaplain’s sunrise service down at our little piece of the Red Sea coast here at South Camp.   While it was fairly overcast by south Sinai standards, the sun did its best to finally make an appearance during the sermon and closing music (and I feel like showing up was the least it could do considering we were having a sunrise service, after all).

Now, I can hardly stake claim as the world’s most religious person but it is hard to argue with the peace and tranquility of the view above.  Short of actually being in the Holy Land during such religious holidays, there are few moments more surreal for me than this morning.  To be attending an Easter Service in the Sinai while overlooking a sunrise above the Red Sea is a blessing in and of itself, and the theological significance is not lost on me.  These little moments truly help keep everything in perspective.

There are a number of friends and family members that I wish could have shared in this whole experience with me (not just today), or even in my place, as I know that they would have appreciated it even more so than I do.  I just hope that, at minimum, I have done a fair job of bringing everyone along  with me on this journey thus far.

And, more importantly, I hope everyone enjoys their holiday weekend!

Happy Easter!