Trip to Nashville

There was no sight-seeing, but I went to Nashville, Tennessee from last Sunday to last Thursday. This was to present at a conference, the IEEE Symposium Series on Computational Intelligence. I had a paper in the Artificial Life session that I presented on Tuesday, and it seemed to me that it went well. The Aritficial Life session ended Tuesday, though, so I was attending papers given in various of the other tracks at the conference.

On Wednesday, I sat down at lunch just at random, and two attendees sat down beside me. I talked mostly with Bob Abercrombie on my right, but at some point he brought his colleague, Rick Sheldon, into the conversation. As we compared notes on our backgrounds, Rick and I gradually came to realize that we had gone to grad school in computer science together and had worked together just afterwards at General Dynamics Data Systems Division.

If that wasn’t strange enough, I attended several talks in the computer security track on Thursday. One of the attendees seemed more than usually animated and clued in, and I decided to join his table for lunch. I noticed his nametag said he was Daniel Ashlock of Guelph University. The name rang a bell, and I spent most of lunch trying to recall where I knew him from. It turned out that we had both participated extensively in the Usenet newsgroup in the early 1990s, and we both have listings on the University of Ediacara faculty roll. We had never met before in person, so we got a chance to discuss this that and the other while proceeding to the airport and waiting for our flight times.

Score another couple points for the small world.

Last Thursday, though, bad weather was moving into Nashville. By the time we go to the airport, the temperature was dropping and the sky looked quite dark off to the west. We had gotten through the security checkpoint and had been waiting in the terminal a while when a PA announcement said that a tornado had been spotted in the area, and everyone was supposed to move away from glass windows over to interior walls or into the restrooms. This was the first time I’d been someplace where a “take cover” advisory had been issued for a tornado threat. While the tornado didn’t come visit the airport, the bad weather made hash of the departure schedule there. After a whole series of announced delays, my flight that was supposed to leave at 5:22 PM actually left about 9 PM. Since I had a connecting flight from Detroit to Lansing, that meant that I arrived in Detroit about an hour after my plane had left for Lansing.

I asked the gate agent for assistance as I came off the airplane. I was told that everything would be handled at the station at Gate A43. I was then at Gate A61. So a fifteen minute stroll later I arrived at the station at Gate A43. No one was there. As I stood there trying to figure out what was next, someone did come by, the nightshift agent for Northwest Airlines. Apparently it is Northwest Airlines policy to run their customers through a sequential gauntlet of liars (the gate agent who sent me to an unstaffed location for assistance) and the rude (the wandering agent whose job is apparently to do as little as possible that would actually help passengers). The one piece of useful information I got from the peripatetic and randomly abusive agent was that late-night service was limited to the Northwest Airlines baggage claim office. So I headed there. The staff at the baggage claim area were pleasant enough, but given that “weather” was down as the reason for the missed connecting flight, they only needed to reschedule me on the next available flight … which would be the following afternoon. They could get me a discounted rate at a hotel, but that was it as far as doing anything to assist me. So I checked the car rental places, figuring that if I could get a car rental cheaper than the hotel, I’d still be ahead. Out of about nine places, only six answered the phone at 12:30 AM, and of those, only two had cars to rent and would provide a daily rate quote, and both of those were over $99.

So around 1 AM I called Diane and asked her to book me a seat on the next Michigan Flyer bus, which would be a 6 AM departure. I didn’t see much point in doing the hotel thing for what would be about three hours of sleep. So I got a seat at door 402 at the terminal, which is where the Michigan Flyer would be coming. I settled in to do some programming and passed the time with that and naps. The Detroit Airport, like the Nashville Airport, offers the Boingo WiFi hotspot service, allowing people willing to part with $10 to hook up to the internet while they are in the airport. Since that didn’t include me, I just worked on things that didn’t need online access.

Eventually, 6 AM came around, and so did the Michigan Flyer. I got aboard, and got to wait some more for whatever paperwork the bus driver found necessary to do. We got moving around 6:30 AM, and had our first stop about fifteen minutes later at the other terminal. After another round of paperwork, we got moving again. There was a stop in Ann Arbor, and another in Jackson. We arrived in East Lansing about 9:30 AM. Diane came and picked me up. I’ve been off schedule over the weekend. I do hope I re-sync soon.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

2 thoughts on “Trip to Nashville

  • 2009/04/06 at 9:43 am

    I too took shelter for the first time. At the nashville airport on Thursday. It was quite an experience and friends and family don’t really believe it was that serious, but it was to me!

  • 2009/04/11 at 9:12 pm

    That sad fact about travel is: if you do enough it gets easier. I had delays flying back from Paris on Thrusday in San Francisco becuase of weather. My flight was canceled leaving only one more to Eugene that night at 10:20pm. I went to the counter and the gentleman told me I could try standby or the next morning – my choice which did I like. I said I liked neither, but I would try standby. he started to write in and found I was rebooked first class (makes sense I had a Business class ticket from Paris.) Many people were stranded overnight – there were 17 standbys not many made the flight and if they did it was because someone else missed their connection.

    I have the highest mile status on the airline so I always get on. But that means flying some 150k miles per year. I would take the occasional travel trouble if I could fly a lot less and less often.

    Well, Rome in May, London in June, Switzerland in July, DC a few time in between, and on it goes endlessly.

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