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Charlotte, Part 1

June 28, 2002

Every year for the past decade or so, my mom and I have gone to the National Quilting Association show, which travels to a different site every year. The first year we went it was in Bowling Green, Ohio, and we just drove down for a day from my house in Michigan. From that day trip beginning has grown an annual vacation tradition, now a Wednesday to Sunday extravaganza of quilts and shopping and sightseeing. This year we met in Charlotte, North Carolina.

My trip from Detroit was fairly trouble free. Wednesday morning, Mr. Karen dropped me off at the airport well before my flight, so he could make it to a work meeting on time. This was the first time I’d checked in at the new terminal (we’d flown into it the day it opened back in February, when we were impressed by its shiny-ness). It is indeed, a big improvement over the old terminal, but I was disappointed in the layout of the E-Service kiosks. Maybe the layout was designed by the skycaps, as it really seems to encourage curbside check-in. There are only four kiosks at each end of the terminal to handle E-ticket check-in with luggage, with about a dozen to handle sans luggage check-in. Worse, they don’t have very clear signage, much less clear signage in the right place, so the E-ticket line still gets clogged with people who don’t have e-tickets, don’t have credit cards, don’t have a clue. Fortunately, I had a clue and got through pretty quickly.

Security was rather a longer wait. At this point, I did miss the old terminal, where it was possible to pick and choose among several security checkpoints to get to the Northwest flights, with a fair chance of finding a short line. Here, only two to choose between, both long. Many shouted announcements by the airport personnel checking documents that we were using the three end lines (two of which displayed “Closed” above them, the other displayed no status at all), that we should have our tickets or boarding pass available but not our picture id and get our laptops out. Again, better signage would have helped.

Even after security, I still had plenty of time before my flight, so I found a big gate area with few people in it and listened to the CNN Airport Network while I painted my fingernails “I’m on vacation holographic red”. Thanks to Orly Sec ‘n Dry top coat, my nails were finished and unsmudgeable before it was time to board. My flight left on time, and, even better, was uncrowded. I had a whole half a row to myself, so I could put up the armrest and spread my stuff out on the seat next to me. I don’t remember the last time that happened, and it was a nice relaxing start to my trip.

Things took a turn for the worse when Mom didn’t show up with the rest of the passengers from her flight to claim luggage. I waited for a while, thinking maybe she was just taking her time. Then I took a tour of the nonsecure parts of the airport, thinking maybe she’d gone with just a carry on and misunderstood the meeting plans. No Mom. I started to worry that something bad had happened, that she’d run into trouble on the way to the airport or gotten sick in flight or something. Finally I checked with the airline’s baggage office, and one of the agents there was nice enough to look up Mom’s record and found she’d come in on a flight several hours earlier. Well, that was good news in that she’d evidently gotten to Charlotte, but bad news in that she’d evidently disappeared since then. I called the hotel to see if she’d gone on ahead; she hadn’t. I had her paged and thought about what my next step should be. Fortunately, I didn’t have to come up with one, as there came Mom, pushing a baggage cart.

Relief mixed with anger—she was here and okay, but where the blazes had she been? And why hadn’t she done any of the things I would have done if I’d been in her place? Like met the next flight from Detroit, and the one after that, if need be? Or called and left a message on my cell phone? Or checked the monitors to see when and where her original flight’s luggage was coming in and going there then, knowing I would be waiting? Or at the very least, stay in the general vicinity of baggage claim around the time her original flight was to get in? But no, she did none of those things. Instead, she talked her way back into the secure area, where I was not looking for her, and we wasted two and a half hours when we could have been eating lunch and then going to a quilt shop. I was cranky, to say the least.

Since all the food at the airport was in the secure area, there was nothing for it but to go get the rental car and head out. The MapQuest routing to the hotel was generally correct, and though they didn’t have a room quite ready for us when we got there, they did have directions to a suitable restaurant for lunch. A jumbo margarita and half an order of fried cheese later, I felt much better.

Refueled, we checked in. The so-called two-bedroom suite is not laid out as nicely as the one we stayed in in Tulsa last year, but it still gives us plenty of room to spread out and one separate bedroom so one of us can stay up and watch tv or get up early and read while the other sleeps. Because Mom had worn herself out getting ready (and arrived at the airport early enough to get on a flight that came in two hours ahead of schedule), she was tired and napped the rest of Wednesday afternoon. After she woke up, we ventured out to the grocery store to stock the suite’s fridge and cupboards, then came back and snacked before Mom went back to sleep. I stayed up too late watching HBO, which I don’t have at home. Eventually, I forced myself to turn the tv off and popped my earplugs in so I could sleep, too. Being as the hotel is across the street from a fire station, the earplugs came in very handy. (Note for next year: search for nearby public safety facilities when choosing a hotel.)

Rested, we headed off the next morning to really start our vacation. Right now, though, I’m tired, so that’ll have to wait for the next entry.

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