Sunday, April 25, 2010

Waiting to get home

Text message from wife:

"have a good flight we love you miss u see ya soon you are one more city till home"


That last part hit me. "One more city till home." I knew that only Baltimore stood between me and a return to my own place, but it really sunk in when that little note popped into my cell phone. I had been on the road for almost two months. And I was almost home.

I slid my phone shut and hopped out of the taxi, handing the driver his tip as he placed my bags on the curb. I was heading into the airport in the evening -- something I don't do often. I've learned over the years that the earlier the flight, the better your chances of avoiding delays.

There was one benefit to flying at night, though. When I headed to security, there was no one in line. And, I mean, no one. It was me and the guy sitting at the little podium waiting to analyze every last detail of my passport.

"I get this place all to myself, huh?" I joked.

"Yeah, V.I.P.," he replied with a smile. "It's like you're a rock star or something."

I laughed, even though his comment may have been laced with sarcasm.

I moved along, grabbing my two bins and breezing through the routine. I could go through security blindfolded these days, and you can always tell that the guards appreciate someone who knows what they heck they're doing.

Everything about this trip to the airport was turning out to be a bit mundane. I ran into a fellow media member at the gate, grabbed a quick bite to eat and a coffee and took my seat. I glanced to my right and the other reporter I knew was watching a bootleg copy of a movie on his laptop. I leaned to see what it was.

"What is that? Some rom-com?" I asked with a smirk.

"Yeah, Valentines Day," he replied.
"Really? Of all the movies out there, that's the one you decide is worth hunting for a bootleg?"

"Shut up. It's funny."

I got out my phone.

"I'm tweeting this," I said.

He suddenly looked embarrassed and started to say something.
"I'm joking," I said, cutting him off.

We both sat there, doing what we reporters are trained to do: wait.

Every year, I am assigned an intern to help out during home games. One of the first things I tell them is they will quickly learn that a lot of our job consists of waiting. And, in time, they will learn how to wait. We wait for players. We wait for calls to be returned. We wait for planes and trains and taxis. We wait for our rooms to be ready (unless you're Platinum. Then other people wait -- not you).

We happened to be sitting in the last row of chairs, right next to a line of pay phones. "Hey, I left my cell phone back home on the counter," a man said into one the phones. He leaned against a glass wall, one hand on his head, looking completely frustrated. "Yeah, I don't know their numbers. They're all in my phone. I just need you to look up his number for me.

Silence while he listened.
"Right. OK. I'll call you back in 10 minutes. I'm sorry about this."

He hung up, let out a sigh and went and sat down two rows down from us.

I told my friend I was going to get a coffee and got up from my seat. As I headed down the aisle, I stopped by the man who was just on the pay phone.


He looked up, surprised.

"I couldn't help by overhear you on the phone. Do you want to use my cell for a few minutes?"

He kept a stunned expression and stuttered a little and pieced together. "Uh, yeah. Really?"

"Sure. I'm just going to go get a coffee. I'll be back in a few. You can look up whatever you need to and make some calls. No big deal."

"Oh, man. You have no idea how much this helps," he said.

I came back a few minutes later and he handed me my phone.
"Thanks again. Really. Thanks so much," he said.

"Just doing what I'd want someone to do for me."

After all, I was in a great mood.

One city until I was home.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Right this way, Mr. Bastian

Get to the airport two hours before your flight? That rule doesn't apply to me. That's when my alarm goes off in the morning, and I slowly lean up in bed, stretch out my arms and prepare for a leisurely journey.

I stroll into the airport, roller packed to traveler's perfection, and walk up to the counter and hear, "How are you today, Mr. Bastian? And where will you be flying today?"

"Toronto. Checking one."

I watch as they put the bright orange priority sticker on my suitcase. That ensures that it will arrive at baggage claim well before yours -- if yours even makes it, that is.

Most people get frustrated over the next step: security. Not me. Piece of cake. I see your faces. Hundreds of you. Tired. Weary. Staring at me as I walk by, skipping the massive line that winds back and forth between the ropes, and then winds some more, stretching out into the main hall.

I have my own line. Just for me.

After I cut in front of you, and have my passport and boarding pass examined, I tell the security guard to have a great day. You'll get to meet him, too. But I'll be long gone by then, sipping a coffee and reading a newspaper.

Once I reach the X-ray machine, I have my routine down to a science. Right foot to left heel. Step back. Shoe off. Left foot to right heel. Step back. Shoe off. In one swift motion, I slide off my belt with my left hand and retrieve my shoes with my right. In the next move, I grab two plastic bins and place them one in front of the other on the metal table.

Bin one: Shoes, belt, cell phone.

Bin two: Laptop.

Only amateurs still have loose change in their pockets or think they need to remove their watch. And I always smile a little when someone's belt sets off the metal detector. Sorry, buddy. Extra screening for you. Lesson learned.

Once I'm through -- and it doesn't take long -- I head to the gate. I rarely need to take a seat if I have timed things right. When it's time to board, I go first. Women. Children. Old ladies in wheelchairs. Get in line. You all have to wait for me.

And don't even think about walking on that little blue carpet. You're not allowed. That's for me, too. Stick to the dirty airport carpet, please.

Who am I? I am the elite.

Maybe you'll get there someday.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Here's a tip

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The baseball season is here and I am back on the road. Now that Spring Training is in the rearview mirror, and I'll be spending much of my life touring airports, hotels and ballparks, you can expect more regular entries on the blog.

So please make sure your seats and tray tables are in the upright position...


"Can I help you with that, sir?"

"Crap," I thought to myself.

I never do the curb-side check-in at airports. I have a routine and this is one thing not included in the step-by-step, risk-avoiding system I have developed in my years on the road. On my first trip of the 2010 regular season, I let my guard down and was trapped.

"Sure," I replied as the porter snatched up by bags and hustled them away.

I go to the counter inside the airport. This is my Step 1. They're friendly in there, they know what they're doing and best of all... you don't tip. They'd probably look at you funny if you tried. My cab driver put me behind the eight ball from the beginning, though. He pulled in right alongside the skycap in the parking garage, giving the porter the advantage.

Before I was even out of the taxi, my bags were being transferred from driver to porter. They must have had an arrangement set up beforehand or something. This was too well organized. I wasn't the first sucker. But, I went with the flow and altered my routine this one time. Whatever. Live and learn and all that.

"Where you goin'?" he asked.


"How many bags are you checking?"

"Just these two, thanks."

I wait. He tags my bags, placing the all-important "PRIORITY" stickers on the tags. You've got to log a few miles over the years to earn those babies. Of course, all my hard work was possibly about to be rendered moot, depending on what I did next.

"OK. You're all set."

"Thanks again," I said, turning to walk away.

And, then...

"Tips are voluntary."

I stopped dead in my tracks. What else could I do? This is why I go inside. I tipped the bag guy at the hotel. I tipped the cab driver. Later in the evening, I planned on tipping my waitress. That's my tip quota. Besides, since I never use the curb-side service, I had no frame of reference.

How much do I tip this guy?

Suddenly I'm in a Seinfeld episode. OK, well, one dollar is fine for the porters at the hotel. So I figured that's got to be acceptable for the guy who basically did the same job at the curb, right? I mean, he even had the guts to tell me that tips were voluntary. If you come out and say that, doesn't that decrease your tip?

All these factors are running through my head as I fished out my wallet.

What good was that tip calculator app I just downloaded on my phone? Useless here. Completely useless.

I opened up my wallet, and I know this guy sees the wad of cash I've got on me. I just stopped at an ATM at the hotel before heading to the airport. I've a handful of twenties. I had to flip through those, then past a ten and a couple fives and finally, after he's probably added up how much green I'm packing, I pull out a single.

I can still see the look on his face when I set the dollar on the counter. All that was missing was a huge sigh of disappointment. I avoided eye contact, grabbed my carry-on and headed away quickly. I obviously was now a bad tipper in his mind. He even had to ask me to tip! What kind of jerk was I?

When I got to my gate, another writer was there waiting to board the same flight.

"Hey, what do you tip those curb-side guys?" I asked.

"I don't know. Don't use them," he replied.

"Yeah, I don't either, but I got hustled out there."

He chuckled.

"So, what would you guess is a good tip?"

"Maybe five bucks?"

"Crap. I gave him a dollar."

"Your bags are going to Honolulu."