Our recent travels have taken us from the East coast across America to the West coast and back again in less than 96 hours. This latest adventure started a few weeks ago when our oldest son asked us to come out to Glendale, California for the airing of a television project he’d worked on last year. He starred in an episode of Revenge Body. Julie and I discussed the prospect and since we are moving to Japan in the summer and my vacation time was limited, we decided at least one of us should go. That was a couple of weeks out, and we discussed the pros and cons on the following Monday, as I was getting ready for work. This was a big moment in our son’s life.

I walked out the door, didn’t quite make it to the Jeep, when work called. Evidently there had been a fairly serious situation earlier in the morning, and none of our staff that required notification, including me, had been notified. I spent my whole 20 minute commute on the phone figuring out exactly what had transpired, and why the supervisor on duty had failed to inform their superiors. Once at work, it was our normal Monday morning meeting, again, more questions, that folks at their pay grade should know the answers to. I realized this Department would have to manage without me, at least once I transferred to Japan. After returning to my desk an hour and a half later, Julie had texted me, “I wish you would come with me….” I decided right then, I would. I dropped a request for five days vacation. We were both going to go to California for the airing of Revenge Body Season Two.

Julie had decided to book her reservations, flights, hotel and rental car through an online travel agency. These are typically cheaper options. She had booked while I was in the morning meeting and had flights from Norfolk, to Chicago, to San Fransisco to Burbank. When she tried to book me on the same flights, she was only able to book me for a basic economy seat. If you don’t travel much this means no carry on baggage is allowed. Not a big deal since it was just an extended weekend Saturday-Tuesday with us arriving back in Norfolk at 9:15 Tuesday morning on a series of “red eye” flights. Turns out basic economy doesn’t get you an assigned seat either. Friday morning we needed to check in, usually an easy task on the airline’s application, but with basic economy it’s difficult to check in remotely. It also wouldn’t let me register my checked baggage. I want to make it clear, this is with our favorite airline, that we never have any issues with. The travel agency booked all our connecting flights with only minutes between landing and take off of the next flight. This was going to result in us having to make like O. J. Simpson and run like mad people through the airports from gate to gate at each landing. This leaves no time, for meals and all the airlines have stopped providing meals of any kind on domestic flights. When you book your own flights, you get to choose, not some travel agent who doesn’t have to run through the airport.

Once at the airport in Norfolk, VA, we checked our baggage at the counter and headed to the TSA Security check point, turns out my new hip joint doesn’t set off the metal detectors. We headed to our gate. The previous week saw a lot of snow in many parts of the US, and our first flight was delayed a few hours because there was no available flight crew. This led to a wait in a line, to determine our options. While waiting, Julie managed to get us rerouted, just not together, but we’d both end up in Burbank, CA before the end of the day. Once we finally got to the gate counter, the nice lady at the counter managed to get me and Julie on the same flight to Chicago, that we were originally on, and we’d just be rerouted to Denver then on to Burbank, just arriving hours later than originally booked.

We had a nice breakfast at our favorite restaurant at the Norfolk Airport (guess we really are frequent flyers if you have a favorite airport and restaurant in an airport). The good side of the rerouting was it gave us much more time between flights, the down side we added about 12-14 hours to our trip. We contacted the hotel to let them know we were going to now be a late arrival. This turned out to be an unwanted ordeal, since were booked through the travel agency, no one wanted to just put a notation on the reservation. So we not only had to call the rental car agency and hotel to confirm they got the update, we had to call the travel agency to make the adjustments. I recommend booking directly and always booking as a late arrival regardless of your itinerary.

We arrived in Chicago, and hiked from concourse C to concourse B, got to our gate, and sat down to a nice lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant called Travanada. We enjoyed the best personal pizza I have ever had, Julie had a sandwich and we split a couple of dessert cheese cakes. We both recommend the caramel cheese cake and flat bread pizza. We went back to our gate for a drink and to recharge our electronics. While we were enjoying a cold beer, we hear a commotion in the distance. As we sat there the sound was getting louder. Someone yelling, turns out a lady was walking through the airport tailed closely by two TSA agents. She was screaming and waving her arms, telling everyone about her husband, who had passed away. The agents were very professional and didn’t intervene, they just kept a watchful eye on the poor lady. It would be hard to say if she was just having a bad travel day or if she was simply suffering from some unknown condition. Prayers were said on her behalf and for the many airport and airline staff who daily deal with a number of issues and complaints.

From Chicago we were off to Denver, a first visit for me, Julie has been there a few times already. Another extended layover and a quick bite to eat, a turkey wrap for Julie and a hot dog for me, a couple of waters and we were finally on our way to Burbank. We landed about 10:30 pm, and I picked up our baggage while Julie scouted out the rental car office. After getting the baggage and a quick trip to the rest room, we hiked to the Enterprise Office only to find the travel agency had given us bad info, we had been told the airport in Burbank and all the renal car agencies closed at 10:00 pm. Turns our they all stay open until 11:00 pm. Book directly, it’s worth the few dollars you might save by booking through an agency. The rental car staff were wonderful and due to our late arrival we managed to get a nice upgrade to a midsize Chevy Impala, for the same price we’d booked a compact. We were then off to drive the 8 miles to our hotel. Normally we are Marriott folks, Residence Inns being our favorite hotels to stay in. But for this trip we booked the Hampton Inn and Suites in Glendale, CA because it was close to our son’s apartment and close to the venue of the event he invited us for. These are Hiltons and are also usually acceptable hotels.

After the short drive from the Burbank Airport, another recommendation for anyone planning a trip to L. A., it’s much better to navigate through than LAX. We found our room at the Hampton to be excellent, Nice bathroom, a closet, iron and ironing board, nice comfy bed, a chaise lounge, desk and dresser with coffee maker and refrigerator. The hotel has a nice small gym, great breakfast, computer room, outdoor fireplace and pool. The staff there is excellent, and the parking garage is secured 24/7 and very well lighted. The hotel is right in downtown Glendale and close to everything we could walk anywhere we wanted. A nice hot shower, clean clothes and a quick visit from our son, who went and got us In and Out burgers, and we felt human again. A nice end to a 24 hour day 03:00 am EST to 12:00 am PST). The next morning we had a great breakfast at a place called Central Grill, I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Glendale, CA area.

The return trip saw us arriving at the Burbank airport about 4 hours early checking in, checking bags and arriving at our gate to charge our electronics. The airline staff had us on an earlier flight, which meant we wouldn’t have to sprint through the airport in San Fransisco to make our connecting flight to Chicago. We arrived in San Fransisco about 3 hours early. The airport there is a wonderfully easy and beautiful airport. We had a lovely dinner at one of their restaurants, called the Mission Bar and Grill. A hummus platter starter, fajitas and water for me and an avocado sandwich and beer for Julie. Both meals were excellent and the waitress was good. We arrived at our gate a couple of hours early, after a gate change and a trek across the airport, we were boarded and headed to Chicago.

The pilot made a three and a half hour flight in about three hours, which bought us the necessary time needed to run/walk from concourse B to concourse C to catch our last flight to Norfolk. Our last and final flight, on a very long trip. Both of us were exhausted and more than irritable by this point. After a head call, I let Julie relax in a chair outside the security check point, while I went down to grab our checked baggage. When I came back we were off to our Jeep and headed back to our apartment. A stop at Burger King for a couple of loaded breakfast sandwiches and orange juices. Finally we were home, at least at our home away from home. Fed, showered, shaved and exhausted. It was time for a well deserved nap. This ended a 27 plus hour day. It was a worthy trip to spite the few delays and travel changes. Not to mention we each got to say we have visited some new cities.

Lessons learned, first book your own reservations, as with most things, you get what you pay for. The cost may not be as cheap as through a travel agency, but the trade off is you get to choose your route, and ensure you get enough time to make connections. You can also more easily add travelers to your itinerary and make upgrades by booking your own reservations. You also can book everything upfront as a late arrival (always plan for the worst and hope for the best). Figure about $75.00/person for meals and incidentals for each day of travel. Certainly you can get by on less, but with airline restrictions you can’t take a lot of food and drinks in your carry on any longer. As we’ve gotten older sometimes it’s just nice to sit and be waited on and to have a better meal. Always keep certain things in your carryon luggage, car keys, chargers, phone, wallet, id/passports, small basic toiletries, a warm jacket or sweater, change of underwear, extra socks, pillow and travel pack of diaper wipes. Having these basics will make your travel more comfortable even with delays. Hope you enjoy your next trek where ever your trail leads or your choice of transportation.

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