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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Posted by Stephen Lemire on December 20, 2011 at 10:55 AM

During this holiday week when so many are travelling, it prompts me to think of the 1987 comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles starring Steve Martin and the late John Candy. Their particular business trip gone awry happened in an attempt to get home for Christmas, but I’m sure we all relate to aspects of the movie with our own respective “business trip of horrors” regardless of the time of year.

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(In trying to determine if I fit the Steve Martin or John Candy role in my story I realized that I was a blended version of the two. I felt victimized throughout the ordeal per Martin. But, as some will attest, there are similarities between the husky, affable, jovial Candy and me.)

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In April 2010 I had to fly from Boston to LA, via Dallas, to lead a two-day workshop. From there, I had plans for a family vacation in San Diego with those that live there as well as with others that would be joining me from Boston.

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While waiting to board my departing flight in Boston I could feel the all-too-familiar symptoms of a sinus infection brewing. But with my trusty neti pot packed, I figured that I could hold out until I got to LA to let the saline rinses work their wonders. The flight to Dallas was uneventful until the plane began its descent when I experienced excruciating pain in both ears followed by total deafness!

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As I got off the plane I asked the flight attendant if there happened to be an aid station in the airport. When she recognized that I could not hear a word that she was saying, she was kind enough to put me in a taxi (vertigo was kicking in) and told the driver to get me to the Baylor University Medical Center. The ER doc assumed that both ear drums were ruptured since he could see nothing but blood in my ears. He gave me several prescriptions and, more importantly, orders to not fly for at least a week, lest I risk permanent hearing loss.

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With a high fever and several other symptoms, I hunkered down in a hotel room and did my best to communicate final preparations for the LA workshop to others and set out to work on a new course of action. Should I rent a car? According to Google Maps, Dallas is nearly equidistant from Boston (giving up) and San Diego (salvaging the family vacation) after a couple days recuperation. The prospect of driving while sick and alone for 1600 miles was too much to consider in my condition. Yet, being a “glass half-full kind of guy”, I seized the opportunity to take Amtrak’s Southwest Chief to head to LA and a commuter train to San Diego. Little did I know that my adventures were just beginning?

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I had no clothes. My bags had flown ahead from Boston to LA. I sent the suit that I had been wearing the past few days for overnight cleaning before I left for the train and that was lost by the hotel! So there I was, a John Candy-sized guest calling down to the gift shop asking them to send me (limited) selections to wear across half the country. Let’s just say that I made some great first impressions on Amtrak!

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I was fortunate enough to have reserved a sleeper roomette; however, once the seats were converted into the bed they became jammed for the entire trip. It was like spending three days in an MRI! I don’t wish to indict Amtrak based on this trip, but Murphy was a passenger. We had: an invisible steward, inoperable toilets, unruly passengers that were put off the train in the middle of nowhere, and significant damage to the massive train which lost a collision with a deer.

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What about a silver lining? There was the geography lesson which stressed how big Texas really is and that you can travel for hours on end with the landscape not seeming to change (nor having cell reception). A New Englander, I found it quite picturesque – for the first 24 hours. We also saw that the train could come within inches of Mexico in one spot where the poverty was deplorable.

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There were also great brushes with history if you were paying attention. The train was boarded in Dallas behind the Texas School Book Depository. And the first night the train was parked for six hours behind The Alamo in San Antonio. You don’t get to see these angles on The History Channel!

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As the train pulled into LA and my sanity hanging by threads, I decided to absorb the expenses associated with the commuter train ticket I had already purchased and the rental car I had reserved in San Diego and headed for the nearest auto rental booth. First confused for one of the local transients, the attendant finally agreed to help set me free and off I went to San Diego down the Sgt. John Basilone Memorial Highway. (I had just watched The Pacific on HBO.)

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Like Steve Martin’s character I was soon reunited with family and with a perspective like John Candy’s, I’m left with a great story that falls into the category of “fact being funnier than fiction”.

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Categories: Odds & Ends, Real Life Wisdom, Executive Directors

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2 Comments

Reply Frank
10:15 AM on November 19, 2012 
Quite a story, Stevie Boy. I trust you are now all recovered and have your hearing back.
Reply Stephen Lemire
10:41 AM on November 19, 2012 
Huh? Oh, yes. This was a couple years ago, but always good for an encore chuckle during peak travel season.