imageDay Negative One of vacation.  What a glorious day, indeed! It is the reason we spend all the time since the end of the last year’s vacation working too many hours and doing too many things with baseball or dance or soccer or swimming or band or scouts. It is the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel between vacations, a beacon which guides us and calls us to stay the course, for soon vacation time will be here.  It is that wonderful day on which we get to brush the dust, spiders and other unpleasant debris off of our suitcases and fill them up with brightly-colored clothes, brand new tubes of toothpaste and the year’s worth of books we’ve collected to read during our week-long vacation. Such a wonderful, awesome, fantastic day! It is—

Aww, who am I kidding?  Day Negative One is to vacation time what Kentucky Fried Chicken is to poultry.

I’ve found that the week before vacation (especially the last day before) and the week after vacation (especially the first day after) are so incredibly, painfully awful… they make me wonder why vacations exist at all. I mean, seriously – I’ve taken tons of vacations and in every single case I’ve been slammed with work, family, house/yard work and/or social obligations during the last few days leading up to my time away. “Oh, Rob, we need this done right away! It can’t wait! Oh, and this thing, too. And that one. And…don’t forget to fill out your TPS Report, too.”

What – these deadlines materialized out of the blue just this now, just coincidentally timed with my upcoming vacation?  Which is, incidentally, just one week long.

Just. Five. Business. Days.

One other thing I’ve learned is that the hurried, frantic pace of the week before vacation, and especially Day Negative One of vacation, are for things which MUST BE DONE before I go… but don’t get looked at until at least a week, perhaps two, after I return.

Anyway, the week leading up to vacation always sucks. This week was no different. But today – the last day before vacation – had its own particular flavor.

On the fantastic, glorious, amazing side of the scale, my niece was flying in to join us on our vacation.  This has been a source of excitement around our house for weeks now as this day approached. I headed up to the airport to meet her 12:45 arrival with plenty of time to spare… but got stuck in traffic and was still out finding a parking place when she texted to tell me she had arrived.  Actually, I was just pulling up to the ticket machine to get into short term parking when she texted. So, I pulled up and pushed the little button and the ticket slid out. Then a big gust of wind kicked up and blew the ticket away.  Now, I’m sitting there with my brand new car settled right next to those “do not back up” spike things in the entrance to the short term parking of Terminal A at Newark Liberty Airport. My parking ticket slip is perched just in front of the spikes. I didn’t know what to do… I pushed the red “press for assistance” button like a hundred times and got no responses.  Finally, I drove forward, beyond the spikey things, and stopped.  Got out of the car and crawled around, face next to those spikes.  There, just beyond my rear tire, was the ticket.  I grabbed it and felt relieved that I was going to only get a little bit ripped off by the parking attendant upon my exit, as opposed to a lot ripped off if I tried to exit without a ticket.

Grumbling, I found a parking spot next to another Prius and then I wandered in, only to find that all of the arrival lists were turned off so I didn’t know where my niece’s flight was. I took a guess that it was the same gate they had posted before I left the house and it turned out to be correct!  So, the good in this pickup story far outweighed the bad in that my niece was here safely and that made the sun shine just a little bit brighter.

Then we waited at baggage claim for her bag. We waited.  And waited. And waited some more as bag after bag floated past us. When bags from another flight started appearing, I knew something was wrong. So, we went into the baggage office and asked the scary lady behind the desk for help (seriously, her scowl caused me to catch my breath just a little bit). Immediately she started blaming us for the missing bag.  “What did you do?” “What aren’t you telling me?” That sort of thing. Sure, I could have blamed my sister and said she did something to cause the problem in Buffalo, but even I have limits to what I’ll blame on her., so I didn’t.  We told the Scary Baggage Lady that there was a gate change and there had been a power outage at the airport prior to her flight, but that shouldn’t matter for a checked bag, should it?  I mean, MOST of the bags got on the flight after all.

Anyway, a second person came in, all agitated about his missing bag. He pushed his way in front of us and started ranting about how he needed his bag to be in his possession immediately, etc. This got the Scary Baggage Lady to look deeper into it and she discovered that my niece’s bag never made it onto the plane. She saw that it had been checked properly and with plenty of time… so it was now, thankfully, not our fault.  But, she couldn’t guarantee if or when we’d get the bag. Since we’re leaving tomorrow morning at 10 (Vacation, Day Zero), time is kind of an important thing.

She typed a few things with her 13-inch nails (which kept hitting the wrong keys, causing her scowl to grow even more scary by the moment). Ultimately, she told us it would be on the next flight from Buffalo, which would arrive around 4:30pm, and told us to call for updates. Meanwhile, the other guy who was missing a bag was in a state of near-histrionics. “I have a meeting tonight and I’ve got nothing to wear. And medication… I need my medication.”  Now, the medication, okay, I can see being upset to this degree about that. But my personal opinion is that I’d have carried my medication with me if I couldn’t replace it at the local CVS.  As for clothes, I was ready to tell the guy where the local Wal-Mart was, but decided I’d just be making things worse.

So we left.

About an hour and forty minutes later, we arrived home. Mind you, it is a 40 minute ride between the airport and my house normally.  The traffic was backed up for many, many miles on the NJ Turnpike. Luckily, I knew about this, so I decided to split off at Exit 9 (New Brunswick) as the backup started mid-way to exit 8 and ran all the way down to at least exit 7A.  We took Route 1 and Route 130 home, instead.  It was a longer, slower trip, but at least we kept moving.

Anyway, lots of happy hugs and cheers arose when we got home. I had to do some more work, but that was fine.  Around 4:30, I dutifully called the airline and learned that the bag had, indeed, arrived.  I spoke to a person there and he said he would request that the bag be delivered, but couldn’t guarantee that it would be at my house by the morning. I told him I needed it to be here by 10AM, but all he would do is say to check back in a couple hours. So, I checked. And checked. I used the website, I used the phone system, I used my Magic-8 ball.  No matter what method of checking I did, I got conflicting answers. One method said the bag was “in process, awaiting assignment to a driver.”  Another method said the bag “has left Newark Airport”. The Magic 8 Ball replied that the situation was “hard to see, ask again later.” I think that one was closest to correct.

Finally, I got a call from someone named Senoi or Singoe or something like that. He informed me that he had the bag in his possession and would deliver it to my home, but it would be “well after midnight”. I told him that would be fine, that I just needed it by 10AM. I left a note on the door authorizing him to leave it.  Around 3:30am, technically on Day Zero of Vacation, the bag was delivered! Yay!

In the end, Day Negative One was about what it should be expected to be: long, difficult, troubling and perplexing. If nothing else, at least it’s predictable.

I wonder if we can predict anything about Day Zero?