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TRAVEL 'TRAINWRECK'

Once upon a time, my wife and I went to Canada for a speaking engagement in Banff, Alberta, Canada....

As I mentioned above, the story of our trip to Canada could only read like a fairytale, a grim fairytale, because you simply can't make this stuff up.

Since our flight left at 6am in the morning, and we live 1.5 hours from the closet airport of any size, we were up at 3am loading the car. As I entered our garage, I notice a large amount of water in the floor. Further inspection revealed that the A/C unit drain was blocked by something causing the condensed water to leak into the house. No problem, turn off the a/c, wake my son and inform him that he will have no a/c until I can contact someone during our trip to come and fix the issue. I also encourage him to clean up the mess as soon as possible. Since we were now late, we hurried loading the car, and drove something close to warp speed towards the airport. Shortly before arriving at the airport, my wife and I went over our list of things we needed to be sure we had with us. Luggage. Check. Passports. Check. Tickets. Check. Money......Money......? My wife had changed purses, and left the cash we were to take with us in her other purse, along with her debit card. I had no debit card either, $12 in cash, but I did have credit cards, so I soothed Kim, my wife, by telling her that we would just hit an ATM machine at O'hare in Chicago and get some cash. Apprehesnively, she agreed to continue. We barely made the flight.

Upon arrival at Ohare, we found an ATM that was close to our departing gate. I pulled out my Mastercard, slipped it into the machine, pulled it out, and then realized that I had never, ever, used this card at an ATM since I got the card back in 1991. The pin number could have been anything that made sense to me over the last 21 years, and sure enough, thousands of gallons of beer and whiskey over the years did nothing to jog my memory. So I called MasterCard, explained my situation, and they informed me that they would be happy to provide the PIN information.....in 5-7 days via US Mail, but informed me that I could go to any bank, and with photo ID, I could still get an advance on the card. It was a Saturday, and we were in an airport where the only bank opened at 10 am and our flight left a 9:45am. This was going to have to be solved once we arrived in Canada.

We arrived in Calgary and had 15 mins to catch our bus to Banff, so we would have to wait until Monday to get some cash. Our bus ride took 1.5 hours, and they dropped us off at the beautiful Fairmont Banff Springs Resort. We made our way to the check in desk, only to find out that we had no reservations. What? No problem, I thought, I'll just call the director of the meeting and we'll clear this up. Kim, my thoughtful wife, anticipated our international travel, and purchased an international cell phone package for her phone. Only one problem, she had been playing words with friends, dice with buddies, and several other games while at Ohare to keep her mind off of our dilema, so her phone was now dead. I turned on my phone, and it displayed one signal bar. I placed a call to the director of the meeting, crossed my fingers, and wondered how much this call was going to cost me as his phone rang. I discovered that unbeknownst to me, that my reservation had been moved to another hotel, and was assured it was within walking distance. Somewhat relieved, still bewildered, yet hopeful, I asked the directions to my new lodging, and discovered it was within a walking distance alright.... a 7 kilometer walk. The look that I got from my wife was one that I will never forget, so I resigned myself to getting a taxi instead of trying to talk my wife into walking up-hill for 7km, in 28 degree weather, at night in grizzly bear country.

During the taxi ride, I watched the taxi meter very closely, knowing the small amount of cash I had. At our new hotel, the meter read $11.06, which was Canadian, and the taxi driver was nice enough to accept $12.00 American as he did not accept credit cards. At the front desk of our new resort lodging, we once again inquired about our reservations, and once again were told we had no reservations, at least not for 2 more days. How this all got so messed up at this point was not our real problem. The real issue was the fact that we were 2500 miles from home, with zero cash, and no where to stay. However, further inquiry yeilded good results as the resort could accomodate us for the unscheduled 2 days. In a very Austrailan accent, the front desk clerk soothed our wounds, and told us to secure the rooms all she needed was a credit card, at which I tossed her my MasterCard. With a swipe of the card, our hopes and dreams of indoor lodging were almost dashed as she quietly informed me that the card had been denied. What? My wife began to tear up and imagine to herself what sort of tools she would use to dismember my body and discretely bury it on an obscure piece of our property. Oh no, the ATM attempt at Ohare in Chicago resulted in Mastercard putting a 'fraud freeze' on the card! It was clearly time to dust off my best sales techniques to otherwise convince a foreigner in a foreign land that this is all some sort of simple misunderstanding and if I could only get a room I could have the problem resolved within an hour. Once a salesman, always a salesman, and in homage to past feats of spectacular 'closing' skills, we finally secured a room. At least for one night, that is, because now I had to implement some of the same sales strategies with my negotiations with MasterCard to get my card reativated.

Once in the room, and 1 hour later, having gone through intense credit card fraud de-briefing, all was well. We dared not exit the room that evening, let alone go outside for fear of a tree spontaneously felling itself upon us. We had our meal brought to us, ate in abject silence, and laid down to get some much needed rest. A few minutes later, we received a text message from my sister who informed us that my Father had had a heart attack, and was at that time being transported to the hospital. A dismal end to a disastrous day.

My father is fine, now.

I have had some bad travelling experiences, but this trainwreck has set a new benchmark of examples of what might go wrong. It is also a testament for all of us wiley old parts guys that deal with the ever changing environment of sales, management and dealing with the public. Actually, in retrospect, it was just like another day at the office.

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