I spent a number of days around Christmas visiting relatives in Chicago, partially for reasons which bear not repeating. (I was there from Monday, December 15, 2008, to Friday, December 26, 2008.) I'm not going to discuss relatives in this post.
This post begins boring and gradually gets more interesting.
Chicago was cold, but pretty. The highs most days were in the 20s. A few days had highs in the single digits, which, with wind chill, made it feel like -30. We heard predictions of heavy snowfall (6+ inches) at times, though most turned out to be somewhat less. We drove through slush, snow-gravel, flurrying (pretty, especially as it blew over the windshield), snow-mist (as my dad says, like you're in one of those snow globes that have been shaken), fine speckling, and puffy flurrying. We drove by one shopping mall's parking lot where the snow had been cleaned and moved into enormous mounds. I'd estimate the mounds were three or four car lengths long, two wide, and probably fifteen feet high! These mounds were much higher than any other piles left by snowplows, and dwarfed the cars around them. Also, I liked cleaning off the car, though it would've been more fun if I had waterproof shoes. Finally, one cousin showed me how to use an emergency brake to make cool turns on ice, and how to rock a car stuck in slush free without actually getting out of the car.
Also while in Chicago, I rediscovered the appeal of simple American food, ranging from Kentucky Fried Chicken to beef stroganoff to meatloaf to tuna salad sandwiches to American-Chinese. While I was familiar with Americanized Chinese (i.e., Chinese dishes altered to American tastes), I had forgotten there was another category with dishes such as egg foo young and chop suey that weren't directly derived from a particular Chinese dish.
For Christmas-day dinner, we cooked a large thanksgiving-like spread: turkey, home-made sage stuffing (actually cooked in the bird!), mashed (well, technically, whipped) potatoes, home-made gravy, cranberry sauce (canned), green beans with garlic, sweet potato-and-apple casserole (sweet, cinnamony, almost a dessert), dinner rolls, and an okay, weird ice-cream-like pie.
We had quite an adventure creating this dinner. At one point, we sent some peels (potato?) down the garbage disposal. They made it through the disposal fine. Yet, a short time later the sink backed up. The clog wasn't into the disposal. My handy aunt took the pipes under the sink apart, and, with the help of my ever-prepared grandmother's plumbers snake, we snaked the pipes. The clog wasn't in the U below the disposal. After much work, getting the snake around turns, we ended up feeding the whole snake--which was probably more than twenty feet long--into the pipes in the wall. I wonder where in the apartment building the other end was! We never really hit anything, but we wiggled it a lot, reassembled the pipes under the sink, played with water pressure in the sink itself, and eventually unclogged the pipes. What a relief to everyone, especially my mom (who was a nervous wreck). Lesson learned: even if you think the garbage disposal cuts things up well and you've never had a problem with it, those chopped bits can cause clogs elsewhere in the system.
Going home was horrible, and expensive. My Friday flight, and indeed all late afternoon and evening flights at Midway were canceled due to fog, and Southwest couldn't get me home Saturday, Sunday, or Monday! It took four hours to find/retrieve my bag from piles at Midway. Furthermore, I booked a replacement ticket and, misreading something during the process, paid much more than I thought I would.
Lessons for people on canceled flights:
- Call the airline's phone number as soon as possible. You can get in the physical rebooking line if you want. I was on hold on the phone for 50 minutes before my call was answered, but during that time I only advanced through perhaps a third of the line. The line wound through all of Southwest's rope barriers, then down to literally the other end of the terminal.
- Get on the internet as soon as possible. You can book things faster yourself than via the phone. Flights will fill up fast. If you see an acceptable flight, take it without hesitation. (This was the cause of my expensive mistake.)
- Retrieve your bags as soon as possible. When many flights are canceled, baggage claim is a mess. The handlers apparently began unloading all the planes as fast as possible, throwing the bags in the baggage claim area in whatever order the luggage got to the ramp. When the conveyor belts filled up, they unloaded the bags onto the terminal's floor, leaving a ten-foot gap for walking between all the bags and the conveyor belts. It was a sea of luggage. They still didn't have enough space to unload the remaining bags, so they stopped unloading. When I finally made it to the baggage claim, they couldn't tell me where my bag was ("if it was unloaded, it's somewhere in the vicinity of baggage carousel eight", the area used for bags on flights to the west-coast) or whether it was unloaded or even whether any bags from my flight were unloaded before the ran out of space in baggage claim! Soon after I arrived in baggage claim, the handlers started carting the bags away to store in a secure area. Bags would be retrieved when a passenger put in a search request. I couldn't find my bag--perhaps it was unloaded and removed, or maybe it wasn't unloaded at all--and so I put in a search request. Eventually (and I mean eventually) the handlers brought it out.
- screens of flights with every one marked canceled
- the rebooking line stretching from one end of the terminal to the other
- the sea of luggage in the baggage claim