Sunday, June 23, 2013

Fear and Loathing on the Way to Montpelier - 5

My luck traveling back and forth via Burlington was not very good.  I was able to get to Burlington pretty consistently, but the return was never routine.  Even on the outbound leg, there was always something going on about the drive over to Montpelier.  It might be precipitation – which was a problem in that it wasn’t usually rain.  After the weather got a little warmer, that snow started to melt, and late at night you would get pretty heavy fog.  Heavy fog, the dark, and roads you’re not familiar with make for a tough trip.  There was so little traffic on I-89 South that you couldn’t follow someone’s tail lights in the hope that they, at least, knew where they were going.  There were no other cars!

So I would often arrive at the guest house, at 10:30 or 11:00 at night, completely wired from the drive.  I didn’t want to take anything for sleep, because I usually feel like I’m in a daze the next day when I do that, so it would take forever to go to sleep.  Not an ideal situation for a consultant to show up for work totally exhausted.

I had toyed with the idea of traveling via Bradley International, aka Hartford.  I could get a non-stop on American, rent a car, and get to Montpelier in three hours.  I decided to try it once daylight savings time started, to give myself a chance to get there before it was totally dark.

My trip up on American was nice.  I had an aisle seat on a B-737.  I got some lunch at the Admiral’s Club at DFW, a chicken quesadilla.  It was Easter Sunday.  The plane got to Hartford on time, and I quickly (no checked bag) went to the Hertz off-airport location.  Bradley is a small airport and is easy to manage.  I got the car and followed the signs to the interstate.  I had hooked up my iPhone with an aux cable to the jack in the car, so I had some music to listen to. 

The drive was not all that enjoyable, but it was okay.  I stopped at a rest stop after crossing into Vermont, and it was just a rest stop.  Bathrooms and vending machines and some benches, nothing else.  I continued up I-91 and then I-89, but in Vermont it seemed that every bridge was being worked on.  The weather there beats up on the highways, and especially the bridges.  There are a lot of bridges because the state is mountainous and there are lots of little creeks and rivers you cross, and the interstate basically is in the valley carved out by the Connecticut River.  Nobody where I live has ever heard of it, but the Connecticut River is a big deal.  Every bridge was down to one lane, and sometimes the one lane was more like three fourths of a lane.  They can’t work on the roads in the winter, and they try to fix everything before the summer vacation season.

Traffic was very light, but most of it was trucks.  I wound into Montpelier just as it was getting dark.  On Easter everything was closed, except Shaw’s, the supermarket, and it was getting ready to close.  I ran in there and got some frozen something to cook in the guest house’s microwave.  And some wine.

So this night I got some decent sleep, and showed up for work in a better condition than other times.  I wasn’t sure this three hour drive thing would work, though.  I’m not a good long distance driver – whenever we go anywhere of any distance it seems my wife drives more than I do.  (Except in Ireland – that’s another story.)

At the end of the week, I left the office after lunch on Thursday.  My flight from BDL (Bradley International) left a little before 6 PM, and I felt I needed to allow an hour for rental car return and getting to the terminal, and then allow for security, and have a cushion.  Let me tell you – giving yourself extra time while traveling is the most important thing you can do for yourself.

I drove south on I-89, which is kind of a winding road for an interstate.  It follows the aforementioned Connecticut River, which is a winding river.  About half an hour south of Montpelier it was drizzling.  Up ahead, I saw a big bird in a field.  It was a wild turkey!  I had never seen one before.   It was a nice looking bird, but I was driving 65 miles per hour on a slightly wet road, so I couldn’t look at the bird.  The next thing I saw was this huge bird flying straight into the front of my rental.  One bad thing about cruise control – if I had my foot on the gas, I would have slammed on the brake and missed the bird, but I didn’t react fast enough.  The turkey crashed into the front of the car, and feathers flew everywhere.  He bounced off my car and hit in front of another car behind me – the one who might well have crashed into me had I slammed on the brake to miss the bird.

A short distance ahead there was a rest stop.  I pulled over to see what I could see.  What I saw was a hood with a dent big enough to rest a basketball in, but nothing leaking out. There were no warning lights and the car seemed to be running okay.  I called Hertz to report the accident.  They seemed to want me to take the car to the nearest Hertz facility, which was probably back in Burlington, where I wasn’t going.  They asked what was the closest major city.  I chose to define ‘major’ as ‘more than 50,000 people’, so I replied “Montreal, and I don’t have my passport.”  We decided I would continue to BDL.

As I crossed the border into Massachusetts, the sky opened up.  It was a torrential rain, an absolute frog drowner.  I was on the interstate with, for the most part, 18 wheelers, throwing up huge amounts of spray.  I could not stop, because I was trying to catch a flight home.  It was raining so hard that under any other circumstance I would have pulled over.  But I did have to reduce my speed considerably.

Finally, after about half an hour of storm, it eased off.  When I got to Hartford I found a gas station and filled up my poor damaged rental.  I drove to Hertz, and there were two ladies waiting for cars to come back and be checked in.  They just looked at me and didn’t say a word.  I said: “A wild turkey”.  One of them replied, “You’re the second one today”.  Oddly, that did make me feel a little better. 

I had declined the coverages, stupidly, because the client would have paid for them without question.  The damage ended up around $750, about half of which was paid by insurance, although they have raised my rates every six months ever since.

When I got to the airport, I did something I rarely do.  I went into the bar and had a Sam Adams.  When that was gone, I had another.  I bought a chicken sandwich on the plane.  I was fortunate to have my wife pick me up at DFW.

I did not book my flights through Hartford any more.

Throughout Vermont, they have signs on the road warning you about various kinds of wildlife.  Moose warnings, deer warnings, even bear warnings.  I never saw a turkey warning.

I needed to see one.