Friday, August 16, 2013

The Romance Writers of America Conference Almost Killed Me
A.K.A. The Trip from Hell

By: Julie Ann Walker


The first day of the Romance Writers of America Conference started out well and good.  Back in Chicago, I ate a nice breakfast, my bags were neatly packed - nothing forgotten and shoved in at the last minute - my flight status showed my plane to Atlanta was on time, and the sun was shining.  For a gal who travels fairly often, this was how a trip should begin... uneventfully. 

And then Fate, that fickle ol' battle-ax, thought I deserved a good bee-yotch slapping.  Now, let me start by saying I have no idea why she chose this particular moment to turn against me.  Just the day before I'd stopped in the middle of my bicycle ride to give a group of wide-eyed, obviously lost tourists directions.  A week earlier I'd spent a day volunteering for the USO.  And recently, I'd put together a rather heartfelt care package for a sick friend.  Not that these small things should have assured my unencumbered entrance into the Great Beyond.  But, hey, I figured they at least earned me some karmic points in the plus column.  Apparently not...   

The first catastrophe occurred as soon as the taxi I hailed nosed out onto the highway.  Back-to-back traffic.  Thirty minutes of stop-and-go slid into sixty.  Then, my taxi up and died.  Now, folks, I'm not sure the poor cabbie didn't just run out of gas... unprepared, as I was, for the piled-up traffic.  But regardless, there I was, stuck on the side of the highway, waiting for another taxi to arrive.  Forty minutes later, one did.

 By that point, as I'm sure you can guess, I missed my flight.  I fancy that I watched my United Airlines jet soar across that big blue bowl of a sky the moment I stepped onto the curb at the airport.  But I'm nothing if not resourceful - wink, wink - so a bit of sweet-talk later, I was booked on the next flight.


I arrived in Atlanta in one piece, and I assumed my bad luck was behind me.  Of course, you know what they say about assuming, right?  It makes an "a$$" out of "u" and "me."  Because while I may have arrived Atlanta, my bags had not.  They were still... somewhere.  Lost  in that great luggage abyss that is Chicago's O'Hare airport.


After filling out the appropriate paperwork so the Atlanta airport personnel could deliver my wayward luggage to my hotel once it, you know, actually made the trip, I climbed into my third taxi of the day.  Two miles into the ride, the air-conditioner gave up the ghost with a cough, cough, and a wheeze.  Now, this is Atlanta in the middle of July, kids.  We're talking steamy enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk.  Needless to say, by the time I arrived at my hotel, I was a hot mess.


All I wanted at that point was to jump in a nice, cold shower.  I had a book signing in approximately one hour, so that gave me just enough time.  But, alas, I should've known.  The hotel was not prepared for the influx of conference attendees, and even though it was 4:30 in the afternoon, my room was not ready.


Par for the course, I figured at that point, and went to my signing smelling like butt and looking like a twelve-year-old.  (I'd braided my hair in pigtails that morning, assuming I'd have plenty of time to make myself appropriately authory before I had to meet any fans.) 


After the event, I was relieved to find that my room was, indeed, finally ready.  And once I'd cocooned myself in my own private home-away-from-home the first order of business was to locate my luggage.  This is when I found myself talking to a lovely gentleman at the United Airlines' call-center in India.  Now, imagine my chagrin when the answer to the question of, "Is there anything in your luggage that could help us easily identify it?" was, "Yeah, there are ten books packed inside, and on the covers are half-naked men."  The lovely gentleman actually made me repeat my answer.  I could picture quite clearly the snickering faces of those seated around him.


I wish I could say the tale ends here.  Unfortunately, it does not.  Because at 12:06 in the morning, I got a call from the bellboy informing me that my luggage had finally arrived.  Ecstatic that I wouldn't have to make a mad dash to the gift shop and deck myself out in Atlanta Braves gear for the next day - I'm a Cubs fan; that would've been sacrilege - I raced to retrieve my luggage.  But standing in the elevator, bag in hand, I was horrified to discover it was soaking, I'm talking soaking, wet.  You see, we'd had a rather violent rainstorm blow through earlier and obviously my luggage had borne the brunt of it.


The next hour saw me using every hanger I could scrounge up in order to hang my sopping clothes around the hotel room.  I woke up forty-five minutes early the next morning just in case they hadn't dried - which, of course, they hadn't - and spent that time using my hairdryer on the outfit I'd planned to wear.

And THUS endeth the tale of how the 2013 Romance Writers of America Conference almost killed me...

How about you, dear readers, any travel horror stories to share?




ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julie Ann Walker is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of the Black Knights Inc. romantic suspense series. She is prone to spouting movie quotes and song lyrics. She'll never say no to sharing a glass of wine or going for a long walk. She prefers impromptu travel over the scheduled kind, and she takes her coffee with milk. You can find her on her bicycle along the lake shore in Chicago or blasting away at her keyboard, trying to wrangle her capricious imagination into submission. Look for the first four books in her fast-paced series: Hell On Wheels (August 2012) In Rides Trouble (September 2012) Rev It Up (October 2012) and Thrill Ride (April 2013). For more information, please visit www.julieannwalker.com or follow her on Facebook www.facebook.com/jawalkerauthor and/or Twitter @JAWalkerAuthor.


57 comments:

  1. I had a not so much fun experience when I flew to the US for my first RT convention. My suitcase was green and I was waiting and waiting at the baggage claim for it to appear, but as the time went by everyone got their luggage but not me, only a brown suitcase was making its rounds. I nearly panicked because "Hey, there is all my stuff in there, costumes, chocolate for my friends etc. So I contacted Delta and they found out that someone else took my suitcase and I had to wait 2 hours to get it back. Their excuse was sorry I thought that was mine. Excuse there is a huge difference between green and brown. But my RT convention was saved and was the best ever.

    dannyfiredragon@aol.com

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    1. @Dannyfiredragon, I had that happen once, too! Only they were both black bags. So that's a little more understandable. Maybe your bag-taker was color blind? *shrugs*

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  2. Wow, that sucks!!

    I have only gone on two trips and nothing bad happened on either.

    jvanlew1@live.com

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    1. @jv1209, you're lucky! They say you shouldn't confuse the destination with the journey, but in my case, the journey was so awful I couldn't wait to reach my destination. ;-)

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  3. And that is why my husband and I no longer fly!!! No horror stories here.

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    1. @Danielle, I hate flying, too! Which puts a real wrinkle in my love of travel. ;-)

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  4. I travel a lot--both for pleasure because I'm a travel 'ho (thanks mum & dad!) & avid scuba diver and because growing up we lived in Asia and had the rest of the family in Europe-- but I thankfully haven't had any truly horrendous travel experiences. I almost always travel with carry-on luggage only (yes, even my scuba gear) because I've had my bags not make it with me a few times, so that definitely helps.

    Perhaps my most stressful travel experience was during summer my third year of university. I was spending the bulk of the summer at school doing research in a lab and had spent the night in my summer sublet before flying to visit the parents for a week because they booted us out of the dorms the second finals ended. At this point, I didn't have a mobile phone (the parents were in a different country, so I rang them using the university's super cheap landline) so I had one of my new summer roommates call me a taxi before she left for lab. The taxi never showed, I had no phone with which to check on it or call a new one, no one was around, and my flight was creeping closer, so I finally had to grab my carry-on and rucksack and trek to lab to use the phone there to call another taxi. Thankfully, one of my labmates had his car and drove me so I made it on the plane on time!

    Then there was the time my mum and I were flying back from Nepal and our guide there starts trying to get his "friend's" bag to pass as our own at check-in because he exceeded the bag limit. We were like "Um, hell no", but I still had visions of it all going BROKEDOWN PALACE on us and spending the rest of our lives in a dingy Asian jail. I was maybe 12 or so at the time... :)

    stalkers00(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  5. @Chris, oh sweet lord! Thank goodness your mom was too smart to fall for that racket, or else you might've spent your formative years in a Nepalese prison!!! :-/

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  6. I travel alot for work, so I have many, many tragic tales of travel woe. Probably the worst was the time I had already been to London for a conference and then traveled to Mumbai for a meeting. After the two day long meeting and a nighttime reception that ended in a small town nowhere near an airport, I was whisked through the dead of night in a small car on a very scary "highway" on an overnight journey to the airport. I then had another conference in Shanghai and traveled directly there. I looked totally beat up upon my late arrival and remember ordering a sandwich from room service. I also remember giving the guy a tip that was about three times the cost of the sandwich, but at that point couldn't care that my addled brain didn't even know what currency I should be using either. At this point I had been gone from home about a week and a half and just wanted to get back home. Sadly, I hit San Francisco and my flight had been canceled til the next day. I think I balled my eyes out for the better part of an hour that I was not able to make it home until the next day.

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    1. Oh, holy creepy highway stories, @krisgils33! I did something similar on a road in Serbia. *shiver*

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  7. Poor Julie that really sucks. We have such bad luck when it comes to travel that we have chosen to never use the word vacation, it seems to bring the bad luck.
    Let's see...
    My husband got food poisoning on our honeymoon and spent most of it throwing up (we went on a road trip in his VW bus so this was especially pleasant with no indoor plumbing)
    We took the kids to Sea World and my daughter got lost, we thought she had been taken and spent 45 minutes having a heart attack, that same trip the CC company had a mix up and listed our card as stolen (with the hotel and all the things we planned to do on that card) I spent one whole day of our "trip" trying to get this fixed.
    We chose to take the kids to the great outdoors and go camping, I did however want some convenience so I chose a campground with flush toilets thats all nothing else fancy. They chose to stop working while we were there and because they have the flush toilets there are no outhouses so it was the trees and bushes for us.
    We decided that vacations are bad so one summer we bought season passes to a local amusement park so we could do that all summer instead. THE DAY AFTER WE BOUGHT THEM I broke my foot and required surgery to fix it. I was on crutches the whole summer.
    These are just a few of the more notable reasons the word vacation has been struck from my families vernacular.
    Glad you made it home safe and sound, Carin mawmom at gmail dot com

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    1. Oh, @Carin, you poor thing. What have you done to piss off the Fates? Fess up! LOL!

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  8. What an absolutely horrid travel story. Thank goodness I have not had a bad travel experience. Knock on wood.

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    1. @Theresa, I need some of your good luck. Come rub up against me. ;-) Wait... That sounded dirty. *snicker*

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  9. Luckily I've not had a travel horror story like the one you just experienced. Holy Cow!

    I mean, I've had delayed flights or was once pulled out of line for a random bag search (Which was really annoying because I was on a SouthWest flight in the A group. By the time the search was over, I ended up in the back of the C group)

    Glad you were able to rally and still have a good time!

    penniloafers9@yahoo.com

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    1. @PA Dupaul, those Southwest flight lines are bloodthirsty! I've seen elbows being thrown!

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  10. I can't image the horror. I am thankful that I haven't experience any. The most was a slight delay. Knock on wood. Wishing you all good travels.

    Kidsue99@yahoo.com

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  11. oh, and my email is krisgils33@yahoo.com

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  12. WOW! At least you didn't get kidnapped by pirates! Hubby and I go camping a lot as we live near the Sierra Nevada Mountains. One year we went to Yosemite in early May. As it's Yosemite, which can be Disneyland North, reservations have to be made early for campground sites, so you take your chances with Mother Nature and her attitude. The first day of our stay was supposed to be chance of light rain according to the weather guessers the night before. It was clear and warm when we left home for the 3 hour drive. It started raining about an hour and a half into the drive. Have you ever tried to set up a tent in a monsoon? We waited in the truck until the rain let up a bit. Yes, the gods were teasing us. While we were trying to set up the tent, the real rain and wind started. A tent that takes 5 minutes to set up took 20 because the wind kept catching the slippery nylon fabric and yanking it out of our hands. Because it's a nylon dome tent, to take it down you leave the windows and doors open. By the time we got it set up, there was 2 inches of rain inside the tent. We used all of our towels and some clothes to mop it up as they were damp already. We were soaked to the skin, as you can imagine. We headed to the laundry to dry the clothes. While there, we decided to rent a tent cabin for the night as neither of us wanted to sleep in that poor flooded tent. The tent cabin was wonderful! When we got back to our tent the next, it had leaked and there was about an inch of water inside. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day...we just unstaked the tent, tilted it up and poured the water out. It was nice and dry by the time we had to set up our bed. We had a great time, I took some good pictures as the waterfalls were absolutely huge due to the amount of rain in the high country. It wound up being an awesome trip!

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    1. @Kim Tucker, wow! I was worried there for a bit, but it turned out okay. Cheers!

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  13. Oopsie...I thought it would ask for my e-mail before it would except my post. I'm the camping nut....krazkim55@yahoo.com.

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  14. My husband and I, being Anglophiles, decided to go to the U.K. for our honeymoon. We took an early flight from NY, since our wedding reception the night before went well past the customary evening flight time. We arrived in London after dark and wandered around Knightsbridge dragging our luggage trying desperately to find our hotel before midnight. When we finally arrived at our hotel, they informed us that they were renovating, and put us in a basement room that was so cold and damp that we went to bed, not only fully-clothed, but wearing our coats, as well. Not exactly how we wanted to be spending our "official" wedding night.

    ekanouse@gmail.com

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    1. @Betsy, you mean to tell me you don't find fully clothed nooky sexy??? ;-)

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  15. Marciahilsendeger@yahoo.comAugust 16, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    It didn't happen to me, but my husband and 10 year old son were to leave from Atlanta. The plane was late taking off for "mechanical reasons", and they had 45 minutes as it was to catch their connecting flight. So the attendants insisted they sit at the front of the plane (not first class, that place that has no legroom), and check their bags curbside. So when they landed, late, they waited 20 minutes for their bags, miss..d the connection anyway, and ended up waiting in Minneapolis airport 9 hours for the next one.

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    1. @Marcia, the horrors of missed flights! And waiting in the airport for hours is akin to the seventh circle of hell, in my not-so-humble opinion. ;-)

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  16. And the rest of the story folks goes like this: Her braids were adorable and I thought she'd planned to wear them the whole time that way and was jealous that she looked so cute. She kept a smile on her face and none of us had any idea about the horrors she'd lived through. And she looked like a runway model the whole conference. Nothing can stop this girl...and that's the rest of the story.

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    1. @Caroline Brown, and where do I send the check? Tehehehe. ;-)

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  17. Yikes, travel experiences like that make you wonder if you did something dreadful in a previous life! My sympathies. While I've never had a string of travel misfortunes that long, I'll never forget the trip to St. Louis I took in August 2006. Major hiccups and delays on both the day of departure and the day of return. Flying out, we were delayed for over an hour when there was some kind of problem on the runway and the plane had to be diverted to a different runway before it could take off. That was a PITA, but the kicker happened on the return trip. That was the day Homeland Security, in conjunction with British intelligence, uncovered a terrorist plot in the making that would involve explosives concealed in carry-on beverages and liquids. (This was 5 years after 9/11.) All hell broke loose, and airport security went into overdrive. Passengers were made to discard anything even remotely suspect in their carry-on bags: water bottles, tubes of toothpaste, bottles of shampoo--you name it. Flights were delayed for up to two hours so security could implement this new protocol. And the security personnel were edgy to the point of paranoia, a state of mind that proved all too contagious. I was grateful to HS for uncovering and foiling the plot, but boy, was I glad to get home and relieved that I wouldn't be seeing the inside of an airport anytime soon after that!

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    1. @Pamela Sherwood, and thus beginneth the tale of the 3 ounce limit on all gels and liquids. Oy!

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  18. I know that I'm not a Fan of flying as of my Teen years....My mom says when I was little I loved flying being dad was military we flew a lot.... but I remember one summer he came to get us and we were flying North to Ohio from Texas and I was so nervous the night before that by the time we were boarding I had already used my barf bag as well as dad's by the time we landed in Ohio I stood and made it to the Isle where I passed the Hell out.... Trip was GREAT dad on the other hand decided it was best he drove us back on the return home trip guess he didn't want another scene like that..... Needless to say when we(hubby I and the kids) vacation it is always a road trip.... Unless hubby has drugs to sedate my butt before putting me on a plane!!!!

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    1. @Angrla Love, oh, believe me, I sedate myself. It's just with wine and not pharmaceuticals. ;-) Cheers!

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  19. Sadly I don't get to travel a lot, so no horror stories there.

    However my son was in the hospital for 3 days for testing. I must have left my overhead light on in my car. After 3 days of wathcing my 5 year old be tortured and having not slept since we arrived, we were finally being set free!! Excited to go home we made a mad dash to the parking garage. Guess what we found??? You guessed it... Dead battery :(

    Being a prior girl scout, always prepared, I of course have jumper cables. I'm in the parking garage standing outside of my vehicle with them in hand, and was repeatedly ignored by passing cars. Did I mention this was in Philadelphia??? "The City of Brother Love" - yeah right!!

    After an hour, of being the "Invisible Woman", I then decide to phone security for help... they advised that they were "busy" at the moment, but assured me they would be out within 30 minutes.

    2 hours after my initial phone call (and several more in between) a security vehical FINALLY shows up to jump my car. The "man", and I use that term loosley, seemed very annoyed that he had to actually do something that day besides sit in his car and drive aimlessly.

    We do have to go back every year for testing, but lets just say that I check, re-check, triple check abosolutely every light in my car before I walk away from it.

    flyerphan@ymail.com

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    1. Oh, @Christine, what a nightmare. But thank goodness we have romance novels where chivalry is still alive and well! And I hope your son is happy and healthy.

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  20. Oh, Julie. That is way worse than I even knew. I remember you lost your luggage, but that's just horrific. And you didn't even add the part about how you almost threw up in the limo on the way to the dinner. :-)

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    1. @ShanaGalen, holy crap! I completely forgot about that! Thanks for the reminder. *snicker*

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  21. Yes, but did the books in your suitcase make it out unscathed or were they as soggy as your clothes?

    I'm going to knock on wood and say I haven't had any travel horror stories.

    Marytini @ hotmail dot com

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    1. @Mary, sadly the books were un-salvageable. I think United should have to reimburse me for those, come to think of it. *scratches chin*

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  22. I have travel quite a bit over the years and for the most part the trips are uneventful as far as arriving its mostly just me and younger brothers bickering. However, those are family trips. This past May I went on my first vacation just me and the boyfriend. This should have been a fairly easy trip. We weren't leaving the state or flying or anything like that. We were driving, going two hours away to Knoxville. I should have known better. See I'm the planner in our relationship, he is super forgetful. We got up at 4 that morning to make it to a toy convention (the man and I are both super nerdy, and I had to go for work[I worked at a comic book store at the time]) on time. He actually fell asleep in the shower which meant we were late leaving. It started raining halfway to town to get gas because he had forgotten the night before. This is when we found out his defroster had stopped working. The whole way there I was trying not to be sick from the Hardee's biscuit I'd gotten. He's also alternating between freezing me and burning me up since the defroster died. He's also a nervous wreck since his car threw a rod the last time he tried to go to Knoxville. We make it there in piece. But he had over planned for traffic and time change. We were two hours early and couldn't check into our hotel so we had to sit in the lobby. Before making it through the doors to the event room he made a trip to the ATM to get some cash, another thing he'd forgotten to do before we left. We only had a small budget for the trip. He took out the entire spending budget thinking the hotel had already billed us. We finally made it inside and it was not what either of us had expected. We shopped, he got his Transformers and I got Star Wars stuff. I was also getting a tattoo while we were there. He applied the stencil and there was a quarter sized spot on my back that refused to take the stencil ink. He freehanded that section and I'm so not happy with it. Its the most painful one I've ever gotten and healed really poorly. We left early to get lunch and I was hoping for pizza. We got PF Changs, my food was completely messed up and we overspent. So that night for dinner we were going to TGI Friday's my favorite restaurant. We ordered our food and I got a drink. He checked the bank account on his phone and realized we were almost out of money. I paid for my food and drink. It was really strong so by the time I was finished eating my overcooked food, I'd only drank half. He fussed at me to finish it so I did. I very rarely drink and I have a family history of lightweights, so I got drunk on one drink. We get back to the hotel and I have to go. It raining and its only making my need to relieve myself worse and for some reason he won't let me go back to the room even though I have my own key. I waited for him and we walked back to the lobby together and as soon as I crossed the threshold I couldn't wait any longer and made a mad dash to the room. I did my business and was walking over to the bed to sit down and he's standing there in the walkway and says "You are totally ruining this." I'm confused "I'm ruining what?" He gestures around and says “do you see anything different about the room?" I look around and I see Transformers everywhere. I glance behind me and there's this strange looking Transformer on the entry bench and it has something sparkly on it. I go over to it and its a ring, which I dropped like twenty times. He proposed, the one good thing that came out of this trip. We got lost countless times, even with our GPS throughout the trip. It rained and flooded the whole way home. Even though it was one of the worst trips in my history book it is still my favorite.
    erin.mich.bailey@gmail.com

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    1. Oh, @Erin Bailey! I love this! The worst/best proposal trip if all time!

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  23. Oh, wow! I guess your books were ruined too. I guess if you travel these things are going to happen but they seemed to have all happened at the same time - how horrible. They lost my husband's luggage when we went to Europe - thank goodness it wasn't mine. It took 3 days to get it back from it's trip. But the last day of our trip we had dinner in a medieval castle with weird foods and bottomless drinks. I never felt so bad in my whole life. My husband lost my contact while trying to help me take them out so I was blind too. Had to take a bus the the airport early next morning and an early flight. I looked like hell to say the least and felt the same way. Someone saved my life by giving me an antihistamine which helped settle my stomach - I highly recommend it lol.

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    1. Oh, @Catslady, I feel your pain. There's nothing more awful than flying when you don't feel well. Thanks for the antihistamine tip. I'll have to try that!

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  24. I knew you had troubles on your way to RWA but I didn't realize they were that crazy for you :(

    I personally don't have any stories like yours or the ones I have been reading... mine are more about how nerve racking it was to drive through monsoon rain storms or ice storms when I lived up north.

    Thank you for the giveaway!!!

    PS: Thought you looked cute in your braided pigtails :)

    mharper1023@gmail.com

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    1. @Michelle, you are too kind. And the photo is kinda fuzzy, so that helps. ;-)

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  25. i don't have any horror stories on traveling. *knock on wood*
    Julie, have you ever thought of using this or other travel horror stories for a story?

    drgnrdr@mail.com

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    1. @April, dear, NOTHING is safe from my writerly ways. EVERYTHING is possible story fodder. Mwahahaha! (Evil laugh)

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  26. beginning stuck overnight in a deserted airport because of "unforeseen delays" by the airline

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

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    1. @BN100, I've only had to spend the night in the airport once. And, let me tell you, that was MORE than enough.

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  27. Other than a 36 hour trip from Salt Lake City to Brussels which was supposed to 14, I have no horror stories to tell. Sorry you had such a time in Atlanta!

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    1. @Mia Marlowe, me thinks you left out a great deal of detail! O.o

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  28. No way can I top your tale of travel troubles!!!
    But I WOULD love to win your new book!

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    1. @Vickie Powell, best of luck to you, doll!

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  29. Ok, so I don't have any flight horror stories but when I was in high school and college by family had an RV. Have you seen the movie RV with Robin Williams, that could have been my family. We drove it into the mountains to go skiing, and got it stuck in the parking lot. Normal people would go to the transportation hut where they have all kinds of help (including a huge truck to pull out people like us) but no, my dad looks at my mom and I and says "get out and push" are you f'ing kidding me...we went out and pushed....shocker it didn't help. Mom and I then walked over to the transportation hut to get help. They were barely able to contain their laughter long enough to tell us they'd seen us and help was on the way. Then there was the trip to California where my little brother (then 4) kicked my little sister (then 2) and she fell and hit her head on the bedside table and needed to go to the hospital to get looked at. We didn't tow a car and it was after 11pm. We had to unhook everything and trek to the ER, sit there while she got looked at (at least me and my brothers got to stay in the RV not the waiting room) then drive back and hook up (at least the power and water) at 2am in the dark. Those are just a couple highlights of the RV years, needless to say I was a happy girl when they sold that sucker!

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    1. Ha, @Leah, the horrors of RV-ing! Stephen King should make THAT into a book. *shiver*

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  30. Oh, I think I would have hit the bar and just not bothered to stop drinking until either
    A-My luggage arrived safely (and when it arrived wet I would have kept drinking) or
    B-I passed out!

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  31. After reading all of these stories, I am tempted to never travel again, lol. I tend to bring lots of things with me in my carryon just because I am paranoid about my luggage being lost but thus far (knock on wood) it hasn't happened. Glad that you made it back safely!

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  32. Wow, Julie Ann. What a trip from hell. You handled it like a seasoned pro though.

    I have to ask if you shed a tear or two. I don't think I would've handled the situation quite so eloquently.

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