Karma: A few lessons from our ordeal with Hurricane Irene

This past weekend has to be one of the strangest weekends of my life. 

FRIDAY

It started with me coming off of a grueling two-day program that had frankly, stressed me out.  That meeting ended Friday at 2:00 PM at which time I headed straight home and got ready to drive two hours to a wedding.  When I got home, I quickly changed, gave the au pair marching orders for delivering our 20-month old to the grandparents, and took off my wife and 5 year old son for the trip to Mankato where the wedding started at 5:30 PM. We were on the road by 3:30 PM.

So far so good.

Then the text from Orbitz came, “MSG: DL 848 to BOS cancelled.”

Oh oh.

See, I was supposed to be flying out to Boston along with three other facilitators on Saturday to do a program on Sunday for a client.  We had known that Hurricane Irene was closing in on the east coast, but the reports that I had seen didn’t have it near Boston until Sunday.  Apparently Delta had some different information.

I  had two main client contacts – I called them both up.  No answer – so I left messages.  I then e-mailed the clients from my i-phone with this message “Flights Cancelled.  I just received a text saying our flight is cancelled due to hurricane Irene.  I am checking on getting a different flight.”  It was about 4:30 PM.

The message came back from the client at 4:41 PM, it said, “Thanks Kurt.”

Huh?  I would have liked a little more information please.

Needless to say, I was working the phone and e-mail.  I contacted Delta and instead of waiting for 42 to 54 minutes on hold, I had them give me a call back when my time was set.  Over the course of the next 40 minutes I traded more e-mails with both clients.  The meeting was still on – it seems like none of the participants were having any problems in getting into Boston (even though they were coming from around the world – Europe, Brazil, China, India and the U.S.).  They must NOT have been flying Delta. I contacted my team of guys who were flying out there with me.  I got a hold of two of them who were offering to help however they could.

So it was now about 5:20 PM and we were almost at the church.   Then I got this text from our Au Pair, “Sitting outside Grandma and Grandpa’s for 45 minutes – no one is home to take baby.”

Oh oh.

I now had another crisis on hand.  Quickly texted back that we’d try to find the grandparents, gave a few unsuccessful calls to their home and cell phones when I received my call back from Delta service (it had been in the 42 to 54 minute range).  The Delta rep searched for another option into Boston and came up with nothing available that could get us in either directly or through a connection.  All the flights were either full or cancelled.

It was 5:33 the wedding was starting.  I sat down in the pew and for the next 40 minutes tried to concentrate on the ceremonies.  Luckily there was no cell phone service in the church so I wasn’t tempted to check e-mails every minute.

Once outside the church I scanned the e-mail and text barrage.  A couple more e-mails from the client stating that the meeting was still happening.   A few more from my facilitators wondering what they could do to help.  A text from the Au Pair that she had gone home to feed the baby because our 20-month old had been hungry and thirsty.

I thought about pulling my hair out at this point but I’m bald – so that didn’t help.

At this point, my wife came outside and we discussed what we should do.  We were prepared to go home to relieve the Au Pair.  We tried calling the grandparents again.  And I was thinking through various options for being able to work the program in Boston – I thought of maybe trying to rent a car to drive out to Boston, finding other facilitators in Boston who could conduct it, try to figure out a teleportation device that could beam us there directly. I was getting a little desperate.

Just then, we got our first break.  Our Au Pair called and said the grandparents had returned and she was going to drop off our baby with them.

Check that off the list.

We drove to the reception and I was working the phone and e-mail some more.  That continued while at the reception in between greeting old friends, eating dinner, and chasing the five year old around.

It looked like we were going to drive.  I figured if we left Minneapolis at 8:00 AM Saturday we would get in at 7:00 AM on Sunday.  I sent out an e-mail to my team letting them know of this.

That is when one of my team, Carl, came back with this e-mail, “I’m sure you’ve already thought about this, but we could fly into some place closer and drive.”  This is why you hire smart people.  I had not thought of that before in my panic – but now it was the greatest idea since sliced bread.  I quickly sent an e-mail off to everyone that we were going to try to do this.

Fast forward a few hours and we had three tickets to fly to Cleveland, OH the next day.  Yes, just 3 tickets as one of the facilitators had determined that he couldn’t do the program because of a commitment he had in Raleigh, NC on Monday and the fact that he wouldn’t be able to get there from Boston.  This is a whole different story – but for now it means that I’m one facilitator short for Sunday, which given everything else, I could deal with.

I went to sleep well past Midnight.

SATURDAY

I woke up early and got ready.  I had made arrangements with one facilitator to car pool to the airport.  We left at 8:30 AM in a cab.

Oh yeah, one more little detail…we had to meet the facilitator who backed out from our program at the airport because he was going to provide some of the equipment necessary for some of the events that we were doing.  We met him at 9:00 AM curbside and did the exchange.  Just one more little stress in this joyous weekend.

Luckily our flight was uneventful.  We touched down at 1:00 PM.  We rented a Ford Explorer and were on the road by 2:00 PM.  If all went well, we would make it to the conference center outside of Boston by 1:00 AM – a mere 11 hour car ride.

We thought of it as an adventure.

We travelled through Ohio and quickly into Pennsylvania following interstate 90.  We got into New York State where we started seeing a number of convoys of electrical trucks and tree removal trucks.

More and more I started to wonder what the hell we were thinking driving into what the news was calling the worst hurricane to hit the east coast in decades.  It was definitely an adventure.

We drove on.  Time past.  We talked a lot.  We listened to a bunch of 80’s music on satellite radio.  After starting out at 8:30 AM going to the airport – we arrived at the hotel just a  little past midnight.  We were ready to go to sleep.

The front desk was staffed by John.  John was sorting papers on the desk as we walked in and as we stood there, continued to sort papers.

“Hello” I said.

“Just a minute, let me finish this.”

“We are with the _____ group”  I said.

“Yes…these are for them.  Give me a minute.” He replied.

Ok….  We sat there for a few minutes while he was sorting out these papers.  Finally, he asked, “Can I help you?”

“Yes, we are checking in.”

“I’ll need a credit card for all of you” he said.

“Can I put it on my card since I’m paying for all these guys?” I asked.

“No.  I need all your own cards to bill to.”  He replied.

Alright – we’ll do it that way.

A minute or two later I get…“Ok, Mr. Nelson, here is your room key.  You will be sharing a room with Mr. Johnson.  Do you know him?” He asked.

“Excuse me. No I don’t know him!  I think there must be some mistake.” I replied getting freaked out just  thinking about walking into some stranger’s room. “We should all have our own rooms.”

“No.  Everyone in this group is paired up.”

“We aren’t actually with the group – we are facilitating the session tomorrow.”

“Generally they make everyone have roommates.” He said.

“I understand, but we are not part of the group and we were never told that we would be having roommates.  I think that is something that they would have told us.” I replied.

“Well that’s how they generally do it.” John said.

“But I don’t think that is generally how they would do it for us.  It is not how they did it last year.” I said with a little more anger in my voice.

“Yes. But this group is all paired up.” John replied seemingly not having heard a word I said.

“Does that mean we all have roommates?” I asked. “I would think so” he said and then looked at the registry.  “Ok, no Paul and Carl don’t have roommates.”

I gave him a quizzical look. “But I do?” I asked again.

“Oh, Mr. Nelson, you are leaving on Monday.  Mr. Johnson doesn’t get in until Tuesday so I guess you don’t have a roommate.”

Ahhh…at least I could sleep a few hours tonight without any craziness.

SUNDAY

I’ll keep this short.  We did the program.  It started at 8:00 AM.  It was with a group of international managers from around the world: Europe, Asia, South America and North America.  We worked through a couple small power outages and with the wind and rain pelting the windows.  It went really well.

But the dreaded hurricane never really showed up.

We wrapped up at around 3:30 PM – almost 48 hours after I had received my first text that had thrown this weekend into a tizzy.  I checked my phone.  There was another text from Orbitz “MSG: DL 819 to MSP cancelled.”

Oh oh!

The following thoughts raced through my mind in a matter of seconds: we were going to be stranded in Boston; my team had put up with enough already and they were going to kill me; we were going to have to fly around the clock just to get home; what was wrong with Delta: I was going to have a frickin’ nervous breakdown!   I was also thinking that I had another program that I needed to get back to Minneapolis for on Tuesday that I still had some preparation for.  So the idea of waiting in airports and sitting on tarmacs all Monday was not very appealing.  Not appealing at all.

So once again, back to the internet searching out options:  Would we drive back to Cleveland or maybe a closer airport like Rochester and fly out in the AM?  Were there later flights from Boston Logan that weren’t affected?  Could we build a teleportation device that would beam us directly home?

I was feeling a little desperate.

That is when we had a bit of good karma. 

When I logged on, I saw that there were three flights leaving Boston that night.  One was to Lisbon, Portugal; one was to Reykjavik, Iceland, and there was one flight out on Sun Country airlines tonight from Boston Logan to Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Yes!

But then doubt crept in…that had to be wrong I thought.

I got on the phone and called Sun Country.  Yep – they were flying.  I booked three tickets right away.

I told my team to pack up and get ready we were leaving for the airport.  I have driven a fair amount in Boston and this drive was the strangest I’ve ever had.  The freeways were empty.  The toll booths evacuated.  Leaves and debris spilled across the roads.  We got to the airport in record time.

When we got to the counter however, it was empty.  My stomach sank.  Then I saw the sign, “Sun Country check-in in Terminal E.”

Whew…

We started walking. The airport was empty.  After a 10 minute walk we got to the counter and checked in.  We had some time, so we walked over to the airport hotel and got a nice dinner (since only Dunkin Donuts was open in the airport – and we didn’t feel like getting a sugar high right before the flight).

We made it back.  No line in security.  Got up to the gate and onto the plane by 8:15 PM.  The captain came on and said we were first in line for take-off.  Wheels were up by 8:45.  After a very short period of turbulence, we had a smooth flight back to Minneapolis.

I was home by 11:30 PM.

LESSONS:

  1.  Shit happens.You can’t control it.  You just need to work around it.  I’m very proud of my team for being flexible and open to the craziness of the weekend.
  2. Attitude is everything.We could have complained and bitched the whole time we were driving to Boston.  Instead, we looked at this whole ordeal as an adventure.  That attitude I think, was one that not only made the entire journey more enjoyable, but allowed us to put on a really good program for our client.  It would have been an entirely different experience if even one of us would have been complaining or being down beat.
  3. Karma is a good.I like to believe that we were able to get on that flight out on Sunday because of the extra effort and challenge that we went through to do the program right.  We could have easily said we can’t make it to Boston and the client would have understood.  But we didn’t.  I believe that those types of good deeds are rewarded.
  4. Delta sucks.No need to elaborate there.

Let us know your karma stories…leave a comment below.

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