Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Murphy's Airline

My wife and I just returned from a much-needed vacation to Michigan. Why Michigan, you ask? Perhaps because it's quite possibly the one state in America worse off than California. It would be tough to be worse, but God knows they're trying. But that's not it.

Some of you might know that my youngest daughter, Jennifer, just made a mid-course career correction. She decided she wanted to become a professional photographer and give up her Dilbert-style cubicle at Universal Music Group here in Hollywood. So, she dedicated most of a year to UCLA extension courses, bought a really cool camera and laptop with all the requisite PhotoShop software, practiced like crazy and made her way off to Mackinac Island, MI, where she's been hired for the season as Lead Photographer for the Grand Hotel. Never heard of the Grand?

According to Conde-Naste, the Grand is one of the 100 top hotels in the world. It's situated on an island 4 miles off the coast of the very tip of the northern Michigan peninsula on the straits between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. It's so far north they enjoy enviable views of the Northern Lights late in the summer. Think of a straight line between Minneapolis and Ottawa and you've got it. But this island is special for a number of important reasons.

Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island was first occupied by local Indian tribes (Huron, Chippewa, etc.). Then the French built a fort there to protect their fur trappers and traders in the late 1700s. The British then kicked out the Frogs following the French and Indian War. The Indians, it seemed liked the French a lot a whole lot better then they did the Limeys. So they played a little kick ball out front of the Fort as a diversion while most of their happy band of warriors stormed the battlements from the rear. Not a single Brit drew air following that encounter. Nasty fellows, those natives, especially when forced to give up French cuisine in favor of fish and chips.

Then came the Americans. After we made toast out of the English in the Revolutionary War, we took over. We ran the Fort and the Island until the 1840s, when the French came back for Round Two. They took back the Island without a shot being fired. Seems like they took a page from the Indian playbook and came in through the back side of the Island. All the American cannons were aimed toward the harbor, and the French sneaked up from behind. Sneaky bastards, the French.

Eventually we retook the fort when the French decided they weren't very good at this whole "war thing" and went on home to make wine, smoke cigarettes and eschew bathing. By the way, they're still not. Do you know how many Frenchmen it takes to defend Paris? Neither do they. They never tried...

Anyway, things pretty well just idled along on the Island from then on. The Grand Hotel was built in the 1870s. From a fairly inauspicious beginning, it was to become the largest wooden structure east of the Mississippi. Some of you may know that the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego has the honor of being the largest wooden structure west of the Big Muddy, so this gives you some idea of the Grand's size and import. And since there's no roads our bridges to the Island, a thriving ferry business developed. Both the Hotel and the ferries are still humming along. And then they decided to outlaw motorized vehicles from the Island in the early 1900s. They worried that those loud, smelly cars might scare the horses. And they have horses aplenty. About 600 saddle, pack and draft horses, consisting mostly of Percherons, pull freight wagons and tourist taxis throughout the season. No cars, no motorcycles, no lawnmowers. Lots of clip-clop, clip-clop, however. By the way, do you know what goes, "clip clop, clip clop, bang bang, clip clop, clip clop?" An Amish drive-by shooting. And as to Percherons, these fellas are BI - II - II - GG! They tip the scales around 2,000 pounds and are about half again taller than your average quarter horse. And they have lots of Percheron Poo also. Check out Mike Rowe's "Dirty Jobs" Mackinac segment on YouTube if you'd like an up-close and personal report on horsey exhaust. Enlightening.

The Hotel is something special. 375 rooms. The longest covered porch in America (990 feet long). Enormous dining room that can seat more than a thousand at a time for Five Star gourmet meals. Dress for dinner? Please! The Esther Williams Pool is so large (more than 120 yards long!) it costs $20,000 per month to heat it up to 84 degrees during the season. Some of you may recall "Somewhere in Time," the Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour movie, that was filmed there in the 1970s. No? Rent it. You'll get a great overview of the Hotel and the Island. It's situated on 50 acres of prime view property, overlooking the harbor. It's expensive. But hey, when your daughter works there, friends and family discounts apply. So, we took advantage. We're retired, okay?

To get to Mackinac Island takes commitment. We boarded a red eye from LAX to Chicago. Then a commuter jet for the hour long trip to Traverse City, MI. Then we rented a car and drove the 100-plus miles to Mackinaw City, MI. Then took the ferry across the Straits of Huron and we were finally there after more than 14 hours of travel. But one thing we noticed upon first arriving. Elaine had her luggage. I didn't have mine.

Apparently United Airlines couldn't be bothered to honor Item # 3 on their website-listed Customer Commitments: To get your luggage to you intact and on time. And since dressing for dinner requires a coat and tie, and since my coat and tie were were still in my luggage in Chicago, we weren't able to partake in the formal dining experience we'd paid for that evening.

My luggage and I were finally reunited about 10:00 p.m. that evening when a guy named "Mark" finally delivered it. I wondered then and I wonder now how much it must have cost United to pay a guy to drive two-plus hours to bring me my luggage. I'm reminded of the old saying, "There's never time to do it right, but there's always time to do it over." Oh well, misplaced luggage happens, even when you pay your carrier $25.00 per bag to make sure it doesn't.

Following a fun and relaxing vacation, we departed Mac Island last Saturday morning. We reversed the travel schedule. Drive back to Traverse City, turn in the car, board the commuter plane, return to O'Hare, hop on a 757 and return to LAX. There we discovered that - lo and behold - we once again had no luggage. Somehow United managed (or mismanaged) not to transfer our bags from the commuter to the big jet. So we drove home that night sans bags. At least, we thought, we'd get them early the next day, Father's Day, in time to celebrate the occasion with our family. We were wrong...

We got a call that Sunday morning that our bags had indeed been located (Whew!). And that they would be delivered to us sometime day. When, we asked? We were given a "window" of somewhere between 7:00 a.m. and 2;00 p.m. A seven hour window to drive two pieces of luggage from LAX to our home, a scant 35 miles? You could walk that distance, pulling our luggage behind you and make it quicker than that. We were, to put it mildly, not at all pleased.

A non-English speaker finally delivered our bags at 2:00 p.m. sharp. And I promptly wrote a letter to Mr. Glenn Tilton, CEO of United Airlines. I commented to Mr. Tilton that, if United persists in charging its customers $25.00 for each bag they check, they should at least pay rent of the same $25.00 for each bag they misplace or fail to deliver. Thus, I told Mr. Tilton, that he owes us $75.00. And until or unless we get the check, I told Tilton, we'll decline to darken United's door. If United is the only way to get somewhere from here on, I told Mr. Tilton, I'll just stay home. A fella' can only take so much abuse, right?

I'm here to report that a visit to Mackinac Island is a real hoot. You truly go back in time. And if you go there this summer, you just might be able to take advantage of the friends and family discount while my daughter is there. Call me. And that stepping over and around horse poo gives one considerable exercise. And also that the Grand is truly grand, just as the Great Lakes are truly great. The land is pretty flat, the people are very nice, there's fudge shops galore on the Island, the state government sucks and the food is marginal. But, all in all, it's a great horse-filled experience. If you choose to go, however, you might want to choose a carrier to you there other than United...

1 comment:

  1. Ah, Chuckmeister, welcome home. Your clever little piece here is the perfect exclamation point on why I no longer fly - anywhere!

    While you were gone the city council almost balanced the budget - only $8 million and change short - and, wearing a new dress as the Orange County Fairgrounds Authority - signed a deal to buy the Fairgrounds with, literally, only minutes to spare. The fun part of that is that virtually no one except the new "partner" seems happy about the deal. In the courtship dance it seems as though they managed to bypass the preliminary smooching and fast-forwarded directly to the, uh, well, you know... :-)

    Glad you're home...


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