by Greg Larson
We’ve all encountered the travel snafu or the botched reservation. I’ve had my share. My business travel was frequent for many years, and it reached a peak while managing construction projects before I retired. I assumed that my travel issues were no more horrifying than anyone else’s travails, but every now and then I convinced myself that a “Greg Factor” existed in the most bizarre situations…a feeling that the planets aligned mysteriously against me. I’m just glad I wasn’t in Europe recently when the volcano in Iceland halted plane flights throughout the region.
Here are some of the more unusual situations I've encountered over the years during my travels:
• The pilot’s voice came over the speakers on the plane, notifying passengers of the weather on a Friday night flight I was taking from Denver to Kansas City: “Well, folks, the weather in the Midwest isn’t looking real good. The airports from Omaha to Dallas are closing due to ice storms, so we’ll have to land the plane this evening in Houston.” I finally made it to Kansas City on Sunday.
• A flight attendant called over the speakers for Mr. Larson to come to the front of the plane, and bring all personal items and onboard luggage with me. It was late on a Friday evening (the Greg Factor usually occurs on a Friday evening). After I walked up the aisle to where the passengers were boarding, she stated, “Sir, we’ve discovered your ticket is dated for tomorrow’s flight, so we’re going to ask you to deplane.” I had to fly “standby” and my luggage was lost when I changed planes in Pittsburgh.
• I once arrived at LaGuardia airport in New York, only to discover that a taxi strike had just begun. Airport officials herded us to a multitude-sized crowd, and they told us to wait for buses to take us into the city. Once on the buses, the passengers had to negotiate their destinations with the driver (I called that one the “New York factor”).
• Hotel clerk in Ontario, California: “I’m sorry, but we don’t have a reservation listed for you.” I showed her the confirmation number, but that did no good. I finally called the travel agency, who then called the clerk, and finally she checked me into the hotel.
• I’ve heard this line numerous times: “This is the first time this has ever happened.”
Even when not traveling, I’ve experienced a slow waiter or waitress (or maybe it was a slow cook). There’s also been the long wait at the doctor’s office, when I’ve watched a legion of patients, all arriving after me, get escorted back to the exam rooms while I read several chapters in my library book. I’ve learned to go with the flow…just accept fate.
Then I started traveling with Gretta. Things were different. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but circumstances seem to get resolved in wonderful ways when I travel with her. Maybe it’s her infectious smile combined with plain old luck. Whatever it is, I call it the “Gretta Factor,” something of a magic carpet mojo that makes the pathway quite smooth while traveling.
The first Gretta Factor I experienced was on a bike tour in Wisconsin. We checked into the hotel at the beginning of the trip, and the clerk stated, “Sir, we’re booked full tonight, so I’m going to upgrade your reservation to the Eisenhower Suite with the Jacuzzi…at no extra charge. Will that be okay?”
Other Gretta Factor situations:
• After touring St. Peter’s at the Vatican, we walked out the main doors and noticed a crowd forming on the square below us. Helicopters circled above and men wearing dark suits and earpieces ran about. Then the Swiss guards marched onto the square, followed by the Pope’s motorcade and limousine. The timing was impeccable. Pope Benedict was making his first official visit as Pope, traveling to the Italian Prime Minister’s office, just about a mile from the Vatican. We lined up with the crowd and watched the Pope wave to us as his limousine rolled past. While the crowd was dispersing, we saw several nuns run towards the square, while tears streamed down their cheeks. They had missed their lifetime opportunity to see the Pope, and were visibly upset.
• Upon arriving at a tenth-century chateau in France, our bike tour group checked in at the front office. The Gretta Factor occurred when the tour participants were assigned rooms. Gretta and I were escorted to the main suite, where Charles de Gaulle had once stayed. The oriental rug in the sitting area was the size of a small dance floor. We were somewhat embarrassed and tight-lipped next morning at breakfast when we heard more than one couple complain about their small rooms.
• At another chateau, the Gretta Factor steered our tour guide to us, and he handed Gretta the key to a private stone cabin on the grounds. While the other couples stayed in the main chateau, we had our own private building. It had once been the forge, and then a bakery at the chateau, but was now a quaint private suite with adjacent creek and waterfall. The other cyclists were envious and we eventually gave them a tour of the storybook cabin.
A storybook cabin
• A few years ago, we celebrated my birthday at Huntington Beach in California. I had booked the car and beach hotel in advance, reserving the lowest cost compact car and the least expensive room at the hotel. To my surprise, at the rental car agency, a PT Cruiser convertible was parked in stall number one, marked “Larson.” The agent said, “If you don’t like it, we can get you another car.” We popped the top, and drove along the coast, with the wind in our hair and the sun in our faces. I felt like a Beach Boy and all the while we smiled and commented about our luck with the Gretta Factor. I pulled up to the front of the Huntington Beach Hilton and we went to the front desk. I thought we’d probably get a room with a dumpster view, but the Gretta Factor continued. The clerk pulled up our reservation on the computer and said, “Sir, we have upper floor rooms with a view of the beach or the city, whichever you prefer.” We spent time on the beach, waded in the surf, and watched the surfers ride the biggest waves I’d seen in ten years of traveling to southern California.
Crusin' in southern California
It’s no small coincidence that Gretta was not in my car recently when I made a left turn towards a gas station. I was trying to save a few dimes by filling up the gas tank in Kansas City, Missouri. There was a sign (which I did not see) with small print which said “NO LEFT TURN AFTER 4 PM.” It was 4:20, and the car ahead of me was turning left with its turn signal flashing. The police officer who directed me into an adjacent parking lot didn’t care that I was unfamiliar with the area. He didn’t even want to see my insurance or vehicle registration. He was too busy writing tickets.
I thought, I wish Gretta were with me. Maybe she would have noticed the “no left turn” sign...maybe not, but no matter what happens, it's just more fun when Gretta is alongside.