This month's column isn't about building the quintessential hot rod and competing for the coveted Don Ridler Memorial Award. This is about my road to the Detroit Autorama in a manner you would never wish to repeat.
For starters, I always look forward to Detroit, Michigan, in March. Let's be brutally honest-why would anyone want to leave sunny SoCal for the freezing cold of Detroit?
For the past four years, you have been able to watch Detroit Autorama events unfold and simultaneously watch the unveiling of the Ridler winner in both Cobo Hall and on www.streetrodderweb.com. With this in mind, JR, Bob Larivee Jr., wanted to make sure I would be in attendance to handle the daily SR Web updates. In classic promoter fashion, JR made me an offer I couldn't refuse-a free flight to Detroit.
I found myself at the airport, pointed toward Detroit via Dallas, Texas. My first clue this trip wouldn't end well should have been apparent when my flight took off on time, and I got lucky and snagged the coveted exit aisle seat.
Upon arrival in Dallas, all good news began to fall like the snow. We sat in the plane on the tarmac for an hour after landing. I should mention that, for all the carrying on Texans do about their state, they don't appear to have mastered snow and airports.
I knew I wasn't going to make my connecting flight, and my day continued downhill after hustling from Terminal D over to B. Did I mention the terminal tram service wasn't running either? I made it to my new gate on time, but within minutes of arriving, my flight was cancelled. It didn't take long to realize I was in for a long night. Turns out, 7 inches of snow fell in eight hours, and that was just too much for the airport maintenance crew.
I managed a seat on the last American flight of the night. I would arrive late in Detroit but still in time, if not on time. While waiting in the ticket line to take care of the last-minute details, I was informed there were no more American Airline flights headed to Detroit until Monday morning.
I was able to secure a transfer ticket from American to Continental, which had a late flight into Detroit. There I sat (back in Terminal D, of course), patiently waiting for hours, when all flights were cancelled until the next morning.
It was now apparent I was spending the night in Dallas. Unfortunately, that was the same idea passengers from 700 flights had in mind. Needless to say, there were no hotel rooms in the Dallas area. It was going to be a cold night in the airport. Did I mention I was dressed in the obligatory SoCal uniform-T-shirt and Levi's-and, yes, it was cold outside, about 19 degrees. My jacket and cell phone charger were all warm and comfy in my luggage, which by magic made it to Detroit.
By now, I had spent hours on my cell phone, and it was down to the last 10 percent when I came across a phone store; they were thrilled to sell me a $20 charger for $43. I couldn't find a room anywhere, but Kim, my wife, found me one 40 miles outside of Dallas. That didn't seem so bad until I realized the cab fare would be $75 and an hour drive time- each way!
It was nearing midnight, and I had an 11 a.m. flight to Cleveland (don't ask), so it was time to get some sleep. There I was, charging my phone and waiting for my $75 cab ride to a $200-a-night hotel room 40 miles from the airport. It had to get better.
Well, it didn't. Remember, my flight was to Cleveland, not Detroit, and that was the best I could get. It was now Friday morning, and, while in the air, I spotted the storm that had left Dallas and was working its way toward Cleveland. We landed in a snowstorm, and, of course, it is a commuter plane so that means we deplaned on the tarmac and walked to the terminal. I looked like a Christmas snowman. To my utter amazement, all Cleveland flights were cancelled.
To this point, I was into my "free" flight $43 for a charger, $150 in cab fare, $200 for a hotel room, and $2.75 for a protein shake-just another fun wintertime trip.
Upon the realization that Cleveland was as close as I would get via airplane, my next choice was a rental car. I found one; albeit it was outside and buried in snow, but the attendant said I could dig out the car of my choice. Turns out it was for local rental and not to be driven one way. You guessed it-I promised I would return the car to the airport.
I then headed out on the nearly 200-mile road trip from Cleveland to Detroit in the winter's worst storm, as more than 20 inches of snow fell. What should have been an easy drive took six hours. Interstate 85 was closed, but I just ignored the signs and kept going, blindly (literally) working my way toward the Motor City. My rental car had to be returned to the airport, so I drove into Detroit Metro and dropped it off, telling them I was "returning the car to the airport." They didn't think it was funny. Another $127.86 for six hours of rental and $30.38 in gas added to my trip's mounting bills. Along the way, there was the obligatory $5.73 spent at the country's finest fast food establishments, and I haven't mentioned the additional $45 in taxi fare to get from the airport to the hotel after picking up my luggage from baggage claim, where it was sitting, all by its lonesome, patiently waiting for me.
It was almost midnight on Friday, and I had left home at 8 a.m. on Thursday. I was still wearing my same T-shirt and Levi's, and I was hungry, cold, and $500-plus lighter in the wallet, but I was in the lobby of the hotel.
The rest of the staff's trips to Detroit went off without a hitch, and they all arrived in good spirits, warm and well-fed. I should also mention they did call me continuously, letting me know they were having lunch, followed by dinner and dessert; now they were in the sports bar watching the big screen TV, and, finally, all snug and warm in bed. My guys really felt for me! As for JR, next year I will get my own ticket. Nevertheless, it is still an incredible show. Hope you enjoyed the coverage.