Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Expert Traveler

Despite a slightly rocky flight into Chicago, the drive to Urbana was relatively mild. There was an expert traveler in the car: a GPS named Nüvi. The expert traveler provided a lot of help throughout much of the trip. Nüvi led us to fast food when we were in a rush to get dinner, helped us meet up with friends at The Wok, and even found a conference center hidden behind huge stalks of corn.

It was time to head back to the airport today, and the plan was simple: leave Allerton House at 1:30 PM, return the car by 3:30 (maybe 4:30 at the latest), and chill out at Midway until a flight at 6:15. If we got there early, we might even catch an earlier flight and join in on a bachelor party.

In addition to Nüvi, there were three of us in the car: Battlestar Obama, Amino Acido, and me. While no one had printed directions to the car rental agency, Battlestar had taken a map from Advantage Rent-a-Car on the way out the door.

While I saw Battlestar’s map, I used Nüvi’s expertise to locate Advantage Rent-a-Car in Chicago. Nüvi told us we could make it there by 4:20 PM. Adios, bachelor party, but there would still plenty of time to chill. The timing was a little unexpected, though. It had only taken two hours to get from Advantage to Urbana, but then again, we were traveling from Allerton and figured it just took longer.

Why chill at the airport? During a slight detour to fill gas, Amino Acido treated Battlestar and me to ice cream from Dairy Queen, and we continued on our way. The expected arrival was now 4:30, which wasn’t as stellar as 4:20, but the sugar high made up for it.

At around 4:10 PM, a sign showed up for the airport. Nüvi told us to keep going. Who were we to argue? Nüvi had been right so many times already. Still, Battlestar had some doubts, so I picked up the map. The location listed on the map was not the location Nüvi had indicated. It seems we were headed to the wrong Advantage Rent-a-Car.

We switched course. At this point, it was close to 4:30 and the new ETA was 5 PM. Battlestar and I were on the same flight, but Amino Acido’s was slightly earlier. We asked him to check in online to save a few minutes at the airport.

Battlestar looked at me. “I’ve never missed a flight before,” he said. “Don’t worry, Floater. We’ll make it, but it won’t be pretty.”

I smiled and looked down at the map. Then I looked a little closer. It pointed to an Advantage Rent-a-Car, but the one it pointed to was next to O’Hare, not Midway. A phone call to Advantage confirmed that there was a third Advantage near Midway, and we changed course yet again. This time we made sure we were headed to the right place. The new ETA was 5:10 PM.

We hit the highway at 5 PM, which coincided with Friday rush hour. Rush hour shifted 5:10 to 5:20 and, just to be really mean, to 5:30. Amino Acido was locked out of checking in online; he was going to miss his flight.

Battlestar looked at me. “We’re going to miss our flight, too.” He looked upset, perhaps because his perfect record was about to be permanently sullied.

I called our airline and explained the situation. We wanted to rebook the flight, and the next one was at 9 PM. The assistant advised us against our plan and informed us that there would be a surcharge of roughly $75 per person.

“If you’d prefer,” she said, “as long as you make it to the airport by 8 PM, you can get switched to the 9 PM flight without having to pay a surcharge.”

More traffic ahead, but the Advantage Rent-a-Car building entered our view at 5:40. We looked around to see who was going to inspect the vehicle. No one came, so we parked the car walked into the building.

“Did someone inspect your vehicle?” the attendant asked us from behind the counter. We shook our heads and waited while what seemed to be the agency’s sole employee switched costumes. When Attendant leaves the building, she transforms into Car Inspector, superhero to weary travelers! It was 5:50.

A shuttle arrived to take us to Midway. As I sat down, I finally accepted our fate: this would be the first time I missed a flight, too. The days events passed through my mind, and an uncontrollable urge came over me. Within a few seconds, I was laughing.

“We’re going to miss our flight,” I managed between laughs. Battlestar and Amino Acido looked at me and joined in on the laughter. It continued until 5:55 PM when we finally arrived at Midway.

The situation turned grim; Amino Acido had missed his flight, and Battlestar and I needed to print boarding passes. Plus, Battlestar had luggage to check.

Battlestar gave me the look of a fallen hero in a war movie. “Don’t wait for me, Floater,” Battlestar told me in a dramatic voice. “You should try to make it on the flight. I’ll see if I can do curb-side check-in for the luggage.” I stepped off the shuttle, turned back to look at Battlestar and Amino Acido, and ran like Lola into the airport.

With a printed boarding pass in hand (thank you, kiosk!), I moved at a brisk pace toward security. There were three distinctly marked lanes ahead: one with a green sign that read, “Travelers with Families,” a few with blue signs that read, “Casual Traveler,” and– all the way to the right– one with a black sign that read, “Expert Traveler.”

If there is one thing the past five years have taught me, it’s how to empty my pockets, take off my shoes, remove my laptop, and put them all in separate trays within the span of thirty seconds. A minute later, I had floated through security and was waiting for the last piece of luggage to exit the X-ray. Someone poked me on the shoulder.

“You discovered the ‘Expert Traveler’ lane, too,” Battlestar observed. Then, with a broad smile, he said, “I told you I never miss a flight.”

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