Do You Know the Way to San Jose?
By An Unnamed Airline Victim
"Attention all United passengers from Monterey to Los Angeles. We're in an overbooking situation and looking for volunteers to relinquish their seats."
I can't help an inward smile as this time I'm flying home via Phoenix and I'm already at the gate, hire car returned, boarding pass in pocket and about to board. Hah! It wasn't as bad leaving from this local backwater airport as I remembered. Five more smug minutes go by as I start to pen my column on the Monterey weekend that's just flown by.
"Attention all Phoenix passengers. Due to a technical problem this flight is cancelled. Report to the American Airlines desk to rebook."
The smiling young lady at the AA counter who'd just checked us all in must have felt like a rabbit in the headlights as a tidal wave of passengers stampeded towards her waving papers and venting frustration. An hour later the queue has dissipated as weary travellers either give up, go back to their hotels (every flight anywhere for the next 48 hours is overbooked) or rent a car. Luckily, BA has just started a London flight from San Jose, 70 miles north, and the next one leaves in three hours.
"Which of you is the fastest taxi driver?" Apparently they all are. "Can you get me to San Jose in 90 minutes?" Jerry, in the battered Ford, hails from Palermo ("Italy", just to be clear) and confirms he can be there in an hour. Let's go.
Jerry doesn't speak Italian, but likes to speak.
"Wassyourname? Hey Sam. Those airline vouchers like you got, they're like golden tickets for us drivers. We fight over them. The other guy who was in front of me, he likes to drink, he's crazy, don't take him - your friend can."
Genial US collector Roger Morrison, who's riding in the cab in front, texts me that he's making good time, so presumably today the driver is sober.
"Man, I got tooth-ache - I just had lots of teeth out. You mind if we stop for gas?" Half an hour later Jerry has back- and neck-ache. Roger texts to say we're apparently riding in ex-Police cruisers. So that's what those fixing points are for - I'm lucky I can get out if I want. "Jerry, has this thing really done 370,000 miles?" It has, "but don't worry, the motor's all new and I got the fuel pump fixed this weekend. Don't mind that dash warning light, it's been on for years."
"You make a living selling old cars, Sam? Really? So like, whaddya make?"
"Back in, er... British... you got Walmart and Costco like here?"
"What car do you drive?" He doesn't seem impressed by the answer.
"There's an old Lamborghini, it's called a Maria, worth millions, did you know that?"
We pass a pretty girl driving a convertible green '60s Mustang and I reflect that California really is quite cool, before what looks like a 14-year-old zooms past in a noisy white hatchback- they start 'em early here. "I don't like the taste of weed, just once or twice a year, you know?" Jerry reassures me, adding helpfully: "Prostitution is legal in 'Vegas but not weed, you know that?"
I can't help noticing the hour's become 90 minutes. "How much longer, Jerry?" "Just over that hill, Sam." Miles pass and I stare out the window. "Traffic looks pretty awful back in the other direction, Jerry."
"My eyes 'not been too good either, Sam. Don't worry, I can see far, just not stuff like this." He turns around to hand me his card, presumably engaging autopilot. "Jerry, my iPad says San Jose is 36 minutes behind us. Are you sure we haven't overshot it?"
"S**T Sam, you're right! How the **** did that happen?"
But it's my lucky day. Good old BA: delayed again. Time to spare, go by air.