Endless Construction and Disappearing Packets

Monday, May 15, 2017: New York, New York

9:20am – I am crunched in the backseat of my parents’ station wagon, which is sitting in traffic. We are within in the LaGuardia Airport complex in Queens, New York, but still on main-ish roads and far from Departures. This place has been undergoing an enormous, perpetual construction revamp for what feels like forever, but what is probably only a few years. I am returning to Chicago after celebrating Mothers’ Day/(Grand)mothers’ Day/Dad’s Birthday (not a formal holiday) on Long Island.

9:21am – An adjacent car makes a sudden but very small and noncommittal encroachment into our lane. Panic and screeching fill the car.

9:22am – The car stays in its lane.

9:35am – I am exiting the station wagon and hugs, kisses, thank yous, and you’re welcomes are exchanged all around.

9:36am – The car traffic between Southwest, at the near end of Terminal B, and American, at the far end, seemed not worth sitting in, so I am walking the length of the terminal. The sidewalk is cluttered, too, so I am braving the crowds indoors.

9:37am – An enormous line has assembled, for some reason, at the Air Canada counter.

9:37am – Maybe their political ad campaign is working.

9:38am – I pass the elevator to the American Express Centurion lounge. I need to work from the airport today and my airline is American. I don’t have American’s credit card or any notable status with them, and they are stingy with their day passes, but I do have a Delta SkyMiles American Express card, so I make a note to double back here.

9:39am – I am in the American line, wanting to change my flight. It is scheduled for 8:30 PM pm. When I booked my flight home, Monday was cheaper and less disruptive, and I figured an 8:30 flight would give me time to work that day and if needed commute to the airport after wrapping up for the day. But I’m already at the airport, so I might as well go home right after work.

9:40am – I’m next in line. A family walks in front of me. The dad looks businessy, the mom looks borderline businessy, the young son already has what looks a neck tattoo peeking out from under his shirt. Maybe they’re the Hilfigers. I hope they don’t cut in front of me.

9:40am – They get in the line for people who do have notable status.

9:41am – A family gets in line behind me. Managing the infant daughter seems like a group effort. It also seems a convenient excuse to have the dad stand in front of me, outside of the line, to prevent his daughter from climbing under or dangling with the line divider.

9:41am – When did I become such a curmudgeon?

9:41am – I approach the counter, exuding false confidence and my usual genuine-if-misguided optimism that today will be the day that American Airlines lets me make a minor adjustment to my flight time without charging me money.

9:42am – Today will not be that today. Yes, the dour lower middle-aged ticketing agent informs me, there are earlier flights than mine. I tell him I cannot fly any earlier than 5:30 PM because I need to work. He tells me there are flights at 10:30 AM, 11:30 AM, and 12:30 PM and there are seats available.

9:42am – I reiterate that I cannot fly any earlier than 5:30 PM.

9:42am – He tells me that are also flights at 1:30 PM, 2:30 PM, 3:30 PM, and 4:30 PM.

9:42am – I ask if the 5:30 PM would be an option.

9:42am – There are also flights at 5:30 PM, 6:30 PM, and 7:30, in addition to 8:30 PM, which is my flight. I ask if there are seats on the 5:30. He says that there are. I can pay a $75 same-day change fee to get on that flight. I do not need to pay the fare difference.

9:43am – I ask if I could fly standby to avoid the fare difference.

9:43am – He tells me I do not need to fly standby because there are seats available. I ask him why people fly standby. He tells me they fly standby when there are no seats available, and repeats that there are seats available. I want to go home early so we settle on the $75 change fee with no fare difference and I hand him my Delta SkyMiles American Express credit card to complete the transaction.

9:44am – He gives me my new boarding pass and receipt. I ask if American has a lounge past security. He says that it does. I ask if you need to have status to use it. He says that you do. I don’t bother clarifying which status he means and assume that mine, which is Blue or something that ranks below various other colors, precious metals, and special designations, will not cut it.

9:45am – I text my girlfriend and sister to inform them that I will be in Chicago in time to join for dinner tonight, and I double back to the American Express Centurion lounge, as planned. I have heard from some friends who have fancy jobs and fancy credit cards that these lounges, which are still fairly new, are very swanky and very in right now.

9:50am – I step off the elevator and proceed to the desk. The employee at check-in greets me. I ask her what cards allow me to use the lounge. She tells me that any American Express cardholders can use it, but Platinum and above gives you free access. I am very excited to inform her that I have just been upgraded to a Platinum card, though the card I am handing her is definitely gold in color because I haven’t received the new card yet.

9:51am – It turns out that the Platinum Delta Sky Miles American Express credit card does not carry the same weight with the American Express folks as the Platinum non-Delta American Express credit card. I can pay $50 for a day pass. It is quieter in here than out there so I accede. Each airport’s Centurion Lounge, she tells me, has its own signature, but she does not say what those area. She is very friendly but tight-lipped with her details.

9:55am-  The LaGuardia Centurion Lounge’s signature is a slight shortage of space. The lounge is perfectly acceptable and has some of the trappings of what I would call swank but falls short of what I would call swanky. It is small and feels crowded. The main seating area is small, and the tertiary seating area is a hallway. The males’ restroom only has stalls, no urinals. This lounge has no showers, according to the check-in employee, “because it’s before security.” There must be a ban on airport showers pre-security. At least the wifi comes free with entry, regardless of your caste.

10:00am – I set up shop in the secondary seating area. It is what the check-in employee referred to as the newspaper area and described as quiet. There are few newspapers, only a part of a USA Today, but there are some magazines and books. I think that a nook on one side will give me the quietest place to work.

10:01am – If I’m going to be here all day, I might as well have a view. I unplug my laptop and phone and tow my suitcase over to inspect a counter, which runs along a wall of large windows overlooking tarmac activity. I cannot find an outlet anywhere. Aren’t these places supposed to be crawling with outlets?. I examine my devices’ battery levels to determine how long they can go without further charging. They won’t last the whole day but maybe I can work at this counter and enjoy the brightness for a bit before retreating further inside and tethering myself to a 110-volt outlet. My first call is at 10:30. I would like to eat some breakfast. I climb off my stool.

10:02am – Standing on the floor now, I see a outlet tucked under the bottom surface of the counter. I plug in my devices and amble to the buffet to feed myself.

10:00am – The food looks gourmet and has gourmet-sounding titles and ingredient lists, but the plates are too hot. The bowls are way too hot. I cannot tough it out and grip the eggs benedict bowl without dropping it. I was already scalded (in a painful, not a medically serious, way) by a hotel shower on Saturday and am not getting scalded again today. So, I set the bowl on the plate, which means less food on the plate. I move through the primary seating area and the tertiary seating area with my hot plate with the hot bowl on it back to the secondary seating area.

10:02am – The food is fine but not as good as I would expect. The potatoes are a little tough and a little dry, and the bread supporting the eggs benedict is confusingly crunchy. Maybe trendy eggs benedict are served on crunchy bread now, instead of English muffins, and I just don’t know about it yet.  I sound like a snob but I am just recognizing that the point of these places is to let you pay extra, either at the time or in yearly credit card fees/airline purchases, to not have to mix in with the riff-raff and eat what they eat, and really we are just as crowded in here as they are out there and you certainly can find normal airport food better than this food. My friends are all liars hell-bent on justifying the exorbitant fees on their fancy credit cards. At least there isn’t background noise pouring in.

10:30am – There also isn’t much noise getting out. On my first call of the day, I am told by a C-Suite executive that I am hard to hear. This issue will become a persistent one. I opt for furiously typing my contributions into a chat window while everyone talks. My typed contributions go ignored. The workday is off to an auspicious start.

11:05am – The newspaper room has its own coffee dispenser. I pour myself a coffee. It is high quality, perhaps even gourmet.

11:08am – I go to the primary room for a snack to go with coffee. The breakfast has been removed. Lunch is not ready. I eat a cookie.

12:30pm – Another call. I mostly need to listen on this one. It wraps up early and I go to get lunch.

12:45pm – The lunch selections, like their breakfast counterparts, are few but individually decent. The salad bar has a third row that is unnecessarily hard to reach. A glass covering, typical of buffets, slopes down over the food. The distance between glass and food in the third row is short. I stretch my arm up under the covering, maneuvering plastic tongs in the narrow space, pinching pieces of broccoli, futilely trying to balance speed and steadiness, like in a kindergarten egg-on-a-spoon race, to get the broccoli to my plate before dropping it into rows two and one. I return to my counter.

12:57pm – I knock a knife off of my plate and it lands on a metal vent below. The knife makes a very loud noise. I don’t look around to see if anyone noticed, but someone definitely noticed.

1:00pm – Again: Call, listen.

1:35pm – The tertiary room has a bowl of blood oranges. I am always talking about how I want to try blood oranges, but usually end up with Cara Cara navel oranges. Today is my chance. The bowl sits on a coffee table that is positioned so as to belong to a nearby couch. Presumably the blood oranges are not only for the occupants of that couch. But the table is. A mother and her child sit on the couch, and so they own the table. Some toys sit on the table. I try to take a blood orange as unobtrusively as possible. They, the mother and child, both give me weird looks. The blood orange is disappointing. I like Cara Cara navels better.

2:00pm – I am the presenter for a client call. I am excited to share information with my client and build a better relationship with their IT department.

2:15pm – The call is going well.

2:20pm – It is hard to hear me, says a client.

2:20pm – I adjust my Apple headphones and ask if that is  better.

2:20pm – It is.

2:25pm – It is hard to hear me again. There is minimal background noise in the lounge, so either my headphones aren’t collecting my voice or my network is not transmitting it. I try adjusting the headphones first.

2:25pm – That adjustment seems to help.

2:40pm – It is hard to hear me again. I give up on the headphones entirely and stick my phone directly between my shoulder and my ear. The phone seems better at collecting my voice.

2:41pm – There are sporadic mentions of my voice getting quiet during the call. Occasionally, when I see an airplane taking off, I hear buzzing in my phone. I wonder if planes can physically disrupt the transmission of sound via mobile networks, or if planes’ communication devices transmit waves that disrupt other waves in the vicinity. I don’t know enough about sound waves and aviation to say for sure. I am sad.

2:45pm – One of my voice engineers, who is on the call in case I, as a non-engineer presenting to engineers, need support, informs me that my headset is not the problem and that my connection is probably causing packet loss. Packet loss is one of the banes of my professional existence, if an existence can have multiple banes: I spend a small portion of my days troubleshooting why the recordings of call center agents’ calls might be afflicted by packet loss and am disappointed to learn that I myself am a victim.

3:00pm – Another call begins. This one, thankfully, is an educational session, and I am not the educator. I listen until four and nobody cares if they can hear me.

4:00pm – I have thirty minutes to do actual work before the next call.

4:30pm – I have a call to prepare for some work being done at a client site later in the week. I have to talk a little but am not a key participant, and nobody complains about my lost packets. Once I have the call started on my cell phone, I put in my headphones and leave the lounge so that I can get to my gate.

4:33pm – I realize that I may not have budgeted enough time to get through security and to my gate for boarding.

4:35pm – The line at security is mercifully short.

4:40pm – I hastily remove my headphones, toss the phone in the bin, and send my stuff through the X-ray. I hope nobody addresses a question to me during this interlude.

4:50pm – I am at the gate with time to spare.

5:30pm – The plane is set to pull away from the gate soon. I check my email on my phone one last time. The same C-suite character from 10:30 who first pointed out my packet loss has emailed me a collection of urgent daily meetings at 4:30 PM (5:30 PM ET) to discuss an urgent problem. I accept all of his invitations.

5:35pm – The plane has not departed yet. The aforementioned executive sends me an instant message, which goes through to the instant messaging app on my phone. He tells me has sent me invites for a series of 4:30 meetings.

5:35pm – I tell him I have accepted his meetings and will join religiously.

5:36pm – I take another look at the invites are realize that the first one is for today.

5:37pm – I tell him I cannot join today, as I have to take off at 4:30, which I think is a very clever turn of phrase. He says it is okay. Generally meetings outside of the 9:30-4:30 time frame are avoided because some people arrive early and finish at 4:30 and some people start at 9:30 and finish late. For serious problems, early or late meetings are okay. But one would assume that, inviting people to a 4:30 meeting at 4:30, some might be on their ways out the door already. I tell myself all of this and feel relieved.

5:40pm – The plane departs.



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