Road Trip – Austin to NYC

Due to a lack of advance planning on my part and the inane policies of the major airlines, I was unable to get a plane ticket back to New York for either today or tomorrow without forking over something like $1100 to Continental — who had the only 3 remaining seats left on planes going to New York from Austin.

Of course, this means it’s time for a road trip so I’ve rented a car and am driving the 1800 miles back to New York from Austin. I expect it to take two days — total cost of rental car including a drop-charge at Newark airport and gas is less than $500 — half of what it would cost me to fly back.

If you live along the way, call my cell phone (347-432-8333) and leave your phone number and a message and perhaps we can meet for a meal and conversation.

In a bizarre sort of way, I feel like I’m living my own version of “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” the movie where Steve Martin and John Candy are desperately trying to get home for Thanksgiving and have many misadventures along the way.

It started with a parking ticket I received the first day of the conference. I knew I had only 120 minutes on my parking meter but lost track of time and 130 minutes had passed before I ran back to the car only to find a ticket dated no less than four minutes before. I looked around for the officer writing tickets but she was nowhere to be found. I threw the ticket in the backseat of the car and fed the meter more change.

Last Wednesday afternoon, I was initially supposed to fly back to NYC. I checked out of the Omni Hotel, and wheeled my bags down to where I’d parked my rental car. The only problem was that my car was missing. I wheeled my bags around the parking lot for about 30 minutes looking for my car before I walked across the street to the police station to find out where my car had gone to. It’s not every day the police see a guy wheel his luggage into their lobby to report a car stolen.

The police told me that my car had likely been towed, and gave me a phone number to call. I called and gave them the license plate number that was written on the keychain only to be told, “Sorry hon, we don’t got that car on our lot.” I repeated the license plate number again, and received the same response.

At this point, I walked back into the police station, luggage in tow, and asked the officer what to do. He asked me for the keys and called the towing company himself, only to receive the same answer. No car. He then proceeded to tell me that the car was likely stolen and hands me a form to fill out to start a police report.

I call the number on the form and start filing a report over the phone. The officer on the other end is friendly and helpful and tells me that I need to call the rental car company and get the VIN number for the police report. While on the phone with Avis I realize that I should probably double-check to make sure that the license plate number I have matches the one in Avis’ records. Sure enough, one of the digits has been written down wrong on the keychain. I then realize that the car is most likely sitting in an impound lot somewhere, and tell Avis that I need to call the towing company back to check instead of proceeding with a police report. Avis has told me that I’m responsible for $170 in towing and impound fees. Since there’s nothing I can do about it I sigh and accept my unfortunate luck.

By this time I am really pushing my time schedule, and have no desire to get on a plane to go back to NYC. I call my friend Lisa Rein and she mentions that I should just stay for the film festival since I had a paid-for film badge that I’d barely used during the film conference which overlaps with the interactive conference. This sounds like a great idea so I don’t rush to the airport to catch my flight and instead catch a screening of Joel Shumacher’s “Phone Booth” the movie about a sniper in New York City.

This trip to Austin for SXSW has had so many things go wrong for me it is almost comical. I’m beginning to wonder what else might go wrong. I’m determined to take it all with a grain of salt. The conference was well worth it and staying for the film festival was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The films this year were phenomenal and I’ve met a lot of new friends.

I’m not freaked out about a cross-country drive. I’ve done such trips before, but never alone. It will give me a lot of time to reflect on the amazing films and documentaries I’ve seen at SXSW and time to think about my plan for the future. I feel a change in the air and my attitude about life and fate and destiny has been altered.

I don’t know what is to come next in my little adventure of life, but I know that I can wake up each day, breathe the morning air and look upon the coming day with promise and a sense of hope. The sun continues to rise and so shall I.

Posted by Cameron Barrett at March 16, 2003 10:07 AM

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