Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Atlanta Trip Part 2

The next morning I started thinking about how much I had invested in this trip. Since the airline had goofed me up so bad, I figured the least they could do was help me out when I got to Atlanta. In my mind, I thought they should quickly escort me and my boxes in an airline van right to the Georgia World Congress Center

 Seconds were rubies. Minutes were diamonds. I approached two people at the TWA counter with my opinion on how they should help me and they started laughing hysterically. I stifled the temptation to smack them with my muffler pipe and finish up with the cinder blocks. I realized that by doing that, I might not make the 9:00 flight.

I left the blocks in my duffel bags.

I arrived in Atlanta on time (Wow!) and since they graciously put me in first class for my troubles, I was able to run out of the plane and through the airport lugging my overweight duffel bags. I was at the baggage claim tapping my toes a good 10 minutes before anyone else. I rounded up a baggage guy and got him all lined out about my situation.

 I contracted his services and paid him in advance for his cart services because I didn’t want to fool around with my tri-cycled invention at this late hour. After the longest half hour up to that point in my life, the bags started plopping out. The last to appear was one of my boxes. What??? Just one? 

12 o'clock was the magical hour of the show opening and I was pretty much YankATankless, without my new show-stopping TV and stuck in Airport Hell. It was now after 11. My helper could see how wild I was becoming and suggested we go to the baggage room on the off chance…

At the baggage room, staring me right in the face was my other box and duffel bag. There was only one problem. A plate glass window and a locked door stood between us. Adding to my frustration was a sign on the locked door stating the room would be open from 8-5. It was 8-5 and the room was locked!

My baggage buddy said he would go to the TWA counter and get somebody. I watched him walk away until he was out of sight and wondered just where this TWA counter was located. The way things were going, it was probably on the other side of Atlanta. I sat there fuming and waiting and dying.   

After a good 20 minutes he came back and said they were sending somebody right down. We waited. And waited. After another 10 or 15, I blew a gasket and headed the ½ mile down the hall for TWA.

 I didn’t wait in line and I didn’t apologize. I've always dreamed of crashing a line. However, I was under so much stress right then I didn't have time to enjoy my courageous audacity. I muscled past everybody and told the guy I needed the door unlocked. NOW! He said the lady with the key had already left.

I ran back and guess what?  Nobody. No lady. No key. Nothing. We waited another 5 minutes and then my main baggage man said “Here she comes!” I looked and way down the hall was this large female moving toward us about as fast as a snail in reverse.

I freaked. I went her direction and after intersecting with her route, I let her know I was not happy about the gear she had it in. She stopped and refused to go any further toward the hallowed room I was trying to penetrate. She kept repeating “Don’t attack me, sir!” 

 I didn’t feel like a sir right then. Finally, I could see this heifer was going to have to have a feed bag put in front of her if she was ever going to move again and so I apologized, not because I was sorry but because I wanted to get my boxes and bags and get the heck out of Dodge.

After a good 5 minutes of her analyzing whether she was going to accept my apology and another 5 minutes of her examining all her keys, the vault was finally accessed. We grabbed the bags; I intentionally forgot to leave her a tip, sprinted to the taxi and took off for the Center.

 I called the Center security and a helpful lady told me how to get to the loading dock for the show. Twenty minutes later we arrived and started looking for the dock. No luck, back and forth in the bowels of the Center. Nobody we asked knew what we were looking for or they gave us wrong directions. The taxi driver was getting nervous because he had been driving around a long time and was not making any money since he'd already quoted a fixed price.

 Finally, I told him to take me back to the front entrance and I would get out and try to find the loading dock on foot. As we started back up the street, a mile-long train had materialized and was blocking our path booking along at a strong 5 mph.

Atlanta was hotter than St. Louis. I was perspiring buckets by now and feeling like a stroke was coming on. I had spent 5 grand to be at this show and it was blissfully going on while I was locked outside. Here I was, sitting in a stopped taxi, watching box cars meander by and my financial future heading for a train wreck. We waited 16 minutes and 2 seconds before crossing back across the tracks. 

The people in charge of the show don’t want you trying to set up while it's going on. In fact, most people set up 2 days in advance. I thought I had given myself plenty of time, but as usual, I was a day late and a dollar short. In fact, by the time this adventure was over, I was much more than a dollar short. I knew it would take me at least an hour to set up and I would end up doing the setup while all my potential customers cruised by, never to return.

My boxes, bags and I got dropped off in front of the hour-old show. I started trying to assemble my baggage-handling machine. Someone told me I had to go down the steep street between the front of the Georgia World Congress Center and the CNN building to get to the dock.

 The taxi could have dropped me off there in 15 seconds more if we had known that. As it was, I ended up strapping my 220-pound load on my little tricycle carrier and wondering how I’m going to negotiate going down this 45 degree street with lots of traffic and no sidewalk. 

 Running on raw nerves, I drug my load over the curb and plunged into traffic. I stayed in front of my cargo and hung on for dear life while walking downhill backwards, pushing uphill and trying to direct traffic around me.

 Finally, my circus and I got to the unloading area. Curiously, the doors were locked. I pounded and yelled with no luck. I dialed security (who had given me the wrong directions) and asked them to please let me in. 10 minutes later someone materialized and after explaining my situation, they relented. 

I had to run all over the building (twice the size of Rhode Island) to locate where my booth was. I finally found it and pulled my paraphernalia over to the spot. I felt that I had finally made it and the rest was going to be easy.

 I started unpacking. First the TV.  Before the trip I had congratulated my wife for saving a big bag of peanut Styrofoam. I figured that fluffy stuff would be just the ticket for packing my TV safely. I had loaded the box with the TV and my clothes and then dumped the peanuts in to protect it during transit. 

 As I opened the box and pulled my clothes off the top, Styrofoam flooded the booth. Mommy and daddy Styrofoam peanuts were propagating little peanuts much faster than I could corral them. Unloading the TV, I realized I had a mess. Hundreds of bits of foam covered my clothes and the TV and immediately flew to every square inch of my booth and then some. Major mess. Major stress.

              I finally got the TV out as all my potential customers were walking by admiring my styrofoam. At last, I had it set it up and then tried to turn the VCR on to divert their attention away from the Winter Wonderland in Georgia that was partially covering my clothes strewn on the floor and fully engulfing everything else in my booth. I didn’t want to pick the clothes up because they were doing a somewhat satisfactory job covering the popcorn mess.

 Next, the VCR wouldn’t go on. I tried to eject the tape but no go. Pushing the door up, I looked inside at the tape but I couldn’t see it. Styropopcorn was blocking my view. Stuffed full. Packed in. White on white.

 Death would deal no sting at this point. I unpacked and assembled my YankATank which was a whole new ball game. Tools and nuts and bolts and pieces and tires and popcorn. Half-hour to forty-five minutes later my cart was together, floating on a sea of foam. Every time I tried to shoo the stuff away, it returned with a vengeance. 

 Static electricity was having a hay day with the white foam! People walked by shaking their heads and giving their condolences at my casket. The folks in the booths on each side of me were thanking their Maker that they weren’t me. I was wishing I was with my Maker.

           The next step, I decided, was to go on a scouting trip for some little tools and a hanger to try to unpack my VCR from the wedged tape and white packing. Started the operation and worked on the patient for a good hour. The crowds were still cruising and shaking their heads. I had my flyers out but I don’t think anyone saw them, as they were so amazed at me sitting in my fluffy peanuts with my brand new 20” Panasonic torn completely apart.  

It looked like one of those TV's you might have seen thrown out at a junkyard.. The picture tube, electronics and wiring were strung all over as I forced a hanger down in the back of the VCR trying to eject the foam. A century later, I finally got it clean but by then I had busted a component or two and realized the thing was never going to work for this show. Gave up and sat there waiting for the show and the misery to end.

The next morning was full of promise. I called rental places and finally found one that was open. They claimed they could have a TV and VCR there in 15 minutes. An hour and 15 minutes ticked off. Yes I was. At least 20 minutes after the show started, they arrived. 

Things were going much better today. Stress was there but under control. Hustled it in and started the tape. Worked great. The next day and a half, showed lots of people the product and didn’t sell a one. I was firmly convinced my marketing strategy was going to take a little work before I showed up in Atlanta again. 

 On the third and final day, out of cash, I took my new credit card and tried a cash machine. It wouldn’t work because I didn’t have my pin # yet. I called and they said they would put in a new number but it wouldn’t work until the next day. OK, no dinner for Ben that night. I was so confused I forgot I could use the card to charge a meal.

 The next day, I paid my hotel bill with the credit card and found a cash machine that finally put $100 in my pocket. It was a good feeling.  

After the show closed, I packed my stuff up (with just a few stragglers of foam hanging on) and caught a taxi. I hit the airport dejected and broke but felt kind of superior knowing that I was now an expert at moving heavy boxes of concrete blocks through airports. Got a lot of funny looks even though I didn’t tip the load over once.

               Nothing noteworthy occurred 'til I hit St. Louis. Switched planes and as we waited for takeoff, the pilot announced that since there were some other planes coming in late, we were going to wait for them.  He assured us it would be just 5 minutes.

I started heating up and wondered why they didn’t do that for me a few nights before. The pilot assured us we would get to Seattle on schedule. This went on and on. We were there for a good 45 minutes, listening to pure baloney from the pilot about how we HAD to wait for these people and we WOULD get to Seattle on time. I was ready to choke the nearest TWA employee. 

It was then I noticed that the strobe lights outside were getting stronger and more frequent. Looking closer, I determined the strobe lights were quite dim on the taxiway and lightning was providing the flashing visual effects. A big thunderstorm was racing toward us in the night sky (where we were supposed to be but weren’t) from the west.

I figured the next logical step was that our flight was going to be cancelled. There were lightning strikes every 3 or 4 seconds. We started hearing loud thunder just as our plane started taxiing. We finally took off and the pilot announced that they had closed the airport right after we took off. He mumbled something about a near-miss or near-death experience.

            TWA is bankrupt and so we got nothing to eat from Atlanta to Seattle. The captain kept saying we were right on schedule. Lying through his teeth to make TWA and all their late flights look good to the unthinking masses. How do you take off 45 minutes late, fly against the jet stream and still be on schedule?

We were somewhere over Wyoming when the good captain informed us we were over Seattle. “Unfortunately, the controllers are putting us in a holding pattern which is going to make us late.”

What a great trick to make everybody think that the pilot had made Seattle on time and now it was the tower’s fault we weren’t on the ground! I know we weren’t in a holding pattern because we never turned. We were still hoofing it across the Idaho Panhandle. After landing, my suspicions were reaffirmed as the airport was dead-it was after midnight for heaven sakes! Not a plane in the sky.


 I waited another 45 minutes for luggage and then I pulled my oversized bundle to the parking garage. What a relief! I went up the elevator to the fourth floor. I saw a machine out of the corner of my eye that said you had to pay right there to get out of the garage. I left my stuff on the 4th floor hoping somebody would steal the stinking YankATank. Ran to the 5th  floor, got my parking ticket and hustled back. I stuck the ticket in and it said I owed $80. I had only been gone 3 days!

Didn’t they know that I hadn’t parked in the gold plated space? I think I got whacked an extra 20 bucks because our late plane made me stay past the midnight hour. We were supposed to have arrived at 10. Well, I pulled out my trusty new Circuit City credit card and stuck it in the plastic gobbler to satisfy the 80 dollar bill.  


I was maxed out, much to my surprise. Ok, I wasn’t that surprised. 

I pulled out the last 60 bucks I had from the Atlanta cash machine and stuck it in. It sucked it up and wanted more. I tried the card again and it made the last 20. Elevated my load to the 5th floor and crazy-wheeled my load to my truck. I noticed a lot of brown water under my pickup as I got in. I drove through the dark garage maze, out the gate and onto the freeway at about 1:00 am. Tired. Broke. But at least I was headed home!


 The pickup started missing and then completely quit. Oh, boy.

 I let the pickup coast backwards down the hill to the last exit and stopped. I popped the hood and saw my propane vaporizer was completely frozen because there was no water circulating in the engine to keep it thawed. Do not ever run a propane pickup if the water pump is out! Grabbed a plastic bag and pretended that was my water bucket. Headed off into the night not knowing where I would find water. 

 A couple hundred feet down the grassy knoll I looked up and saw a cop had pulled behind my truck with his lights flashing. I ran back and explained the situation. He said “Fine, but where’s your back license plate” I said I didn’t know. That was the truth because I haven’t had it on for the last 5 years. It just hadn't been that high on my priority list. 

He said “OK, let’s look at the front one” I didn’t have to look but I figured I would go with him just to keep him company. Sure enough, it was gone too. He asked me where I had come from and I said the airport garage. He said “Well, that explains it, somebody has stolen your license plates.” I didn’t argue, even when he insisted that we fill out a stolen license plate report. Why make it worse? 

 After the paperwork, he took me back to the airport where we located another cop with a water jug and some doughnuts. Returning to my pickup, I gave it a drink, drove down the exit and up the street to find a service station with some more water. After filling it up, the cop left. I pulled on the street and the truck died. I coasted into a motel parking lot and after popping the hood, noticed a fan belt had shredded. 

Dead tired, I entered the motel to see if I could get a room. The clerk tried my credit card and it was declined. I tried to call the sleeping wife several times but no answer. My cell phone battery then went dead. I was cold and depressed by this time.

Finally I left, deciding to sleep with all my junk in my cold pickup. 15 minutes later, wide awake and shivering, I decided to see how far I could drive down Pacific Highway looking for an auto parts store that would open the next morning. I figured eventually the truck would quit but I could go the rest of the way after it recuperated and thawed out. Unbelievably, the truck and I drove about 20 blocks and found a NAPA store. Parked in an empty lot across the street and tried to sleep. I was freezing.


 Couldn’t sleep. Thirty minutes later a security rig pulled up and I had to tell the female cadet what I was doing in her lot. I asked if I please just could get in her rig and warm up a little bit. She looked at me, snickered “no way” and drove off as fast as her warm little security vehicle would go. 

Crawled back in the pickup and after freezing 10 more minutes, decided to try a little more driving and see if I could find a Denny’s. I was sure the truck was going to quit at any time, most likely at a stoplight.

Made it to Denny’s. Asked the waitress to put me away from everyone else as I was feeling like a vagrant. I gave her my credit card and asked her if she could check and see if I had enough left on it for a hot meal. She did and it did. I ate and tried to doze for the next couple of hours. She left me alone as I think she sensed I was down on my luck. Poor lady didn’t even get a tip.

 I was freezing the whole time. About 5:00 a.m. people started coming in and I decided I better leave. Walking outside, I looked down on the sidewalk and saw two lost and beautiful credit cards that I’m sure would have worked at any motel in the city. Declined the temptation and stuck them in my pocket just in case. Went back to the NAPA store and waited.  

 About 6, just as it was turning light, I thought I would look and see just what was happening under my hood. I saw that the serpentine belt was still ok and just the compressor belt had broken. This meant that I should be able to run.

 Motored home and got there about noon. Heated the engine up several times along the way and had to stop for water often. As soon as I arrived, I got my good friend, Lee, to fix the water pump while I took a nap under his space heater. After I told him my story he said: “Ben, you need to take a friend with you the next time you go on a trip. Just make sure it ain’t me.”

 I have learned many lessons. Much to fix. Lists to compile. Things to remember such as... Water pumps die when you need them most. A 55-gallon barrel of water hauled in the back of the pickup for the radiator should be standard equipment. Always carry a boatload of cash. A hammer is good in case I need to get into any locked TWA luggage rooms. Pack a cot and a pillow so I can grab some zzz’s as I wait for the lovely lady to open the sacred baggage room. 

A sack lunch in your pocket is beneficial if you’re flying TWA. Throw away any and all muffler carts you have invented. Get license plates whether I need them or not. Carry a portable heater as female security guards will not warm you up. Ship direct, don’t try to roll YankATanks around the airport. Get all the inventing done at least a week before the show starts. Leave for the trade show earlier, a month should be adequate, especially if you’re flying TWA.

            I now have much more empathy for people who are down on their luck, hungry, and spending the night outside in cold Seattle. The next time I see a guy with his hand out asking for a tip, I'm going help him out. First, I'll take him to Denny's for a hot turkey sandwich and then see if he needs some help working on his water pump.


        2 weeks after arriving home, I got a call from a big player in the industry who saw my YankATank at the show. Made me an offer that will heal my wounds and as soon as I get his check I’m going to put in a bid to buy TWA. I’m thinking they should go cheap. I'm also in the process of hiring an assistant to make sure I have license plates on all my vehicles.

This account of the YankATank’s wild debut in Atlanta in 1999 was written by Ben Casper, the inventor of the YankATank. It is the unedited, grammatically incorrect yet factually accurate account of the article that appeared in the April 2002 Butane-Propane News magazine starting on page 50.

The YankATank can be seen at

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Phil and Holly said...

Dang Ben, usually I enjoy your misery, but this one is painful. Why is it that most of the airport workers in Atlanta fit the same description as the hungry heifer. Looking forward to part 3.

brent said...

You're doing a great job of painting this dreadful scene in my mind. I'm hoping you decide to leave this mess in the booth and go home with the shirt on your back.