slipshod: the world of the close enoughThe army has nothing for me to do, just now, as I sit around and wait for orders. I'll do a couple of mornings of pro forma training this week, but otherwise camp out and wait for someone to figure out why I'm here. This weekend, I was able to get off post and get to Atlanta to visit Ralph Luker; today, Monday, I woke up in a hotel in Columbus, phoned in to see if I needed to be at work, and learned that I was released for the day. That's about normal speed, lately.
The thing I love, though, is being reminded how Columbus works. It's a world I don't see much of, and it's fascinating in a kind of car-wreck way.
Example: I bought a round-trip ticket on the airport shuttle from Columbus to Atlanta and back, the cheapest way of making that 90-mile trip. When I bought my ticket for Atlanta on Saturday morning, I asked the guy behind the counter at the shuttle office what time the last shuttle came back from the Atlanta airport on Sunday night. He told me that the last shuttle was at 11:00 p.m., and the one before that left at 10:00. He even handed me a printed schedule with those departure times on it. To make sure I got back by Monday morning, I took care to get back in time for the 10:00 shuttle on Sunday night; I wanted to leave a safety margin, given the potential cost of failure if something went wrong.
So I get to the Atlanta airport on Sunday night, make my way to the shuttle loading area, find the right shuttle, and get in at about 9:45. And I say to the driver, this is the ten o'clock shuttle, right? No, he says, it's the 10:30 shuttle.
So, I say. Is the ten o'clock shuttle around here somewhere?
No, he says. There is no ten o'clock shuttle.
So I have 45 minutes to kill before what now turns out to be the 10:30 shuttle, and go back into the airport for a cup of coffee. And I tell him that I'll try to be back on time for his departure, but will just catch the 11:00 shuttle if I miss him. Ahhhh, but no, he says: The 10:30 shuttle is the last one. I pull out my printed schedule: Yes indeed. Shuttle departs Atlanta airport at 10:00 and 11:00. I do not fight the tide. I ride home on the 10:30 shuttle, which is the last one.
So this is the Columbus, Georgia rule: If the schedule says departures are at 10:00 and 11:00, there is a single departure at 10:30. Were you to bother to note that the actual departure time does not coincide with the announced departure times, people would look at you like you were some sort of strange bug, sort of squinting and shrugging: Yeah?
And so on. The army has a system of shuttle vans that run around post in the evening... And when you ask the driver on the trip from Point A to Point B what time he'll be coming back in the other direction, he'll squint, cock his head, and say that he reckons he's maybe fixin' to try to swing back by 'round 'bout maybe nine-ish or so. And then he shows up at 10:45. Close enough for the local standard.
So. On the way back to post on Sunday night, I decide that I'm not really ready to go back, just yet, and I know that Monday is a possible day off. So I decide to get a hotel room in town. I spring for the place that is advertised as "Columbus's premiere hotel," a relatively elegant eight-story building on the riverfront near the county government offices and the regional arts center. It's expensive, for Columbus, and not bad. When I get to my room, I see that I can get Internet access over the television for ten dollars. I decide to check email, turn on the television, click on the remote control to order that service. A message appears on the screen noting that a charge has been added to my bill.
And then I can't find the computer keyboard. I look everywhere. Finally, I call down to the front desk. Hey, I say. I just ordered the television Internet service, and I can't find the keyboard.
Oh, the front desk clerk says, matter-of-factly. That t.v. Internet thing don't work.
So, finally, this morning, I call in, secure my mostly expected release from work, and spend the morning farting around. I finally check out, and decide to head back to post. I approach the front desk, where an elaborately dressed bellman stands near the front door. I need a cab, I tell him. He looks at me curiously.
Phone's over there, he says. You know the number for a cab company?
Long pause, a little surprised. In my limited experience, the thing that generally happens at a hotel when you tell an elaborately dressed hotel employee at the front door that you need a cab is that he, well, calls one for you. But I am not from Columbus, Georgia, so strike me down for being ignorant.
So then I tell him that I in fact do not know the number for a cab company, and ask him if the hotel maybe has a phone book I can look at. He squints, stares, shrugs. Finally points toward the empty concierge desk, and notes again that the phone is right over there.
I go to the concierge desk, look around. No phone book. There's a computer on the desk, and no one there, so I decide to try to google up a local cab company. I grab the mouse, click on the Internet Explorer icon...
And wait. For nothing. The computer can't load any of the pages I try. I look around, see hotel employees in front of me and behind me, almost ask them if they know how to get the computer connected to the Internet. And realize that there's no point in asking.
I walked back. It took most of the afternoon.
ADDED LATER: My favorite detail, which I just remembered, is that I got mystery lunch in downtown Columbus. I walked into a sandwich shop, looked at the menu board, and enjoyed the fact that someone wrote the words "Copicolla Sub" right above a description of that sandwich that described it as being made with "copicola." So we have the same word misspelled two different ways by the same person, within what had to have been mere seconds, on the very same writing surface and with each different misspelling appearing within inches of the other.
So, I say to the guy behind the counter. I'll have the "Copicolla Sub."
Oh, he says. We don't have none of that.
He sort of pulled his head back and inflected up at the end of the sentence, a little befuddled, like I'd asked to fuck his sister. Which makes sense, I guess, since a customer had walked in and tried to order something from the menu.
In Columbus, Georgia.