Reporter's Notebook: The "New" New Orleans

Jeff Goldblatt
Thursday, February 16, 5 p.m.

“Don’t know where I’m going, but I know I have to go.”

It’s one of those stupid, catchy phrases we used to say in college, before taking a road trip to some forsaken place in search of good times. Anyway, as I now make my way to New Orleans, to cover the kickoff of the official Carnival season (which culminates in Mardi Gras) I am reminded of that college saying. It sure has applicability today.

It’s customary, with all of the camera gear with which we travel, to arrive at the airport two hours ahead of time. After flying in and out of O’Hare for more than six years, I seem to have gotten a good handle of what makes for ultimate flying conditions, and today was NOT one of those days. The clouds were ominously dark as we drove to the airport, and not too far into the drive, the skies opened. Thick sheets of rain slammed the windshield. Soon, I would learn what seemed already inevitable, that this would not be a day of “flying the friendly skies.”

Let me cut to the chase by telling you I arrived at O’Hare at 11:30 a.m. for my flight. We departed six hours later, but not to New Orleans. The best we could do for now is Memphis. That score alone took a heap of patience, persistence, and sucking up to gate agents.

So here’s how things went down (in turn, my travel itinerary went down as well — down the toilet that is):

It was noon, when the first expletive shot from my mouth — actually, there were a few of them. And I was, BY FAR, not alone in my use of choice words. I couldn’t help myself. Those bold letters are absolutely insulting. Cancelled. Cancelled. Cancelled. Why can’t the airlines find a better way to deliver such distressing news?

Immediately, we gun for plan B. And there’s always a plan B when you’re in my profession. My photographer, Robert Lee, grabs his cell and calls American Airlines. I grab mine and call standout FOX travel agent, Gerry Straus (If it weren’t for Gerry’s tireless work over the years, I think I’d have a stomach full of ulcers. But, I digress.) Bob hit pay dirt first — kinda. Turns out American routed me though Miami, where I would connect to a New Orleans flight. Scheduled departure: 3 p.m.-ish…I think. But Bob got a raw deal. American put him on a flight tomorrow. Undeterred, and now on the phone with Gerry, I begged for alternatives. Sure enough, she found Bob a seat on a 2-ish flight to Miami, where he would join me for the New Orleans connection. On paper, this sure looked good, too good to be true that is.

Tick. Tick. Tick. There’s no gate for Bob’s flight. My flight is pushed back a couple of hours. You don’t have to hold a degree in deciphering the far-flung airport arrival/departure monitors, to know we would never make the second leg of our trip, even if we made our respective flights to Miami. Time for Plan C.

Serendipity works in strange ways. We found our savior in American Airlines gate supervisor, Pat.

Type. Type. Type.

“No.” “No.” “Nah.” “That’s not gonna work,” Pat told us.

“Well, can you get us anywhere close? We’ll drive the rest if we have to,” I said (or at least I think that’s what I said). Literally, 45 minutes later, she found our “answer.” Memphis.

“Trouble is,” she remarked, “your scheduled inbound from Grand Rapids, never made it. You don’t have a plane.”

Robert and I looked at each other, and after our unnerving day, we both cracked slight smiles. In my head I heard that voice from college, probably my roommate Kresch saying, “I don’t know where we’re going, but I know I have to go.”

I’m sure many of you have had similar days. In all my years of travel, I’ve had plenty of stinkers, but this one — as far as a sheer travel nightmare — ranks right up there near the top (or bottom, depending how you look at it). From Memphis, I’m not sure what the plan will be. Given our epic adventure, we had the travel department cover our bases and book connecting flights through both Baton Rouge and Mobile. Take your pick. If we miss those, we’ll hop in a rental and road trip it.

All said, I head south with positive thoughts and I say this after a two hour ground hold in Chicago, once I board my plane to Memphis. Considering my ultimate destination, I am an extremely fortunate man. My headaches are short-lived compared to the unmitigated agony, which thousands have battled since Katrina made landfall.

If you see me on the air Friday, you’ll know we made it. As far as my bags, I'm not thinking I'll see them any time soon. If you think you had trouble following my travelogue, can’t you just envision the baggage handlers along the way being entirely perplexed?

Over the next two weeks, I hope to be able to share with you my thoughts about the “New” New Orleans. If you have questions, please feel free to e-mail me: