For the first time in seven years I had to cancel a trip and a talk. I figure I’ll explain what happened because I think a lot of people may not even understand this “I give talks” aspect of my life. I was supposed to go to the PLA Conference in Portland Oregon. I was originally invited in August of last year and said yes. As you may know from the rest of my typings, a lot of other travel then filled in around it. I was scheduled to give a talk at 10:15 today [I had asked to speak in the afternoon, denied. I had asked to speak after 11 am, denied]. The deal I had worked out was that I’d get my airfare covered, two nights in a hotel [they had offered one night, I had said for a minimum eight hours of travelling, that wasn’t enough] and a modest honorarium. I don’t know why these places say honorarium instead of fee, but there it is.

On Friday I noticed I didn’t have a hotel reservation yet and sent some frantic emails asking about this. The woman in charge of reservations hadn’t gotten my two [2] housing forms I’d emailed in. Not sure what happened. They quickly handled it. Then they let me know they hadn’t gotten the contract that I’d faxed and mailed. I occasionally have these waking nightmares that somehow I’ve ceased to exist to everyone but myself, only it happens slowly, not quickly [i.e. I send emails but they just vanish once they leave my mail client] and this was seeming like that.

I had a flight out yesterday at 2:20 pm. I have three airports I choose among: Burlington, Manchester, and Logan in Boston. Burlington is closest, but has fewer flights, Manchester is next closest, but I have to drive there [about two hours] and Logan is furthest but I can take public transportation most of the way and it has the most flights. This flight was out of Manchester, connecting in DC. I got up and left the house at 11, got to the airport at 1, ate lunch, waited on my flight. At 2 it was clear that we weren’t boarding. At about this time they made an announcement that the incoming flight that was supposed to be my outgoing flight had been hit by lightning and was going to be delayed. I saw the flight crew outside taking photos of the plane with their phones. I was pretty sure “delayed” was inaccurate. So I got in line to be rebooked and called United at the same time. The nice man I spoke to said “Oh your plane is just delayed, just wait for it” which was basically the best information he had at the time. It took United almost an hour and a half to declare the flight cancelled.

I used my librarian skills to determine that there wasn’t another flight out of Manchester that day. I found that there was a flight out of Logan, in a few hours, getting me in in the middle of the night. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have much of a sense of what normal people would do in a situation like this. I was pretty sure I could get to Boston, brave rush hour traffic, park my car in a $22/day lot [not reimbursed] and be in Portland by midnight. Maybe. I called my Dad and my sister who I call my Reality Check Network. They both assured me that only crazy people would consider this, though I should ask the PLA people if they’d reschedule me. I asked, they said no. They were pretty nice about it. Occasionally librarians are very very crabby dealing with plan changes; I am a pleaser so I try to avoid pissing people off, but this was unavaoidable bad news. I waited in line some more. I got an email from United saying that my flight was officially cancelled. I called again to see if I could maybe be put on another airline’s flight. No.

At this point I have made my peace with not going. Once this happens a switch flips in my head and I absolutely do not want to go anymore. I emailed everyone in Portland telling them I am not coming [I have a ton of friends there, I was looking forward to seeing them] because with no talk there is no free plane trip so instead of making a little money on this, I would be spending my own money which I didn’t want to do. After two hours in line [seriously!] I talk to the guy at the head of the line who confirms that yes, I am going noplace. He “refunds” my money which means he gives me what looks like an airline ticket except it implies that I will get my ticket money back. He gives me a voucher for airport food because I asked for one [and told other people to ask for one, they say “they’ll give you food money?”] and I ask if I can spend it all on beer. I call the parking lot people who come fetch me and give me not some but all of my parking lot money back. I drive two hours home, eating my free sandwich. I get home at 7. I send the nice people from PLA the links to my talk and my slides. I lose at Scrabble against Jim and sleep for eleven hours.

When I went to bed last night the United website still showed me as booked on a flight to Portland today, a fact which multiple phone calls did not clear up. “Oh just wait five minutes” said the phone support person. “Oh just ignore it” said the next one. Eventually the trip vanished – poof! I emailed my friends in town to say I wasn’t gone, and they invited me over for dinner.

I have, as always, mixed feelings. I really wanted to give this talk. I really wanted to go to Portland. I really want, in general, to do what I say I am going to do. However, I have a difficult time balancing exactly how much I should pull out all the stops to ensure that I can do what I say I will. I probably could have made it to Portland yesterday if I’d done something crazy. Or I maybe could have planned a Sunday flight and paid for my own hotel room or stayed with a friend. Or I could have gone for the weekend and been 100% sure I’d be there today [which meant leaving the day after I got back from Texas]. I say all this stuff because I want to reassure myself that what I did was okay. It’s difficult for me to say “I can’t” but I’ve been getting better at it this year. Seems like a strange goal to work towards, and it’s bad if it’ a habit, but I’m thinking it should be part of my vocabulary.

What do you think?


  1. You did the right thing! Unfortunately most of my recent travel hassles have been when I was trying to go on vacation!

    Anyway….you did the right thing.

  2. Possible solution for getting to Logan: drive to Nashua, park for free, and take the Boston Express bus. They also have a bus that runs I-93, and that one stops in Londonderry, but I don’t know about the parking situation there.

  3. You are not crazy or a slacker. Your Reality Check Network is correct. /I work for an organization that holds meetings at which people gives talks and I would not judge a speaker for cancelling in your situation.

  4. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who considers going to insane extremes in order to hold up my end of a bargain. It is so tough to say no, and even worse, to disappoint! I’m making a mental note to actually listen to my reality check policeman when he tells me I’m going overboard :)

  5. Relax. You did the right thing.

  6. Just to clarify, my comment above was intended to be useful for the next time you’re in a jam at MHT. I think we can agree to invoke force majeure for this one.