Baltimore–just getting there–for the Scrabble Players Championship

The current horrid state of air travel and news stories about thousands of unclaimed pieces of luggage at airports meant that I would have to rethink how I was going to travel to Baltimore. I was not going to risk losing my suitcase so I decided to travel with carry-on luggage only. I had a practice run with my backpack earlier this week where I successfully managed to cram twelve days’ worth of clothes, toiletries, a camera and Scrabble supplies. I would also bring my laptop and foldable Scrabble board as permitted carry-on “personal items”.

Mark and I had an 8:00 a.m. flight to Baltimore, where we were playing in the Scrabble Players Championship. I had called a cab the previous day to pick us up at 4:30. The first thing I did when I got up at 3:15 was check my E-mail to see if there were any flight updates, and I was disappointed to find out that our flight had been cancelled. With the sorry state of flights by Air Canada this was expected yet the airline had rebooked both of us on separate flights later that day. I was the lucky one, booked onto a 9:00 flight, but not to the original Baltimore/Washington International Airport. My new flight took me to Dulles International instead.

This was just awful. We were supposed to get in at 9:26, with a $2.00 shuttle to take us directly to our hotel (the Marriott Inner Harbor) and now we had to find a way to get from Dulles to the hotel on our own. I found a system of public transit routes which, if we made every connection and had no wait time at all, could get us to the hotel in 2½ hours.

Mark on the other hand was booted to a 4:40 p.m. departure. In spite of this, we decided the best thing was to go to the airport together to try to get both of us on the same flight. I called the cab company to pick us up an hour later, at 5:30. Were we ever surprised to find out that Mark wasn’t rebooked to Dulles at all. His much later flight was sending him to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport! We didn’t even pay attention to Mark’s arrival destination when he got his cancellation E-mail. At least his airport was closer to Baltimore than mine. The ticket agents could not book us on the same flight unless we wanted to wait till much later in the day and fly to Baltimore via Montreal. That was a no-go, so we had no option but to take the new bookings Air Canada gave us.

I headed off to check in for my 9:00 flight while Mark went home. I was happy that my Nexus privileges whisked me through security in no time and I kept in touch with Mark via E-mail until my flight, which didn’t board till 9:30.

While on the plane I heard two women behind me talk about their travel woes. One of them said she was headed to the Marriott–and I immediately poked my face through the gap to ask her if it was the Inner Harbor Marriott–and more importantly, was she playing in the Scrabble tournament as well? Turns out she was. Agnes Kramer sadly had her flight last night to Baltimore cancelled, and was rebooked on the same flight as me. We decided to travel to the hotel together, and the idea of sharing a cab versus taking what would certainly be at least a three-hour transit ride (two different trains and a bus) was most appealing, especially when confronted with the stifling heat and a backpack that weighed a ton.

We waited for Agnes’s small suitcase (which she was not allowed to take onboard) and then headed for the cabs. The ride around Washington city limits took seventy minutes and cost about $144. I paid $80–which took a sizable chunk out of the $300 in American cash I had brought for this trip.

Agnes and I registered for the tournament. Each of us registered a player by proxy since travel woes held up a friend of hers too. Check-in time was not till 4:00 but we asked if our rooms were available anyway. No surprise to discover that they weren’t. We left our bags at the hotel and walked up S Eutaw Street to find a place to eat. I had barely eaten any breakfast (just a bagel and a cup of coffee) and was by now starving. We had a big lunch at the Red Boat Viet Fusion restaurant.

I was not impressed with Baltimore, if I was judging it by S Eutaw St only. It was too hot and all the shops looked old and I had to be on the lookout for our own safety. When I walked into a grocery store a guy asked me if I wanted to buy weed instead! I did buy some milk, as I was on a solo mission to stock our fridge since Mark and I intended to eat our own breakfasts and lunches. We would only go to restaurants when planning dinners with friends.

Agnes and I returned to the hotel at 3:00 and our rooms were ready. I got an E-mail from John Chew informing me that fellow Scrabbler Lisa Kessler wanted to get in touch with me. I didn’t know any more than that, and wrote to her. After a while I received an E-mail from her telling me that she was waiting in the Toronto airport with Mark!

I looked on-line for more grocery stores within walking distance of the hotel. I found one near Camden Yards but all I bought there were three oranges. The clerk told me about a much larger store on Charles Street called Streets, and I headed there immediately after. I was more than satisfied with the selection and bought fruit for Mark, cereal, more milk, bread, cheese, meat and yogurts.

I met Howard Pistol in the hotel lobby and we had dinner with Maddy and Roy Kamen at Thai Elephant Wok just up the block. By this time it was 6 p.m. and Mark had still not left Toronto. His flight kept getting postponed and he would later tell me that he and Lisa were led on wild goose chases as they lost count of the number of gate changes. Fortunately after dinner Lisa wrote to tell me that Mark had boarded and that she was waiting to see if she could also get on. Just minutes later she wrote that she too would be joining Mark on the flight to Reagan airport.

I scoped out the hotel and tournament space and listened to music on my computer. I even fell asleep as the very early wakeup time and travel stress wiped me out. Later on that evening, instead of waiting in my room, I decided at 10:30 to go down to the hotel lobby where I would wait for Mark and Lisa. Scrabble players came and went–some of whom I hadn’t seen in three or four years–and finally at about 11:20 they arrived. I raced to the front door (which at that late hour was locked so I let them in) and took Mark’s small wheeled suitcase. He had been pulling that thing all day. One of its wheels was flattening so it was not the easiest thing to pull along.

What an ordeal Lisa and Mark had. Instead of getting into Baltimore at 9:26 a.m., Mark eventually made it fourteen hours later. I led them into the main playing room where some tournament staff were still working. The room erupted into applause when they walked in! The stress of getting here was over, and Mark would be able to play in the entire tournament and not have to forfeit games. He just needed to relax and get to sleep. He didn’t eat much while waiting hours at the airport and appreciated that I had stocked the fridge.

Game play would begin the next morning with Mark as one of the latest-arriving players and Lisa as an annotator.

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