Dangerous Women, or Travels with Kat, the Evil Assistant

Well, it started out as a lovely idea! And ultimately, all the problems endured were well worth the journey.

Dangerous Women, a new anthology edited by Gardner Dozois and George RR Martin, debuted at #18 on the Best Seller list! I’m extremely happy about this, as one of my stories, “Neighbors” is included in the book.

But before it debuted, I was invited to help launch the book from The Jean Cocteau Cinema, a small theater in Santa Fe that had recently been saved from going dark when it was purchased by George R R Martin. I leaped at the opportunity. I’d never been to Santa Fe, and many of the writers who were attending are among my favorite authors.

So I set out with Robin Hobb’s trusty evil assistant Kat.

Our first hurdle was presented by American Eagle airlines.
When we got to the airport, we attempted to get our boarding passes from American Airlines. Kat’s passport would not scan but eventually she found a number on the e-ticket that American Airlines recognized. It listed our names, Kat selected both of us, and then it printed out a slip that said we were at the wrong airlines. That was all. No hint as to why a ticket purchased by American Airlines was not a ticket on an American Airlines flight. A wait at the counter, and the nice lady sent us to Alaska Airlines. A wait at that counter, and then boarding passes obtained, we started through security.

There at SeaTac, something happened to Kat that previously had happened to Robin Hobb, but to few others of our acquaintance. She was taken aside, her hands swabbed for explosive residue. Okay. On we went. At security, she was taken aside, wanded, and then patted down. Okay. Two ‘random’ checks for Kat. Note that she had used her employee Robin Hobb credit card to book the flight.

At Alaska, our boarding passes would not scan, but the attendant typed them in and we boarded the plane. We enjoyed an uneventful flight to Los Angeles. We had over an hour to our next flight, so our plan was to find our gate, get a bite to eat, and travel on to Santa Fe.

We landed, and deplaned, and looked around for our next flight. Our tickets said American Eagle. The American Eagle flight to Santa Fe did not show up on any of the departure/arrival boards we could find. We had to ask at a counter to be directed to an obscure door where, the Bejeweled-playing attendant assured us, a shuttle would soon come. We were hungry but resolved to find our gate and then eat before boarding. We had 45 minutes left. Surely that would be enough?

The shuttle took its sweet time to arrive. We got on, and then got off. We started to go inside, but were halted. This was not our destination. We boarded a second shuttle. It took us to an obscure gate that appeared to still be under construction. Food was available from one vendor, and about of the quality one might get from a corner convenience store. As the Kat cannot eat gluten, her choices were even more limited than mine. But eventually, yes, we did get on the American Eagle airplane.

We sat and waited. Then we were told the airplane had a problem, so we de-planed. And eventually got on another American Eagle plane. We sat and waited. Then we were told the cargo hatch would not shut. Another wait, and the hatch was finally closed and off to Santa Fe we flew.

We claimed out suitcases upon landing, and rented a car from Avis. Avis apologized that the outside of the Ford Explorer was dirty. The weather was too cold for car washing. No problem! The inside was fine and we liked its road handling ability. Off we went.

The Hotel Santa Fe completely charmed both of us. Big, welcoming fireplace! A nice room. We were late for a welcoming party due to our earlier aircraft delays, but our GPS worked well and we found ourselves driving through snowy roads over the low hills until we reached the lovely home of Melinda Snodgrass. The scent of pinon welcomed us, and we spent a long and lovely evening enjoying hospitality and wonderful writerly company!
The food was very nice, the conversation amazing. I learned that George RR Martin has four minions to my paltry one, but decided I was keeping mine all the same. A light snow began to fall, and so we headed back to our hotel.

The next day we explored Santa Fe a bit. It’s a lovely place. The cold weather kept us dashing in and out of stores, and art galleries and book stores. We consumed excellent food, bought many touristy items, visited a chapel with a miraculous spiral staircase and attended late Mass at St. Francis Cathedral.
The next day we arose, did a bit more exploring, met up with Kat’s friend Rachel who helped us with an insider’s tour of Santa Fe, had a lovely dinner with Gardner and George, and then on the Cinema. The book launch was amazing fun! George Martin did a question and answer session with the attending authors as panelists, we each had the opportunity to do a brief reading, and then we signed books for attendees.
In all, a wonderful experience for me. I had the pleasure of meeting Sam Sykes, Diana Rowland, Diana Gabaldon, Melinda Snodgrass, Carrie Vaughn and S. M. Sterling, as well as conversation with George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois. As we parked the car, Kat noted that a tiny rock ding close to the windshield wiper was just beginning to climb up the glass.

The next morning, Kat and I had time for a bit of Christmas shopping and then headed out to our rental car. It was cold, very cold. And as we drove, the crack from the tiny rock ding began to travel up the windshield. I hadn’t bought rental car insurance, as my business credit card is supposed to cover that. And besides, we hadn’t put the ding in the window, so no worries.

I thought.

We arrived at the tiny Santa Fe airport to find our flight delayed by several hours. And Avis thought otherwise about the crack in the windshield. We were told we were responsible for it. No matter that a dirty windshield had obscured the ding when we accepted the car. We were liable. First bummer of the day.

We waited a long time for our flight. Bad weather back east had delayed many flights. Then our airplane came, circled the Santa Fe airport, and then flew on to Albuquerque. Apparently there was something wrong with a flap, and it was too serious to be fixed at the little airport. Another wait, and we were told that all flights from the airport were now cancelled. We held back and let others stampede to the counter. Some were quite wroth with the attendants, but really, what control did they have. Kat and I did note to ourselves that this was the 3rd American Eagle plane in a row that seemed to have something wrong with the plane itself. Not reassuring. And when our luggage was returned to us, the collapsible handle of my suitcase was stuck in the half up position. It wouldn’t go up and it wouldn’t go down. Lovely.

By the time we reached our turn at the counter, the shuttle carrying most of the others to Albuquerque had been filled and left. The woman at the counter said we could taken a second shuttle there, then board a late flight for Los Angeles. The airlines would pay for the shuttle ride, and a hotel in Los Angeles.

A driver in a clean, warm car gave us and another lady with a large load of luggage a ride to Albuquerque. The hour long night drive was actually pleasant. I wished I were able to see more of the scenery. The only unpleasant moment was when he off loaded us at the airport and drove off, leaving the poor woman with us standing and looking at her four suitcases. We helped her get them inside and got in line behind her.

Kat’s passport wouldn’t scan. My passport wouldn’t scan. We went to the counter for help. Yes, they could help us get our boarding passes. Could we get a voucher for food. No, they couldn’t help us with that.

At the counter, the attendant accidentally booked Kat’s suitcase all the way through to Seattle and sent it on its way. I was still struggling to get the handle down on mine. After a bit of a struggle, we were able to get Kat’s suitcase back and book it only to Los Angeles. I ended up completely unpacking my suitcase on a chair in the airport, struggling to get the handle down to no avail, re-packing it, and talking them into checking it to Los Angeles as it was.

Okay. A bad luck day, but there it was. We were on our way to LA. We could deal with this.

Little was open in the airport. We looked forward to some sort of a meal in Los Angeles. At security, Kat was swabbed again for explosives. And again, she was randomly chosen for a wanding and a pat down. On we went to the gate, where we waited. Flight delayed. Then the gate was changed. Another trot through the terminal, and then, finally, the flight came. Our boarding passes would not scan, but an attendant typed our information and we boarded the plane. Hurray! We took out our books and settled in.

Ours were the only seats on the flight where the overhead reading lights wouldn’t work. Of course.

We landed at the same miserable half-finished gate in Los Angeles. We stood in line, and were given a phone number to call for a hotel for the night, and a voucher for breakfast the next day. $14. Okay. Off to the main terminal, where we claimed our luggage, and then out to find a shuttle for the Holiday Inn. We didn’t wait long, and were glad to arrive. We were too tired to eat, and nothing was open anyway. A simple room, five hours of sleep, and then we were up and on the shuttle back to the airport. Nothing was open in the hotel for food. Off to American Airlines. We hopped off and went to check in our luggage.

Only, NO, not again! The self-check spit out a note that we were at the wrong airlines. We needed Alaska Airlines. Two terminals away.

So, after a brisk jog down the sidewalk with my recalcitrant suitcase jouncing and clipping me all the way, we managed to check our luggage in at Alaska. They understood about the balky handle, too.

Another trip through security. Another wanding and pat down for Kat. Totally random, of course!

We got to our gate, and found that our $14 breakfast voucher would not feed both of us. Well, had we really expected it would? No. We got some airport food for breakfast, knowing we would regret it later but we were both really hungry.

Then off to our gate, where again our boarding passes would not scan. We were keyed in and got onto the airplane. Where Alaska had given us extra legroom seat. Ah. An uneventful flight home. Fred picked us up and we got to the house and ate real food.

Upon unpacking, we both found slips from the TSA in our checked suitcases. They had both been opened and inspected. Randomly, of course.

So. That is the tale of my adventure, shared at length. Why? Because I do think that some information needs to be shared.

I doubt I will fly American Eagle Airlines again. Nor will I rent from Avis again. Nice people served us at the face-to-face level, but the corporate level fails my expectations. I should not get 3 defective airplanes in a row. And being held financially accountable for a rock chip crack on a dirty windshield is similar to being held accountable for a tire that goes flat, or a radiator leak.

And the other piece of information I want to share. For the past six years, I have been regularly wanded, patted down, had my fingers swabbed for explosives, and had my laptop opened and my keyboard swabbed. I am always told that I’ve been ‘randomly’ selected. My record was on a trip home from Amsterdam, where first my suitcase was ‘randomly’ searched, followed by a ‘random’ pat-down as I went through security, and finally I was stopped at the boarding area of my flight, for a ‘random’ search of my carry-on. I do not know anyone else who has been swabbed for explosives at the airport, let alone anyone to whom it has happened more than once. Only me. And now Kat.

Robin Hobb writes lots of email. It goes out to readers in response from letters all over the world. Unsurprisingly, the word ‘assassin’ crops up in many of those emails. It’s in three of my titles. And I’m sure it’s one of the button words that NSA scans for in email.

I love my country, and I’m probably more of a patriot than is currently fashionable. I want terrorism stopped. But I still deplore private emails and phone calls being screened by the NSA. Even more do I deplore sloppy workmanship. If, indeed, I am being scrutinized because I write a lot of email with ‘red flag’ words, then please, do read the entire email and realize that I am just a writer replying to readers about my books. Just because my assistant booked the flights using a Robin Hobb credit card does not mean Kat deserves to be treated with such a high level of suspicion. While I take pride in being among Dangerous Women, it does not mean we are dangerous women.

Until I watched this happening to Kat, saw her hands swabbed twice and saw her patted down at literally every security check point, I was able to speak about my security experiences wryly. At every point of our travel, our passports and ID’s had to be hand entered rather than scanned. Every single boarding pass has to be typed in rather than scanned.

Before this trip, I could wonder if I were being paranoid, if, indeed, like my bad luck with the flights and the cars, I was simply drawing the ‘search her’ card in a bizarrely regular fashion. But this was just a little too peculiar. A tad too ‘un’random.

Am I paranoid? Of course. But that doesn’t mean it’s without reason. And it’s time to share my experience with others.

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2 Comments »

 
  • Willem says:

    Hi Megan
    Hmm think you should have sold the story to a collection of paranoid travel stories. Concur with your analysis and the bad thing is that people emailing you also collect points.
    better discuss your books as “the first RH series second book”
    this is no coincidence!
    on Avis: can you reverse the charge to your credit card on the ground that it is a charge you do not agree to (there is an ~English word for it, can’t find it) some credit cards allow to do that.
    Avis, hmm keep them in mind as avoid like the plague.

  • Patricia says:

    Dear Megan/Robin,
    Sorry your travels to Santa Fe were so difficult – I was happy to attend the Santa Fe event and grateful you and the other writers came through the bad weather for that special evening. As a new comer to your worlds I am enthralled and share your name with everyone I know who loves this genre.

    Thank you for being so prolific!