My 300 Mile Lyft Ride From Chicago to Bradford

I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday:

Here’s the full story on it.

Yesterday I flew home from Spain, where I’d spent a week at the Celsius 232 festival in Aviles. It was a lovely time, and the first two legs of the flight — Asturias to Madrid, Madrid to Chicago — went fine. But when I got to Chicago, my flight to Dayton kept getting delayed. After the third delay I should have just tried to rent a car, but I decided to stick it out. For my pains my flight was cancelled at 8:30 and my rescheduled flight wouldn’t be until 10pm the next day, meaning that I wouldn’t get home until after midnight on Tuesday (i.e., today). It’s ridiculous that the leg from Chicago to Dayton would take almost three times longer than the leg from Madrid to Chicago; I decided to rent that car after all.

And found that there was no car rental service in Chicago that would give me a one-way rental to Dayton. That was in itself unusual; I’ve done the one-way rental before when I was stuck in Chicago, and it’s normally not really a problem. But this Sunday it was. I checked the O’Hare car rental services: None. I expanded my search outside O’Hare to other rental locations in Chicago: The locations were either closed or didn’t have one-way rentals.

Finally I went on the American Express site to see if I could rent a car one-way through there. And I could! Literally, there was one car available in all of Chicago, through Hertz. It wouldn’t be available until 7am the next day, but that would still get me home earlier than the flight, and I was going to have to get a hotel room anyway, so fine. I rented it and when I did, I noticed that the pickup was at someplace called Signature Flight Services, not the usual Hertz location. So I called Hertz, gave them my confirmation number, and confirmed with the person on the other end — several times! — that indeed I was meant to go to Signature Flight Services, not the Hertz location at O’Hare. The person on the other end said “yes” each time, so, fine.

The next morning I was at Signature Flight Services bright and early at 7am. At 7:07 I called Hertz and asked where my car was. They said I would have to call the O’Hare Hertz location directly and ask what the deal was, and gave me the number. I called the number, only to discover that if you don’t have the extension number of the specific person you want to reach, you can’t actually call the O’Hare Hertz location directly. So I called the reservation line and pointed out the problem of not having an extension. They said I would have to call the O’Hare Hertz and talk to them about that.

The next bit of dialogue is paraphrased but essentially true to the conversation that followed.

“So, you understand the part where I said that without a specific extension, I can’t actually reach anyone at the O’Hare Hertz, correct?” I asked.

“We don’t have any extensions to give you,” the Hertz person said. “You’ll have to call the local number.”

“So your solution to me not being able to reach anyone at the O’Hare Hertz because I don’t have a specific extension is to give me the number that if I call I can’t use to reach anyone, because I don’t have an extension to call.”

“It’s the only number we have in our system,” the Hertz representative said, sensing my irritation.

“Look, I’m not angry with you,” I said. “But I want you to acknowledge that the way you’re telling me to deal with the problem of a number I can’t use is just to give me that number again.”

“… yes.”

At which point I hung up and the very nice people at Signature Flight Services let me take their shuttle over to the actual O’Hare car rental building, where I could to talk to the real live local Hertz people about my rental, and why it wasn’t where it was supposed to be, and if, since I was now there, in front of them, they would give it to me so I could be on my way.

Turns out, they wouldn’t give it to me.

And here is why: Apparently, Signature Flight Services is part of the area where charter flights go through O’Hare. If I had flown in through the graces of a charter flight, then Hertz would have happily given me the one-way car rental. But since I flew into O’Hare on a commercial flight, like a common schmuck, Hertz wouldn’t give me the car, even though they clearly had it to give. Basically, I wasn’t rich enough to rent the car Hertz had allowed me to reserve, so they weren’t going to let me have it. Which, I don’t know. Seems like a real dick move on Hertz’s part, and doesn’t incline me to use them ever again for anything. The dude at the reservation counter seemed to think so too — he checked to see if anything else was available, but otherwise there was nothing he could do. I was out of a car.

And once again, no one else in Chicago — the entire city, as far as I could tell — had a one way rental available. Which seemed ridiculous. It’s the third largest city in the United States. You would think it would be possible. But clearly not.

At this point, because I was frustrated and mostly to grimly amuse myself, I clicked on the Lyft app on my phone and entered my home address to see how much it would cost to take one to from O’Hare to my doorstep, a journey with a grand total of 301 miles.

Turns out it would cost about $330. Which, as it happens, was only a little bit more than what it would have cost for that one-way rental that Hertz wasn’t going to give me even though they had the car.

I considered about it for a minute, and then thought, why the hell not, and scheduled the ride. The worst case scenario in this situation is that no one would take the fare, and I would be no worse off than I already was. After a few seconds, I was matched with a car, and I went out to meet the driver.

I had a suspicion that the app might not tell the driver exactly where I was going, so when the driver — Victor — pulled up, I double-checked with him.

“I want to be absolutely clear what you’re getting into,” I told him. “I’m asking you to drive me to Ohio.”

“The state?” he asked.

“Yes.”

He thought about it for a second, consulted his own Lyft app (which hadn’t, in fact, told him the destination, just that it was more than 30 minutes away), and then looked back to me, and sort of shrugged. “I like long trips. This could be fun.” Then he popped the trunk for my luggage.

And you know what? It was fun. Victor, in addition to being a Lyft driver, had been a news editor back in his native country, so he and I talked about writing and history and travel and other subjects, listened to music and otherwise had a pretty enjoyable time over the roughly five hours it took to get me home. When I got home I tipped him hugely, gave him one of my books (The Collapsing Empire) and signed it for him, and otherwise thanked him for getting me home, and doing it in such a pleasant fashion.

And then I collapsed, because fuck, it had been a long couple of days trying to get home. It’s ridiculous that the longest and most exhausting part of a transatlantic journey was the last three hundred miles, on US soil, but of course it was, why wouldn’t it be. This all confirms my opinion that O’Hare is possibly the worst of all major US airports, and it’s certainly given me the opinion that Hertz should be my last possible option when getting anywhere. On the flip side, I feel more positively about Lyft. I generally use standard cabs when I can, but Lyft is my backup when it’s not feasible. They and Victor came through for me yesterday, and with flying colors. I appreciate it immensely.

In the post-trip Twitter discussion, there was some observation that my decision to take a Lyft all the way home was something not everyone could do, or would feel safe doing. And I can’t argue that. Being able to spend a few hundred dollars to get home via a Lyft simply because one doesn’t want to wait for a rescheduled flight is not something that everyone gets to do. Neither is being able to do it without having to consider whether it’s safe to be in some stranger’s car for five hours, and who will travel three hundred miles with you to drop you off at your house. It’s all true. Welcome to my privilege! I acknowledge it. And also, my privilege in this case would have meant nothing if I hadn’t been fortuitously paired with a driver who thought something like this would be an adventure, rather than just a pain in his ass. I am lucky all the way around this time.

But inasmuch as I am lucky in these respects, I now have a pretty great story of how I took a three-hundred-mile, five-hour Lyft ride because the thought of being stranded at O’Hare one more minute than I really had to be was too much to bear. And since it was part of a business trip (I was at a book festival in Spain, after all!), it’s even tax-deductible. As far as ridiculous travel stories go, this ended up as a best case scenario.

And, of course, best of all: I got to go home. I missed it and everyone there. It was good to be back, however I got there.

The Big Idea: Jeffrey A. Carver

For his Big Idea for The Reefs of Time, the first of his Out of Time series, Jeffrey A. Carver talks about structure — of his story, the universe, and other important things.

JEFFREY A. CARVER:

Big ideas are the meat and potatoes of classical science fiction, but sometimes they collide with one another like bowling balls on a pool table. In The Chaos Chronicles, I have played with some pretty cool cosmic ideas: sentient suns and sentient singularities, supernovas and hypernovas started (or stopped) by the likes of humans and their alien friends, the starstream (a cosmic superhighway for star travel), an enormous Shipworld at the edge of the galaxy serving as refuge for species who have lost their home planets… and in my new book, time travel a billion years into the past, via quantum entanglement. I love this sort of thing! They are part of the driving energy of these books.

But long before I rolled any of that into this story, I had a big idea of a very different sort—a grand scheme for how I was going to structure the books. It was very new for me: I was going to make the books small. Short. Quick. Snappy. Entangled with each other, though not necessarily in a quantum sense.

I tend to create long stories—my mind just works that way—maybe not Game of Thrones long, but long enough that I’d completed a number of my books with enormous exhaustion, as well as satisfaction. Unfortunately, I’m also a slow writer. I had to rethink my approach.

Thus was born my crucial idea: Write that long story that’s percolating in your head—you’re going to, anyway—but do it in a string of short, connected-but-self-contained novels. That way you can keep the books coming, but still write long. (I can just hear you muttering, “Say, isn’t that what most people call writing a series?” Well, yes, that’s obvious now. But then, to me, it was a revelation.)

At first, I stuck to the plan. Neptune Crossing was suitably short, and pretty snappy. The books that followed were… not exactly short, but not long, really. And then I took a break to write in a different universe, and Eternity’s End was… the longest book I’d ever written. Uh-oh. By the time I came back to The Chaos Chronicles, my “big idea”—short, quick, snappy—lay in little bitty pieces. Smashed by the bowling balls of my other ideas. Sunborn took seven years. The Reefs of Time took eleven. A lot of people thought I’d quit writing, or died! When it was finished, it was so complex I had to break it into two volumes, though it was still one novel.

So much for my structural “big idea.” But I still had the cosmic gems I mentioned earlier. And they were a big part of why it took so long to write the blasted books.

When you set a story around sentient stars and supernovas and time-entanglement, there’s a central challenge: How do you wrap your people around such things? Part of it is a plotting problem. How do you make the ephemerals and the near-eternals intersect? But more than that, how do you create relationships? The stories I like to read are all about relationships. The cold universe might not care about us, but good stories aren’t just about cold, unfeeling things (or even “cold equations”). Stories are about people clashing and loving and hating and killing and rescuing and winning and losing and finding redemption. And by people, I mean everyone sentient, regardless of species, planet, number of dimensions occupied, or organic status.

I wasn’t sure how to do that. I’m a pretty intuitive writer, meaning I often don’t know what I’m writing until I’ve written it. Oh, I try to plan, but my way forward can be (with a nod to E.L. Doctorow) like driving in the fog at night with one headlight out. There’s a lot of faith involved. Faith that I’ll find the way. Fear that I won’t. Wrong turns. Bridges out. Lucky breaks. That’s how I felt as I threw my people together with cosmic entities.

So you want a character to somehow have a relationship with, maybe even a friendship with, say, a sentient star who lives on a scale so unthinkably different that the human is a mayfly by comparison? In this case (I eventually realized), it is helpful to have a third party who has a special facility for manipulating time. Time fusion. You can’t maintain it for long, but maybe for a brief interaction, the human and the star can connect. Share thoughts. Share feelings. Share joys and pain.

Or, as in Reefs, where the mental and emotional journey backward in time (through something called a ghoststream) is just as important as what you find when you arrive in deep time. I wanted to warn the characters: It’s crucial to notice little things you feel along the way. There might be something alive there, something that matters to you, even if you don’t know it yet. Also, that quantum thread of space-time you’re moving along is fuzzy, as quantum things tend to be. Think of it as yarn, not thread. The edges are uncertain. You might need to make use of that uncertainty to find your way home. You might need the help of unexpected others to find your way home. (I, the author, certainly needed the help of others—for example, my initial readers—to find my way home.)

But for all this, I think the biggest challenge remains the question (or questions) wordlessly posed: Who am I? What am I doing here? What will I do when confronted by, not just the problems I was expecting, but the hard edge of the infinite?

These are questions John Bandicut confronts—again and again, as his story unfolds and one crisis after another looms in his path. Will there be any rest for this man? Any salvation or redemption?

It’s not just John. Everyone who comes into his life, from the noncorporeal alien Charli, to the inscrutable Ik (whose homeworld was destroyed), to the two women he loves (Julie, a human; and Antares, an alien)—each one ends up facing similar questions. Why me? Can’t someone else save the world this time? Can I please rest?

Because you’re here, no, and not yet. And don’t expect to be thanked.

Battered by the winds of destiny, by the forces of chaos, by malice, or even just by ignorance, they have to find a way. It all seems terribly unfair. Who could be expected to rise to the job of (take your pick): preventing a comet from devastating the Earth, stopping a deadly AI from destroying a “Shipworld” vaster than the Earth, redirecting a rogue intelligent stardrive, or stopping a hypernova being engineered by a malicious intelligence? And yet, somehow, they find a way. Because they must.

If the lives of others depend on you, you must change, grow, adapt. Find a way. Because if there’s redemption to be found in this world, maybe that need is the first place to look.

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The Reefs of Time: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Kobo|Book View Cafe

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