My boss commutes from Atlanta to Wichita every three weeks or so. He started out working here but moved there when his wife was offered a really good job. He was important enough to this company to be allowed to work from there, and he does so quite effectively. He advised me to avoid checking any baggage if I could, and that turned out to be really good advice.
Upon landing in Atlanta, I stepped off the plane into this unbelievably long concourse (40 or so gates, as I've mentioned). I was way down on one end and seriously could not see the other end. And it was FULL OF PEOPLE. It was at that moment that I realized that it was completely up to me to get to my hotel. The only instructions I had were to take the train to the terminal and which rental car company I had a reservation with.
So I started walking, reading signs as I went. I soon found my way to the escalator that led down to the train. From having been on one of these trains at the Denver airport (I still have never been on a proper subway or el-train), I knew to hold on. I listened to the pre-recorded message reeat itself outside the train every time we were about to leave a stop - "Please be careful, subway doors are closing and will not re-open." I listened to the pre-recorded messages inside the train - "Please hold on, this train is departing" or "Please hold on, this train is stopping" or "The next stop is concourse B. B as in Bravo." Again, old hat for travelers, brand new for me.
Exiting the train at the terminal, I started riding up the huge escalator to the ground floor. As I got closer, I saw a long line of flags from all sorts of countries hanging from the ceiling. I was reminded that ATL is in fact an international airport, and I decided to dig out the digital camera and take a shot of that. Before I could get that done, I reached the top of the escalator and there were seriously a WALL of people standing there looking at me. Some of them were even holding signs with people's names on them - I've never seen that before except in movies. I decided I wasn't going to be THAT embarassingly touristy and skipped the photo.
I immediately saw rental car company booths, but I couldn't find the one for my company, so I ducked into an Avis booth and inquired. The lady said "you have to go around the corner there, there's a phone you can use to call them." I thought that information seemed vague, but figured she knew what she was talking about and how much information I actually needed. I walked around the corner, and sure enough, there was a phone with a directory of businesses with two-digit numbers next to them. I dialed the two-digit number for my rental car company and was greeted with a message. "If you are at the Atlanta airport and need shuttle service, continue to follow the signs marked 'ground transportation' outside and wait in aisle B. Shuttles run every five to eight minutes." So I followed the signs outside and had a seat.
I was impressed with the systematic nature of things there. This was like a train station for automobiles - lines for the cars to line up and "platforms" for people to wait. There was a line for taxis, a line for shuttle buses taking people to rental car companies, a line for shuttle buses taking people to hotels, and a line for shuttles taking people to the various parking lots.
After about fifteen minutes of watching buses and vans go by with every imaginable rental car company name on them except mine, I was about to jump on a Hertz bus and ask the driver if there was some trick to catching the Payless van, if I had looked right at it and missed it, or what. Just then the shuttle bus finally arrived. I quickly jumped on and sat at the back.
We drove for about ten minutes and I was amazed that we were still within the airport complex, still surrounded by airport parking. Man, that place is huge. We drove past all the other rental car companies and way out to just about nothing and finally pulled up to my crappy rental car office in what looked like an abandoned strip mall. Nice. I also learned that jumping on the bus first meant I was off last, and last in line to get my car. I say last in line because there was only one person working the desk. When I walked in, that person was being yelled at by the customer who had something to say about how long it had taken to get his car. I was particularly unimpressed with how the girl behind the counter seemed to not give the slightest shit that the customer was upset.
After standing in line for fifteen minutes, I put my luggage on the ground. After another ten, I just sat down in a chair. There was only one person in front of me, but it took an average of 15 minutes per customer to get them in a car and out the door. Me included. Additionally, after being told on the phone that using a debit card was no problem, they proceeded to add $150 to the already huge deposit they placed on the card, rendering the entirety of my travel expense advance check that I had deposited earlier that day useless. I now had about ten usable dollars in my checking account and $30 in my pocket. Good times. So yeah, NEVER EVER USE PAYLESS RENTAL CAR AGENCY. They SUCK ASS. Matter of fact, that was a week ago today, and THEY STILL HAVEN'T RELEASED THE DEPOSIT CHARGE FROM MY CARD YET. FUCKHEADS. So as I was leaving there, I called my boss to explain to him that I was suddenly broke. He promised to get me some money the next day when he and his wife took me to dinner.
The next thing I did was to discover that while Microsoft MapPoint is freaking awesome, Microsoft Pocket Streets for Pocket PC is COMPLETELY WORTHLESS. After getting lost and going about a million miles the wrong way, I finally just pulled over on the side of the road, pulled out the laptop, fired up MapPoint and immediately figured out exactly where I needed to go. Made it to the hotel (which was pretty cool - my room had a kitchen in it), used Google Earth to find an Arby's nearby, grabbed some food, and crashed out.
Just wait until the story about Wednesday. Good times.