As lawyers, our work often necessitates a good bit of travel. Whether by car to attend a deposition across the state or plane to attend a conference on the opposite coast, traveling affords us the opportunity to see parts of this great country. Most often, travel is an aspect of our profession we enjoy. It certainly ranks well above conducting late-night legal research in one’s office. Other times, traveling for work purposes can turn into an utter nightmare (as can traveling for any purpose).
Recently, I took a deposition in a small town in Mississippi situated a few hours from the nearest airport. While it may not sound enjoyable, I looked forward to it, as I had never spent any time in the state apart from driving across Interstate 20. he trip started off well enough. I caught a flight to Jackson, rented a car, and traversed through acre upon acre of farm land before reaching my destination. After checking into my hotel, I headed to Doe’s Eat Place, a James Beard Award-winning restaurant housed in a former turn-of-the-century grocery store listed in the National Register of Historic Places. You won’t find a menu at Doe’s, but the waitress informed me that they served steak, tamales, and spaghetti. I chose the steak, and I discovered the best 10 ounces of filet mignon. Sampling local fare is a travel perk, and Doe’s set my trip off in the right direction.
The good vibes from Doe’s, however, were ephemeral. The following day, I took the deposition without a hitch and returned to Jackson to catch my return flight home. Unfortunately, there were no direct flights from Jackson to Greenville, South Carolina, so I made a pit stop in Atlanta, the city where this story begins to sour.
My flight from Atlanta was scheduled to depart at 8:59 p.m. and arrive in Greenville at approximately 10:11 p.m. (In case you are wondering, it is a 29-minute flight, but in typical airline fashion, they built in a cushion in case, well, you know). I boarded the plane around 8:30 and gladly traded my coveted aisle seat to another passenger in exchange for a middle seat. It is only a 29-minute flight, after all, and worth the personal sacrifice to please another. After assuming my temporarily uncomfortable position and listening to the flight attendants deliver the standard, monotonous safety instructions, the pilot made his own announcement over the radio:
Ummmm [never a good thing to hear from the pilot] … We have discovered that the plane’s braking mechanism is leaking some hydraulic fluid. The good news is that we have the replacement part at the airport. The bad news is that it is on the other side. Maintenance is telling me it will be another hour before we get up and running. Worst case.
I understand the need for safety, especially when we are about to undertake a short, yet epic battle with gravity. Brakes come in handy at the end of such a journey. So, I chalk it up as a minor inconvenience and figure I will be home slightly later than my scheduled arrival (given the pre-planned buffer). If only the estimated “worse case” was so. At approximately 9:45, the pilot announced that maintenance faced some difficulty with the installation process and estimated it would be another 45 minutes until departure. Not wanting to keep us hostage, the pilot stated that we are free to leave the place so long as we stay near. Remembering the bar immediately outside the gate, I deplaned and sought a beer. Only after leaving the plane did I discover that the bar closed at 10. Still in good spirits, I found a nearby Chick-fil-A and grabbed a sandwich (I actually ordered nuggets by the way, but I am not complaining about the mishap).
When I returned from Chick-fil-a, I was greeted by the unwelcome sight of everyone exiting the plane. Apparently, the whole “another 45 minutes” thing was a gross understatement. To the airline’s credit, its representatives tried to lighten the mood by providing snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. They also gave me a free drink coupon good for one beer or cocktail. The rub, however, was that it could only be used on the plane. he plane that we had just been kicked off of and wanted desperately to board once again. The bitter irony.
Several minutes before midnight, the pilot came out and announced that the plane had been fixed and we were ready to re-board. Unfortunately, the gate attendant had gone AWOL. After a 15 minute search, she was located and we proceeded with boarding the plane. Again. Took the middle seat. Again. Listened to the standard, monotonous safety instructions. Again. At least this time, however, on a plane with a braking mechanism smack full of hydraulic fluid. We eventually pulled away from the gate, rose into the air, and landed around 1:15 a.m. A mere 3 hours after my scheduled arrival. After retrieving my car from the garage and driving home, I strolled wearily into my house, reached into my pocket, and felt something unfamiliar: the free drink coupon, apparently forgotten amidst the frustration of a lawyer’s plight to get home.
After writing these thoughts and sharing this story, I can’t help but be reminded how travel is one of the many things I love about the practice of law. Despite the late-night, mid-week nightmare trying the get home, I am thankful for the experience. At the end of the day, I got to take a deposition, eat a steak at Doe’s, and experience a state to which I had never traveled. Certainly, it would have been better with an aisle seat, a beer, and a plane with functioning brakes, but we can’t expect everything to be perfect, can we?