You have heard of the Donner Party, the ill-fated emigrants who tried to make their way to California to find their fortunes.
Through misfortune and a series of bad decisions, the group arrived at the Sierra Nevada mountains late in the year, and got trapped in the heavy snows of the high country near present-day Truckee. Of the 87 members of the group, only 46 survived the ordeal. Before they were rescued, many of the travelers resorted to cannibalism to survive. Historians have since speculated that if they had avoided just one of the many bad decisions they made along the way, they very well could have made it. As it turned out, they got stuck and became a part of history.
Tragically, they had stopped only a few miles short of the summit and safety.
That was back in 1846.
If George Donner were alive in 2010, he would have lived in San Antonio. Or, to put it another way, if I had been alive in 1846, I would have been the main course at Donner Lake.
I was in San Antonio last week to visit the troops at Brooke Army Medical Center. The last day, all I had to do was get my rental car to the airport by 2:30 pm and I would avoid an extra day of rental fees.
What ensued was a series of misfortune and bad decisions that would make a cannibalistic wagon train proud.
I delayed my checkout until the last minute, since I had plenty of time. But then I ran into some other cartoonists who were headed to lunch. I joined them.
To digress for a minute, let me just say that if you are on a tight schedule, if you definitely, positively have to be somewhere on time, having a casual lunch with a bunch of cartoonists is probably not one of best ways to do that.
We finally said good bye, and I headed out to find some thank you cards. When I finally found some, the nice lady behind the counter suddenly got chatty. I must have been one of the few customers she had seen all day, so by default I became her sounding board to vent about greeting card resupply problems.
This delayed me another 45 minutes.
By then I didn’t have a lot of time to spare, but I would be OK if I picked it up a little.
But in the parking garage, I got stuck behind a lady who couldn’t operate the parking meter thing to raise the barrier. Apparently she believed that by driving forward one foot, then reversing a foot, something magic would happen. This was as far as her contingency planning went. For at least ten minutes I watched her rock back and forth, sticking her ticket into the slot over and over, until I jumped out of the car and ran over to the parking office. I told the attentive, well-trained staff there that if they got off the phone and looked up they would see that a lady has been stuck for ten minutes at the gate. A girl pushed a button and the gate opened. The cars behind me celebrated my actions by honking angrily at me to get moving.
Now short of time, I zoomed away to get on the freeway.
And turned the wrong way.
By the time I found the interstate my slop time was gone. I felt a trickle of sweat roll down my back. There was no time to top off the gas – my only goal was to get to the airport.
I chose the first airport-related exit I saw, and miraculously, right there on the side of the off-ramp was the “Rental Car Return” sign. My luck had turned. I was going to make it!
I pulled into the return lot and turned off the engine. I had arrived with seconds to spare.
Just as I was reaching behind my head to pat myself on the back, the attendant leaned over and asked for my rental agreement. He studied it, handed it back and said, “This is Alamo. You rented from Avis.”
Avis was on the other side of the airport, and I had run out of time.
Only a few miles short. Just like the Donner Party.
And to make matters worse, I was starting to get hungry.