Monday, July 9, 2012

Plan B

Remember those old math word problems?

“Train A leaves the station at 3:15 pm going 40 miles an hour making two stop of ten minutes each and train B leaves at 4:00 pm going 50 miles an hour and making three stops of ten minutes each. Which train will arrive first?”

I think they had the best intentions of cultivating our analytic, scientific, logical-mathematical and problem-solving mind. But let’s face it, real life is daily throwing problems much more complex in our face and we sink or swim according to our ability to think flexibly. Here I offer five of them from my past three days. This will be a timed-test, especially since all of these had time factors to add to the complexity and stress. Have your sharpened pencil ready and good luck!

PROBLEM ONE: On July 4th, nephew Kyle calls from the SF train station after an all-night train trip from Oregon because the bus he needs to get home to Sebastopol doesn’t run today. He spends the day with Karen, Doug, Talia and Talia’s friend Joanna. The next day, Karen and Talia have a 10:30 am flight to Michigan, Doug has a 12:30 pm flight to North Carolina, Joanna will need to get to a friend’s house on the other side of town and Kyle needs to return to Sebastopol. To complicate matters, Doug wants to visit his Mom before his flight and suggests that Kyle visit too. Neither Doug nor Karen nor Talia want to take a cab or shuttle. Solve.

PROBLEM TWO: Doug sits at the gate F2 in Chicago for his connecting flight to Asheville. When he looks up from reading his book, he notes that “Asheville” has been replaced by “Charlotte” on the board. The people at the counter tell him that the Asheville flight was changed to F3. Doug moves to F3. Next time he looks, “Asheville” has again disappeared. Upon inquiry, he finds out it was moved to F1. (All this without announcements.) Sometime later (the plane is now delayed), he looks again and sees “Asheville” gone from the board. Two hours later, he finally boards a plane. What are the chances that it was actually the plane to Asheville?

PROBLEM THREE: Doug arrives at his destination at midnight and goes to pick up the Thrifty Rental Car he reserved through Orbitz. When he arrives at the rental car counters, he sees that Thrifty is closed. So is Avis, Hertz, Budget, Alamo, etc. 

Questions: Why did Orbitz approve a rental car to be picked up at 10:30 pm when Thrifty closes each day at 6pm? How did Doug get to the reunion in the mountains an hour away? Will Doug get his money back from Thrifty?

PROBLEM FOUR: Doug refuses a GPS in his rental car because he wants to continue to hone his directional skills. He miraculously arrives at a cabin in the woods at 2am in the morning. But on the return trip, he senses with his inner GPS that he missed the road to the airport. He asks directions and finally gets re-oriented onto Route 26. But Route 26 has a traffic jam that is moving at 2 miles an hour for as far as he can see. The airport is 8 miles away and he has 30 minutes to get there. How does he solve the problem?

a)    He rides past the stopped cars on the left hand shoulder trying to ignore their murderous glares.
b)    He calls the airport and tells them please keep up their good record of two-hour delays.
c)     He stops at the Marriet and gets a room to watch movies all day to calm his frustration.
d)    He stops at a Marriet, asks for back roads to the airport, crosses yellow double lines to pass cars speeding like a demon and praying no cops are around and arrives in time to make his flight.

PROBLEM FIVE: Doug arrives in Chicago at 1pm with a three-hour layover before his flight to Michigan to meet his family. He has a leisurely lunch, goes to his gate, looks at the board and reads, “Flight cancelled.”He goes to Customer Service and stands in line for 45 minutes before being rebooked on an 8 pm flight. Question: How will Doug respond to this situation?
a)    Make a vow to never leave his house and only read other people’s travel blogs.
b)    Strike up a conversation with the woman with the T-shirt, “I (heart) Boobs.”
c)     Enjoy listening to his neighbor’s inane cell phone conversation.
d)    Call the Chicago Airport Commision to inquire why Chicago still doesn’t have free Wi-fi when almost every other airport does.
e)     Write a long rambling blog with the hope of transforming annoyance to art.

PROBLEM ONE: Kyle puts his bag in the car and buses to his friend’s house to spend the night. Joanna spends the night at Talia’s and Talia drives her early in the morning to the other side of town. Doug, Karen and Talia get in the car and pick up Kyle on the way to the airport and drop off Karen and Talia. Doug and Kyle drive back to SF to visit his Mom. Kyle drops Doug at BART that goes to the airport, drives the car back to Doug and Karen’s house and takes a bus to Santa Rosa. Simple!

PROBLEM TWO: Miraculously, it was.

PROBLEM THREE: Because Orbitz is stupid. Enterprise was open and had an available car.
And yes, because the credit card isn’t charged until you pick up the car.


PROBLEM FIVE: You guessed it—e.

Now I had a real point to make about the need to develop a habit of flexible thinking, the kind of disciplined practice the Orff teacher and jazz musician are engaged in, constantly coming up with Plan B, C, D etc. and carrying that habit over into real life. And with four more hours of airport time, it’s a theme worth developing. Really, I think developing the flexible, imaginative, responsive mind is just about the most important task of the 21st century.

But this guy’s phone conversation is driving me crazy (Hey! I got I-Tunes and ear-plugs! Plan B!), I’m really wondering what this girl with the T-shirt has in mind, my butt hurts from sitting so long, I don’t want to go outside in 100 degree heat and have to go through Security again and I’ll lose you forever as a reader if I keep complaining. Thanks for keeping me company. Isn’t travel fun?!

PS: BONUS LANGUAGE ARTS PROBLEM: After coming up with Plan B—listening on i-Tunes to Doc Watson (may he rest in peace—he just recently left us) until his battery ran out, Doug had a brilliant idea and sat on the bench between Concourse C and E strumming the ukelele he had in his carry-on and plotting his next blog showing how ukeleles will bring world peace and happiness. As the clock approached the flight time, he looked up on the board to see that it was yet again delayed from 8:00 pm to 9:30 pm. Translate Doug’s sentence below. Remember to use the appropriate tone of voice.


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