Being a National speaker takes me traveling all over this great country of ours- and at times that involves taking a few risks; like this one. Last week I traveled to Pierre (pronounced Pier) South Dakota. When I booked the speaking engagement with the South Dakota Department of Tourism, I was leery of traveling to South Dakota in January, but the conference team was so positive and professional I thought why not? The title of this year’s conference was Destination 2010 and beyond… little did I know the irony of that title! I flew Continental to Denver where I switched to Great Lakes Airlines. The plane held about 20 people including the pilot and you had both a window seat and an aisle seat- it was a very small plane.
Things were going pretty good until the pilot turned his head and told us that he might not be able to land the plane in Pierre due to high winds and ice. He said that he wouldn’t know the outcome until we got closer to Pierre. Luck and the winds were on our side and we landed.
It was a great conference! Pre-conference events, knowledgeable speakers, fantastic trade show and the awards night gave the attendees great value. The people were so friendly and gracious and as an added treat I had a wonderful diner filled of hours of conversation with two fellow speakers, Marc LaBlanc and Susan Sweeny. Things were perfect! Except for the darn weather reports that repeatedly warned that a huge ice storm was coming in on Friday afternoon. Lucky for me my flight was at 7:00 am Friday morning and I was sure we would get out of there before the storm set in for the weekend.
Friday morning January 22: 8 of us from our hotel got into the van heading to the airport feeling o.k. because things look great! The winds are brisk but not gusty, no fog, and no rain or snow- we are all chatting and in a good mood confident we were all heading home.
The Pierre airport is one room with one gate! The eight of us are the only ones flying out that morning and as we all take our seats waiting to go through security the Great Lakes ticketing associate , Diane comes on the p.a. and warns that the flight coming in from Huron may not be able to land due to thick cloud coverage but that we need to go through security just in case it lands and we are good to go.
We actually hear the plane coming in and then we hear it leaving… the flight is canceled. For a moment we all sit there stunned and then we all make a bee-line for the ticking counter to get on another flight. Diane tells the first person in line that the first flight out will be tomorrow (Saturday the 23rd ) at the same time, but that she can’t guarantee that that flight will be able to take off. She looks very doubtful – Each of us hears the same story and it was at this time creative ingenuity started to come alive.
The ideas start to flow and the cell phones start to dial:
• How about if we drive to another SD airport- all airports experiencing trouble
• Rental cars? Found out that there were no rental cars available in Pierre- sold out!!!
• Train- No but then we saw a private plane fly in to Pierre- we got on it thinking, “How much could that cost? $1500.00 maybe divided by 8- why not?” Private plane would COST $4750.00
• Greyhound doesn’t open till 9:30 and we are ready to get out- and all those stops- Denver by Tuesday!
About this time Diane is feeling our pain and she gets in the game- She starts calling around town asking for a driver, a car or a bus to get us our of Pierre an onto Denver. Diane at Great Lakes was on it- talk about customer service!
• We decide that we are driving out of Pierre – it’s either Denver or Minneapolis
• Driving to Denver or Minneapolis are about the same distance 8 hr. drive so we now split into two teams and one woman drops out of the game and heads back to the hotel hoping to get out on Saturday. (Just found out that flight was canceled too and I just called and the airport today Sunday January 24th- they have their fingers crossed to get a plane out today but it doesn’t look good… I would still be there!!!)
• Diane finds a guy who is willing to drive the 4 of us ( Melissa, Dennis, Matthais, and myself) to Denver for $1200.00(ouch)• but she doesn’t give up- she is on fire now and calls Bob, and elderly gentleman who she thinks rents minivans out- she calls him and Bob is on the way!
• Bob is wearing a Russian hat- but now he is our only hope! He talks in a mumble and we are not sure about his math! He mumbles some numbers and says that a light like the engine light keeps coming on and that we could take it to the Toyota dealer on our way out- He quotes us $720.00. What would you do?
• The Toyota Sienna has low mileage and the light goes off. We each throw down our charge cards and are on our way to Denver- It’s 9:00 am. We will be in Denver by 5:00.
The two teams split like the Amazing Race one heading east and one west. I don’t know much about the members of team east, but I do know that team west- Melissa, Dennis, Matthias and myself rock.
I rode with the greatest people and what could have been a horrific ordeal turned out to be one of the best adventures possible! Matthais drove us through South Dakota and Nebraska (Indian reservation land). We only stopped once for lunch at a Subway in North Platte Nebraska- Hey, I’ve never been to Nebraska and don’t have to go back soon I hope! We rolled into Denver at 4 pm! Dennis was flying on the Colorado interstate- and the Sienna purred. Dennis was awesome. He drove Matthais to his car in some remote lot at DEN, got Melissa to her bus, changed out cars(we left Bob’s car in the east parking lot of the Denver Airport) and he drove me to the Embassy Suites. I flew out at 6 am on Continental and was home by 10:00.
If I had not taken a risk I would still be in Pierre South Dakota.
There are so many good people out there. You have to have faith, a good sense of humor and sometimes drive with the engine light on to get to your final destination!