Every business traveler takes at least one trip from hell. I worked for Northern Telecom in Minneapolis in the seventies. Corporate headquarters were in Toronto and I had to take trips there occasionally. One quiet day at work, I received a message telling me I was to be at a meeting in Toronto the next week. It was just one meeting so I could fly there in the morning but there was no flight back that evening so I would need to stay overnight. No problem, I had done trips like this several times.
The day before I left, I got another message from HQ that the meeting would actually take place in the Brampton city hall. HQ was officially in Toronto but there were facilities all over the area. Brampton was one of the suburbs of Toronto so I assumed there would still be no problem.
I went to the airport and caught my plane with no trouble. We took off on time, the flight was smooth, we landed on time and taxied to the terminal. I had not checked any bags so I walked directly to the car rental desk. So far, so good.
I handed my credit card and license to the person at the desk and waited while they did the paper work.
The clerk looked up at me and said, “Sir, your driver’s license is expired. I can’t give you a car.”
“But, but, but…”
“Sorry sir, I can’t let the car out. Are you travelling with someone who could drive it?”
“No, I’m alone.”
“I’m so sorry, but I can’t let you have the car. The taxi line is outside the doors and there is a shuttle service at the end of the hall. You could use one of those.”
Dejectedly I walked out to the taxi line, caught the next cab and told the driver to take me to the Brampton city hall. He had no idea where that was. After several minutes of lively discussions with his dispatcher they determined it was in an office building in Bramalea (a different suburb of Toronto).
That worried me a lot, but half an hour later the driver stopped at a nearly deserted office park and said, “Here we are.”
“Where are we? Where is the city hall?”
“In that building,” he said pointing at it. “See the sign?”
There next to the doors was a small brass sign that said “Brampton City Hall”.
Relieved that there really was such a place I got out and confidently walked up to the building. I opened the doors and saw – nothing. There was not a single person in sight.
Searching the hallway, I found a small sign at the opposite end that listed the tenants. Along with some lawyers, accountants and other businesses, the Brampton city hall was listed, in the basement.
I walked down and found a door labeled “Brampton City Hall”. It was locked and there were no windows. I knocked politely and waited for an answer. Nothing happened. I knocked more vigorously and waited. Nothing happened. I pounded on the door and hurt my fist. Nothing happened and I still had not seen anyone. I walked down the hall and looked at every door; there was nothing from Brampton on any other door.
The other doors were locked and most of them had no name on them. No one answered at the ones that had a name so I couldn’t ask anyone for help. Cell phones did not exist yet so I couldn’t call my office or the people I was supposed to meet. I walked back upstairs hoping I could find someone there. Another person was coming in the door!
Almost desperate, I ran up to him and asked, “Are you here for the meeting in Brampton city hall.”
“No, my office is here. Their office is in the basement but they normally use it only one day a week, I think on Tuesdays.”
“I’m with Northern Telecom and we were supposed to have a meeting there. Is there a building manager around or anyone who might know about it?”
“The building manager is in the next building. I’ll take you there.” He generously offered.
He escorted me to the building manager’s office where I found that nothing was scheduled for the Brampton city hall. I asked if I could use his phone to call my office in Minneapolis and he said he couldn’t let me make long distance calls, but there was a pay phone at the end of the hall. I walked out to the pay phone and dropped in a quarter.
The US quarter dropped right through and came out of the coin return. The phone would only take Canadian quarters. There was no place to change a Canadian dollar there so I went back to the building manager to see if he would make change for me. He didn’t have correct change for a dollar but he felt sorry for me and gave me a quarter.
Praying that I wouldn’t have a problem, I dropped my only Canadian quarter into the slot and dialed the operator. It worked and told her I wanted to make a collect call. In a moment I was connected to my boss and started to tell him the story.
He stopped me and said, “They called here this morning and said their instructions were wrong. The meeting is in the manufacturing plant in Brampton.”
I thought of a lot of things I really wanted to say but this was my boss and it wasn’t his fault so I got the address from him and hung up.
Thankfully, my only quarter dropped back out and I used it to call a taxi. The meeting had already started so I would be late but I thought I could make most of it. Then I was told it would be there in fifteen or twenty minutes. I would miss at least the first half of the meeting.
Twenty five minutes later the taxi arrived and we set out on a thirty minute drive to the plant. I was dropped at the security gate where the guard arranged an escort to take me to the meeting room. I arrived at the meeting room nearly two hours after the meeting had started and they were just wrapping up as I walked in.
Most of the attendees were from the Toronto area so they left for their offices. The person who had called the meeting walked me back to the guard station while giving me a five minute recap of the meeting. He arranged for a ride to my hotel and left.
So far, I had wasted more than half a day and accomplished nothing but the fun was just beginning.