The fiasco with my baritone continued into the Okka Fest 4 weekend… I was told that the instrument had arrived in Chicago on the afternoon of the 8th but since I was already heading to Milwaukee with Tim Daisy at that point, I asked American Airlines to deliver it directly to the Sugar Maple, where all the concerts were taking place Friday night. They informed me that it would arrive by 9pm. At 9:30 I called American and the representative told me that nothing goes out after 9 and the trunk would be delivered Saturday morning. Since the Sugar Maple doesn’t open until 2pm this would be useless, and since the airport was about 10 kilometers away from where I was standing talking on the phone, if I had known they were going to FLY the trunk to the Milwaukee airport I would have just gone to the airport myself to pick up the instrument. Rather frustrated at this point (additionally so because, instead of getting a chance to listen to Paal Nilssen-Love and Joe McPhee play a brilliant duo set to open the festival, I was stuck on my cellphone with several idiots from American Airlines), I told them to keep the instrument at baggage and I’d pick the horn up at the airport the next morning myself. Also on the Okka Fest bill that night was Wheelhouse (with Jason Adasiewicz, Nate McBride, and Dave Rempis) but I was too aggravated at that point to focus on their music properly. Saturday morning I went to the Milwaukee airport with Adrienne Pierluissi, painter and co-director of Okka Fest, with the hope of finally getting my baritone back.
Once I walked into the American baggage claim I knew I was in trouble- a man in wheelchair designed for athletics was midway to getting nowhere with his attempt to sort out a problem with his luggage. Apparently a Murderball player enroute to a competition, the man’s bag with all his equipment arrived ripped open on the carousel in the Milwaukee airport, where he was supposed to make a connection to his final flight. He needed a new bag to store his items and was asking the employee to give him the funds to buy a new suitcase at the airport so he could catch his next plane. The woman working for American Airlines told him that it was company policy to only replace bags at the final destination, and to only replace the damaged part; in this case, the zipper. The man rightfully told her it would cost more to fix the zipper on his suitcase than to just buy a new bag.
True to company policy, she held fast and said that she was truly sorry but there was nothing he could do. He turned in his wheelchair, went past me shaking his head, and said, “Good luck,” as he rolled out the door. Considering that the American rep just told someone whose suitcase had been destroyed, who then had to collect their clothes and equipment strewn across a baggage carousel WHILE IN A WHEELCHAIR, that they’d have to just suck it up and get themselves to their next destination as is, where they could try to have a zipper replaced at some point in the distant future… considering all of this, I knew I was screwed. Smiling at me sweetly, the woman at baggage told me in a cheerful voice that my baritone trunk had gone out in the morning and would be delivered by 11am to the Sugar Maple, exactly what I had asked American NOT to do the night before. Counting to ten first, I asked her to call the delivery van to tell them to park their vehicle wherever they were in Milwaukee so I could go get my damn instrument before something else went wrong. She told me to wait a minute as she headed out the door. I asked her where she was going she told me that she had to walk over to to the delivery office because they never answered their phone.
Rarely have I been so impressed with the deep level of incompetence as I was experiencing with this airline. I stepped out of the baggage claim office to call Adrienne to tell her why things were taking so long and then, off in the distance, I saw the woman from American walking toward me, waving her arm and pulling my baritone trunk behind her. A feeling of relief washed over me until I noticed that the case kept jumping a bit in her hand. “Here you go sir, they were about to head out with it and I caught them just in time!” I took the trunk from her and when I rolled it I noticed that one of the wheels had miraculously been shaved completely flat. “The case is damaged.” She shook her head. “Oh, that’s a wheel sir. It’s company policy that American won’t replace wheels.” “Let me get this straight- you deliver my instrument 4 days late and with the case damaged, and you’re not going to pay for the repair?” “There’s nothing I can do, it’s company policy. Have a nice day.” I stood there in awe of her commitment to the American Airline team as she went to her office door, shut it, locked it, and walked off into the underbelly of the Milwaukee airport.
Joe McPhee & Paal Nilssen-Love:
© 2021 Ken Vandermark – musician & composer | Disclaimer