Baton Rouge

I get to go visit the subcontractor I’m managing for work once a month in Baton Rouge Louisiana to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing and to facilitate a meeting with upper managements (theirs and ours). Last week was such a trip.

If you’ve ever traveled with me then you know that it goes according to plan about 2% of the time. If I don’t get stopped for extra screening or a free bag content –rearrangement, then my flight is either delayed, cancelled, or re-routed. Add the overly large and/or smelling person that sits next to me and you should think twice before volunteering to travel with me.

My co-worker Greg has no such option of traveling without me for these monthly meetings. He’s a good sport about it but he also doesn’t stand next to me in the security lines. Our last trip to Baton Rouge was no exception.

I got through security in Kansas City with a pat down the sides of my ribs (by an overly friendly and eager female TSA agent. Sometimes I wish I could ask for a man to do it because they would be a little more careful about where they were placing their hands). Our flight was on time – we flew thru Dallas – so I figured my extra security was going to count for the required inconvenience and we were going to be good the rest of the trip…wrong!

We landed in New Orleans (Greg likes to fly Southwest (I do too for that matter – at least they act like they like their jobs more often that not) so we flew to NOLA  instead of Baton Rouge). We got in our rental car from Avis – rockin’ the mini van – and started for Baton Rouge.

About 40 minutes into the hour drive, both our phones and emails start ringing. It’s people from the Kansas City office, it’s people from the subcontractor’s main office, it’s people from the subcontractor’s module yard, it’s people on their cell phones. When we finally started answering, we were informed that Interstate 10 going east into Baton Rouge (directly on our route) was closed due to an accident and our subcontractor was trying to reach us to give us alternate directions to their module yard.

We followed their directions and made it to the module fabrication yard with minimal extra effort. Again,  I figured this would be the end of our travel hiccups.

The construction manager gave us a small tour of the construction trailer (approximately 200 sq ft with 8 people’s desks in it – fairly standard issue) before we all drove over to the subcontractor’s main office via the back roads of Louisiana.

Wednesday afternoon was spent discussing the first change order amount and process as well as going over the schedule with the estimators, project controller and construction manager for the subcontractor. They were very productive meetings and I felt significantly better after the meetings.

At 4:45pm we decided to brave the traffic to make it to our hotel which was 0.75 miles from the subcontractor’s main office. Unfortunately, the accident on I10 required the assistance of a firefighting crew who had stretched a thick fire hose across the road so we had to drive around to the next exit, go under the overpass, and come back around to the hotel. It was going to be a 2.5 mile trip which ended up taking us 1.5 hours!

Greg and I have a restaurant we go to every time we’re in Baton Rouge for dinner. It’s called Parrain’s and it’s off of Perkin’s Road which is very close to the hotels we typically stay in. I order the same thing – ponchatrain fresh fish. It’s delicious! This trip was no exception. At 7:30pm  we decided to brave the 1.5 miles to our restaurant.

Getting there was no problem. The food was delicious and we must have provided an excellent source of entertainment since both of us were falling asleep sitting across the booth from each other. At 9pm we headed back towards “home.”

About half a mile before the hotel there was a road block. While we were at dinner, the Baton Rouge Police Department had moved the barricade from between our hotel and the interstate to between our restaurant and the hotel. Greg pulled the van up to one of the officers and I rolled down my window to talk to him.

He was a big, well-built motorcycle cop standing with his arms crossed. I told him were in town on business and were staying at the Drury Inn and asked if we could go thru the barricade. He told me “no, that they were evacuating the area and no one could drive over there.” I told him “with all due respect, what are we supposed to do? All of our stuff is in the hotel since we are traveling on business. When we left for dinner it was fine to be in the hotel.” He replied that “it was his problem but we were not driving down there and foot traffic was going to be highly discouraged.” His sucks-to-be-you attitude was rather irritating but Greg pulled the car away from him.

I told Greg to park in the medical center parking garage at the other corner of the intersection we were in and stated that they were going to have to legally define “high discouraged” for me because I wanted my belongings if we were going to have to stay at another hotel.

We started walking towards our hotel and were stopped four different times by different BRPD asking us what we were doing and where we were going and telling us we weren’t supposed to be in the area. No one volunteered to help us and no one really seemed that concerned about the evacuation – just that they were supposed to be making us do it.

There were no less than 15 police officers in the hotel lobby yaking on their phones in the lobby. They were definitely irritated at our presence but we went up in the elevator to get our stuff. I made it downstairs before Greg did so I asked if there was anyone from the hotel staff to give me a refund since we couldn’t stay there. An officer informed me that everyone had left because of the evacuation. I told him that I wasn’t leaving until I got a refund. Miraculously a hotel staff person appeared and gave both Greg and I our money back. We then hiked it back to the car.

There were 60-ish BRPD Officers that watched us or were standing close to us on this 1 mile round trip walking adventure. You would have thought that if it was important for us to be out of the area immediately that they would have volunteered to escort us in their squad car to the hotel, up to the room, and back to our car but they weren’t really concerned with much more than their conversations. I am glad I don’t live in Baton Rouge regularly.

Greg and I ended up driving to a Double Tree by Hilton Hotel. I walked in and asked if they had two non-smoking rooms for the night. The desk guy was super friendly and nice and asked me what size beds we wanted. I said king would be great but we would take anything non-smoking since we had been kicked out of our previous hotel. He said he figured they were going to get some guests coming in because of the evacuation and asked if we had flown through Baton Rouge that morning. We told him no that we had flown through New Orleans and drove. He told us we were lucky because the Baton Rouge airport had been shut down that morning. Someone didn’t make it on their flight so they ran onto the tarmac and lock himself if the cockpit of another airplane. The FBI had swarmed the place.

The rooms we got were king suites and one of the nicest rooms I’ve ever been in! It was so nice to be able to have a fantastic place to lay down at 11pm after such a long day! He definitely did a great job since Greg and I are going to start staying at the Double Tree for our future trips.

We spent Thursday morning answering questions and RFIs, meeting everyone on the site, taking the official yard tour, inspecting some damaged material and coming up with our game plan for the big meeting that afternoon at 1pm with upper managements.

Our overall project construction manager and our project manager showed up in time for lunch at ACME Oyster House. My seafood etoufee with fried tails were amazing!! It’s great for me to have the opportunity to talk with my upper management. It’s hard to get five solid minutes of their time in the office with all the work demands they have but they ultimately make the decisions about my pay raises and bonuses.

The main event was at 1pm and it went amazingly well. We have a couple things to do differently for the next one but those are mostly formatting and agenda changes, not content changes. After a driving tour of the module site, they were driving back to Houston.

Our subcontractor took Greg and I out to dinner Thursday night. It was very nice to have jack-and-diets and a five course meal on someone else’s tab. J It’s also fun to get to know these guys on a personal level, outside of the office. They fish, have season football tickets to almost every team in the SEC, have wives and kids, lake homes, and run marathons.

Thankfully, Friday went  more smoothly travel-wise. The drive to New Orleans was quick and easy, flight was only delayed 30 minutes, I was only patted down on the collar of my tank top, and we made our connection in Chicago – barely. Greg and I ended up running almost 2 miles thru Chicago OHare to change plane but we made it! This was especially important since my friend Courtney from Austin landed in Kansas City 5 hours before I was scheduled to.

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