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Cat Tales

How a pet can turn a simple flight home into a hairy saga

By Mary Spicuzza

LIKE ALL GREAT ODYSSEYS, my mission at first seemed shamelessly simple. I had decided to bring My Beloved home to see the family, hoping the two of us could get away from the grind and spend some quality time together.

In this case the Little Mister is a fluffy orange tomcat, a companion with whom one might think travel would be far easier than a bipedal partner. But more on that later.

The saga started when I realized I had overtipped at the San Jose International Airport's street-side check-in, and was exactly one dollar short for my flight's $50 pet fee. Despite the pleading puppy-dog eyes I gave the flight attendant at the gate, she insisted that the airline needs the exact amount and directed me over to the nearest ATM machine. Petrified pet in hand, I resisted the temptation to leave my bags unattended and dragged everything to a Bank of the West teller machine, and winced while accepting the $1.50 fee so I could withdraw a buck.

The machine shot out two receipts with different account balances along with the cash, accompanied by urgent beeps that could send just about anybody into a massive panic attack. As I tried to decipher the different evaluations of my life savings, the impatient monstrosity sucked my card back into its depths. And calmly informed me that my card was going to be destroyed.

I stared at the screen and decided that repeatedly hitting the "Cancel" button might help change its mind.

It didn't.

Instead it flashed welcoming words for the next patron, and I decided I could at least unload a ruthless Catholic-girl guilt trip on my persnickety flight attendant. I desperately told her about my attempt to get her coveted dollar and insisted she let me use her phone to call Bank of the West.

An informative bank employee answered and suggested that I contact airport security and ask them to pry open the machine to retrieve the card.

Nice idea, but I had a flight to catch. I boarded my departing plane bound for the Midwest, figuring I had just enough cash left for the shuttle ride from Chicago's O'Hare Airport to beautiful Milwaukee.

Maybe if I had known that most ATM machines are only trying to protect me and others from theft, and therefore systematically destroy any card left in the machine for more than 30 seconds, I would have felt better, like Bank of the West really cares. Or if I had already learned that hundreds of patrons lose their cards to such a fate, I may have felt like a member of some elite traveling club.

Instead I arrived in Chicago tired and battle-weary, only to discover that the United Limo shuttle service charges full passenger fare for any pet--although children under 5 years old ride free. After listening to my sob story, shuttle driver Don either had a moment of compassion or visions of frostbite as we stood in a snowstorm. He let me and my cat on board, and I thought our vacation had a relaxing future of hot cocoa and catnip.

Don's sympathy ended when my brother didn't show up on time to meet our ahead-of-schedule arrival so he could pay the cat's tab. I offered to write United Limo a check or pay with a credit card, but instead a huffy Don opted to confiscate my luggage. He apparently didn't want to keep human riders waiting because of some cat.

When my brother did show up less than five minutes later, we thought we might follow the shuttle and signal the driver. Instead we were forced to engage in a high-speed shuttle chase around the greater Milwaukee metropolitan area.

We found a calmer Don reading the paper, still ahead of schedule, on a quiet side street near the suburbs.

Although I fantasized about finding someone to put the evil eye on Don's entire family unit, calls to local airport shuttles are making him look like the Doctor Doolittle of drivers. Most buses don't have any accommodations for pets at all.

Bruce at the SJC Airporter Shuttle says he will gladly take any cat for free, but only if the pet's cage is small enough to fit in the trunk.

"Me, myself, I drive the shuttles and I don't mind--I like animals," Bruce says. "But a lot of other passengers don't like pets, or are allergic to them. But if the cat is in the trunk, nobody will even know." Twenty-two points, plus triple-word-score, plus fifty points for using all my letters. Game's over. I'm outta here.

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From the January 27-February 2, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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