When you’re a writer and you set out on an unplanned adventure and then return to your regular life full of schedules and sickness and responsibilities, where do you even start with all the stories about what you saw and experienced?
This was my dilemma in the van on the way home from the airport. I’d talked to my husband by phone each day but I hadn’t told the kids much about my trip while I was on it. They sat in the back seats, one of them battling a stomach bug, the other one buzzing on a blue slushy high, and I asked if they wanted to hear stories of my trip. Of course, they said, “Yes!” because they love stories, both the telling and the hearing.
And I couldn’t decide where to start. (Also, I’m not a great “out loud” storyteller. I’m better with words on a page, or a screen.)
I had so many things to tell them. I have so many things to tell you. And to tell them all at once would be overwhelming, so we’ll take it one step at a time.
When I decided to take this trip to the Midwest to be with my grandma and family for my step-grandpa’s funeral, I thought it was because I wanted to do it for them. As it turns out, I needed this trip for me.
I suspected when I booked this trip that I would have little control over how it all worked out.
And if I hadn’t suspected it, the snow on Saturday would have confirmed it. The day before I was to leave, our area experienced a smallish snowstorm, but it was big enough to mess with a bunch of flights. I would discover this on Sunday when I arrived at the airport.
We woke up super early on Sunday morning. My flight still said it was scheduled on time and we didn’t know what the roads would be like, so we dragged our kids out of bed at 4 a.m., loaded up the car and began the slow journey to Philadelphia. The roads weren’t impassable, but they weren’t in good condition, so our trip took a bit longer than expected. We pulled up to the departures drop-off and I kissed my family good-bye while holding back tears. Because if I had started crying then, I might not have stopped.
I walked into the airport with purpose and some semblance of confidence though I think I was still shaking a little on the inside. There was no turning back, and I didn’t want to, so I spurred myself forward, first to the bathroom because you know, two-hour drive, and then up the stairs to the security line, the one place that makes me most anxious in an airport.
It was a breeze, really. And before I knew it, I was rolling through the terminal, looking for my gate, then off to find coffee and breakfast. I was plenty early for my flight.
As boarding time drew near, there was little activity at the gate. I wasn’t in an extreme hurry, but I did have only an hour layover in Charlotte to catch a connecting flight to Memphis. And that was if everything ran on time. It soon became clear that we weren’t going to board on time. Eventually, we filled the plane and waited for the ground crew to remove some fuel from our airplane, which had been ready to fly to Denver the night before. While they were doing that, the flight attendants discovered that the bathrooms on the plane weren’t working, so we waited for someone to fix that. I settled in with my book because frankly, even if I didn’t make it to my destination, I was enjoying multiple hours in a row away from my house without responsibility to little people. I was already on vacation.
Unlike the couple next to me who were desperately trying to get to Florida to catch their cruise ship before it left port. They had already had a flight canceled the night before and they, too, had a tight connection in Charlotte.
The waiting dragged on. And then we were told that we were going to have to re-board on a different airplane because this one wasn’t ready to fly. Everyone off this plane, back out to the gate, line up at the gate next door and board a different plane. It was now almost two hours after our scheduled departure and we still hadn’t left the ground. I was going to miss my connecting flight. But there wasn’t much I could do about it, and I didn’t see the point of trying to call the airline. Everyone else on the plane was trying to do that and couldn’t get through.
I decided to wait. And trust. (Believe me when I say this is so unlike me.)
While we sat on the second plane waiting to be cleared for takeoff, I got an e-mail that said I’d been “re-accommodated” on a flight that would leave the next morning. No way was that accommodating for me, but I decided to wait till I got to Charlotte to talk to someone about finding another flight to the Midwest that would leave the same day.
Finally, we pushed away from the gate and headed to the de-icing pad.
Have you ever seen this before? I took a picture just to show my son. He would totally love this job. Someday. As a grownup.
And then we were airborne, on our way to Charlotte and beyond. Few of us on the plane knew what would be waiting for us in Charlotte. Another flight. Another delay. Another snag in the planning.
The couple next to me was upset. They’d paid for a week-long cruise. They were going to miss some of it, if not all of it. They wanted to get off the plane. They wanted to stay on. They had so many options and none of them were good. The male half of the couple described the last two days as “the worst two days of my life.” I thought maybe he’d had a pretty good life, then, if this was as bad as it ever got. I kept my mouth shut, though, because no one likes a smart aleck when they’re already stressed.
I almost felt guilty that I wasn’t as crazy stressed or complaining like the rest of the passengers. But, seriously, what could I do? I couldn’t control the weather or the ground crew’s efficiency or the safety of the plane. I couldn’t make it fly any faster, though our pilot assured us he had the airplane equivalent of the “pedal to the metal” to get us to Charlotte.
We landed, and immediately we all turned our phones back on. To my surprise, I had a new message from the airline telling me my flight out of Charlotte was delayed. A flight I had no idea I was even on. We had landed at just a few minutes before 1 p.m., about 2 1/2 hours after our scheduled arrival. The next flight out of Charlotte was scheduled for a 1:08 departure, now delayed until 1:38. I had roughly 40 minutes to get off this plane and make it to a gate two terminals away to catch an afternoon flight out of Charlotte.
Unaware that my flight plans had changed while I was in the air, I could have spent the time worrying or trying to figure out a solution. Instead, I let the airline do their job.
At a few minutes after 1 p.m., it was time for me to do my part. I had another plane to catch.
To be continued tomorrow.