Travel Blues

Hear that sucking sound?
That’s my soul being swallowed
By lady black hole.
So there I was, in Hartford, Connecticut, trying to get back to Cincinnati. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon and I had thoroughly enjoyed my journey from the retreat center back to the airport — lovely trees still in full fall bloom, not too much traffic and good tunes playing on my rental Ford Focus. (A mini commercial for the Focus: it was a great car. Peppy, nicely styled, comfortable… thumbs up.)

Anyway, I arrived at the airport with time to kill and enjoyed reading, journaling (a luxury) and listening to music. But then… the dreaded announcement that our flight had mechanical problems and we were on a delay. People in need of a re-route clogged the desk with requests to change flights. Me? I stayed put. I only wanted Cincinnati, and I decided that a positive attitude would save the day.

About two hours later there were only about 15 of us left at the gate, all aiming for Cincinnati, waiting to hear the latest. We had watched the nice young mechanic doing something to one of the engines, but he had been missing for a while. And although we could still see the pilots through the glass, there were no telltale blinkey lights or buzz of activity that spelled “boarding soon”. The waiting group of people had started to talk together – a gentle camaraderie born from the sense we were all in this together. I alone proclaimed my steadfast belief that the plane was well, and we would be boarding soon. And not two minutes later, the older gentleman at the desk pulled out the microphone to address the anticipating group.

“I’m sorry folks, but it looks like the flight will be canceled as they are unable to fix it…” Bastard made me look like a fool.

We all wandered to the counter and rebooked into disgustingly early flights the following morning, none of them direct, took our sparse little $6 food voucher and hoped that the hotel they chose for us would be suitable and clean. (I think my exact words were: “Please book the closest ‘non flea bag’ hotel possible.”

Through this all I tried keep my sense of humor and positive outlook (flea bag comment not withstanding), because frankly, the opposite just sucks. Although I can get as outraged and indignant as the next person, it just gives me a headache, and it never seems to progress my situation in the slightest.  However, I found myself repeatedly standing next to Sulky Sue and her strangely quiet husband time and time again. She had no trouble with outrage and indignation.

When generally categorizing people, I have a system that breaks people into two camps: those I would be happy to be trapped in an airport with, and those I would not. (Ironic, huh?) Care to guess which group Sulky Sue falls into?  About 5 minutes into waiting for the hotel shuttle, I wanted to gouge out my eyes and puncture my ear drums. Not only did she have zero nice things to say about the situation, she had to keep retelling about the fit she threw on email a few years back to get a $500 voucher from Delta after a flight was cancelled. “It’s been long enough since I did that, I should be able to do this again,” she repeated to anyone who would listen.

When she turned to me a few times for reassurance of her feelings, I would state something befuddlingly optimistic — “better a broken airplane on the ground than in the air.”  When she was sure the flight was cancelled only because so few people were left, I found myself telling stories of being on flights with less than 10 people all the time, trying to puncture her defenses. When we parted at 8pm at the hotel, all having signed up for the 4am shuttle back to the airport the next morning, I counted my blessings for a few Sue-free hours.

The next morning, having managed to snag the front seat in the shuttle bus to avoid all conversation, we arrived to check in and manage the confusion our flight cancellation would cause. As I approached the counter, I felt compelled to shield the agent from the Sue-Onslaught that would be his next customer.  “Despite what others might tell you,” I whispered to him conspiratorially, “I think you’ve all done a nice job on this flight cancellation. Thanks for taking care of me.”  And then as soon as I was done, I headed to the gate hell-bent on being done with Sue.

The flight to Atlanta was nondescript and easy. We arrived a little late and although I had to ‘OJ Simpson’ through the terminals (that’s Hertz, not homicide), the deep morning fog had slowed everyone down so I was fine.   I waited until the end to board, as I hate sitting in overheated airplanes, sweating, trying not to touch the elbow of the person next to me — and I knew this flight was totally full of early Monday commuters. Finally I got on, and sashayed my way to the back of the plane. I looked up, anticipating which open seat was mine.

There was only one open seat at the back of the plane. Care to guess who it was next to?  I silently cursed the travel gods (“I have been nothing if not positive and helpful; piss off.”) Yes, I had to sit next to Sulky Sue for the flight.

Well, it turns out that not only is she negative, she’s incapable of reading social cues. I pulled out a book instantly and began reading. That did not slow her down in the slightest. Talk talk talk… About 20 minutes into it, I rescued my finger which had been holding my place in the book, naively thinking that perhaps she would notice and swiftly beg me to return to my reading (“Please, don’t let me keep you from your book”). No such luck. So I made nice. Found out we knew a few people in common (Cincinnati is terribly small). Endured more travel hell stories.

When I got off the plane in Cincinnati, I didn’t look back. I bolted. When I passed a bathroom that few know about, I took refuge inside, hoping she might pass by and be long gone before I arrived at baggage claim. I could take no more. I felt toxic, stained, drained of all happiness and joy (oh my god, she’s a dementor, I just figured it out).

While driving home I tried to shake it off;  I visualized my kids snuggling me the next morning, cold toes pressed against my legs, butterfly kisses to spare.  That seemed to buoy me.  But it wasn’t until I had my kids actually in my arms later that day that my aura cleared — ahhh, my patronis had arrived.

One final note about the trip: be careful who reads your texts. Below is an actual text exchange during the flight delay:

Me: hi. flight on maintenance delay. no details. snf snf

Me: still here. no word. they have rebooked half the flight… i still have faith

Frank: Mom I hope you’l be here – AP [my daughter]  (Note: I did not see this text before sending the next one)

Me: faith be damned. they just canceled flight. shit. once i know what i’m doing will call.

Frank: Mom i’m useing dads phone and watch your language and we made you cookies waaaaaaa flight canseled

Me: hi sweetie. sorry about that. i am VERY sad too. thanks for the cookies.

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  1. Happy you made it home…and yes, be careful what you text!

  2. *insert book between your face and hers*
    done and done.


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