Saturday, July 02, 2005

My Trip Home

Flying home from Washington State, I had (what I expected to be) a short layover in Dulles Airport in Washington DC. When I got there I looked at the "Departures" board and saw that my connecting flight was delayed two hours. I wasn't worried, I just went to get some dinner.

When I came back, I saw that my flight was cancelled. Again, not worried, I got in the long line at customer service to get rebooked on the next flight to Albany, NY. I patiently waited in line for almost 2 hours. When I got to the customer service desk, I noticed that people were shouting and very angry. It seems many flights had been cancelled due to thunderstorms. Again, not worried, I had faith that, while these angry people weren't getting out of the airport tonight, somehow I would.

But the woman behind the counter was quick to disabuse me of that hope. No, I would not get on the next flight to Albany, it was booked solid. There was already a long waiting list, and my chances of getting on it were almost nil. In fact, all the flights anywhere near my home were booked solid for 2 days. No, they would not put me up in a hotel, because the thunderstorms were not their fault but were an "act of God".

So what was I supposed to do? Wait in long lines in that airport to be rebooked and waitlisted for various flights home until my flight 2 days later? Eat in the airport restaurants, sleep on chairs? Yes, apparently, that was what I was supposed to do.

It was a long tedious adventure. But I learned a lot from it. For one thing, I noticed that my first response was to call my husband and freak out at him. Somehow, I thought he could magically rescue me from the situation, or at least give me good advice. I realized how I see him as almost a parent, and I expect him to take care of me. I have never been apart from him for so long in the 15 years we've been together, and I felt I couldn't handle the situation without hearing his calm voice. He's been with me through every crisis since I met him in my early twenties, but I didn't know how dependent I was on him until that moment. I did call him and freak out at him, but he couldn't really do much to help me. It was only when I accepted this that I was able to solve the problem on my own, and even to help some other people.

But after my panicked phone call to Dave, I had hours before I figured out what to do.

As the storms continued and lightning flashed outside on the runway, I observed myself and everyone around me going through the various stages of grief in sequence.

I was in denial, I was angry, I complained, I bitched, I bargained, I became depressed, I accepted it, I watched everyone else bitching and freaking out, I found humor in the situation, then I took action.

I watched everyone else doing these things too. The funniest part was once I had reached the stage of accepting the situation and finding it absurd, I joined together with others who were also at that stage and we laughed at people who were still in the earlier stages.

We watched one tiny angry woman in particular who kept butting in line to argue with the Customer Service people about how she wasn't going to wait in this line and this was ridiculous and she wanted to speak to the manager etc etc. People who had been waiting in line for hours were angry with her and kept telling her to get to the back of the line.

We were all in the same situation, but somehow this woman felt so special she deserved better treatment than all the others. And how she expected the airline employees to get her this special treatment we did not know, because it was obvious to most, if not all of us that there were some severe thunderstorms outside that prevented any planes from taking off. Still, she stubbornly persisted in arguing and trying to cut the line.

I found this hilarious, as did some others people near me who were also tired and semi-hysterical at that point. We were laughing at her, but also laughing at ourselves, for we too had felt this way at first. We had moved past that part quickly, but this stubborn little woman refused to do that. While the long, long line appeared ready to explode into a dangerous rioting mob at points, it also became a jovial party at other points, where everyone realized that things were weird, but we were all in it together.

I also saw some people who did deserve special treatment, like another woman who's elderly father was traveling with her who needed oxygen and didn't know what to do. She wasn't angry and demanding, but was pleading for help. They did help her. I realized that while I saw this cancellation of my flight as a "disaster" for me and my travel plans, it wasn't really a disaster in any real sense in my life at all. But for some, it might become a real disaster. That gave me a sense of perspective.

I also met a young musician who told me he had no one to go home to, so it didn't much matter when he got there. I then realized how lucky I was to have a place I thought of as home, with people I love so much, where I would soon be again.

I also met a very wonderful, very cultured and intellectual older couple who were both doctors from Albany Medical Center. They taught at Albany Medical College and were heading a medical conference in Lithuania. They had paid over a thousand dollars each for their trip to Eastern Europe months ago, and might very well miss the conference that they were supposed to be organizing and speaking at.

Eventually, I decided I didn't want to spend 3 days in the airport, so I gathered a little band of friendly strangers heading Northeast and we called the train station, figured out when the next train was going to NY (3 AM) and rented a shuttle and got on the train. By 7 AM we were at Penn Station in NY and by 11 AM we were at the Albany Train Station. Dave came to pick me up, and he also drove my new Dr. friends to their home in Delmar.

The next day I was able to pick up my luggage at the Albany Airport, along with my car. No real tragedy.

I felt quite proud of myself for having figured out a solution to my problem. I wondered how many people I met that night were still waiting in lines in that airport. I hope they all got home ok.


Blogger mireille said...

Now that I've seen your resolute self IN PERSON, this post so makes sense. This is so well written. Thanks. xoxoxo

7:33 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Wow! You are quick! LOL. Thank you Sweetheart! I loved meeting "your resolute self" too. I feel we are very much alike. :-)

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Laura said...

What a great story, Kate. I imagined myself through every stage of your ordeal, thanks to your clear telling of the tale. I think you behaved very gracefully and with real resourcefulness.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Thanks L! :-)

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful. I love your stories.



7:57 AM  
Blogger Annieytown said...

I always say that the most clever people I know...are librarians.
I hope you had a lovely trip K! I am jealous you met M!

2:30 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Awesome story! the way we deal with adversity creates our identity maybe even forges our spirit. Writers,bloggers, poets artists, take these harsh-weird moments, even tragedies and transform them into lessons, stories. Amazing Amazing


6:12 AM  
Blogger glamkitty99 said...

Ahhh...the joys of the airport. Sounds like you managed to pcik up a few quirky tales and people in your housr of need. Well done! I always stick a pack of cards (even though I only know 1 game) in my bag for just these kind of emergencies. These are especialy handy if you find yourself sitting on the icky floor with a beer and abunch of people you don't but in some cases would like to know. xo Joanna

7:43 AM  
Blogger Bubbles said...

As I told you, your final resolve in this situation doesn't surprise me. I think you have the wonderful ability to be calm and levelheaded in a crisis situation. After you've had your panicked phone call to Dave, that is ...

Love ya!!

8:30 AM  
Blogger Tania said...

Glad you got home! I love the way you observed everyone going through the emotional stages. :) Very resourceful of you to find alternate transport. Some people would rather crumple in a tantrum, but not you!

8:40 AM  

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