I am an anxious traveler. I make plans to go places and then try to figure out if I can cancel those plans because I get nervous about flying or about being gone from home/work so long or feel guilty about spending the money. Usually, I end up going through with the travel plans, but only after at least a few hours of angst.
Tuesday morning when I was returning home from the Upper Midwest Social Media Conference, I was uncharacteristically calm. I was ready to get home from my family, but I didn't feel any of my usual travel anxieties. That should have been my first clue that adventure lie ahead.
It started at the Mason City, Iowa airport, which is probably not much bigger than your corner 7-11. For the first leg of my trip, I was flying with another conference attendee. I got my boarding pass while she checked her suitcase. We sat in the 1960s-era chairs and waited for the security area to be opened.
They issued the call for security checks and we got in line. I fretted a little about whether or not I needed to put my hand lotion and make-up in a ziploc bag. I didn't have it that way when I left Indiana, but it looked like these folks were a bit more persnickety. I decided to put the hand lotion that was within reach in a baggie, but left the other stuff buried in my rolling suitcase. I plopped my laptop, shoes and jacket in separate bins and walked through the metal detector.
"Ma'am, please back up and walk through again."
"Ma'am, are you wearing a belt? buckles on your shoes? jewelry? Do you have change in your pockets?"
No, no, no. No pockets.
"Ma'am, have you ever had a security pat down?"
Nope, but I was about to. The uniformed grandmotherly-type directed me behind a see-through wall. (What's the point of the wall then?). She said I could have a private pat-down in the nearby restroom if I wanted. That sounded good to me.
Well, then that led to a whole other set of troubles. They had to find another officer to observe (and of course no one was available just then) and I could select someone to observe on my behalf. For the love of Wilbur Wright, just pat me down out here in the open.
As she was sweeping my chest ("just the back of my hands, ma'am"), I realized it was my underwire that set off the machine. I guess that's one inconvenience of being busty -- more metal in the bra, although the metal detectors in Indy didn't seem to object. It's a good thing I've already had babies because that pretty much ensured that I had no inhibitions left anyway.
Anyway, once Grandma Backofthehands was satisfied that I was not concealing a pick axe in my underclothes, then I got to stand there while they searched my bags completely and ran them all through the scanner again. By this time, I was thinking that I deserved a bumper sticker that said "I got a pat down in Mason City, Iowa."
Finally cleared to board the plane -- it took longer to go through security in Mason City than it took to fly from Mason City to Minneapolis -- I left my rolling case on the jetway to be stowed under the plane and took my seat. As I was buckling the seat belt, I looked across the aisle and something took my breath away.
The woman seated on the other side of the aisle looked in profile just like my mother-in-law, who passed away last May. Except the hair. Karen had much better hair. I immediately got teary and felt a wave of grief pass over me. It was quickly followed by a rush of mild panic.
Why was this woman who looked like my deceased mother-in-law sitting next to me on this airplane? Was it a sign? It didn't take long for my active imagination to discern that this angel-person-MIL-look-alike was there to be with me because the plane was going to go down.
(And no, I am not being treated for any psychotic episodes.)
As the plane taxied down the runway, I sped through a decade's worth of Hail Mary's and soon we were safely in airborne and I was no longer thinking like a crazy person.
The flight to Minneapolis was blessedly uneventful. The angel-person-MIL-look-alike did not follow me through the airport and I breathed a little easier. After saying goodbye to my conference buddy, Nicole, I headed for my gate. There was no hurry -- I had 2 hours to kill before my flight to Chicago. (My travel schedule was cruddy -- Mason City to Minneapolis to Chicago to Indy. Clearly, I am not an experienced traveler or I would have arranged a better route.)
As I walked through the terminal, I saw listings for several direct flights from Minneapolis to Indianapolis, all of which would avoid a total of 7 hours of layovers I had ahead of me. So, I went to the Delta help desk to see about making a switch. For some reason the agent seemed very sure of, yet is still unclear to me, I could not re-arrange my tickets. So I decided to just enjoy the pace of the day, bought 24 hours worth of WIFI, and set up my laptop.
Soon enough, it was time to board. This time, instead of sitting by myself, I had a row-mate. I'm pretty sure it was Lady Gaga -- if Lady G flies coach from Minneapolis to Chicago and if her real name is Lucy. I kept trying to figure out a way to take a picture of her to show the kids, but all the scenarios for why I might point a cell-phone at someone sitting 2 inches away from me seemed completely unplausible and downright rude. So you'll just have to take my word for this one. I flew on a plane next to Lady Gaga -- or someone who should definitely go as her for Halloween.
The layover in Chicago was scheduled to be 5 hours. I grabbed an Auntie Anne's pretzel (before, of course, I saw the Garrett Popcorn shop) and looked for a place to hunker down with my computer and its recently paid-for WIFI. After spending an hour or so folded into a small waiting area chair listening to a guy on my right snoring loud enough to rival any jumbo jet engine and three people speaking in animated German to my left, I decided to look for a more comfortable spot.
Starbucks to the rescue! They may not have Diet Coke, but they make a mean reduced-fat triple berry coffee cake...and they had tables with outlets I could use. With about 45 minutes left until my flight to Indy took off, I decide to go to the bathroom and the move to the gate to await the boarding call. It was on my way to the bathroom that I saw: Indianapolis...CANCELLED.
Seriously?! That would have been good information to have, oh say, 4 hours ago when I could have rented a car and driven to Indianapolis and been home by now. At this point I was near tears, though the cancellation was for mechanical reasons and I told myself "much better cancelled than crashed in a field."
I just wanted to be HOME. So I got in the line to figure out what my alternatives were. The guy in front of me said there was another flight to Indy scheduled for 10pm, but it was full. There were four flights to Indianapolis on other airlines, also all full. I was preparing myself to spend the night in a hotel and wait for the morning flight, when I looked up and saw someone I recognized from work. I realized that there were actually several people from work, most of whom I'd only met a time or two before. That didn't stop me.
"Julie! Hi. It's Amy. I work for Ellen." Thank God she remembered me. "Were you scheduled to be on this flight?"
It turns out that they were on their way home from China and had been traveling for more than 24 hours. That put my little jaunt from Iowa to shame. This same group had missed a connection on their way to China thanks to an airport delay so they weren't going to put their faith in the airlines anymore. One of them was on the phone arranging a rental car. So I hitched a ride with them back to Indianapolis -- 7 of us packed to the gills but happy to be moving toward home.
After three hours or so, we'd reached my exit off the highway. And that should really be the end of my tale. Except, about two minutes after one of the ladies and I were dropped off at a truck stop just off the interstate for her husband to pick us up and get us all the way home, I realized I'd left my bag carrying my laptop and wallet in the rental car.
Arrrgghh! It was a sadly fitting end to a crazy day of travel. I was never so happy to be at the end of a trip. I came home and collapsed on the couch next to Mike. When it was time for bed, I went in and kissed each of the kids.
Charlie woke briefly and asked, "What took you so long?"
If he only knew.