It seems God–or someone–is trying to send me a message. It came through loud and clear over the past 48 hours. I think the message is “Stay Home!” Here’s how the coded message came through in very attention-getting ways.
I had just spent a wonderful week in California visiting old friends, snippets of my past life, and places I used to know. I was leaving on Monday (two days ago). I had carefully chosen my flight out of San Francisco for its departure time–not too early so that I wouldn’t run into rush hour on my way to the airport, but also not too late, which would land me on the east coast in the middle of the night with an hour’s drive to my house from the airport. I wouldn’t have to leave the house of my CA friend who was hosting me until 9:00 Monday morning….or so I thought.
6:00 a.m. on departure day, my phone announced the arrival of a text. It was from Delta. My flight out of San Francisco had been delayed by an hour, meaning I would miss my connection in Atlanta to Columbia, SC. I forced my mind into some functional mode, enough so that I could look for other, earlier flights out of SF. There was one, and even non-stop–at 11:00 a.m. It seemed I had managed to grab one of the few available seats in time, before others in my same situation had become aware and had done something about their plight. I was still in bed.
Next, I flew out of bed. Thank heavens I had pretty much packed up the night before, but there were still things to throw in the suitcase, plus get myself dressed to the point of presentable, and out the door. I realized that I was likely going to be subjected to the traffic jams of rush hour, starting with getting over the Golden Gate Bridge. Apparently at that point, God, or whoever, had not fully decided on what message to send me because traffic moved surprisingly smoothly and in what seemed like non-rush hour conditions (light traffic). So far, so good.
Once at the airport, it was confirmed I had a seat, if not the seat I had paid extra for to have extra leg room and breathing space on the original flight, but a seat. Still good. This new flight would give me plenty of layover time in Atlanta–over two hours. What could possibly go wrong? Ha!
Just over three hours into the just-over-four-hour flight, the captain announced we were beginning our initial descent into Atlanta. Great. I know they always announce these things prematurely, so at least I wasn’t expecting to arrive within minutes of the announcement. Good thing. But here’s where things started to go wrong and the message started to come through. The next announcement was that–get this–the Atlanta airport was closed due to thunderstorms, but, the captain said, “the good news is, we have plenty of fuel.” The captain must be an eternal optimist, or at least taught to project that.
Next announcement from the captain: “Well, it seems that a lot of planes are stacked up around Atlanta, so we’re just going to divert to Pensacola (FL), get some more fuel, and wait for Atlanta to clear out.” The word “wait” was to become a key word in defining my next 24 hours.
So, we sat on the plane and waited. Getting off was allowed at first, but soon, everyone was herded back on to sit some more. So we sat, and sat–for over two hours. There went that nice time cushion I’d had for making the connection in Atlanta. The woman sitting next to me was trying to get to Fort Lauderdale, and Delta was sending her texts about her scheduled flight out of Atlanta as well as others that were later. Delta was sending me nothing. Had they lost my number?
So, I started searching on my phone for later flights to SC, and amazingly, there was one at 11:30 that night…but the Delta site wasn’t working too well, and it seemed I couldn’t find out if there were any seats left on it. While trying to check that out, I did discover that my flight, that I thought I was going to miss had also been delayed. Good news, I thought. Not so fast.
Finally, we left Pensacola for Atlanta–and the best part of all of this was that I got some fantastic cloud pictures from my vantage point there among them. We landed in Atlanta at 9:30 p.m.–two and a half hours later than we were supposed to have. At least the airport was open again. Once reconnected to the world of texts, I found that Delta had found my number (yay!) and sent me a text announcing that the previously delayed flight to SC that I was supposedly on, was now not as delayed as originally stated, and was leaving at 10:00 and not 11:00–and there I was, still sitting on the plane from Pensacola, which seemed to be having trouble finding a gate to hook up to. It was clear I was not going to make that connection after all. But, at least I had the hope that I could get on the 11:30 flight.
Then, before we could even get off the plane from Pensacola, came a text announcing that the flight that had just been rescheduled for 10:00 was now cancelled. Not good. All those people from that flight–already in the airport, and possibly already on the plane to nowhere–would be flocking to get on the 11:30 flight, which I couldn’t even pull up on my phone to make my bid for a seat on it.
Once off the plane, I looked for one of those Delta people who used to, at least, greet late planes and help people trying to make connections to tell them where to turn. No Delta people, except those two (only) working that gate who were already inundated with passengers going on the next flight out. No help there, so I started walking–not sure where I should head, except maybe to the gate of the 11:30 flight. That was two concourses away, and for those who don’t know the Atlanta airport, that means descending a long escalator, once you’ve hiked two miles to get to it, taking the underground train to the desired concourse, another long escalator ride up, and then another hike of a mile or so to the alleged gate. Nowhere en route did I find a Delta agent behind a counter, the purpose of which was to help stranded passengers in between flights. They used to have those counters on all (I think) concourses in Atlanta. Used to, but no more.
So, at the 11:30 departure gate, I of course, found another long line of people. The woman in front of me had a stand-by boarding pass for this flight, meaning she had a chance. I didn’t have a pass or a chance. I did stay in line just for the privilege of talking to the gate agent to see what she might propose. Her proposal–more like a statement of fact–was that I was now scheduled on a flight to La Guardia (NYC!)–the next night (Tuesday!). Then, according to Delta, from there, I would fly to Columbia and arrive there at 11:15 Tuesday night! To that, I said “NO WAY.” All other direct flights from Atlanta to Columbia were booked for the next two days, therefore the side trip to NYC. Talk about going backwards. The gate agent did say I could go to the main terminal, go outside and talk to “someone at ground transportation” to see about getting a reduced rate on a hotel room–or, I could rent a car and drive to South Carolina. It was then 10:45 on Monday night.
Considering my limited options as I made the trek to the main terminal, the good news was that the ways to “ground transportation” and “rental cars” were the same. NO ONE was at “ground transportation.” That gate agent who told me to go there must have just wanted to shuffle me out of her sight. I went on to the rental car location, now just another short train ride (different train) away. (Rental cars used to have counters in the airport itself. “Used to,” again.) It was 11:15 p.m.
The rental car “counter” is now a “center,” a whole building unto itself. Each rental company at least had people behind their respective counters–unlike the ground transportation department. But….NO cars were available anywhere. They had sold out when the first tsunami of stranded passengers from weather cancelled flights came through hours before. I saw a couple of people in line at the Hertz counter. I asked them if they had reservations. They didn’t, but had been told by the Hertz guy who kept track of the line that maybe some expensive exotic car could be dug up if they were willing to pay the $200+/day rate. They had said they were. They were trying to get to Mississippi–considerably farther away than SC. So I got in line behind them and waited for the line monitor to return. When he did, I pleaded my case for an exotic car–or any other means of conveyance with an engine with wheels attached. He said I’d have to talk to the agent at the counter. In a few minutes I recognized this as a major victory. Anyone who showed up after me with the intention of joining the line was asked if they had a reservation, if not (none of them did), the line guy told them “no cars available–none.” Whew. I saw myself driving home in a Ferrari.
When I made it to the counter agent, she looked for anything she could find. Ah-ha! She had something–not a Ferrari or Lamborghini or a Porsche, but a “cargo van!” A cargo van? What’s that? Turns out, and not surprisingly, it’s a van for hauling cargo. She warned me it didn’t have seats. “You mean I have to stand at the wheel?” She meant it didn’t have back seats–just a driver’s and passenger’s seats–empty space behind–for the “cargo.” I didn’t even have any cargo. Who knew where my checked suitcase was except it wasn’t with me. Probably it was waiting for the flight to LaGuardia 20 hours later. By now it was after midnight. It was a three hour drive home. My own car was at the Columbia airport–an hour beyond where I live. That would be a trip for the next day to return the cargo van, find (I hoped) my suitcase, and retrieve my car. By 12:30 a.m., I was off and on my way out of Atlanta.
In case you’ve ever wondered, and I’m sure you have, cargo vans don’t hold the road very well–they’re all over the place–kind of like trying to drive a bubble. I adapted. At least the bubble was moving toward home. I was uncharacteristically awake, given the hour, and I kept telling myself that by CA time, it was only 9:30, so no big deal. About 60 miles from home I stopped at a rest area. About then I was starting to fade and needed to at least walk around, or maybe sleep. But I found that I couldn’t sleep, as much as I would have liked to. So I walked around, revived a bit, and kept on truckin’–or vannin’, I guess.
3:45 a.m. Home at last. It took me until 4:30 to get into bed–don’t ask why it took so long, it just always does. Sometime before midnight, when it had looked doubtful that I could even get out of Atlanta, unless I found a bicycle, I texted my farm sitter to see if she could feed the barn residents for me the next morning (she was officially off duty as I was planning to have been back by then). She could, so I could sleep past the usual 6:00 wake-up, or not worry if I gave up and got a room en route. (I warned her there would be an unfamiliar cargo van in the driveway if I’d made it all the way home.) So, I slept until 7:00–two and a half hours. Oof. But I can never sleep in as the rest of the world seems to be able to do, so I got up and started to get organized for the trip to the airport and back, which I hoped to accomplish before it got HOT–meaning, before noon. Got out of here at 10:00, in a dazed fog (my head, not the weather). Got to the airport just before 11:00, and miracle of miracles, my suitcase was not waiting to go to NYC, but had come in just an hour before on the early morning flight from Atlanta that had also been delayed by two hours. Glory Hallelujah!
I had a moment of panic when I thought I didn’t have the parking ticket to get my car out of long-term parking, but then remembered, I’d stuck it in my wallet, and not in the black bag I usually travel with and where I usually stash these things. Whew, again! Big relief….until I remembered what was in that black bag that had not come with me that morning–the keys to my car. OMG! What now?
AAA to the rescue. After multiple calls and deciding which way to take out of this mess (have a locksmith come and make a new key or get a tow truck to haul me home), I opted for the tow truck. All of this took time–of course. I had planned to be home by noon, but now the earliest the tow truck could get to me was 12:30. It turned out to be closer to 1:00. But arrive it did, and happily, its driver, Billy Ray, was very well versed in how to get a car with its gear shift in “park,” that couldn’t be shifted to”neutral” without a key, out of a parking place in a parking lot and onto a flat bed truck. Magic–or close to it. (The fact that climbing into the cab of the tow truck required a step ladder was a minor detail.)
At last, Billy Ray, his truck, my car, and I were on the road. It was about 1:30. Thank the heavens above that after the most disastrous road trip ever taken (by me) five years ago, I had invested in the deluxe version of AAA membership–the kind that pays for your being towed for up to 100 miles–I think. In any event, I owed nothing to AAA for the tow, although was generous with my tip to Billy Ray. Turns out he’d had only an hour’s more sleep than I’d had the night before. He was very sympathetic to my fogged brain that resulted in my forgetting all about taking my car’s key with me.
We rolled in to my driveway about an hour later–around 2:30. At last. The trip home from California had only taken just over 30 hours, starting with the 6:00 a.m.text in California the morning before.
The message in all of this? STAY HOME! DO NOT FLY ANYWHERE EVER AGAIN! Message received and recorded. But to the message sender: “Next time there is a message to communicate, please find another means of delivery.”