Thursday, July 15, 2010

One of Those Days

Finally home. Monday’s trip was…an emotion suck of vast proportions which was pretty much in keeping with my 26 days in Arizona. Par for the course, as they say.

I’d like to publicly thank the gentleman at the Southwest curbside check in, who made it so easy and painless to check four large, heavy suitcases and a carseat onto our flight, and who not only took care of my luggage, but also printed out the family’s boarding passes while we waited. In times like these I’m more than happy to tip way more than humanly necessary just to easy a little of my travel burden. And he did it without rolling his eyes at the weight of all my suitcases or asking me if I was moving.

We arrived at the airport at 5:30 am AZ time, and proceeded to the first Paradise Bakery I found to load everyone up on carbs and caffeine. (Well, the caffeine was for me.) The first flight was booked solid, and while I was in the B boarding group for Southwest, it proved not very helpful. They board the families with small children between the A and B boarding groups which is usually just fine because I always seem to be one of the few idiotic mothers who travels alone with three children, allowing me a queen like status as I waltz past the other ‘normal’ travelers with my children, backpacks, food bags, and a stroller following along behind me like Pig Pen’s cloud. It’s a proud moment.

Monday’s flight to Baltimore however was loaded down with so many families that it looked strangely reminiscent of a Little People’s Convention, the little people here being children under the age of 10 and not people of short stature. I was so caught off guard at not being the only mom with kids that I didn’t get in line when I should have and ended up at the very back of the proliferating-adults-accompanied-by-fruits-of-their-womb line.

A quick glance around the plane as we boarded confirmed what I feared; all the families before me scored the connecting seats, while every other ‘normal’ traveler coveted the isle seats, leaving me bits and pieces to choose from on where to place my kids. I did consider sprinkling them throughout the plane in the center seats just to be pissy and sit alone at the back of the plane where I might possibly be able to shut my eyes for a second, or throw back a nip or two of Dewars scotch, but I felt that people might complain. I kindly said to the male Southwest flight attendant:
“Excuse me, Could you please help me find a row together so I can sit with my kids?”
At which he replied without looking at me:
“All the seats together are in the back,” and then dismissed me. It doesn’t take a degree in engineering to notice that there were no empty rows, having all been dotted with isle-seat sitters and a few window grabbers, leaving me slim pickins. Now I’m slightly agitated, which is unfortunate for the two gentlemen I spoke to next.

I spotted two rows where the window and middle seats were open, whilst two isle-squatting gentlemen sat trying to avoid my gaze.
“Excuse me gentlemen,” I voiced loudly, which forced them to acknowledge me. “Are those seats taken?”
They each shook their heads as fear and terror crept into their eyes as they realized what I was going to do.
“Thank you! Kid #1 and Kid #2, you sit here. Sit now. Put your backpacks under your seat. Buckle up. Do it. Do it now. Thank you.” I command while shoving them into a row next to one man. The baby and I slid past the other guy right behind my older two, situated ourselves and prepared for the flight.

This seating arrangement unnerved my middle daughter who feels anxious sitting next to “strangers” and who whispered between the seats to me the whole flight, “Please mom. Please can I come sit with you?” I assured her she was fine and to take up any anger she may have with the male flight attendant who refused to help us.

Flight was going along swimmingly, until we hit a patch of turbulence. It’s important to note that among my many idiosyncrasies and neuroses is a fear of turbulence- something that I’m always sure will result in a wing breaking off sending the plane plummeting to the ground and I’ll have exactly 2.5 minutes of ensuing horror while I wait for darkness to come and for my guardian angel to reveal him or herself. I pray mightily for no turbulence and generally when we fly the flights are smooth and I’m relatively peaceful, but the second that first bump comes, I’m white knuckle gripping the seat in front of me and saying a rosary. It’s a fear so intense that I’m trying to make deals with God and myself, like, “I’ll lick a toilet seat. I’ll eat my food off the floor. I’ll overcome ALL my other fears. PLEASE PLEASE JUST LET THE TURBULENCE END!” While the plane is bump, bump, bumping along my older two are looking back at me, saying things like, “Mom! Isn’t this fun! It’s like a fair ride! Whoooooo, Wheeeeee!!” and waving their hands in the air like a roller coaster at Disneyland. Then we hit an air pocket and the plane falls a bit which means that all the passengers on the plane let out the unconscious gasp and whoo, and the guy sitting with my kids looks back at me, as if to say, “What do you want me to do about this,” and I shoot him a “good luck take care of my kids I hope you’re a nice man” look right back at him. Serves him right, that isle-squatter.

But I manage to keep it together, not cry or vomit, which is pretty good considering that I’m about ready to morph into a panic attack and there’s nobody who will hold my hand or tell me we aren’t going to die. My husband comes in handy in times like these. I think of how he’ll feel living without us. Would he keep living in Massachusetts? Move back to Arizona? Become so overwrought with grief that he drinks too much, loses his job, and starts living on the street? Imagining life without me would be devastating I’m sure of it. Oh, and the kids too of course.

We finally land in Baltimore, me praying in tongues of thanksgiving like an old Jewish woman speaking Yiddish. The Baltimore tarmac was a beautiful, beautiful sight. And the flight was even early. Yippee.

It’s 1:15 p.m. Our next flight is scheduled to take off at 3:20, which gives me almost two hours to feed my offspring, start breathing, and mentally gear up for getting on another plane. Which is when I look out the window at the runway.

The sky is grey and oddly silent, but what unnerves me a bit is the low-lying black clouds that are moving towards the window directly over the airport. I’ve seen my share of dark rain clouds, but these are spooky clouds and they’re black. In a matter of moment as we sit watching the runway, the clouds move over us, the rain begins to plummet and there’s lightning. Not high-in-the-sky lightening like someone’s flicking the light switch on and off, but bolts of lightning. Single bolts of bright lightning and they are actually striking the ground.

I’m thinking this is a bad time to be on a plane. To expedite the narrative of the next few hours, I’ll highlight the important events in bullets:
  • They closed the runways. Any lightning strike within a three-mile radius automatically closes the runways and all activity outside. Trucks pull in. Baggage handlers scatter. Silently I’m breathing a little easier since I’m inside on terra firma and not stuck in a plane trying to take off.
  • The aircraft for our flight is circling in the sky above the storm waiting for the green light to land.
  • The storm passes briefly allowing a few planes to take off and land. Our flight is not one of them.
  • The storm picks up force and there are more lightning strikes, which closes the airport again. Our flight has been circling too long and is now forced to land in Norfolk, Va. Three other flights are also diverted because they had been circling too long.
  • At 5:00 p.m. our flight still hasn’t left Norfolk, VA but the airport is open and the 5:55 flight to Boston is scheduled to be on-time. I put our names on the stand-by list figuring it’s a fat chance in hell, but at least it’s an option.
  • At 5:15 the Southwest gate attendant announces for stand-by passengers to come see her at the desk. While I’m waiting to talk to her, she also announces that our Providence flight has left Norfolk, and should be arriving around 6:45 and they’ll get everyone on board and shipped off as quickly as possible. What to do? Take the Boston flight that is boarding now, or wait for another hour for the Providence flight and hope nothing else goes wrong?
  • I took the one bird in my hand instead of the two in the bush, and yelled at the kids to gather their belongings; we were shipping out to Boston. Even if it meant that all our luggage would still end up in Providence. I needed to be home and free of this day.
  • We board the plane; me sticking my children in a row together, while I sat across the isle from them by myself. It was actually a beautiful set up.

It’s 6:10. The plane hasn’t started its taxi yet. I’m wondering what’s up when a flight attendant comes on the PA system and says,
“Hello ladies and gentlemen. Our co-pilot just got here, and well… he noticed that one of the tires on the plane is flat. So it’ll be just a minute as we jack-up the plane and change that tire. Thanks for your patience folks.”

I’m sorry. Did he just say the plane has a flat tire? And that it went unnoticed by all the ground crew? And that our co-pilot, before taxiing, noticed that it needed to be changed?

I really have a problem with this kind of honesty. After my turbulence in the sky and averting the electrical storm in a big flying piece of metal, I now am wondering if when we try to take off or land a tire is going to blow, causing the plane to spin out of control and end up in a firey heap alongside the tarmac. I would have preferred a lie like, “Well ladies and gentlemen, we’re almost ready to take off, but the pilot needs to finish his last box of Suduko. He’s almost figured out where those last numbers go, and then we’ll be off towards your destination. Everything is perfectly fine. There are nooooo problems with the aircraft at all. It’s just that pilot Jim has such an attention to detail he must finish this puzzle so he can concentrate on flying the plane with the same amount of precision and focus. Thanks so much for your patience.” That’s an excuse I could embrace.

We landed in Boston around 8 p.m. safely with no additional blowing of tires. After sucking down a glass of wine on the plane I was feeling a little better. The sight of my husband after 26 days was a little bit like seeing him waiting for me at the altar; only this time not only were there tears of love, but exhaustion and anxious release as well. And the knowledge that I’m no longer the only parent for these three kids.

The good news about having all our luggage go to Providence was that we were able to head straight to the van for home. Once again, not only am I glad to be home, but I’m also glad that I don’t travel like that more than once a year. At my old age, my mediocre emotions can barely handle it. 


Tara said...

Wow. Just when I was starting to feel bad over not having a vacation in four years...

Suddenly, sitting on my can in the living room sounds pretty good!

Rachel said...

There are vacations and there are trips. This was certainly a trip, although I did enjoy seeing all my family. I am going to promise myself however that the next time I schedule a trip, I also schedule a vacation-just for me-right afterwards. Something that involves a deserted turquoise beach, a thick novel, and a hot man delivering me fruity drinks. I'm happy to have the hot man be my husband (but needn't be)as long as there is absolutely no work on my part whatsoever. I'm needing a Tara-blog marathon, just to get back on my game!

Joy said...

Congratulations--I think you deserve an award of some kind, Rachel. Wow, that sounds like a CRAZY trip. Bravo for tackling it!