You have no idea how happy I am to be home this weekend. The original plan was for me to leave Phili at 9 AM on Friday. If I hadn’t changed it, much to the urging of my Aunt Marlene, I would be entombed in ice and snow, locked into some hotel near the airport, the bar would have run out of booze, the restaurant would have run out of food, and we would have fought over the contents of the snack machines, finally realizing the esoteric value of a chocolate crunchy nougat. So yesterday, when I rode my motorcycle to the Mexican Border in 65 degree weather, and stopped and had a beer at the Gay 90s Bar, which is less than fifty feet from Mexico, I was reveling in the feeling of having escaped.
But it was touch and go. I felt like Papillion in Devil’s Island. Thursday night I got on the telephone and called the travel agency. I got a feisty German lady who kept trying to book me on an outbound flight, anywhere west, regardless of the airlines. But as soon as she would click her magic travel agent buttons, something would happen and the seat she thought was available would be gone. She did everything but drop an F-bomb, preferring Godda**it and sh*t. Not your usual travel agent, but she was MY travel agent and she was working for ME, so I was far from offended. I just kept egging her on as she tried over and over, until finally, after an hour, she found a seat on an American Airlines jet leaving Phili about noon.
Of course, little did I know then, that American Airlines would have a trick up their sleeve to confound all of us fliers. You see, they chose that day, Friday, the day of the storm, to have a computer glitch so that none of their flights showed up on the departure board. Even in Dallas this was the case. But in Phili, where my flight mates and I stared at the relatively empty airport and the decimalized departure board…there were no incoming flights by then listed, although our plane was coming from Chicago supposedly, the lack of our flight being mentioned was cause for worry. Everyone else sort of milled around asking each other if they knew what was going on. There wasn’t a gate agent, so I searched and found the cadre of people I knew would know the answer—The Wheel Chair Mafia. I cornered one of them and asked if anyone on the incoming flight required a wheelchair. They searched, and found out that someone did, and let me know in a conspiratorial whisper that the flight was due to land at 1050AM and they had to have a wheelchair there by then.
The flight landed, deplaned, and then there was a rush for the gate. It was like the last flight leaving Saigon. The flight was oversold. There were 25 people on the standby list. The sky was sheet-metal gray. And everyone knew that if they didn’t get on this flight, they’d never get out. When I grabbed my seat in 7B, and the plane took off, it was with such a sigh of relief, you don’t even know. Those people who weren’t able to leave are still there. As the travel agent told me, if I didn’t leave when I did, she couldn’t guarantee me a seat out until Monday, Tuesday or even possibly Wednesday.
I thought I was lucky. But in the end, the luck wasn’t for me. By the time we landed in Dallas, I realized that the luck was for the couple seated behind me. Gladys and John were traveling to New Zealand for the vacation of a lifetime. They had tight connections and if they didn’t make them, the whole trip would be in jeopardy. Gladys was a sight to see. She was a smallish woman, dressed in traveling clothes. Her skin was very pale. She had a small smile. And her hair was growing back from the chemo. She was a lung cancer survivor and the trip was her reward for living. Had I talked to her in the airport, I wouldn’t have worried as much as I had. The way I figure it is that the fates had conspired to do her a little good, because god knows she’d been dealt an almost fatal hand until now. Making her miss the flight would have been a divine insult, a galactic piling on. That she made her flight was right and proper, and keeping with the karmic balancing of the universe. After all, even in the face of a possible storm of the century, the fates weren’t about to let her down once more.
So here I am. it’s Superbowl Sunday. We’re going to go motorcycle riding later on this morning, then have family over to watch the game. I’m making Italian pork sandwiches with provolone and greens. Deadly Velveeta cheese dip will clog our arteries. Much beer will be drunk. I’ll cheer on both teams, although I’d love to see the Saints win. Sometime during the night, I’m going to think about Gladys and John, though, and thank them, for letting me share in their new bounty of good luck, tailgating along on the first leg of their trip of a lifetime to New Zealand.
Whatever team wins, I’ve won already because I am with my family. Whatever team wins, Gladys and John won, not only because she survived her near fatal ordeal, but because they are right now in New Zealand, having the vacation of a lifetime. Whatever team wins, I hope those left behind get home soon, and those who live on the East Coast are snug and warm and don’t have to fight over vending machine scraps for dinner.
Take care everyone and be safe.