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An Episode in Chaos

Hey, all! Boy do I have a story for you. Last week my family and I flew out to southern California to visit my brother, his wife, and their daughter, born the Thursday before we left. This is the niece I’ve been raving about. We had a flawless trip out, arriving just in time for some snuggles before bed. The week that followed was the most chill week I’ve had in ages. Lots of baby cuddles, reading, and more food than I’ve eaten in that same block of time since my last trip out, probably.

The irony of it is that for the first couple of days, it was warmer up here in NY than down in southern Cal. Go figure. Alas, it holds true with just about every other family trip we’ve ever been on. When we go south, we bring the cold and rain with us, it seems! It did warm up by the weekend, though, and I got my cursory sunburn (not from the beach, mind. It wasn’t sunny enough that day. I got it on a little hike. There’s this neat valley at the bottom of the small mountain on which my brother lives, littered with walking trails. The slopes are steep and scrubby, littered with rocks and speckled with cactus. Weird plants, cactus. I gotta say, every time I go (which, albeit, this was only the second time) I feel like I’m walking through the Stargate into some alien world. Like the set of an 80s sci-fi, with all the palm trees and strange subtropical plants.)

Anyhoo, I got my sunburn on a walk. Thankfully it wasn’t a bad one. We ate homemade sushi (yum!), drank mojitos (interesting), and stayed up late watching Star Wars (awesome). I’d brought my laptop in anticipation of getting some writing done, but I guess we all knew that wasn’t going to happen. I mean, my family was all right there, I couldn’t just hole up in another room. So I didn’t get a lot of work done on that, but hey, that’s not what I went there to do.

But as with all good things on this Earth, it was not to last. The day came for us to head home, and that, my friends, is when chaos walked in. You always hear horror stories of people in the airport missing flights and losing luggage and getting lost, but you never quite imagine they’ll happen to you.

Well, it did.

No, we didn’t lose any luggage (praise God) and no, we didn’t get lost (praise God some more), but we did have one wollop of an adventure getting home. It began in the San Diego airport. We sat at our gate, huddled around a garbage can like trolls, the seating area already spilling over with other passengers waiting to file into that paper towel tube of a human cattle trailer we all call airplanes. Fifteen minutes into boarding, the gate attendant announced a little snafu with the flight log. A few minutes after that, those that had already boarded were offloaded, with another announcement that it would be another ten or fifteen minutes. At this point we weren’t too concerned, our layover was an hour and a half. We had time.

Then came the announcement that it would be another hour.

Time was slipping through our fingers, evaporating like water on southern California asphalt. My thoughts about then were that we shouldn’t have left. We should have stayed another day. I knew my thoughts were shared. By this time many folks were opting for alternative flights, and we settled in to wait. Then the ball finally dropped when the plane was deemed unfit for flight due to technical difficulties, and we were transferred to a different craft altogether, with a departure time even later than we’d been waiting already. In relative silence we accepted the inevitable truth that we were going to miss our connecting flight. Besides that, the line at the gate was so long and sluggish that we didn’t have time to try getting an alternative flight before we had to hop on and pack in. Wracked with anxiety, slowly suffocating behind a facemask designed to preserve my health, and riding the wake of last night’s stomachache, I teetered on the brink of nausea for the next handful of hours while we fled the sunshine for the darkness of the east coast. We touched down about the same time our connecting flight took off. Missed it by that much.

Feeling all too much like a string flapping in the wind, with nothing to anchor it, we offloaded into a near-desolate airport in North Carolina by about nine at night. Unsettled but still hopeful that there would be another flight that could take us home. The flight schedule didn’t look promising, and the flight assistants weren’t much better. The problem with living by a rinky-dink airport like Rochester is that there aren’t a lot of flights going there. I mean, the only people who fly in are the folks that live here. No one comes to New York for a holiday. Our only options were to fly into Syracuse or Ithaca, which would get us into the right state, but still hopelessly far from our vehicle, corralled in the Rochester airport parking lot.

Next option: rent a car and drive the rest of the way home. Well, as per usual, the airport drained of more and more people the longer we stuck around. Employees fled like beetles from rotten fruit, our help draining away. Once we passed security, there was go going back to catch a flight and we knew it. We’d already given up on that – the next flight into Rochester was on Saturday, and we couldn’t sit around that long, for several reasons.

The car rentals were stationed in a building across from the airport, flooded with obnoxious blue light, and ceiling architecture that made me think of teeth, waiting to close in and crush us. So far no one we’d met seemed too keen on exerting themselves for our aid. It didn’t end, either. Of all the rental companies lined up across the wall, only three had anyone at the desk. We were told there were no cars available. We could not make a reservation, either.

By then we were succumbing to legitimate distress, our options dropping like flies. We came closer and closer to the terrible truth that we were stranded in a North Carolina airport with no transportation, no place to spend the night, and no food besides a few cereal bars and what was left over from the complimentary flight snacks provided on the last plane. All the restaurants were closed. Overshadowed by hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and fear, we sat in baggage claim facing the very real possibility that we might be sitting there until morning.

There was but one option left. Ever our champion, Mum – head splitting and at her wits end – made a phone call to the airline we flew through. This was their job, after all, what they prided themselves on, taking care of their passengers and making sure they got home. If there was ever a time to prove themselves, this was it.

They pulled through for us. We had to transfer our tickets to the Saturday flight, but they provided us with a hotel and meal voucher. It gave us a place to stay overnight, and at the time we were ready to take anything they could give. By this time it was LATE, but the shuttle to the hotel was still running, so we hoofed it to the bus stop, desperate to not let this reprieve slip through our fingers.

Once we got our rooms and battled the vending machines for a handful of vittles (in which several elevator trips were made and dimes were spat across the room) we snacked on cereal bars, mini pretzels, and pop-tarts, washing it down with ginger ale (after all, it’d always settled our stomachs as kids). Shortly thereafter we crashed, having seen one o’clock pass us by.

Thus concludes Part the First.

Part the Second begins after an all too brief respite. The day dawned gray and wet – though one could hardly tell that from our rooms, since the windows didn’t even open to the outside, but an enclosed sort of courtyard. Depressing. We breakfasted in the hotel restaurant, served by the most cheerful and friendly man we’d encountered in this debacle so far. If only he knew how much his kindness meant to us just then. By nine we were back in the foyer with a handful of fellow displaced passengers, loading onto the shuttle to return once more to the scene of our dilemma. This time, however, we’d managed a car reservation. We hoped we could rent it without a credit card. I couldn’t see why not, but the system we’re under hasn’t worked on common sense in a long time.

We got the rental. Hallelujah. Still, we had to sit around waiting for them to clean and bring it around. It seemed like waiting was the lesson of the day. Wait. Shuffle forward. Wait. Shuffle forward. Wait. Wait. Wait. By noon we were able to throw everything into the trunk and pile in.

It felt like hope. Like liberation.

We could finally go home.

It was quiet inside, roomy, and most of all, we didn’t have to wear those asphyxiating masks. We could breathe.

Funny how, at the start of this entire trip, we’d all agreed that we’d prefer to drive, but flew because of convenience and time restraints. Turns out we got a bit of road trip after all, and it was far more enjoyable.

Of course, the first few hours it poured, but that cleared up by the time we hit Virginia. It was followed by severe weather warnings, which brought back memories of my last trip home from North Carolina, involving a nineteen hour non-stop trip and a blizzard. With the air conditioner on to keep the driver awake.

It seemed that it would figure, one thing right after another in this real-life anecdote of the Hero’s Journey, but as is usual with weather forecasters, it did not come to pass. We had nothing but some wind in PA, and had a clear night clear through till morning. Which it was by the time we got home, pulling into the driveway after midnight.

All in all, the trip home took about 25 hours longer than it was supposed to, but praise God we made it. Praise God we had a place to spend the night, and food to eat. Praise God it wasn’t cold while we sat around the airport. Praise God we didn’t lose any luggage. Praise God I didn’t vomit all over the airplane. Praise God we were all together. Praise God for that cheerful restaurant server. Praise God for that airline representative on the phone that worked so hard to help us out. Praise God for keeping us safe throughout the entire mess. Praise God the weather held while we drove. Praise God we had a warm, clean house to settle into, hot showers and cozy blankets.

That homeward trip was chaotic, and if I tried recounting all the little details that went along with it, we’d be here all day. It was laughable, though in the midst of it there were tears. Even so, the good Lord took care of us. If we didn’t have him to lean on throughout this experience, I know for certain it would not have ended so well. He is our stronghold, our hope and salvation. What a prevalent, hands-on example during this season of lent and Easter! Christ died and rose again to be the very hope we needed on that dark night.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Published inRandom Stuff


  1. Oh man! What a trip! I’m glad that your visit with family went well, but so sorry you had such a chaotic trip home. Praise the Lord for all the glimpses of His hand and care throughout, though. And thank you for taking the time to entertain us with your story!

    “paper towel tube of a human cattle trailer we all call airplanes” <— this is now the only way I shall ever refer to airplanes again. I am in love with this sentence! 🙂

    I used to live in Raleigh, NC. So now I'm super curious which airport you ended up stuck at? If RDU, then I can picture this scene so much more clearly 🙂

    • Yeah, it was a pretty unbelievable trip! We were stuck in Charlotte, so, a little southwest of Raleigh. Man, thinking about it gives me shivers even now . . .?

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