During an exploratory trip to Minneapolis, interviewing with potential employers and touring vacant apartments, a not-unseasonal April blizzard blew into town and, just before my flight home, froze traffic citywide to a crawl. I missed my flight by minutes.
Really, I had more than just minutes to make my flight. I had an hour, which is not a lot (I know), but still… When I finally arrived at my airline ticketing counter, I found it closed for check-ins. Even with plenty of time to hurry to my gate, and plenty of room left on the plane (I was not the only latecomer), the counter clerks assured me they could no longer print my boarding pass. And that was that.
Of course, I could have checked-in earlier, online. But that meant having to pay extra just to choose my seat, which seemed an unnecessary expense for what was already, an expensive trip. At least the clerks were polite and apologetic, in spite of the infuriating, bureaucratic paralysis of their unflappable check-in policy.
I have always had a phobia of missing a flight, to the point that three hours before any departure, I am a useless wreck and am often seized by tantrums of irrational behavior. So as my airline’s clerks were frowning at their computer screens, and muttering “rebook flight,” and “nothing until tomorrow,” my head and heart began to swim.
This is just one small part of a larger, much more complicated process that is moving from Portland to Minneapolis. It is a time when emotions are already running high, and this catastrophe presented more heartache than necessary.
It turned out, my brother-in-law was already on his way to the airport. He was headed there to pick up a friend, his friend’s girlfriend, and their friend, who were all flying in from Iceland. He picked me up almost immediately and, since his friend’s group was delayed at customs we drove to a nearby gas station to wait. As we were waiting, a long fuel truck pulled into the lot and nearly parked us in. We managed to escape just before the truck stopped to fill the station’s underground tanks, which, most certainly, would have taken hours. It wouldn’t last, but for a brief moment, luck was turning up.
The friend, his girlfriend, their friend, and their luggage, were eventually released from customs and the five of us, and our luggage, smooshed into the friend’s five-seat sedan (Curtis was babysitting the car during their trip to Iceland) and drove to the Mall of America, where, thank God, my brother’s car was parked. We unloaded from the car, as if emerging from a steamy rice cooker in the frozen night air.
The next morning, at three, three separate Uber drivers canceled my overly optimistic reservations to the airport. Presumably (understandably) the Ubers opted to forgo driving in, what was then, a solid wall of blizzard. This is how my lucky brother ended up driving me, slowly and carefully, to the airport, just hours before he would have to return to the area for a full day of work—a favor which I will likely never be able to repay.
As we drove, the freeway glowed an eerie orange under street lamps. Our dreary route to the airport was littered about with overturned cars. One SUV even had some 30 feet of highway guardrail neatly curled, like a coil of apple peel, in front of its smoldering grill. These were grim reminders to the consequences of being unnecessarily hurried, and careless.
Miraculously, my rebooked flight was on time. I waited at the gate, on standby, along with two passengers—a woman and her small, furious daughter, who had missed their flight a week ago—while everyone with legit boarding passes (half of whom were bound for Hawaii) gleefully boarded the plane.
After the last passenger was allowed down the gate, one of the attendants inexplicably closed the gate. There was a problem—again it was the airline’s computers. This time, something in their database was prohibiting replacement boarding passes from printing.
Horrified, I listened in to the clerks emotionless discussion about what could be done. They both seemed resigned to the fact that there was nothing could be done, until the bug was worked out, and boarding passes for a later flight could be printed. They began, not urgently, searching for other, later flights to which we could be rebooked, presumably after the bug had been ironed out.
But then, the gate attendants made a bold move—they decided to just hand-write our seat numbers on some abandoned boarding passes, then (praise be) allowed us down the gate and onto our plane (which turned out to be only three-quarters full).
As a surprise bonus—after agreeing to assist, in the unlikely event of further catastrophe, anyone who may potentially need to flee our aircraft (a lie)—I was able to claim the stretchy seat in the emergency aisle. Almost immediately, I slipped into a delicious, heavy sleep—slumped over like a rag-doll. I slept like that, in fits, for the entire turbulent flight and, somewhere in there, threw out my back.
I woke up as the plane was landing at PDX, and it struck me how Portland was no longer my home. I took the MAX back to our house, which was staged for potential buyers. There was just enough time to unpack, shower and leave the house again to make way for a real estate agent and her clients and their scheduled viewing.
So we are living as guests in our own home and trying to imagine what our new life may be. There are many uncertainties, except for parking—there will be much less parking. And no Juanitas. There is a sharp uptick in crucial decisions. Some of the decisions we make will be the wrong decisions, and may be accompanied by incredible, unknowable consequences. Much of this process is making those decisions anyway, and hoping, on the other side, at the very least, there is a good wifi signal.