Should old acquaintance be forgot

Christmas Day, or rather, the last 45 minutes of it, were spent happily and wearily exchanging presents with my sister, her daughters, my best friend, Susanne, and my sister’s friend. Also in attendance were three dogs, two cats, and a very helpful hot tub in the back yard. Backing up to the morning, though. . .

The snow was coming down sideways. Quite unlike the movie of the same name. We had pulled into a Days Inn near the airport, but it wasn’t the Days Inn we thought it was, it was the bastard younger brother Days Inn, aka the Place to Have One’s Affair. A lovely wall length mirror stood proudly behind the bed, opposite another mirror, so that if desired, one could see oneself into actual infinity, doing whatever it was one chose to do with such an uh, hotel amenity. We did, more excitingly for us, have the benefit of cable television, and could finally catch up with Top Chef, since this was, of course, the first thing a person would want to watch after a week and a half with no television.

I shuffled out to the car and took off the latest 4 inches of snow. Susanne had checked the status of our flight before we headed to the airport 3 miles away. We slip-slided away and walked into the tiny but functional Spokane airport. Sitting on the tarmac, waiting for our flight to take off, we had no idea what lay ahead of us. I thought I was the smartest traveler in Walla Walla County. We sat on the tarmac, waiting to be de-iced, just 5 or 10 minutes, according to the pilot. And we sat. Sat, through the anti-icing, which will just take a few minutes, folks, and then we’ll be on our way. Someone please tell me the difference between de-ice and anti-ice. Isn’t de-icing, by definition, an anti-icing process?

We contined to sit. Our flight, which had been scheduled to take off at 6:15, actually lifted off at 7:30. We landed at Salt Lake City airport at 9:45 (losing an hour to the time zone change), precisely 5 minutes before our connection was due to depart, two gates over. Two gates. Roughly 100 feet apart. I could have teleported myself from our first aircraft to the gate and I would not have been fast enough. On Christmas, knowing 5 people from our flight were scheduled on the connection to JFK, Delta chose to leave the gate. Christ. Mas. An unhelpful gate agent pointed vaguely to the airport in response to my question about where we were now supposed to go. I told them directly that I found them thusly unhelpful and that I needed a more indicative answer, and was told “between gates 3 and 4.”

The space between gates 3 and 4 was not altogether unlike the magical train station stop 9 3/4 to catch the train to Hogwarts. A mythical space that you must find on faith alone. A small red laser told us what no person could:

1. that we had been bestowed with a $7 meal voucher from Delta Airlines, for our trouble

2. that our reassigned tickets would depart for JFK at 4:55pm, or, if you did the math, 7 hours later

My heart and my brain quickly worked out a deal wherein my heart would continue to beat if my brain could find a way out of this morass. In the meantime my face turned a holiday-inspired yet unfriendly shade of red. Susanne told me she would hang out in some chairs about 30 feet away while I talked to the staffer who had already done enough wrong in her job to warrant getting stuck working on Christmas morning.

She looked at our boarding passes, then looked at me with a blank stare that suggested she was actually an android, devoid of all feeling, caring, or sympathy for lowly humans like me. “That’s the next flight to JFK,” she said. She actually sounded like the robot in Small Miracle. See, child actors can make something of themselves! They can be gate attendants working on major holidays!

“That can’t be the next flight,” I argued, “that’s 7 hours from now. My watch had just ticked past 10:03am.

“No, that’s it,” she said.

“Can you at least type something into your keyboard so I feel like you’re looking for me?”

She obliged. “No. Nothing to JFK.”

“Have you looked at other airlines?”

“Yes.”

“What about Newark — EWR?”

“4:55.”

Okay, we were going to have to play 20 questions.

I rattled off other airports. “Philadelphia? IAD? BWI? LaGuardia? National Airport?”

“BWI — 4:55pm, Dulles, 4:35pm, Philly, 5:10pm, we don’t fly to LaGuardia today.”

“Hartford, Albany? There has to be something to the east coast.”

“There’s nothing to the east coast until this evening.” This was punctuated with a sigh. I must be so annoying to her right now.

“Look, I understand you don’t want to be here today,” I began, but she cut me off.

“Oh, I’m only here for the next hour, and then I get to go home.”

“Oh, then we’ll join you for our Christmas,” I exclaimed.

She was having none of it.

“Look,” I said, “my sister had major back surgery two days ago, and is now lying in bed unable to do anything and she needs me. I have to get out there sooner than this. You people sent the plane away early on Christmas! Do something for me here. This $7 meal voucher and flight 7 hours from now is not acceptable.”

She actually shrugged. Apparently not just on Christmas, flights don’t go out of Salt Lake until the late afternoon. I pointed to the people all around us.

“What the hell are they all here for then? They just want to show up early on CHRISTMAS because they love this airport?”

“I don’t know why they’re here.”

Wow. What this woman didn’t know could fill an airplane hangar.

“What about connections to New York? Do you go through Chicago?”

I said Chicago because it wasn’t on the east coast, because it was big, and because I have heard of it before. I said it before thinking about how I’ve run through it before, when I had two good knees and 40 fewer pounds to carry on my body. I regretted it before I said it, and my heart was like, “Brain, you are sucking with this negotiation crap right now!”

She started clicking the keys, mostly for her own amusement. “There’s a flight to O’Hare at 11am, connecting to JFK, arriving at 8:59pm.”

That was 2.5 hours before our other tickets showed we would arrive. I told her to reissue the tickets.

I walked over to Susanne, victorious. We might actually get 6 seconds of actual Christmas with the family. All this knowing that Christ’s birth probably happened in the summer anyway, but whatever. I won.

She looked at me and said quietly, “O’Hare?” Oh dear.

“It’ll be okay,” I promised, with absolutely no means to secure it.

It was, in fact, okay, if you take the version of “not awful, not good” for this use of the word. There were not enough free Delta cookies to make me feel better, even though our flights were on time and uneventful, and Susanne’s checked bag found us at the baggage claim in New York. To add insult to the long line of injury, Delta now no longer carries ginger ale. So now I’m hoping I someday throw up all over their planes because they didn’t have anything on board to quell my nausea, although I’m not nearly as motion-sickness prone as I was in my 20s.

My sister’s friend had sent a Chrysler sedan for us, so we drove up to her house in the roomiest car I could imagine existing at the end of this awful day. And then there was a last car ride from her house to my sister’s, and then we had the picturesque, if not hurried, present exchange moment. A couple of sweet butterscotch shots later, we were in the hot tub, in the crisp Connecticut air, enjoying 23:57 of Christmas. No thanks to the airline industry.

One 22-pound turkey, piles of mashed potatoes, stuffing made from Mom’s recipe, creamed spinach, and New York style cheesecake later, on the next day (which we had “decreed” Christmas), things were in full swing. I kept my sister on top of her pain medication, since she really had had back surgery on December 23, and made such each night I hopped in the tub for soothing my frayed nerves. We took the nieces duckpin bowling, an east coast tradition, wandered around the mall with them, and went to my favorite restaurant, Kings, in New Town (see post from August in the tags).

Michael, Susanne and I drove down to DC a few days later, hoping that 2009 will be good to us. I know the Hindus say that Karma never takes place in the same lifetime, but if there could be some good to come out of the frustration of having a ruined holiday, I am ready for it, I promise.

Let’s hear it for 2009!

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