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Friday, March 10, 2006

Harbinger of things to come

Thursday morning: snow. We haven't had much snow here in the last decade, but here it was, a harbinger of things to come. I brought the push broom from the barn and shoved away three inches of snow from the surfaces of the car. Driving to work was iffy but not impossible.

I worked hard, until late afternoon, making sure that all the time cards were turned in. Many well-wishers came by, bringing cards, hugs, quiet farewells, and gifts. I left at 3:30 in the afternoon. My journey had begun.

Even worse snow and ice were now predicted for the one day this year that I needed it not to happen. I called Beloved at work and she agreed we might need to stay at the airport overnight, rather than risk not being able to get there in the morning.

I turned on the radio and boogied. Most of my things had been packed for three weeks, and I knew what I wanted to wear and had all of it hanging from one hanger. I watered the greenhouse, wrote and mailed five name-change letters, ate dinner (a homemade veggie burrito), washed the dishes, and cleaned the bathrooms. Beloved, who had had an even longer and harder week, came running in.

“It's snowing!” She frantically packed.

As bags became available I carried them to the trunk of her car. I could see my little wagon, on the driveway, already covered with two inches. The ground felt slick underfoot.
Through flurries, we drove for eighteen careful minutes, especially over bridges. Other drivers were being cautious as well.

The airport was practically deserted, so late at night. We found a row of seats without arm rests, which formed an acceptable couch, and lay drowsing on it by turns, watch and watch.

A lady from Texas made our acquaintance, and commiserated that we should be going so far only to have surgery. “Florida should be fun!”

“Oh, it will be. But I'll just have to be flat on my back for part of it.”

“Well, I certainly will be thinking of you.”

We met many such well-wishers for the rest of our journey.

The plane from Eugene had to be de-iced, a rare procedure for Mahlon Sweet Field, and we left an hour behind schedule. Views of the Rockies and such, as the flight progressed, were stunning beautiful, as views from aircraft windows tend to be, but our worry concerning the lateness of the flight began to occlude other considerations.

Friday: welcome to sunny, cold, brown, and snowless Denver, Colorado. Sure enough, although we ran the half mile from one gate to the other, it was hopeless – our flight for Charlotte had left without us. We were told where to find Customer Service.

The harried women behind the desk dealt with one tragic disaster every three minutes, and ours was but one of many. Weather was making trouble across much of the country that day.

“Where to?”

“Fort Lauderdale.”

She typed for a long time. “There are no open seats for Lauderdale from anywhere today.”

We conferred.

“ Can you get us to Miami-Dade?”

Clackety-tick. “No... I'm so sorry, it's a tough time of year.”

Opa-locka? Taken. Orlando? No way.

I thought a bit about driving time.

Daytona? Full. Tampa-St. Pete? No good. Tallahassee, Gainesville? Jax?

Tickety-clack. “I have an Atlanta.”

“I was born there. I know how far it is from Atlanta to Miami, and right now I don't have the strength to do it.”

“Yes, it's pretty long way.”

“Ok, what's the very first Lauderdale?”

“Umm ... oh hey, I can get you two places to Boston and on to there from another airline. It's going to be terrible between the terminals, but we'll give you the best instructions we can.”

“When is that flight?”

“11:55 PM.”

Fifteen hours away. I wrote her a thank you note card on the spot; she seemed really touched.

Now began some of the strangest fifteen hours of our lives. Neither of us is young, and the Denver terminal is not kept warm enough. We ate as best we could, and drank water and juices, and bought tiny little airline blankets. I put on the little socks with the Jalapeno peppers on them and hiked up and down to keep warm, while Beloved lay under the blankets on the floor by a sunny window. Then I lay down and she hiked. When we could no longer keep warm by other means, we bought hot chocolate and burned the tips of our tongues. By the time we needed to move to our new terminal, we both looked as though we had aged five years. In the restroom mirror, I could see fine lines all over my face, an exact portrait of my mother. My feet had swollen to the point where I could not get into my shoes.

I had never seen, at the ends of my legs, two such feet. And I felt laryngitis coming on. When I talked with Beloved, I sounded like an ancient raven.

We were going to need some help. Found a wheelchair and commandeered it.

Someone came by.

“Where are you going with that?”

“Concourse C.”

“You can't.” They have to stay here in B. You're supposed to reserve one in advance.”

“Well, dear, I'm left with two choices. You can help me reserve this one or I can crawl to C on all fours. And I will do that in front of God and everyone.”

She thought about that for a moment.

I added, “and where, my dear, did you get that wonderful pendant?”

She joined our team on the spot, and found us an attendant to wheel me over to C.

Through moonlight, we flew across the brilliantly lighted rectangles of the red states, with the winds of the engines moaning in our sleep-befuddled ears.

--risa b


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