As those of you who follow me regularly know, I spent last weekend in Birmingham, where I addressed the Birmingham Area Writers’ Group during their summer writers’ retreat and met with the southern contingent of From Women’s Pens. In addition, I was able to combine business with pleasure, as I visited with my oldest son in his recently purchased and renovated home. (See How to Survive a 203K Mortgage)
When I made the arrangements for what I thought would be a fun-filled weekend, it all seemed like win/win, and it would’ve been if even a small number of the possible variables that exist when one embarks on such an undertaking had gone right.
The first thing to go wrong on my trip occurred when I sent out an email to my twenty-eight relatives who all drive and live in the D.C. area, requesting a ride to the airport. None of them were available, either because they were going to be out of town themselves or they had to work. Not being one to allow a small set-back to stop me, I got on the phone and called several shuttle services.
The second thing to go wrong was that I pulled the tendon in my right heel three days before the trip, forcing me to take around the clock NSAIDs. These, in turn, threw me into a constant state of hot flashes and increased my chances of having a gout attack exponentially.
The third thing to go wrong on the trip was my hair. Cut short for the trip, it took advantage of D.C.’s heat and humidity in addition to my hot flashes and decided to kink. Looking like some sort of late ‘60s throwback, I applied what I hoped would be enough hair spray to produce an appropriate hair helmet.
The fourth thing to go wrong on the trip was the shuttle. I had worried for days that it wouldn’t show up. Unfortunately, it did.
The vehicle, when it arrived, wasn’t a van or a bus. It was a cab. Its driver greeted me pleasantly, but I couldn’t help but notice that he was covered with expertly applied gauze bandages that barely hid the long rows of stitches beneath. From a car accident? I wondered.
He opened a back door, and I attempted to slide in, although the seat, stained and dirty, seemed somewhat sticky. It was then that I noticed the car’s windows were rolled all the way down.
Before I could ask after the state of the cab’s air conditioning, we were moving. My worst fears were confirmed as I glanced at the dash – the fan was turned off. The check engine light, though, did its best to disseminate cheer as it blinked back at me gaily – a bright orange.
His cab headed east towards BWI, my driver now launched himself into a constant state of chatter, asking me question after question after which he never paused long enough for me to answer. Perhaps, he was afraid I would mention the heat, humidity, and air quality index in our vehicle. He needn’t have worried. I was much too busy keeping the hair out of my eyes to even think of complaining. For once in my life, I was glad I wore glasses.
Occasionally, a call would come in on his I-Phone, and he would hold up a finger asking for silence even though I had yet to utter a sound, as his chatter switched to a language that I didn’t recognize. Steering one-handed, he blithely weaved in and out of traffic, not infrequently shouting what I assumed were obscenities in the unknown language out the window. At least, when he almost clipped the side of a well-marked police car, he had the good sense to wave and smile.
None too soon, we arrived at the airport where I paid him in the cash that had been requested. Too busy trying to bring my hair back down to Earth, I didn’t realize he had neglected to give me a receipt until after he had pulled away.
Afternoon and evening thunderstorms were predicted, but the sky was primarily still blue, except for one lone thunderhead that loomed right in our path as my plane headed South. You guessed it. The fifth thing to go wrong was that our pilot headed straight for it, and soon my fellow passengers and I were embedded in what appeared to be a thick fog.
This particular cloud apparently didn’t like strangers, because it shook us around like a bean in a rattle. Even the tiny Yorkie that was riding in a carrier under my seat let out a sharp bark. Finally, the cloud spit us out, relatively unscathed, and the rest of our flight remained calm, as did my weekend.
Friday evening my son, a long term family friend, and I exchanged stories and remembered shared experiences. Saturday was filled with laughter and creativity as I spent time among a group of very talented writers at a location that was bound to inspire. Saturday evening and Sunday morning were reserved for time alone with my firstborn, always a special treat, and then I had to fly back.
My son dropped me off at Birmingham’s international airport in plenty of time for the security check, and my plane bound to BWI left the runway a few minutes early. For most of the flight, the sky remained clear, which was the good news.
The sixth thing to go wrong was the bad. We had the crying baby of all time on board with us. That child was miserable, and so were the rest of us. I really felt sorry for her parents, who tried everything they and half of their helpful fellow passengers could think of to quiet her.
Finally, the pilot announced we would be landing in just a few minutes. Amazingly, we were actually arriving a few minutes early.
The seventh thing to go wrong was that the plane took a sharp left.
“Air traffic control at BWI has just advised us that they are directly beneath a bad storm, and another one is on its way up from D.C.,” our pilot announced. “We’ve been put in a holding pattern, and it’s hoped that we will be able to land in the lull between the two storms.”
The eighth thing to go wrong was that the storms merged.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you that we’re now heading the wrong way,” our pilot apologized. “We’ll be landing in Raleigh/Durham in a few minutes.”
True to his word, he put us down lightly, and we drew up to the dock, where our plane received some more gas. Passengers, we were told, would be allowed to leave the plane four at a time to make a quick shopping trip into the terminal.
This was my first opportunity to contact my sister, who should have already been at BWI awaiting my return.
“I’m so sorry,” she answered my call. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. I-95 has morphed into a parking lot due to this storm. None of us can see more than a few feet in front of us.”
“Don’t rush on my account,” I responded. “I’m fulfilling a life long dream by shopping in Raleigh/Durham.”
In the end, we agreed she would monitor my flight situation from a daughter’s house that wasn’t too far from BWI.
The ninth thing to go wrong was that the stewardesses had run out of drinks with the exception of iced water. Most of us could’ve done with something a little bit stronger to go with our tiny bags of honey roasted peanuts. After all, it was now supper time.
Finally, the pilot announced that the storms had passed, and we had been cleared to land at BWI. The last four shoppers were herded on board, and the seat belt lights were turned on. Then a strange man entered the plane, and our pilot came out of the cockpit to greet him, although his expression didn’t reflect all that much pleasure. After a few minutes of discussion, the man left, and our pilot returned to his seat and his microphone, from which he explained the tenth thing to go wrong.
“I regret to have to inform you that while we’ve been cleared to land at BWI, we’ve been asked to approach from the north by way of Roanoke.”
Now those of you given to looking at maps will recognize at once that we were now going west to get somewhere to our east.
“We will be getting some more gas before we get started,” our pilot assured us.
Another thirty minutes passed, and we were cleared for takeoff. Time had now lost all meaning. We were destined to fly aimlessly forever from here to there, never actually arriving anywhere, or so it seemed.
Eventually, we made it to BWI, where our pilot again set us down lightly as grumbled acknowledgements that we had finally arrived made their way up and down the rows of seats filled with my fellow passengers.
“The airline’s sure going to hear from me,” the man in front of me announced to his wife, as several heads nodded in agreement around them.
Just inside the door to the exit ramp, I paused and thanked my tired looking stewardess for a safe flight. When I arrived home, worn out and hungry and stiff from too much sitting, I picked up my phone and dialed Southwest Airlines myself.
“I may be the lone voice in the crowd,” I stated once connected, “but I want to thank the pilot and crew of Flight #641. Throughout a difficult time for all of us, they remained calm and collected. They kept us advised of both what was happening and the reasoning behind it. They never lost their pleasant, professional demeanor. They tried to help us make the best of it.”
I had a wonderful, productive weekend in Birmingham. I enjoyed visiting with my son and seeing his new house. I laughed with and was inspired by the BAWG and From Womens’ Pens gals.
But at the end of the day, the best part of my trip may have been that I arrived back home safely. So to the pilot and crew of Southwestern Flight #641 on the afternoon of Sunday, August 21, 2011, I want to say, “Thank you!”