Departure from Reality

My suitcase will reach my destination before I do, but I’ll refrain from throwing myself to the ground, and pitching a total hissy fit. You’re welcome.

Seasoned travelers (mileage plus punks) simply pick up their room key at the admirals club, slept in underwear, and board a flight the next day. Hassle free.

I almost never fly, my job is inflexible, and if I’m not home by midnight there’ll be hell to pay. Not to ruin the story but hell reneged. 

It was a snaggle of epic proportions. 

Arriving in Charlotte, North Carolina, several hours before my “direct” flight to San Francisco, I saunter through the airport as if I am going to be here for the rest of my natural life, browsing the high end shops, testing perfumes, using the facilities, glancing at the latest New York Times best sellers, and most importantly people watching. 

Still in the big, black, boot-cast I hobble about, finally landing at my gate with hours to spare. Locating an attractive eating establishment might be an oxymoron in the airport, but I find a rustic sort of deli with a quiet booth, order a turkey sandwich for dinner, accompanied by a sauvignon blanc for digestive purposes. 

The nice thing about having a driver scheduled to pick me up in San Francisco is I can relax, my bag is checked, and I’m free to enjoy the many delights of air travel. That thought is sadly short lived.

Glancing religiously at the departure board from my comfy booth, I notice not only has my flight has been delayed, but there’s an inconvenient gate change. While I’m nicely ensconced in the A wing, my flight is now departing out of the D wing, miles apart. I still have an hour. No need to panic.

This is not the worst that can happen turns out to be true.

Upon arrival in D wing I notice another delay has been posted on the departure board. It’s sprinkling out side? What is the deal?

An hour later the flight is canceled.

I join an enormous throng of people in line to nowhere and call the number specified on a business card that was handed to me by a humorless airline employee.

Customer service is not the first objective of these Johny on the spot agents. I believe their real job is to dole out such confusing, conflicting, inconsistent information that it becomes impossible to formulate any sort of plan.

Me, “I need to get back to the Bay Area tonight. You can fly me into San Francisco, San Jose, or Oakland. But it has to be tonight.”

Agent, “We have nothing going out tonight ma’am. I can get you on a flight in the morning to Dalles, connecting into San Jose, arrival 8:00 pm.”

Me, “You can’t get me into San Jose until 8:00 pm tomorrow. That’s not acceptable.”

Agent, “so you don’t want me to book you on this flight?”

Me, “no, I need a flight tonight, what about other airlines?”

Agent, “you can go to the gates and see what they have a available.”

Me, “Isn’t that your job?”

Agent, “My job is to rebook you on this airline. Good luck.”

With no viable options I end the call on bad terms. 

I ring my husband Larry who happens to be in a different time zone. He sounds sleepy. I sound panicked. He’s tries securing a room for me at one of the airport hotels, but everything is booked due to all the canceled flights, and the prices are going up as we speak. 

Desperate, I call the customer service line again, and luckily get a more creative agent.

Agent, “There’s a flight leaving in a few minutes out of A6, it’s direct to Sacramento, can you make it?”

Me, “yes,” and I start running as if Tom Hanks in The Terminal.


Agent, “they have a mechanical issue so they’re delayed a few minutes. I’ll book you on this flight.” Go dog go.

Calling Larry back as I’m running to the gate, “can you see if I can stay with Pete and Jan tonight? I arrive in Sacramento around midnight.”

Larry, “Or I can reserve a rental car, you can drive home.”

Me, “okay, I’ll guzzle some strong coffee.”

Out of breath I arrive at gate A6 only to find the flight has been further delayed, something about a tire? The gate agent hands me a new boarding pass. My ticket says group 5, clearly I’m not a priority, I wait.

Patiently for the most part.

My suitcase is on her own, I file a mishandled bag claim, and hope for the best.


Boarding the plane feels like walking into church, regardless of denomination, the rows are packed, cranky people block the aisles, coats and purses shoved under seats, old men coughing, babies crying, and an erie expectation that God is on board. 

Honestly, I think she’s still in Hawaii, but who am I to say? 

There’s a debacle ahead, some guy is trying to shove an oversized suitcase in the overhead, it refuses to be stored, the stewardess is waving him back to the front of the plane. Is she kidding? 

I feel like a salmon, working my way up stream, in search of something fertile? This forward serge seems hostile, in an attempt to placate those around me, I genuflect before entering my pew (well that and I didn’t want to bump my head). 

There’s a suit posturing himself between seats, resting his hand casually on the overhead compartment, the pose seems practiced. There is a narrow white stick hanging out of his ear as he gives us a rather detailed homily on his brothers bitchy wife. 

Shouldn’t his phone be on airplane mode? 

I’m like Pavlov’s dog, a sudden thirst for blood, where did this come from?

It’s annoying how interested I’ve become in his story. It’s not going well for the bitchy wife. 

We’re delayed again, the captain announces they’re having trouble fitting the tire properly, I start digging through my purse in search of that travel rosary Phyllis gave me. 

The homily continues, ends up the husband (his brother) has a girlfriend on the side, like salad dressing, he only dips once in a little. “I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat bowl,” Anne Lammott.

And I gave up judgement for lent. Thanks for asking, but no, it’s not going well.

I watch the stewardess without listening because I know what’s she’s going to say, “buckle up you never know when we’ll encounter turbulence.” Have you ever heard of someone surviving a crash due to a securely fastened seatbelt? Me either.

“Put your mask on first before assisting others,” such a loaded statement.

She ends with, “please don’t congregate by the toilets,” seems a little inhumane, given the number of people, and only 2 latrines.

I’m trying to send a telepathic message to the guy still harping about his sister in law. He totally missed the stewardess’s opening prayer, and when he finally sits down, he pushes his seat back, even though it is abundantly clear they are to remain in the upright position during take-off. 

I “accidentally” bump his reclined seat with my knee, but resist turning on the light for further assistance, he twists around still talking, “let’s just say she found damaging evidence on his cell phone,” motioning me to ease up with a perfectly manicured hand. No judgement here. 

I say, “Sorry, I was trying to cross my legs when your seat slipped back, oh, and while I have you, do us all a favor and switch to airplane mode, we don’t need any more details…I mean delays. Thank you.” 

All I need is a little cooperation and some extra strength tylenol. 

I perk up when the stewardess announces, “we don’t have a full plane tonight feel free to spread out.” 

Cranking my neck as if an owl I spy an empty row in the back of the plane. I wonder if it’s dangerous to sit back there, next to the bathrooms, where people tend to congregate?

I decide proximity to the galley kitchen could be a bonus? 

Stealthily, I make my way down the long aisle, no one notices, it’s as if I’m all spirit, minus the grace. 

I slip into the empty row and quickly fasten my belt (I’m a rule follower). It’s true, I want the row all to myself, as a precaution, I hastily disperse paraphernalia in the conjoined seats. No one comes near me, as if I’m non compos mentis, or a lunatic.

Praise be to God the plane is finally in motion.

From the rear of the plane I observe the occupants, first thing I notice is all the bald heads, stiff shoulders, small windows. It’s as if  a narrow shrine, where the holy of holies reside up front, behind the parted curtain. 

Jesus slashed that division some 2,000 years ago, we all have access, but it’s costly.

I watch the stewardess collect the empty champagne glasses from those on the other side of the partition, as if taunting the economy class, who have been denied communion.

The captain says, “prepare the cabin for take off.”

I sat there, the loud hum of the engines lulling me, quietly wondering if God managed to get on board? 

Landing in Sacramento at 11:25 pm, exhausted, and disoriented. It takes me 20 minutes to locate the tram that transfers weary travelers to the rental car facility, I secure a midsize Kia, figure out how to turn on the headlights, find the right freeway, driving with my left foot mind you, but ever so grateful to be homeward bound.

I make it across the Benicia Bridge on pure adrenaline, but the rest of the trip the windows are down, radio up, singing off tune with the oldies, and by some miracle when I pull into the familiar drive, my suitcase is waiting for me at the front door. 

I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly,
acutely miserable…but through it all

I still know quite certainly that

just to be alive is a grand thing.

Agatha Christie


I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll review safety protocol for those of us traveling haphazardly through life. 


Anecdotes:

  • Climbing through the dog door to break into my own house was the topping on the cake. Yes, I fit, thank you for your concern.
  • Traveling alone was like laundry for my thoughts. Mark Foster
  • My travel bug has died, eulogy to follow.

2 Comments

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  1. Hi Cheryl! Enjoyed the nice read regarding the traumatic tale of your travels. That big boot has got to be getting kinda old.Thoughts:Isn’t it awesome to have a rock star that you can count on to call in your time of need? He (Larry) gets it done and is totally reliable. Gail is my rock star. (Emphasis on Rock as in rock solid.)He only dips once in a little….! You are funny, even while suffering.It’s the little things that make life tolerable (the Sauvignon Blanc, the empty row on the plane when you really need it.)Love it that your luggage won the race! Now how did that happen?Now off on a tangent (it’s what I do.) When you mentioned “non compos mentis”, I immediately recalled the first time I heard that phrase. A Bugs Bunny episode I watched years ago. The closing lines to the Cartoon: Hare Trigger (link included for those inclined, it’s at about the 7:30 spot.) They don’t make cartoons that good anymore. Hey, what’s he rolling at the 3:20 mark?https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x31nv4qA touch of sadness that your travel bug has died. Maybe it can recover in Missouri.The song:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlFXhigvTvMAs an aside, I am glad Larry passed the Mary Ann vs Ginger test. Now you need to ask him the serious question: Mary Ann vs Jeannie?! Please allow him to take the 5th.

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  2. Hi Mike! The boot is finally off, I feel 15 pounds lighter, and extraordinarily grateful for two working feet. Makes just about everything easier. So glad you could appreciate the humor I employed concerning my travel companions, he kept things interesting to say the least. Made the idea of home all that more appealing. Larry was a rock star, he’s a frequent traveler and has lots of status at hotels and airlines, me not so much. Suitcase mystery, I assume it arrived on a flight to San Jose, I tagged us mishandled immediately, and they found me! Grateful. When I filed for the bag they asked me to identify the contents, that was fun. Okay that bugs bunny cartoon was excellent, enjoyed it from beginning to end, but how in the hell did you remember that last line? And of course the perfect song choice. Larry took the 5th! Haha. And by the way my travel bug will be fully recovered by September!

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