Sunday, June 16, 2013

Part I: How I spent my summer vacation

Mother Nature takes charge and causes
all  sorts of problems for folks in The Land
of Cotton and others headed in that direction.
The lovely Miss Wendy and I are just back from a little fun under the broiling sun of South Florida. We had a delightful time with family and friends in and around Orlando, Daytona and the Fort Lauderdale area.

What’s mostly floating around my noggin at the moment, however, is our last day in the Sunshine State and the not-so-wonderful experience we had trying to escape back home to the Land of Cotton. Mother Nature, it turns out, did all she could to keep us cooling our heels at Orlando International Airport.
A little context might be helpful.

Like lots of travelers, I get a little anxious on travel days. I’m the sort of guy who gets to the airport early – hours early. There are just too many unknowns when flying, especially out of a new and unfamiliar complex.
The bothersome stuff most recently was a jarring mix of logistical issues – dealing with traffic and finding the airport in Orlando; figuring out where and how to return a car rental and figuring out where and how to find the Delta terminal.

And so it was that we were headed out to the airport at least five hours before our flight was scheduled. The good news, unfortunately, also turns out to be badly tarnished. There was little traffic and, despite our GPS announcing it couldn’t locate the airport, we had little trouble finding it, thanks to a map my brother Larry had given me.
One of my greatest concerns, returning our rental car, took minutes and couldn’t have been simpler – thanks and a tip-of-the-hat to Enterprise! There were one or two challenges once inside the airport, but several helpful clerks and security guards pointed us in the right direction.

So, as mentioned earlier, all this good stuff meant that we were at our gate and ready to go. The not so good news is we had four hours to kill. Yikes!
We walked around a bit and checked out the sites – fast food restaurants, a newsstand, a few retail shops and a duty-free store. We ate a late lunch, then walked around some more before settling in at our gate to do some serious people watching.

Our view on the world was mostly filled with a parade of sunburned folks, sporting Disney ears, T-shirts and tons of fat and cellulite, euphonically blended with groups of business types in sport coats (the men) and Vera Wang basic black (the women). Okay, truth to tell, I wouldn’t know a Wang from a wong, but you get the picture, right?
There was a palpable sense of energy and rhythm about the place. People coming and going; lives in transition. It was all a little dance that played out smoothly; that is until Mother Nature took center stage.

The first blip appeared around 5 in the afternoon when the departure board burped and our flight was delayed. For whatever reason, takeoff was pushed back an hour, from 7:30 to 8:30. A bit later, a message flashed on a nearby digital screen that flight times were being changed and that additional info would be provided when available.
The terminal remained energized, but the smooth little dance – a foxtrot, perhaps a tango – quickly deflated with all of us stumbling about, anxious and attempting to figure out what was happening. Families huddled together, and business types got busy on their smartphones. There was a lot of standing around and long lines of passenger waiting to talk with agents.

Time stood still and, for a moment, it seemed I had landed in purgatory, just this side of tourist hell! My life and those of my fellow travelers were on hold. Delta and Mother Nature were in control; and, for the most part, they weren’t talking!
It was at this point that Wendy pointed out a nearby TV monitor that featured video of a swirling storm – slashing rain, hail and lightning underneath dark and brooding skies – battering homes and buildings. Trees, street signs, telephone poles and utility lines were literally twisting in the wind. At the bottom of the screen a map of the area was prominently displayed. The storm was hovering over, wait for it, Atlanta!

Our already delayed flight was pushed back a bit more, from 8:30 to 8:50; then to 9:10 and, eventually, to 9:30. The flight was now two hours late and Wendy and I had been at the airport for an exhausting seven hours.
The news continued to be bad.

At 9:30, when our delayed flight should have been taking off – and the original flight should have been landing – the squeal of a microphone silenced the terminal and it was announced that all service into and out of Atlanta was temporarily suspended.
Isn’t there some old cliché about it being darkest before the dawn? Well, dawn seemed hours away when, in fact, a ray of light peeked out only moments later. As I wandered about, I glanced back in the direction of our gate and spotted Wendy wildly waving. It turned out Mother Nature was growing tired and it seemed a small window of opportunity had spilled across the Land of Cotton.

Wendy, I and 150 or so other folks were hustled aboard a waiting plane, tucked in as the pilots hurriedly pushed back from the gate, then collectively sighed when it was announced, yet again, there was another delay. Fortunately it was short.
After 30 minutes or so of simmering on the tarmac, we were airborne and headed north. Interestingly, the two hour flight only took an hour. Go figure!

It would take another two hours – waiting, yet again, on the tarmac in Atlanta; making our way to an offsite parking lot, driving from here to there – before we made it to our little corner of the world. It was 2 a.m., the power had been knocked out in the area and debris seemed to cover the world.
But, at the time, I had to agree with Dorothy. I jumped out of the car, tapped the heels of my sandals together, and happily announced to my sleeping neighborhood, “There’s no place like home!”

UP NEXT: My response to Delta’s “How Did We Do?” survey!

No comments:

Post a Comment