It is well documented that my wife and I live 773 air miles apart and have so for the entire 14 years of our relationship. Some ask what is the longest you have ever been apart? Wrong question. More apt? What is the longest you have ever been together?
The other morning I found myself waiting to board my usual ride, LGA-ORD, when the call for volunteers went out. Oversold flight. Who wants six hundred bucks? I bowled over three kids and nearly sprained my ankle racing to the ticket counter. Mission accomplished. As I signed my travel voucher and headed to a new gate for my detour via Boston, even better news. My original flight just announced a 2-hour delay. What with the 37 minutes air time to BOS and an easy connection, I might actually get in ahead of schedule. My wife had been in South Africa the previous week, so we were on a 14-day dry spell. I touched down in Boston on-time and eager to get home.
The first announced delay was 15 minutes. No biggie. Then 30. Then an hour. Two hours passed before they finally boarded us. I settled into my seat. The moment the door closed the pilot announced a two-hour ground stop in Chicago. I closed my eyes for a nap. I awoke at 5:30 p.m. to the announcement that we were being de-planed until further notice.
At 7 p.m. we were given a wheels-up time of 8:10 p.m. (When you have done this long enough you are at one with the language of aviation.) We queued up to board at 7:30. At 7:45, I noticed the more seasoned-looking travelers grasping at their cell phones. I didn’t even need to look. Frequent flyers get texts. All flights to Chicago were grounded for the night.
I jumped on the gate agent line even quicker than I had nabbed my ill-fated voucher 10 hours ago. When airports close, time is of the essence. It was to no avail. The first flight out to Chicago was 6 p.m. the next day. As if that didn’t suck enough, a woman with two young children, a baby and a pendulous diaper bag next to me was sobbing. The gate agent was explaining to her that the nearest available hotel to Boston on a Friday night was an hour’s bus ride away somewhere in New Hampshire. I interrupted the agent scouring his monitor for flights. “What do you have out of New York?”
When one travels a lot, it does not hurt to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things that roll, honk or fly. Fifteen minutes later I was climbing aboard Amtrak’s Night Owl service back to New York. When it is not your day, it is not your day. We limped out an hour late due to track signal problems. We pulled into Penn at 3:30 a.m. and I jumped into a cab back to Brooklyn.
Inherent to finding your comfort zone in the land of frequent travel is religious adherence to certain routines (See: George Clooney, “Up in the Air.”) I climbed the stairs of my 4th floor walkup, poured a short scotch and washed it down with a brief helping of CNN. I climbed in for a peppy 75 minutes of shut-eye, snapped awake to WINS Newsradio, hopped a quick shower and continued my journey.
Who flies to Phoenix to get to Chicago??? Probably only crazy people, or wizened travelers who really enjoy the tamale platter in the B concourse of Sky Harbor Airport. The bad news? We landed at the A concourse. Fortunately, I found a Panda Express right next to my gate. I grabbed a quick 2-selection bowl of Lo Mein (they call it “Chow Mein” in Arizona; who knew?) – and a scoop of their tasty Szechuan pepper chicken to tide me over. We were wheels up right on time at 2:45 p.m.
In love, as in appetite, you don’t keep score in quantity. Have you ever woken up from a nap hungry and said, “Gee, I’m really hankering for 1.5 pounds of food?” We touched down at ORD at dusk. I texted my wife to inquire as to her whereabouts. “Ten minutes out,” she replied. I exited the terminal into the cool night air at Door 3-B of departures (always less chaotic than the arrivals level). Twenty minutes later we hunkered down at our usual bar seats at the pub where we had our wedding celebration. We ordered up a couple of glasses of red. “How was your day, sweetie?” she asked, twinkle in her eye. “Not bad at all,” I replied. Big 10 football was on the large screen TV. My wife checked her texts. I perused the menu. The crab cakes looked really good.
Ken Carlton and his wife are respectively Platinum and Executive Platinum on American. When there is only one upgrade available, the author always flies coach.