Twenty Four Hours Cross Country is Still Faster Than it Used To Be


I had planned my taxi ride to get me from Brian’s house.  Supposed to be there by 6:30 am to bring me to the bus station downtown and by 6:40 I was still standing in the cold waiting.

raleigh
Downtown Raleigh

“Damnit”, I thought.  What is a reservation for if you don’t get your pick-up?  I called last night before I walked downtown for a beer and some food.  I could just walk back now I thought but with my bags it would take too long and I would miss the bus.

Proactively, I had scheduled an early pick-up from the taxi in case they came late or I slept in.  But, I still griped at the cabbie in a half-assed attempt at maybe getting a reduced fare.

“I need to be at the airport by 7:30 by way of the bus.”

“You gonna make it?”

“I better, can’t miss this flight.”

“What will you do if you don’t make it on time?”

What kind of question was that?  It’s your own damn fault I thought.  Standing in the cold, I called twice to the taxi service.  “Someone will be right there”, they say.  Makes no good sense to me.  And it was cold and I had already locked myself out of the house so I couldn’t stand inside and wait.

Well, I figured I would still be fine getting to the airport in time.  It was still  dark that morning giving the feeling of being up on-time and early.  People are not late for things when it is still dark in the morning.

I missed the first bus I intended on riding to the airport and waited for another 30 minutes or so for the next.  The bus station had the feel of a fortress.  Large iron gates on each entrance with high arching thresholds.  Red brick walls surrounding and some of them from adjacent buildings.  Coffee shops, cafes, bars.

Outside the gates, workers chain-smoked waiting for their bus.  Smoking was not allowed in the gates, but the smoke didn’t pay heed to this rule and I caught whiffs occasionally and I could not tell if it was the cold or the smoke that made my eyes water.

My bus came and I lugged on my bags and found a seat toward the back where I could fit everything and still sit reasonably comfortably and see the rest of the bus.  I was really not that concerned about missing my flight – I still had time and I knew I would make it.  I just was excited to fly home to Utah and had been making plans and thinking about the ugly sweater party I was supposed to go to and I really wanted to go too.  But when you start to think too much and get excited is when things start to get stressful if you let them.  So, I just stopped thinking too much about things and decided it would make for better traveling.  After all, you miss things if you are too busy worrying about getting places.

Inside the airport things were really smooth.  Raleigh Durham International airport is really not that big and I made it through to the gate no problems.

I sat next to a very nice young mother of two for the flight from Raleigh to Denver; her young daughter sitting between and baby in her lap.  And I really didn’t mind when the girl got tired and cried, or leaned into my seat.  We talked a lot and found out she knew my old neighbor from my parents house in Utah.  I always found that happened when I traveled and it makes the world seem small to find a complete stranger that knows people you know.  They were also headed to Utah.

Just before landing the flight attendants informed us of our connecting flights and where to go once off the plane and we knew the short flight across to Salt Lake City from Denver was short. We were supposed to be there right after 1 pm.  I was excited to get there and eat lunch.

When we landed I checked my phone and had a message from Southwest Airlines regarding my cancelled flight from Denver to Salt Lake City and I figured it was a mistake because flight staff just got done telling us where to go for our next flight.  As I exited the plane and entered the airport terminal I realized we must have just not gotten that message up in the air.

All the lines for the reservations desks were much longer than normal and lots of people were wearing disappointed looks.  I checked the departure board and my flight was definitely cancelled.

“But I just talked to my dad IN Salt Lake and the snow wasn’t that bad.” I thought.

It was that bad, and I gathered information from different people found that freezing rain had effectively shut down the airport in Salt Lake City.  Now I needed to go wait in line and talk to the reservationist about another flight and the lines were long. And people talking with the reservationist talked long because no matter how many ways they were told there were “no flights til Saturday evening”, they still wanted to ask more questions.

I was hungry for lunch and thought I would have a better go at the whole business of not-getting-a-flight-any-time-soon on a full stomach.  I found a nice burrito from a Mexican restaurant and quickly ate it and slugged down some water.  And I was feeling better and had only been in Denver now for an hour and thought I would get to leave soon.

I walked back to the reservationist desk and stood in line expected to wait for a good while before being told that there were no flights for two days.  But I was standing next to a group of red-necks from Vernal Utah and they were fun to listen to and it made the waiting in line not so bad.

“Snow on the runway and can’t land the plane! Well, get me a Damned pilot that can land a plane on snow. This is god-damned the mountains, we land planes on snow all the time.”  said the oldest.

His son, or someone younger, “Shit, I’m gonna start throwing fists if they don’t hurry this up.”

“That’s how yer gonna end up in jail boy. We all gotta get back.  Shit, I gotta get back and pick up my daughter that I take care of.”

The man again, “I ever tell you how I got woke up in a wheat field in Montana by a cop thought I was dead? I was out there for work and went out one night started drinkin real heavy and had to walk back to my hotel after.  Well, guess I took a wrong turn on the road and wandered out of town but too drunk to do anything about it.  Woke up the next mornin to a cop pokin me in the ribs.  Said, “got a call that there was a dead body in a wheat field outside town”.

“I ain’t dead, just got drunk and lost my way around last night.  Fell asleep here.”

By this time, the line had moved just a little but the stories were getting good and I really didn’t mind.

Eventually I made it to the desk but now, as word spread down the line, the next flight over was Sunday.  As I got to the desk though, the gentleman across the counter did a double-take at his computer and muttered something to himself then looked at me.

“It let me book you for a flight this afternoon at 2:30”.

“Great, it’s not cancelled too?”

“Not yet, but hard to say what may happen.”

“Alright, thanks.”

Some of the others who had to wait til Sunday heard this and now everyone thought the reservationists were lying to them.

One woman who was worried about losing her job was certain that the reservationist had lied directly to her.  I let her use my phone charger and listened to her concerns for a while.  I felt bad that I had a ticket that she could use, but had a feeling that this flight would be cancelled too.

Sure enough, it cancelled too. And again, the lines went up and people were waiting, some patiently, for a chance to beg for a flight.

The line did not look enticing and I realized I had work I needed to finish and Denver airport has wireless internet and  I decided I would be productive.  For about an hour, I completed an online training course for lab chemical safety.  I even found an empty power outlet to plug in to so the computer wouldn’t turn off suddenly.

As I sat there, I heard some other guys about my age talking about flying to Las Vegas and renting a car to drive to Salt Lake.  I had already thought of doing this and so I introduced myself.

Peter, was flying to Utah for the weekend for his brother’s wedding that was the very next morning.  If he couldn’t get there within 16 hours, he may as well fly back home to Rhode Island. Aside from this urgent business, he was also an efficient enabler and I felt now that we would definitely get to Salt Lake.

Sean from D.C. was from Salt Lake and going home for holidays.  He didn’t seem horribly rushed as he had in fact only discovered his flight was cancelled after attempting to give up his seat in exchange for a voucher.

Another younger married couple was in on the gig too and all we needed was to all get to Vegas that night around the same time and ride up together.

“What do you do Sean?” Peter asked.

“I am a staffer for Jim Matheson.” Sean replied.

“The only democratic representative in Utah!” I declared.

“What do you do Peter?”

“I am an attorney in Rhode Island.”

The couple had gone to get dinner. We all sat there together waiting for our flight to Las Vegas that was leaving at 7:30 that night.

“What do you think about the Environmental protesting in Utah against the drilling of public lands around Green River?” I asked Sean.

“I don’t really know too much about that. What do you think about it?”

“Not sure, I haven’t lived in Utah much the last few years and only know what I see about it on bits and pieces of on-line news. It would be a shame to let the state drill it all under.  Lots of beautiful land down there.” I said.

“From what I have heard, it sounds more like a battle for state rights.  I think, I hope, the state wouldn’t win the rights back from the feds and mercilessly destroy the land.” Sean replied.

“Yeah, it wouldn’t make sense.  Utah makes a shit load of money from tourism and park fees.  Look at what the government shutdown did.  When the national parks had to close, all that revenue was lost and the state needed special permission to operate them on their own. ” I was thinking through the idea.

“Yeah”

Peter came back from the reservationist. “Hey guys.” Red-eyed and looking exhausted.

They were both nice, and as it turned out, Peter had lived in D.C. ten years ago in the same house that Sean lived now.

We sat around and waited and while we waited continued the discussion of politics and if they were broken and that the government was too slow.  We decided that maybe the government was not as broken as most people wanted to think.

“I have learned what the government is and is not from my job.”  Peter said as if coming to realization within himself that his mediocre pay and hard labors have been worth it.  “People say the government is broken and that nothing gets done”.

“Yeah.” we said.

“Well…the government was established to be pretty resistant to rapid change.  If we could change every law we didn’t like or make new ones immediately, What kind of country would it be?  “It is supposed to be hard for new bills and legislation to pass.  Always has been”.

I found this to be true and I was generally OK with the logic.  We continued to sit at talk and although we were all tired we know we still had to fly to Vegas and drive to Salt Lake.

December 19, 2013 – Waylayed in Denver.  Snow in SLC cancelled all the flights and our options.  Some are angry, others confused, hypoglycemic. But, some seem content.  The fates have thrown the dice and we are figuring it out.  Just spoke to Ben, he was seeing a movie with Jens.  Peter is at a friend’s. Mom and Dad went back home.  Somehow, thru all the phone calls and evolving plans, I feel fine. Almost like this has made an intangible link between us all. On the news everyone seems upset and horribly disappointed. I wonder if though how man relationships are forged and refined after these.  Sean and Peter and I just discussed politics and rehashed the perennially polarized political state. Great new friends.  Our plan is to fly now to Las Vegas, rent something affordable, and drive to SLC.  Peter’s brother is getting hitched tomorrow.  I am in a peaceful state, when SLC gets to me, I will enjoy being there.  But the travel between us has been adapted and I have enjoyed it. Almost like being a vagabond; at the whim of the flow of the current.

vegas strip
Las Vegas

Eventually, we made our flight and landed in Vegas in the dark and the city from above looked like it always has when I’ve flown it.  Bright lights and straight lines and colors.  The hotels and casinos on the strip.  And around the bright city was darkness where the desert could still be found and the animals and plants and life that is there only if you explore on foot.

The desert here in southern Nevada was a special place for me as I had spent four years in the summers working and exploring the landscape.  What most people saw as lifeless desert from their air conditioned cars as they glided into Vegas was in fact full of life.  Lizards shuttling between trees and boulders.  Desert tortoises, old and wise, moving in deliberate and calculated coordination for the horizon.  Small springs where water provides life and quenches thirst.  There is beauty here in the desert. Beauty that is intangible at first and only until you smell the earth and feel the sand in your hands do you see it. The desert is full of life and I had the pleasure of discovering this on my own.

My trip home had taken some time longer than planned.  But it was adventuresome and I had met new and kind people.  And the drive through the desert was nice and although it was dark, I could imagine where the mountains were and the Joshua trees, and the river as we crossed over it.  I could even imagine a lone desert tortoise, sand colored carapace revealing the aged creature as it longs for the horizon.

Too bad so many people drive through not stopping, not breathing and smelling the desert air.  Instead, bee-lining for the smoke filled casinos of the city and only stopping for food or gas.   Worried perhaps, about the size of the beds in their room, or if free cocktails and game tokens come with the cost of lodgings.  Worries, that mean nothing.

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