I Coulda Been on the Ocean

I coulda been on the ocean.

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Yeah, this is the end of the story, but I just gotta tell it now. Then I’ll get back to posting about the Island.

I spent eight days on Edisto Island in South Carolina with my sister and her family. A few days before my departure, my sis suggested I change my flight, stay a little longer. They’d be there several more days after I left. I could have stayed.

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My partner encouraged me to do so even though I’d miss his birthday. But I declined the offer and encouragement. I had a few things scheduled at home. I wanted to celebrate his birthday with him, I had some work to do, and it seemed easier to just head on out rather than stay.

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Oh, what a mistake. What. A. Mistake.

I got to the Charlotte airport in plenty of time and sailed through security with a pre board pass: no scans, no pat-downs, no shoes off.

When I got to my gate, things still looked good. But about forty-five minutes before departure, they still had anther destination posted at boarding at my gate. And it wasn’t boarding.

I approached the counter and found there were THREE planes to board at that gate before mine. Somehow, they eventually shuffled things around and got us all out of there, albeit over an hour late.

I texted my sister who got online and found my connecting flight in Chicago, Midway Airport, was also delayed. Whew! I might make the connection.

Then we landed and the runways were all backed up. A few more texts to my sister and I learned my flight had been cancelled. She told me to get to a Southwest station ASAP so I could reschedule.

But as soon as I got off the plane I could tell it was, in the words of Stephen Colbert, a clusterf#@k.

Lengthy lines snaked through the airport. Rebooking lines. I took my place at the end of one and eventually heard the story.

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The Southwest computer system had totally crashed. All Southwest flights across the country were affected. I later heard this had made national news.

With no computers, there was no way to communicate with ticketing agents or boarding gates, no way to reschedule flights, nothing. They could not even tell where planes were or what plane might be landing.

A clusterf#@k, for sure.

I stood in line a little over four hours before I got to a reticketing station. Well, that is not quite true. I didn’t stand the whole time.

About two hours in, I noticed a line of wheelchairs. I grabbed one. Then I grabbed one for a woman who was struggling to both hold her cranky four-year-old and drag her bags along. The wheelchairs made it so-o-o much easier! A short time later other folks my age and other single moms had scarfed up all the wheelchairs. We all shared them around over the next few hours.

A few of us laughingly talked about renting a car. Looking back, not a bad idea.

While we waited:

Two pre-teen girls practiced their dribbling and tossing skills with a basketball. They both tried spinning the ball on their finger.

A group of early twenty-somethings laughed it up and sang a few songs.

An eight-year-old turned cartwheels.

People lay on the floor.

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Southwest employees passed out peanuts and water. (It should have been steak and wine.)

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We heard a huge cheer and soon watched a plane board. Then forty-five minute later the same plane deboarded. It seems the pilot had already worked nearly a full day and was therefore not allowed to fly for three more hours.

Makes perfect sense. I wouldn’t want to be on a plane with an overworked, sleepy pilot. But why in the world couldn’t someone have figured that out before they loaded all those people onto the plane? Well, no way to communicate. The passengers were livid when they were herded back into the airport and told to reschedule.

Frankly, I was livid, too. Someone should have been there to simply reschedule all of them onto a whole new flight.

Eventually it was my turn at the ticketing desk. Four hours and fifteen minutes in line. The woman gave me the bad news that I would not get out until 10:15 that night. It was 2:45 a.m., so I asked for a motel. More bad news: Motel rooms had not been authorized.

I stumbled away, new boarding pass in hand, and found someone to ask about my baggage. I had no idea if I was supposed to pick it up and check it in again or if it would be done for me. I should have figured it out, but I’d been up for nearly twenty-two hours and was punch drunk. I was sent down to baggage, out of the security area, to find out. Yes, it would be done for me. I asked about motels and was told all the motels Southwest worked with were totally booked. The woman also told me all the cots were full.

Cots? There were COTS???

I staggered back upstairs and through security where the water Southwest had given me was promptly confiscated. I told the woman, who apologize while taking it, that I was about to have a meltdown. I had been awake 23-1/2 hours and had been dealing with airport madness for over five hours. She told me where to go to try to find a cot. I love her.

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I struggled through the airport to the cot area then wandered down the aisle searching for an empty one. I found one with a woman sitting in a wheelchair beside it. I asked if it were available and she told me no, that she might want to put her feet up on it. I refrained from choking her.

Finally I saw a woman getting up and reaching for her bags. I asked if the cot were available and she said yes. I told her that was the best news I’d heard in twenty-four hours.

I stashed my bag and purse underneath the cot, grabbed my little pillow and lay down. Just as I snuggled in and closed my eyes, I heard a loud voice: “Four a.m. wakeup call! Everyone has to get up.”

No, I thought. This simply cannot be happening. It can not.

I looked through bloodshot eyes at the woman and gave her the sixty-second version of my last twenty-four hours. She said she knew a place I could lie down. I love this woman, too.

She took me to a basement room. It was warm and comfy and had cots with blankets and pillows all waiting. Few cots were in use.

Finally. At 4:15 a.m., I settled in, pulled up my blanket and drifted off to a not-very-comfortable sleep.

We were awakened before eight. The area had to be cleared. The good news was there was another area set aside for those of us who had a full day to spend. The bad news was the room was on the ground floor, full of windows and light, and was quite chilly. But I got a new cot, a new pillow, and a new blanket.

I had to take my things if I left the room, but I could come back. All day long!

day cots

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I left once and put a note on the cot saying it was occupied. I was starved, having not eaten for about twenty hours, so I dashed out for a bite to eat. But I came back a short time later to find my blanket and pillow gone, along with the note. Thankfully there were a few more blankets and pillows still left.

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So here I stay, not comfortable with leaving the chilly room because if I leave and my blanket is taken, there are no more blankets. But for now, this is my place, my home away from home for the next ten hours. And it feels okay until I remember: I coulda been on the ocean.

Addendum:

My flight that night at 10:15 was cancelled and many more were postponed. We found this out after waiting for hours at the boarding gate. I knew I didn’t have it in me to stand in line another few hours, so I hightailed it back to the room full of cots.

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Thankfully, there were a few unoccupied cots, and I settled down for another few hours of sleep. And there were little kits of necessities. All but a comb or brush, and mine was in my suitcase.

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By this time, though, nerves were frayed. People were beginning to holler at others. One woman was in tears because she would miss her son’s wedding. I wondered how many others were missing important family gatherings: weddings, funerals, memorials, reunions.

At four a.m. I got up and stood in line again until I had secured a standby position that would be good all day on any Tucson-bound flight with space available.

I managed to get on the first flight. I was the last passenger on, and although it was delayed a few hours, it actually took off.

Thirty-seven hours in the airport, up for fifty-seven hours with only three hours sleep when I coulda been, you know, on the ocean.

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32 Comments

  1. Sorry you had to have such a crazy time, (while we relaxed and played in the ocean….) Sleep, relax and rest assured I’ll never say “listen to your sister!” I wouldn’t dream of saying it. So glad you were with us! It was a wonderful time.

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  2. Jesus Emilie! When you hit a snag you hit the mother of all snags!!! The most I have been delayed in an airport is 9 hours and it felt forever! I hope you are back to normal by now. Welcome back!!

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  3. Emilie, Good to know you are back and almost caught up in your rest. Thank you for sharing and reminding us the joys and horrors of travel to and away from our nesting places. I’m remembering also, that the ocean can deliver it’s own set of horrors as well. However, it doesn’t ever seem to compare to what chaos people can create and can NEVER compare to the joy and peace it brings to the soul. Namaste, Charlet

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  4. Okay!!!!! New story! On to fantastic Edisto Island, where there are no stop lights – the closest one is about 30 miles away. It. Was. Amazing!

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  5. Are you asleep yet? Can you hear me laughing? You had to refrain from strangling a woman in a wheel chair? Now that is duress! And an excellent piece of writing too!

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  6. So very sorry for your total “fuster-cluck!”
    ~ Only one of the possible reasons I drive rather than fly.
    Made 7 RT’s West Coast to East Coast between 2000 and 2010 while my oldest sister was still alive.

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  7. What a trip!! glad you’re home safely. Never had anything nearly as bad, but spent 10 hrs in Heathrow AP fighting a bladder infection, pain full and a nuisance. Interested in your medical transport work.

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  8. Wow wow wow!!!
    I am so glad that ordeal is over!!!
    But it was amazing to have you be able to come out with us! What an incredible time!
    I love you auntie Em!!!

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  9. well, good to hear you are still alive after your horrible adventure. i loved your photos and text – very well organized, and fun to read. am looking forward to your return at years end, unless you have rescheduled else where. we must breakfast at robertos. hi to alberto if he is around and ask him to bring lots of dinero for poker. donaldo

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    1. More blog posts to come soon, Don, and more upbeat, for sure!
      We will see you this winter. Both of us looking forward to it. And you and I will definitely go have huevos rancheros at Roberto’s!

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  10. Ugh. Sorry to hear of your troubles on that journey. You do have the storyteller’s knoack :). Also, you remind me of times I have chosen not to follow my heart and had similar things happen, all the while kicking myself that I coulda been doing what I love instead! Glad to hear you have recuperated and hope you can enjoy all the lovely memories when you WERE at the ocean, Emilie. xx

    Reply

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