Sunday, July 25, 2004

By the time I get to Austin

3:45 p.m. EST
I approached the gate expectantly, happily, nearing the end of a trip that began when I left the house at 9 this morning. But as I got closer, I saw the dreaded sign that read my flight to Austin was delayed.

“Delayed?” I asked. “How long?”
“About an hour, we’re waiting on the aircraft,” replied the bubbly young woman behind the desk. No kidding????

And so instead of a seamless transfer of planes, I’m stuck in Houston’s Hobby Airport, killing time. Other than the obligatory package of peanuts, and assorted water and coffee, I’ve not had anything to eat. And so I figured I’d grab a quick salad. I choked down the wilted lettuce of the Caesar salad and found an empty spot to sit and finish reading the latest New Yorker.

My back against an exterior wall, I glanced around to see a mom playing cards with her young son and two five-year-old girls with blond curly hair racing around in circles in their bare feet as their father attempted to track a lost item via cell phone. Whoever said that boys are more energetic than girls never saw this duo.

They pause for a moment to look at something on the stained carpet.
“What is that?” they ask.
“Looks like a cockroach,” replies dad, while turning back to his cell phone conversation.
Cockroaches. Yikes. I’m definitely in the south.

It’s raining heavily outside. I can smell the musty scent through the walls just as surely as I can feel the rumble of planes taking off against my back.

At this point, I just want to reach my destination, a hotel room where I can flop on the bed and kick off my shoes.

4:35 EST
I’m seated in the plane at my third airport of the day. The aircraft is painted in the likeness of a giant killer whale, the Shamu plane. It’s pouring outside and the pilot just informed us that the ground crew cannot unload passenger’s luggage from the previous flight and load ours until the lightning stops.

And so we sit at the gate, the re-circulated air screaming in my ears. From my seat above the left wing, it appears as if the lightning has stopped. Let’s hope we can get the show on the road. I call the boys and check in. Mikey answers the phone.

“Where are you on?” he asks (we'll work on his grammar).
“I’m on the plane, but we’re not in the air.”
“Are you in Texas or Manhattan?”
Poor kid. Can’t keep up with mom’s travels this week.
“I’m in Texas, but I’m not Austin yet.”
“Why?”
“Because it’s storming.”
“Oh, we just have drops here,” he says.

I’ve read through my Atlantic and New Yorker magazines already. At this point, I’ll be through my book, too. My laptop battery doesn’t last long otherwise I could do some work, or at least read through old emails for fun.

A hot meal and a glass of wine sound great right about now.

5:15 p.m. EST
The news is…there’s no news. Flight attendants have come around with bags of peanuts and the pilot has informed us that as long as there are lightning strikes within five miles of the airport, the ground crew is not permitted to unload the aircraft. Fair enough, I wouldn’t want to be the one who draws the short straw to pump 3,000 pounds of jet fuel in a rainstorm. And so I look at the baggage carts, which are supposed to be covered with orange tarpaulins, but it looks as if they were thrown haphazardly over the cart in the rush to get out of the rain. I’m straining to see if my suitcase is one on the top, exposing it to the rain. I packed one suit, which is supposed to get me through my meetings tomorrow. I hope it’s not wet.

5:30 p.m. EST
The pilot informs us that those who are flying on to Lubbock are not going to get there tonight. They are stuck in Houston until tomorrow. Bummer. Hope it doesn’t happen to me. I’ll be working a car rental and driving to Austin if that’s the case. I need to be at Dell Inc. by 8 a.m.

The peanuts have been ‘round again. I can’t eat any more or I’ll be sick.

5:42 p.m. EST
Applause greets the ground crew as they appear from wherever it is that they stay when not out in the elements. And then our pilot informs us that as soon as they unload and load and refuel we’ll be on our way. Figures…now the tarp is pulled over the luggage and I just got rolling on the story I’ve been working on all week.

6:10 p.m. EST
Just called the hotel to guarantee my arrival. Still not moving and the rain and lightning have resumed … and my laptop battery is dying.

6:40 p.m. EST
Flight attendants have closed the overhead bins. It appears we may actually be taking off…

7 p.m. EST
We’re in flight.

7:30 p.m. EST
Pilot has informed us that the storm is parked over Austin Airport. We’re in a holding pattern for at least a half-hour. Complimentary cocktails on Southwest greeted with cheers.

8:15 p.m. EST
We’ve landed in Austin, but can’t get to the gate because of the storm. And so we sit on the tarmac … waiting … again.

11 p.m. EST
I’m bushed. The worst part is, I’ll be back on a plane tomorrow afternoon.


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