I don’t want to depress too many people, but I think holiday travel might be a metaphor for existence—or, at the very least, our 20s.
My first flight, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, was scheduled to leave Midway around 1:30. I’m terrible about packing. I always tell people I have packer’s block, and can only do it the morning I leave. It only takes me half an hour at the outside, so I was prepared to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at my Lincoln Square apartment with a huge mug of my favorite tea. Until, of course, I remembered that I wasn’t giving myself nearly enough time to navigate a major airport on the busiest travel day of the year. I’m not saying the scene that followed was from Home Alone, but it’s not as far off the mark as I like to admit.
Turns out more than 500 flights originating in or passing through both O’Hare and Midway had been cancelled since the night before, due to fog. (Yes, really.) My flight was only pushed back three hours, but some people in my gate area would be on standby until after 10 PM. (My sister in Seattle had a worse experience: she and her family got stuck in traffic for two hours, and arrived at the airport half an hour before their flight took off, only to be turned away and put on a flight at ugly o’clock the next morning.)
I was seated in front of the plane’s two screaming babies, but on the plus side, the delay meant that I arrived in Denver at the same time as my dad. The middle part of the holiday, the whole spending-time-with-your-family bit, was fantastic. The less I worried about where I was going or what we were doing, the more present I was and the more I was able to enjoy the company of my brother and sister and nieces and nephews.
There was another adventure calling, though: a very dear friend of mine works at the NPR station in Laramie, Wyoming, which is only a short (two-and-a-half hours) drive from my brother’s house. My brother (after checking with his insurance broker) agreed to let me use his car, and so I got directions, plugged in my iPod and took off for the scenic route.
U.S. Route 287 is, between Boulder and Ft. Collins, the main thoroughfare of a number of small suburban towns: very start-and-stop, very stressful, very aggravating. I was beginning to grumble to myself and wonder why on earth I’d been told to take it, rather than Interstate 25, which is, at least, a highway.
Oh ye of little faith: on the other side of Ft. Collins, 287 opens up into the most beautiful high plains and red rock valleys, and the speed limit is a breezy 75 mph, with no other cars in sight.
I spent all day with my friend, who I hadn’t seen in almost three years. By the time I needed to head back, it was dark, and I had another long drive ahead of me. Thus it was that I made a few more discoveries:
• Wyoming is incredibly windy, and your car will feel it on the highway. The weather, according to a mountaineer my friend once interviewed, is not terribly different from the peak of Mt. Everest, give or take a few degrees.
• It is possible to get incredibly lost anywhere, especially when it’s dark, even in a town as small as Laramie (a town so small that I drove past it for 15 minutes thinking I was looking for another exit).
• I don’t like driving over 80 in the dark.
• I don’t like driving in the dark period.
• This is in part because I was having a terrible time reading the road signs.
I spent so much time furiously promising myself a visit to the eye doctor that I got even more lost finding my way back to my brother’s house. By the time I flopped down on the couch, surrounded by dogs (a Yorkie, a Yorkiepoo and an Australian shepherd, for the record), I was dead to the world, ready for a hard reset. After all, I had to get back to Chicago the next day.
Around noon I began getting text messages from the airline: my connecting flight in Kansas City was being pushed back an hour. I didn’t think anything of it until the times started getting more and more alarming. When I was informed that I would be departing for Midway at 1 AM, clearly something had to be done. I fretted, though—which is silly, in retrospect, but I was worried that I couldn’t expect any help from the airline. They had a profit margin to take care of, right? How much could I afford to pay to switch to another, more reasonable flight?
Turns out when you call customer service and are nice and patient, you can actually get on an earlier, direct flight that lets you make a surprise stopover in St. Louis, with a deeply hilarious flight crew. And you can arrive home by midnight, all the while wondering if that other flight is even boarding yet.
I’ve spent a lot of column inches telling you about my Thanksgiving travel woes, but does it really describe a unifying theory of existence? It could. I’ve spent a lot of the past few years muddling through, worrying about hitting benchmarks and deciding where to go and what to do and whether I would be disappointed if I tried. There have been delays and setbacks and heartbreaks, not to mention a few screaming babies. Some days it feels like nothing is within your control, and you can’t do anything to change that. But then you take a risk, and you see Wyoming for yourself; you meet new people, you have an adventure, you get some perspective, you reach some new conclusions.
This is my last post to Oy! as an employee of the Federation. I’m taking some time off before, fingers crossed, beginning a master’s program in journalism. It’s a big step, but the decision has been years in the making, and I know it’s the right one, despite how scary taking this chance is. After all that traveling, it’s lovely to know that you’re finally coming home.
Thanks for reading, Oy!sters, and catch you on the flip side.