It was finally here, the day I’d been anticipating since December 6, when I swallowed my fears and doubts and registered for the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. I would be heading to Dayton, Ohio, where Erma lived and taught at Dayton University, to run elbows with the Bombeck family as well as some of the most talented and funniest writers in the country.
No, I wasn’t nervous or anything.
As I finished (Well, started and finished; it’s me, you know!) packing my bag late the night before I was to leave, I decided I should print out my flight itinerary. And that’s when I saw it…
Departure from DSM: 8:34 p.m.
Yes, it said “p.m.,” as in “not a.m.”
I will admit — I shouted a few words that Erma Bombeck probably would not have approved of. How could I have booked a flight for 8:34 p.m. instead of a.m., especially for a trip that I was so excited about?
I decided to go ahead and proceed as planned the next morning. Husband would drop me off at the airport (an hour away from home) on his way to work. Surely I could catch a standby flight. How many people could possibly be flying out of Des Moines, Iowa, on a Thursday?
So at 7:15 a.m. I trotted up to the United Airlines counter hopeful that the flight I had intended to book a seat on wasn’t full.
Of course it was. As were every other flight to Chicago that day.
The United representative was sympathetic, but her hands were tied. “This is very unusual,” she said. “I’m not sure what’s going on today, but every single flight is overbooked already. There are no standby-eligible flights at all.”
Of course there weren’t.
My optimism starting to fade, I got a little teary-eyed as I pictured the day that was ahead of me: hanging out for the next 12 hours in the airport just to board my flight and arrive in Dayton after midnight instead of meeting keynote speaker Alan Zweibel, of Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fame.
I even considered renting a car. It would only take me 10 hours to drive. But after finding that the large rental companies were all rented out (of course), and getting a quote from some fly-by-night rental car company for $500-some odd dollars for a one-way trip, I decided that probably wouldn’t be a smart choice.
So I made myself comfortable, wiped away my tears and settled in to get some work done while I had time to kill. Surely, that would make time go quickly.
Fortunately, Husband felt sorry for me, even though my own carelessness had gotten me into this mess, and offered to come pick me up at the airport to spend a few hours that afternoon in his classroom. At least I’d have a change of scenery. He even took me out for an early dinner after school got out before he dropped me back off at the airport and headed home. What a good guy.
Finally, after what felt like 12 hours (possibly because it was 12 hours), I boarded the itty-bitty plane for the first leg of my flight to Chicago.
The flight went smoothly, and we landed at Chicago on time.
And we waited. And waited. Finally, the pilot came on the loudspeaker and said, “Folks, we’re going to have to wait here for a while before we disembark. Seems that the computers are down at O’Hare, and they are having to do everything manually.”
Of course they are.
Nothing like being stuck on the runway of a teeny plane after 10:00 p.m. when by now I was supposed to be rubbing elbows with some of the funniest writers in the country. It was fantastic.
After my fellow hostages and I were finally released, I had to make a mad dash through O’Hare to catch my flight to Dayton. And when I finally found my gate, I was told that they’d reassigned us to a different gate, clear across O’Hare, because of the computer issues.
Of course they had.
So I pulled up my big-girl pants and ran, once again, to my gate. Something was finally in my favor — sort of. The computer malfunctions had delayed all of the flights, so even though I was late, I hadn’t missed the plane. But it did mean I would get in even later than I was supposed to.
By this time, I was completely disheveled and could barely think straight. All I wanted to do was get to my hotel, catch some sleep and be ready to actually participate in the workshops the next day.
When we touched down in Dayton, I will admit, I got teary-eyed again. This time, they were happy tears. Or tears of exhaustion, I’m not entirely sure which. I got off the plane and followed my flight-mates through the eerily deserted airport to the baggage claim area. As I waited, and waited . . . and waited for my brown suitcase to roll past me, I started to get a sinking feeling. No, it couldn’t be…
When the conveyer belt finally stopped, three of us were still standing, bagless and hopeless. We asked the only worker we could find what we were supposed to do, and he ushered us into his office to fill out the “lost luggage” paperwork.
I was the last one to fill out my forms, and by the time I was finished, the airport was completely closed. Fortunately, the guy helping me was friendly, and after telling me that the hotel I was staying in didn’t have shuttle service this late (It was after 1 a.m., after all), he walked me out to the cab stand. I was literally the last customer to leave the airport.
Of course I was.
I climbed into a minivan with an angry-looking young man who seemed not at all happy with his life behind the wheel, and I went the 20-minute ride in the dead of night in complete silence, thinking, “I’m pretty sure this is how some women end up dead.”
After arriving at the hotel and paying my friendly cabbie $40, I nearly collapsed at the front desk, happy to finally be there but wishing I actually had some luggage to accompany me. I gave the person at the counter my name and explained that I had called in earlier and told them I would have a late (extremely late) arrival. And she proceeded to tap the keys on her computer for way too long, her brow furrowed in a look that said, “I don’t dare tell this crazed woman that we gave away her room.” A Seinfeld-esque moment indeed. (“You see, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to keep it.”)
Finally, after literally 10 minutes, she came up with a room for me. At that point, I would’ve probably slept in the linen closet, (Maybe I could make a toga out of sheets to wear the next day, too!) but it was a room. A real room. Next, I asked her if they had any toiletries I could have since my luggage was MIA. I did have a toothbrush and makeup in my carry-on, but no deodorant, hairspray, anything else of that nature. She looked a little flustered, went into the back room, and came back with a little baggie of toiletries for me.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but we only have men’s deodorant.”
Of course you do.
“I’ll take it,” I said.
When she handed me my room key, I looked at it and laughed: 665. Yep, I was about as close to hell as you could get.
After having to sleep completely in the nude (which is not something I’m extremely comfortable with, if you couldn’t guess) so I could wear my clothes again the next morning, I woke up after a restful three hours of sleep and realized why I’d scored that room: the thermostat didn’t work. The only two temperatures were frigid and sweat-your-ass-off, even if you only adjusted the temperature by one degree.
But no matter. Finally, I’d made it. And even though I had to put on dirty underwear after I’d showered, along with a T-shirt that was completely wrinkled and had evidence of various airport foods all over it, and even though I had to comb through my wet hair with my fingers and smell like an old man with my Speed Stick deodorant — I’d made it, dammit.
And I had to think, as I rode down the elevator to start my day, that Erma would’ve made a good story out of this.