As the last few posts will attest, there’s been a bit of travel happening recently.
The most recent trip was supposed to be a quick 24-hour junket to visit a new client in Richmond, Virginia. Very simple really. Out Monday evening, home by dinnertime Tuesday evening. (Cue the devils of weather,Â FAA regs,Â and airline union rules throwing back their heads and letting forth a collectiveÂ “bwaaah ha ha ha!”)
Our outbound trip to Richmond was supposed to leave DFW at 6:45 pm and arrive a little before 10 pm.Â Checking the flight and gate statusÂ an hour before I wasÂ planning to head for the airport showed theÂ departure had been delayed an hour. And then another. Stormy weather in various nodes of American Airlines’ vast hub-and-spoke network was starting to cause the system to unravel.
In a momentary triumph of hope over experience, I headed for the airport. Our flight was not canceled but continued to be repeatedly delayed in 45-minute increments throughout the night. Our estimated arrival time went progressively from midnight to, when we finally departed, a little afterÂ three in the morning.
We checked into our hotel roomsÂ a little before 4 am and set the alarms to get us up and to our clients offices by 9.
Well, hopefully the flight home would be less dysfunctional. (“bwaaah ha ha ha!”)
Allow me to compress the story arc for the hardy few who are still reading at this point. . . Â Our flight home was canceled. The next available flight would be at 1:15 pm the next day. Bags were retrieved. A rental car was re-rented. Hotel rooms were re-booked. And since we were running on about three hours of sleep, bedtimes were early.
Day 2: More whine compression . . . Our flight home was repeatedly delayed. Our original arrival time of about 3:30 pm central time turned into 9:30 after hours of holding, diverting to Shreveport, refueling, taking off, more holding. Total timeÂ of hindquartersÂ married toÂ aircraft seat: 7 hours.
This is the point in the story in which your protagonist, full of self pity and pathetic self-absorption is supposed to get it all put into perspective through a chance meeting with a stranger. And he does.
Luggage retrieved, we climbed on the shuttle bus to take us from Terminal A, where we landed, to Terminal C, where my car was parked. (Cue more grumbling and I-can’t-catch-a-break-itude). As I flopped down on the bus seat, a young man in an Air Force uniform boarded and took a seat beside me. He didn’t look old enough to be out of high school.
“Hi. How you doin’?” I asked him.
“Oh. . .” he hesitated for a while, weighing word choices. “Not very good.”
He went on to explain that he had been trying to get home to New England for two days and had been trapped in the same DFW hub morass that had been causing us problems. He thought he was going to get home last night, but his flight was canceled. They didn’t have anything to offer him today but stand by status. He hadn’t slept in more than 30 hours. And he was in the middle of having to ping-pong between terminals in hopes of securing a flight. He was hoping the USO facility at the airport would have a spare bed so he could finally get a little sleep.
My perspective on my situation duly re-calibrated, I wrote my name and mobile number on my boarding pass. I handed it to him and said, “Listen, I live about 15 minutes from the airport. If you can’t find a bed tonight, call me. We’d be honored to have you take one of ours.”
He thanked me very graciously. Then I caught the eye of a craggy, silver-haired gentleman across the bus aisle who had been following our conversation. His eyes moistened and he said, “Thank you for doing that. I wanted to offer but I don’t live nearby.”Â
“Korean War vet,” I thought, judging by the age.
I said, “I’m happy to offer. A guy serving our country ought not be without a place to sleep when he’s trying to get home. I really appreciate what these guys are doing.” There were amens and nods around the bus.
The young airman, whose name I learned was Jessie, said, “Thank you for saying that sir. I’ve learned that not everybody feels that way.”
I felt a rush of anger at the thought that he or any other serviceman had had to encounter anything but gratitude and honor from our citizenry. I told him:
“Well, they are a small minority. They just tend to have very big mouths.”
As I stepped off the bus I said, “I’m serious. Don’t sleep in a chair tonight.” He nodded and thanked me again. My phone didn’t ring so I’m hoping the USO facility had room for him and that he is able to get home today.
For him and the tens of thousands ofÂ U.S. military personnel leaving home or trying to get there today, I give you glimpse of a time in which young men like Jessie didn’t have to wonder ifÂ a stranger on a bus was for him or against him:
Update: Got a voicemail this morning from that young airman letting me know he did get a bed at the USO and that he really appreciated the offer of hospitality. I really hope he made it home today.