A Long Ride Home

It’s been a while again since I wrote. I’m here in lovely Urbana Illinois now, where the temperature is a comfortable 52 degrees Fahrenheit. This is probably the warmest it has been since I landed in Chicago late Friday evening. It’s a funny story about Friday.

I woke up at 5:15 or so to get ready to catch a bus. The bus would pick me up three or four blocks from my front door, and I would have to transfer onto another bus to get to the Van Nuys FlyAway, which delivers passengers directly to LAX. For my 10:20 flight, I wanted to try to make it to the airport by 8:30. I estimated an hour on the FlyAway, so I would need to be on that by 7:30.

Based on the combined schedules of the two buses I would take, I needed to catch the 5:50 bus by my house in order to be at the FlyAway on time. Dragging my luggage behind me about a block away from the bus stop, I saw my bus passing the bench where I’d soon be sitting. Oops. I made it to the bench and took a seat, wondering if the bus I missed came four times an hour, twice an hour, hourly, or daily. It was the Commuter Express, heading to downtown LA, so it seemed entirely possible that it only came once a day to take all the hardworking businesspeople to their office buildings in the heart of the city. I waited for about ten minutes, though, and another Commuter Express rolled up. I picked up my bag, stepped into the bus, and asked how much the fare was. It was a silly question; I already knew from looking the trip up online. Nevertheless, the woman asked where I was going, and I told her where I planned to get off the bus–an intersection four or five miles down the road. “This bus only goes downtown,” she said, her tone much less assured than her words.

“Oh,” I said. I didn’t bother to show her my printout from the Metro LA website that directed me to get on her bus. It would’ve taken too long because it was buried in my bookbag. I got off the bus and returned to my seat on the bench, wondering if I’d inadvertently mistaken it for a different bus. After fishing the printout from my bookbag, I realized I’d been correct. It had only been fifteen minutes for the first bus to come back; maybe another would come in another fifteen minutes. I waited patiently and got on the next one.

This time, I asked for a transfer as I plopped my coins into the slot. I asked with the confidence of someone who rode the bus daily, but the guy still asked, “where are you going?” I mentioned the intersection where I would disembark, and after a thoughtful moment, he nodded in agreement and punched the transfer for me.

My luggage was large enough to take up the two seats on the other side of the aisle, and at one stop we picked up a blind man who was confused that he couldn’t sit there. I told him I was sorry and said to sit one row back. When I got off the bus, a woman waiting to board had to stand aside for a moment while I lugged my luggage off behind me. I crossed the street to wait for the next bus.

There were a couple of guys waiting for the same bus, and I realized quickly that they were developmentally challenged. One sang along (very poorly) with his early model personal CD player; the other sat on the ground Indian style, rocking back and forth. The three of us waited as schoolchildren arrived on foot and left on school buses, and eventually our bus came, too, well over a half an hour later. I realized that the reason I probably should’ve come sooner was because this bus must’ve been hourly. I arrived at the FlyAway shortly after 7:30, which meant I could still catch the 8:00 bus (they depart every half hour) and hopefully arrive by 9:00.

The FlyAway was nice because once they reached their quota for the trip, they went ahead and took off. We left sometime shortly after 7:45 and made it to LAX by 8:40. I was in pretty decent shape for my 10:20 flight. I spent the last of the cash I’d brought on a coffee at the terminal Starbucks. It cost fifty cents more than coffee in standalone stores. Ridiculous. By the time I wandered over to the gate, we were about set to start boarding. I hadn’t even had a drink of my coffee and cursed myself for spending two of my last three dollars in cash on coffee when the attendants would serve us coffee once we took off.

We sat on the plane for half an hour or forty-five minutes before the captain’s voice finally came over the intercom to let us know that there was some sort of leak in the hydraulics. They were going to have their mechanic get down there and take a look. After another half hour or more, they told us that the leak was too bad and we’d have to change “equipment.” Everyone had to get off the plane.

When we got back up to the gate, they instructed people with connecting flights in Chicago to wait in line to get seats on new flights. I took a look at the huge line and thought that there was no sense messing with it. I originally had a two-hour layover; as long as we got to Chicago by 6 or so, I would have no problem catching my connection. We waited and waited for the replacement “equipment” to roll up to the gate, and after a while it became clear that we wouldn’t make it to Chicago by 6. I took a place in line.

They told me I was luckier than some of the others, who wouldn’t be able to have replacement connections that evening in Chicago. I was put on standby for the first connection to Champaign and they gave me a guaranteed seat on the second connection. We boarded the new airplane when it arrived and managed to take off from LAX something like three hours after we were scheduled to. Yay!

We arrived in Chicago and circled over the Lake before touching down at O’Hare. I wandered to the gate they’d announced on the plane for connections to C-U and sat around waiting for them to mention our flight. My cell phone battery died in the middle of a phone call to my sister, and when I looked in my bookbag for the charger, I realized I’d packed it in my luggage. Now I wouldn’t be able to call the little lady to let her know when to pick me up at Willard. I finally went to the desk to ask whether or not I would be able to get the standby seat on the first flight. The woman at the desk told me that I was at the wrong gate. WTF? I walked clear across the airport, my empty stomach now grumbling about the fact that I hadn’t brought more cash and was spending all of my time sitting and waiting anxiously.

I found the correct gate and verified that I was on standby, and then waited patiently as they let everyone board and then called off the names of everyone on standby before me. A couple of people on standby didn’t show up, and the captain walked out and asked the desk folks, “Can I have one more?” They called my name, and I sat in the last seat on the plane. I wondered as I took my seat, “Does the plane use a lot more gas when it’s completely full like this?”

After half an hour on this plane, a voice came over the intercom to explain that we were waiting for bags from other connecting flights, and that we’d be taking off as soon as they were loaded. Fifteen minutes later, they came on again, explaining that we were now overweight. “Passengers Corning and such-and-such, please return to the desk at the gate,” they announced.

They directed me to another gate, again clear at the other end of the airport. I hustled over to make it just as they were beginning to board. I turned on my cell phone just long enough to send a quick text message: “1030” to the little lady, so she’d know when I was arriving. This plane took off without much delay and we arrived in Champaign shortly afterward. I found my luggage waiting there for me (it took an earlier flight), along with the little lady. We drove by the Korean restaurant to find out it was closed, then hit Jimmy John’s and espresso before going back to her place to crash. And man was it cold out here!

More Will Be Revealed…

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2 Responses to A Long Ride Home

  1. javajunkee says:

    I guess I could’ve also said “More than you care to read will be revealed,” but if you’ve read this far, you know that by now 🙂

    I think that part of being a writer sometimes involves writing things with no clear idea why we write them. The rest of the time we’re more successful in convincing ourselves that they’re our words.

  2. Concrete Box says:

    sounds rediculusly stressful. Though the LA bus drivers were incorrect in advising you to not get on the bus, they seemed more interested in your wellfare than anyone at either airport!

    Furthermore, though mechinal failures are unavoidable, and inconveinenceing passengers is always better than killing them, you’d think since the airlines aren’t exactly new at this that they’d have a better system for correcting such problems.

    Ultimately, you made it to your destination safely though!

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