Gather near, and a tale I will thee tell.
It is the story of how we got to grandmother’s house.
Nick’s grandmother is 89 and ailing. She lives in a northern suburb of Philadelphia. Time is shorter than one thinks; and not knowing if Jean (for that is her name) will be able to come to our wedding, we made a plan with Nick’s mother to go to Philadelphia this weekend to spend some time with Jean. So, loaded with the only treats we could bring to grandmother (namely, ourselves) we set off into the woods.
Saturday, Nick said to me: “How do you make God laugh?”
“How?” I replied.
“Make a plan,” he said.
For our plan had been, to fly to Chicago O’Hare from Madison Friday night at 6 p.m., then catch a 9 p.m. flight to Philadelphia that same night. Pick up a rental car around midnight, and drive to Jean’s. Our situation isn’t entirely as we’d like it: Nick is teaching at the UW this summer, and I have precious little vacation time left – so we had planned to come back Sunday around noon.
Our flight from Madison was delayed due to mechanical difficulties, and as a result we didn’t leave Madison until 8 p.m. We landed in Chicago at 8:30 p.m., but due to a broken jetway ramp, we didn’t get into the terminal until 9 p.m. Once there, we discovered that our flight to Philly had been cancelled due to “crew difficulties”.
So we waited in line for half an hour at the airline desk, an airline that henceforth I shall always call “Untied Airlines”. They put us up in a hotel for the night, and we were told we were booked for the 9 a.m. flight to Philly. This might still afford us plenty of time with Jean, we thought: Nick’s mom was flying out there Saturday morning herself, and so we thought we could all meet up together on Saturday.
We waited another half hour to get the shuttle to the hotel, which was the Holiday Inn in Rolling Meadows, another half-hour drive from the airport. We checked in to the hotel, exhausted and hungry from our lack of dinner, and are told the dining room is open for another half an hour (it’s 11 p.m.), and is serving ham sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, or pizzas. Not the most desirable fare for my pescatarian dieting self, but we made do.
Saturday we awakened at 5:45 a.m. in order to make the 6:30 a.m. shuttle to O’Hare. At 7:00 a.m. we checked in. This is when we discovered that we were on the Standby list. The 9:04 flight left without us. So did the 10:45 flight, then the 1:15 flight. I tried to look on the bright side, that we were getting plenty of exercise trundling ourselves from gate to gate and between concourses. We went to the gate for the 4 p.m. flight, and our chances for getting on that one looked slim.
At this point, we are recalling an episode of the only prime-time television show that we watch in real-time – How I Met Your Mother, a show written and produced by Nick’s college friends Craig and Carter. In this episode, Barney (played by Neil Patrick Harris) & Ted (played by Josh Radnor) go to the airport to pick up women, and end up flying to Philly in pursuit of two hotties who turn out not to be single. In the meantime, they have called their friend Marshall (played by Jason Segel, who you may remember from the show “Freaks & Geeks” & the movie “SLC Punk”), who’s sitting at home studying law on a Friday night, and they convince him to drive to Philly. Several times they call him, and call him back, saying “Come to Philly!” then “Don’t come to Philly!” when he is already halfway there by driving, then “Come to Philly!” after he’s turned around again. At the Philadelphia airport they’re detained, and end up going to the house of an airport security guard for a “party”. They lick the Liberty Bell, when all other adventures fail.
It would seem there would be no liberty-bell licking for us.
As we sit, Nick calls Untied Airlines and we pursue the option of an indirect route to Philly – through Baltimore or somewhere – and we agree to a plan of routing us through Greensboro, NC and then on to Philly, which would get us there around 8:30 p.m. We figured as long as we were there by then, we could catch a later flight Sunday and still have 24 hours with Jean. Intent on our new plan, we begin the trek to the new gate, pausing by the Departures screen to double-check our gate and flight.
Only to see that the flight to Greensboro, NC is delayed by four hours.
“Oh no no no,” we say, and it’s back on the phone with Untied Airlines that Nick goes. According to the information we are given, there is no way to get to Philadelphia that evening. If we took the Greensboro flight, we’d miss our connection to Philly and have to stay overnight, and not get to Philly until the morning of the same day we had to leave it.
The wolf had swallowed us whole. We were not getting to grandmother’s house; instead of waiting for us there, the wolf had waylaid us on the trail.
Defeated, we decided to go back to Madison. An earlier agent had reserved us (or so we thought), a spot on the 4 p.m. flight to Madison. We trekked to the Madison gate, all glum like Saddy Dumpington (who can only spread sadness and misery!), and check in at 3 p.m.
I am singing to myself the line from They Might Be Giants, “If I didn’t have disappointment/ I wouldn’t have any appointments.”
At the Madison gate was a woodman with an ax; or an angel, who cut open the wolf’s belly and let us out. As we tried to check in and weren’t on the listed flight for Saturday, but instead for Sunday, the agent (who was also an O’Hare Police officer, according to her badge) heard a very abridged version of our tale, namely “We’ve been trying to get to Philly since last night, but we can’t get there today, so we’re going home.”
“Oh, the woods we have to go to to get to Grandmother’s house,” I muttered.
She tapped at her computer and then said: “Do you still want to go to Philly?”
“Yes,” we said.
“Then I’ve booked you on the 6:15 flight, in the first class section.”
“God bless you,” I said.
Although Nick pointed out that with over two hours until boarding time there was plenty of time for things to go wrong, I remained hopeful. We boarded and took off without incident, enjoying the comforts of first class travel, and landed on time at the Philadelphia airport, where we were greeted by Nick’s mother and uncle.
The drive to Jean’s house took us past the refineries, along a river, through some run-down neighbors, and finally into lush, green, leafy Cheltenham. It was 11 p.m. Eastern time, but we congregated by Jean’s bed. The whole trip was worth it for the joy with which Jean greeted Nick, and myself as well. The Coleman family has made me more welcome than any family I’ve known, including and especially my own.
Jean’s apartment was such as I would like to have, if I lived there: it’s decorated with a rather 70’s sensibility, without the colors and patterns. The furniture is fabulous. It’s on the sixth floor, and the windows overlook many trees. There’s a small patio, a breakfast nook, a small kitchen, an office, two bathrooms, and a larger bedroom. Beautiful. Ellen’s was a carbon copy of the space, with different decoration.
Sunday we had a leisurely breakfast after a long sleep, and coffee with Ellen, Jean’s sister who lives in an apartment downstairs (she’s 91) and her son Dick, who has an appointment at the US Institute of Peace. We had lunch at Ellen’s, as well, and in the afternoon drove to little ways to the house of Nick’s Uncle Chuck and his third wife. It is surely the most Better Homes & Gardens-y home that I have ever been in, and it’s impressive as such – but I couldn’t live in a house like that, as much as I covet their kitchen. After a short visit, we drove around, with Nick’s mom pointing out items of family history, including the house where she grew up, and Ellen’s old house. Nick’s mom, whom I love, was different in Philly than I had seen her in Madison. She was softer and more tender, more open when surrounded by her family and roots.
At 5:30 p.m. it was time to go back to the airport to check in for our 7:55 p.m. flight. We checked in at 6:15, to find that since we were there early enough we were put on an earlier flight, which boarded in 20 minutes. Our idea of getting dinner while waiting was again quashed. Then there was another delay … and they moved the gate … and then the hazy, humid evening delivered a lightning storm and rain. We were boarded, but sat on the runway watching the rain for over an hour while the airport was shut down. Nick made anagrams of our names, such as “Join me Teach Healers “ (that’s mine) and “Now Calm Can Do in Healers” (Nick’s). Finally we left, at 9 p.m. Eastern time, arriving at O’Hare with 20 minutes to dash across concourses to catch our flight to Madison at 10:15 p.m., the last flight of the night.
We made it though; and arrived in Madison at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night, hungry and with no food in the house. Of course, that means you go to the Pine Cone truck stop out by the Interstate off Hwy 51.
And all of it was worth it. Nick is still my favorite person in the world, even when he is traveling, overtired, and grumpy. Even when I am, too. After a horrible week, we were able to re-connect. I feel I know him better after learning more about his roots, learning some of the history of the family. They’re my family now, too.
To run down an itemized list of Things I Learned This Weekend:
1. The Wolf is ever at your door, don’t think he’s not.
2. Family, whether blood or adopted, is very important, and worth a little trouble.
3. Love is very real, and also worth a little trouble.
4. Flying through O’Hare is a bad thing; avoid it if at all possible.
5. A Corollary: Untied Airlines often makes you fly through O’Hare (at least if you’re coming from Madison); therefore, they are also to be avoided.
6. Another Corollary: Leave Madison. It will make many things easier. Or , as Nick says: “One of these days we’ll leave Madison, and it will stick.”