One of my longest-held practices has been to not travel by any other means than automobile around the holidays. I have violated this rule this year for the first time in a long time and I am here to tell you that if I live to be one hundred, as God is my witness, I will never do this again.
The Lovely Mrs. Matthews (TLMM) and I thought we had outsmarted much of holiday madness by choosing to leave from Indianapolis. Temperatures rose as we drove east from 26 to 42 degrees. This was good since I had forsaken my usual winter coat for a down vest and a fleece jacket. Layers, I thought. The drive was uneventful. Had I been paying more attention, I would have understood this “uneventful” as an ominous portent. The road was damp, traffic was light and generally well-behaved. Perhaps we were getting along ahead of the Christmas Crazies.
My friend Alan Oman recommended a great place to park our van during out trip and our map app took us right to it after circling the airport. A nice lady checked us in and assigned us “any free spot in row K.” Before we had even got out of the van the shuttle pulled up behind us and Jon P was grabbing our bags and chucking them up into the shuttle and off we went so quickly that TLMM forgot our plane snacks in the front seat.
We took only five minutes to reach the airport and pulled right up to the shuttle station. Over the skywalk, up an escalator, and we wandered through vast open space to the Alaska Airlines ticket counter. Yet another very nice lady told us that she decided we would not be charged for our checked bag since it was the size of a carry on, the flight was almost sold out, others would be asked to check their bags for free. Merry Christmas to us! We got our boarding passes and headed for our gate. We were one hour early for boarding and that is when the evil began.
We noticed that the flight was “delayed.” Originally scheduled to depart at 6 p.m., it now listed our flight for 6:37. No biggie. After reading for an hour or so, I stood up to walk around and reported to TLMM that I felt a bit light-headed, no doubt due to low blood sugar. TLMM leapt into action and soon returned with the cheapest sandwiches available in the airport ($6.49 each). We were hungrily munching when an airplane arrived at our gate. People poured out including one young man wearing an Alaska Airlines sweater. Apparently this had been the “lottery” flight where sweaters were handed out to passengers. Nervously I fingered the boarding pass. We were to sit in the back of the plane. We didn’t mind, except that I believed the plane would have boarded from the back to the front. Dopey me. Instead we got the holiday present of banging our carry ons on the heads of the swells who boarded early. Privilege before logic is a prevailing ethos of airline travel.
Once we got to our seats we found that a single family had filled four overhead bins with jackets and bags lying in the wrong direction. The flight attendant, hearing my indignant snort and wishing to avoid an ugly incident involving a man who looked like Santa and a family full of children, told me to put our bags forward and take my seat. No sweater for me! As it turned out the family must have had a reading disorder because everyone of the six of them was sitting in the wrong seats. By the time it was all straightened out, all of us in the back few rows had to stand up and shift around to let the attendant put the family in the correct seats.
The flight was as bumpy as the old Milwaukee Road. The young twins behind us kicked my seat for 4 1/2 hours. I closed my eyes and wrote two new stories in my mind. Children died in each one. The pilot burbled something about delays landing in Seattle. Mrs. Matthews told me that Seattle was being “hosed” by an unusual rain event.
We landed to the screams of a baby across the aisle. Then we stay for an hour on the tarmac waiting for an open gate. Slowly we inched across the airport. Then we sat for another 20 minutes waiting to deplane behind the swells with bumps on the heads. The airport was an overcrowded mass of humanity. Desperation showed on every face. “Please let me get out of here,” they all seemed to say.
The real nightmare began when we went to baggage claim and found ourselves in a sea of chaos. We should expect to wait an hour or two, and perhaps more, for our bag. In the meantime, Alaska Airlines kept texting me promising me discounts on my next flight with them. TLMM disappeared for 10 minutes and came back with our checked bag. Apparently the airline did not want to make Santa and Mrs. Claus wait too long.
Our daughter-in-law met us with food and drink, hugs and kisses. We were soon asleep. I dreamed of Santa. Next year we’ll take the reindeer. Ho ho ho!