Sunday, January 07, 2007
The Long Miles Home pt 2 Chicago to Denver
I always used to love airports, especially when I was a child. The thrill of vacation, of traveling somewhere 'else.' After spending seemingly endless hours in O'Hare, I no longer feel this way.
It is hard to recapture the feelings of absolute dispair that flooded into me that Friday night. The 'bounce' in my step from the Kansai International jetway was replaced by a feeling that I would never make it back to Denver. The several times I had called the family to update them on my progress, or lack thereof, I literally could not speak for more than a few words without breaking down. Lack of sleep and real food had me at the breaking point.
I'd say that I cried myself to sleep, but I didn't actually make it to sleep. I just cried. The harsh lights, benches, cleaners, continued security announcements, musak, and my own jangled nerves robbed me of any blissful sleep.
While wandering around the terminal for 'something to do' at around three in the morning I came upon this sign, which just added insult to injury. As I write I find it is really hard to capture how I felt. Just suffice it to say that this is perhaps the lowest I have ever been. The thought that I had traveled 6,000 miles across the Pacific to get stuck here, so close yet so far, it hit me hard. The lack of sleep certainly did not help matters.
But at least there was hope. There were ten flights scheduled from Chicago to Denver the next day, with ten chances, I was feeling, if not pretty good, at least hopeful. I hadn't had the hope burned out of my soul... yet. Sorry if that seems a bit excessive, but what can I say.
As five o'clock rolled around people started trickling towards the chosen gate from all corners of the terminal. Lots, and lots of people. Pretty soon the gate area was just as crowded as those the evening before, and any hopes of sneaking out in the pre-dawn darkness were dashed.
In fact, it was a full flight, and not one of the hundreds of standby passengers made it out. This pattern repeated for the next flight two hours later. With two of the ten flights gone and not a single standby safely evacutated things were looking desperate. Of course there was no solid information forthcoming from United. There were some passengers who had managed to find an added flight for four in the afternoon, but no United employees in O'hare seemed to know of this mythical airplane.
After standing in the line at customer service, again, I simply asked Grace, the kindest and most helpful employee I encountered, what the earliest open flight was. She booked me on a flight on Tuesday the 26th! Recall please that it was now Saturday the 23rd, and that I had left (in US time) on Thursday that 21st. Wow. But I was sick of Standby. I physically and mentally couldn't take the endless gypsy migration from gate to gate in the sterile airport. Especially with two flights gone and no lessening in the standby ranks, I just couldn't take it anymore.
I decided to just enjoy Chicago, despite my lack of change of clothes, and make the best of my bad situation. I checked into an airport hotel, took a shower and lay down for an hour. I only dozed a bit, I was still too keyed up to really sleep, but it was nice to have a bed and not a hard, unforgiving airport bench.
Then I called my Dad, who was not going to take Tuesday lying down. He was on the internet and had found that Amtrack's Southwest Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles had seats open. I could get off at Raton New Mexico! and he would pick me up on Sunday. I said sure, as Sunday is a lot better than Tuesday, but that he would have to make the arrangements as my faculties were pretty much shot. "No problem, I'll call you back at the hotel in 45 minutes."
At this point all I can say is I got a Christmas Miracle. Right before my dad called Amtrack somebody canceled their seat on the California Zephyr, the train from Chicago to San Francisco with a stop at... Denver. No Raton New Mexico. No four hour drive back into Denver. Just point A to point B. I was thrilled, to say the least.
I checked out of the hotel, (the worlds shortest stay?) and hopped a cab to Union Station. A couple of hours later I was on my way again, and a journey that began on a train was back on the rails.
Amtrack was actually kind of fun. There is a lot more room than in coach on an airplane, and there is something soothing about the clacking and rocking of a train. I finally slept, only six hours, but being it was my first shuteye in three days it was blissful. I had some pretty interesting seatmates to chat with, and the scenery of Western Illinois and Ohio was an interesting change. The American heartland is pretty different from Japan!
After a few delays, totalling about an hour, we pulled into Union Station, Denver, CO , USA. Even now, thinking about it almost two weeks and a continent later, thinking about finally being HOME, I am starting to tear up. Seeing that familiar skyline, those familiar rockies... and then finally seeing my family. It was emotional to say the least.