What Can You Pack into 28 Hours?

After a week of work abroad, (mixed of course with a little fun), I was looking forward to heading back home. There are two hotels right across from the airport from where I was departing and I like to book a room in one of them on my last night in town so neither traffic nor weather could deter me from getting to the airport on time, (I missed my flight in this location once due to construction traffic).

I was having trouble getting a room at one of these hotels, but kept trying throughout the week until I finally secured one albeit at an increased rate.

When I arrived at the hotel the lobby was full of people sporting tuxedos and fancy dresses. There was also a man dressed and made up something like Frank N. Furter except his lingerie was bright red in color. I briefly overheard him trying to convince some of the revelers to take his whip and use it on him saying, “don’t worry, I like it.” Oook.

I found out later that Triumph motorcycle, (headquartered in these parts), was holding its annual Christmas party at a nearby convention center. If, (as I learned from a taxi driver), you wanted to attend this party you were required to show proof that you had a hotel room at the conference center or within a certain area serviced by their rented shuttles. He explained this rule was to avoid anyone attempting to drive after having too much to drink.

(I didn’t ask what prompted this “rule”.)

I probably should have kept my room at the hotel a little further away. Although all was quiet in the new hotel when I returned that evening, the hallways outside my room were, from around 3 and 4 AM, filled with the sounds of (presumably drunk) people yelling, (not in a bad way—just talking exceptionally loud is probably a better way to put it), and banging into things making sleep difficult.

On top of that there was talk of snow in Birmingham, UK, which had everyone in a tizzy. I guess it really doesn’t snow there much and even the threat of a light dusting will get people into a “hunker down” mentality. Everyone was warning us that doomsday was fast approaching and that there was little chance for us to escape unscathed if at all.

When I woke up for the second time it was to my phone’s alarm and not partygoers. I took a quick look out my window and there was no snow on the ground. Feeling good I took the short walk to the airport, breezed through check-in and security, and was left with an hour or so to spare. So I headed to the airline’s lounge for some breakfast. After settling down with some eggs and sausage I saw the first of a tentative snowfall which quickly got stronger then—in about five minutes total—was totally gone.

I took that as a good sign.

In the Birmingham airport they do not tell you which gate to use until about 15 minutes before boarding. So I waited in the lounge until the gate was posted and then headed to it thinking about how overreactive people had been about the threat of snow and looking forward to getting home. However, what was usually a short 10 minute wait in the gate area turned into about 30 minutes until someone announced that there were weather problems in Amsterdam delaying our flight.

I like to think that I am pretty laid-back, but honestly started to get a little nervous as I only had an hour and a half layover in Amsterdam which could be pretty tight if one had to walk across the entire airport to get to the next flight, (it takes about 20 minutes to make that trip at a brisk walk—I’ve done it before). However, we were soon allowed to board the plane which gave me some relief.

Except that after the doors were closed we sat unmoving for about 30 minutes.

Finally the captain came on the speakers and said that we had been given a flight lane, but because ground crews were busy with other aircraft they could not get us away from the gate in time. On top of that even when the window was extended 10 more minutes ground crews still could not seem to get to us. (I wish I had recorded how the captain conveyed this message as it was to me very positive and calming while at the same time leaving this listener with the notion that he was very frustrated with the situation.) The good news, as he said, is that we were given a new lane. Then he paused and, (again in a positive and calming voice), said that it was three hours from now.

At this point the older (?), well dressed gentleman next to me let out a small barrage of guttural noises that I am guessing were Dutch curse words. (Dutch to me sounds like a cross between someone speaking something like German while at the same trying to clear phlegm from their throat.) We were then told that we could leave the plane, but if we were not going to make other arrangements, to stay near the gate as they were trying to negotiate an earlier departure.

I and I think everyone else departed to the gate area. I got on the phone with our company’s travel agents to try and arrange something else only to be told that because they had not cancelled the flight I couldn’t rebook but would have to buy additional tickets without any refund on the existing ones. Then I called Delta and while they tried to help, it was explained that the best chance I had was to get to Amsterdam where there were many more options. (Since KLM operated the flight I was taking and they had many more contacts in Amsterdam than Delta did directly, Delta’s advice was to let KLM sort this all out.)

While milling around at the gate after making my phone calls someone waved me over. I sort of recognized him, but had no idea from where. It turned out to be a father of someone who was a classmate of my kids, (or at least had been—his daughter had graduated last year). It is one of those situations where in a different context, like at a school event, I would have probably recognized him, but for the first few minutes of talking about kids, etc. I had absolutely no idea who this person was. In fact I was starting to think maybe it was some sort of game where a person strikes up a conversation with another pretending to know who they were just to see how they react. But, no, he turned out to be the real deal. I told (well, texted) my daughter about that later and she replied “weird”. Yes, indeed.

So, my original flight out of Amsterdam was at 1PM and I knew there was another direct flight to Detroit around 3:30. I held out hope that I could make that one. And things seemed to start to fall into place as we were ushered back onto the plane after only about 30 minutes hanging around the gate. As people filed in the captain came on the speakers saying that we had five minutes to get everyone seated and things in place or we would miss our window. Things did not turn ugly, but I would say…urgent. This time we were pushed back and headed out.

I’m writing this 24 hours after I woke up in Birmingham to catch my flight back home began and the story is just beginning. But it is now 13 minutes past my daughter’s curfew and I just texted her and asked what was going on. She seems to be stranded and asking if I can pick her up somewhere 22 minutes away.

(Fast forward to 28 hours after waking up in Birmingham.)

Now I want my daughter to know that if she ever feels like she needs a ride she can call me and I’ll be there or arrange something for her no questions asked even if I’m running on fumes. So I didn’t grill her on the ride home, but just chatted about the evening.

My daughter did break curfew which will have consequences. We will talk tomorrow about what happened and different choices she could have made. But for now, I am just happy that both kids are safe at home and that I will get a few hours sleep in my own bed. The rest of this story I wanted to get down while still fresh in my mind, but will have to wait. I don’t think I have packed so much into 24—scratch that—28 hours.

Now, the end of the story.

We arrived in Amsterdam a little after 2PM which was a little over an hour after my original flight had departed. Luckily I only had to walk maybe a quarter of the airport to get to the travel agent to book another flight. He said, as I already knew, that there was a 3:20 flight out and put me in a seat in economy, (my ticket was for business class, but I gladly gave up that comfort just to get home although I asked for an aisle seat). He seemed perplexed about something, though, and kept punching away at the keyboard. Meanwhile I looked at my phone, realized that it was almost 3 and that there was probably no way I could make it to the gate before they closed the doors. I pointed this out to the gentleman helping me and he gave me an “oh no” look and picked up the phone. After a brief exchange in Dutch, (either that or an extended clearing of his throat), he confirmed that indeed it was too late for me to make that flight and that must be why he could not confirm my seat.

So, back to hunting. After a few minutes of looking for flights out of Amsterdam, London, Frankfort and Paris he gave me two options—neither of which were appealing. One had me going through Atlanta to Cleveland, (or Cincinnati—some city that starts with ‘C’ in that state to the south of which we do not speak), to Detroit. Or, the even stranger path of St. Paul to Lansing to Detroit. I tend to avoid Atlanta at all costs, (with Chicago a close second), and had already heard murmurs of delays in Atlanta from others in the growing number of people waiting in line behind me, so scratched that. The St. Paul route seemed too risky with the double connections and I imagined myself stranded in a small, Lansing airport overnight. So I asked what the earliest direct flight was out of Amsterdam the next day. He said there was one at 7:45 and it had a business class seat available. While I was going to miss my daughter’s school’s Christmas concert that night, any chance of making it had already passed, so I took the Saturday morning flight.

The airline put me up in a hotel a 15-minute shuttle drive from the airport as well as a voucher for dinner. I was planning to take a walk, eat and go to bed exceptionally early, but the weather was some sleety-rain mixture and I didn’t want to get my clothes soaked as I had to wear them again tomorrow, so just waited in the hotel until the restaurant opened. (I should probably pack a spare set of clothes, but there is always a battle between my aversion to overpacking and my desire to be prepared.) After a brief dinner I headed to bed around 8PM local time with a 3:45 AM alarm. (My flight started boarding a little after 6 and I wanted to give myself plenty of time to get a shuttle to the airport, get through security and…get home!)

0 Hours Awake

Woke up, showered, packed what little I had unpacked, and went down to the lobby where several other stranded passengers were waiting for a shuttle. Luckily the hotel had reserved a couple large vans into which we all piled. The airport was well populated, but, compared to peak times, as empty as I had ever seen it. Lines were short and I made it to my gate well in advance of boarding. Things were running smoothly and we took off…on time! I tried to sleep, but my body at this point was totally confused, so gave up on that idea after a while and watched a movie. Then I did some work, or at least tried, (I could probably rightfully request a refund of the in-flight WiFi as it was spotty at best; usually it’s fairly good, but this plane must have an older version of the technology installed on it). All-in-all it was a pleasant trip with nothing much to say about it.

13 Hours Awake (minus a bit of restless dozing on the plane)

The kids were confirmed awake and ready to be picked up, (yes, it was 11:30AM, but they are teenagers, so you never know). I quickly unloaded my luggage, turned up the heat in the house to a more comfortable temperature, (I lower the heating point when out of town), and headed back on the road. Liam was shoveling the neighbor’s driveway when I arrived so I helped him finish that and then we all piled into the car. Ann looked peculiar wearing dark colors and a black knit hat, (she rarely ever wears hats). Her hair was covering half her face and she had an extreme amount of dark makeup on. She was also sporting a chain hooked to her belt and attached to a wallet. It was as if she suddenly entered a goth phase during the week I was away. I finally made a statement about her being all “made up” and she laughed saying she wondered how long it would take me to mention it, (Liam asked how long later and she said it was my third question).

It turned out that she had to be at the 12 Oaks mall by 3 to take part in a class activity. The Seniors would wander the mall and the Juniors would try to find them. If a Senior was spotted the Junior unmasking them would receive a token. So the Seniors wore disguises to avoid detection. (Ann said it was good acting practice as she not only had the costume, but had to alter her walk and posture to fit the role of an angsty teen. The posture she said was the hardest and later said that it was really hard on her back to slouch that long.)

The costumes were great. There were a few senior citizen looks including grey hair a walker and another in a three piece suit and a cane, a varsity jacket and hat from a different school, and several hats and wigs. While Liam was not able to participate directly, he wanted to wander the mall and play “spot the Senior” as well, (and text Ann when he saw groups of Juniors to tell her where they were). After a while we ended up at Starbucks which seemed to be the downfall of many Seniors. Since the wait in line and after was quite long, a group of Juniors would walk by every so often and check the queues. We saw at least three Seniors get tagged while waiting for coffee. At this point Ann’s phone had presumably run out of battery, but after she had asked Liam to get her a coffee and deliver it to her. Unfortunately we had no idea where she was, but finally found her blending quite well into the Hot Topic storefront.

18 Hours Awake

After the game, the Seniors went to someone’s house for a party and I was to pick Ann up at 10PM. Liam wanted to do some shopping so we went to Five Below, Marshall’s and Game Stop. Then it was off to another Marshall’s, (he was looking for a specific pair of socks for a white elephant gift). Shopping complete we got a quick bite to eat at Panera. At this point my body was hitting a wall and I just wanted to stretch out on the padded bench in Panera, but there was still more to do. Liam also had a Christmas party that evening, (and was also supposed to be picked up at 10; luckily the parties were somewhat close so I could pick one kid up a little early and the other a little late), so off we went.

I now had three hours to kill on my own before taxi duty and knew that I had to stay moving or else risk falling into a deep slumber and forcing the kids to find their own way home. Since I also had basically no time for Christmas shopping being gone half of November and (will be gone) half of December, I headed back to the stores to pick up something Liam wanted, (except I was picking this up for my parents to give to him—yes, I frequently do their gift shopping too), and way too much candy for the stockings. Unfortunately I’m struggling to figure out what the kids or my parents want and really did not make any headway there. (I do have various trinkets I’ve picked up over the year thinking it’d be something one or the other kid would like, but no main gift for either having let my parents claim the couple of ideas I had.)

As I have a low tolerance for shopping especially when the stores are packed, I headed back home to wash clothes for next week’s trip and hang some more ornaments around the house. The bed and couch kept calling out for “just a brief repast,” but I knew that succumbing to that desirable offer would only lead to trouble. So I kept on my feet counting down the hours then minutes to bedtime.

24 Hours Awake

Ann had texted me saying that the party was extended and that she would get a ride home. When I asked when she’d be back she told me before midnight. With the transportation problem seemingly solved I picked up Liam on time and got him in bed then, for some reason, decided that I should wait up for Ann just in case. Call it parental intuition as sure enough come a quarter past midnight Ann texted me that she lost track of time and needed a ride. Of course that was an hour round trip and then even though I was exhausted it still took a little time to unwind and head to bed.

28 Hours Awake

At this point it was around 2AM, so decided I’d go to the late service the next morning, but still had to leave around 10 to get the kids to their church. Maybe I’ll get some sleep Sunday night—except I have a Monday morning flight out, (although this time just a short hop to sunny Memphis). Good luck…

(Meanwhile Ann fell asleep a quarter into the Lion’s game and is still conked out three hours later—I should probably wake her up. Teens have it so tough…)

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