Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Miracles of Modern Travel

In a lot of ways I am awestruck by something we almost take for granted these days. It is almost too easy—you get on an airplane; it leaves the ground and soars hundreds of miles in a few hours to return to the earth and deposit its passengers to take another form of transportation to their destination or get on another plane to continue their journey.

For many years, the north forty-ninth state, which was not even a state when I was born, seemed incredibly distant to me and beyond reach. Then a dream and an idea began to take shape in my mind. In 2014, I discovered that by air, it is not so far at all—mere hours had me there.  Now I have been to Alaska and back five times and spent a total of close to three months there.  

Any long trip is an adventure. My latest was no exception. Although I am certainly not Catholic and really not even religious, I nearly feel I need to light a candle for St. Christopher, the patron of travelers. Either he or my guardian angel had to have been working overtime to ensure I made the trip as I had planned it and even my checked luggage did the same. It was by the narrowest of margins not once but twice!

On Tuesday, Feb 28, I boarded a ‘regional’ jet at El Paso, bound for Phoenix. Although the wind was blowing close to hurricane force gusts and moving clouds of dust, the plane took off without issues and landed safely in Phoenix at the appointed time. My gates were some distance apart as usual—switching from the short hop small planes to the larger long distance ones usually has the result.  I had more time than I expected because some issue –I think they said “a minor maintenance matter” kept us on the ground for quite while after the expected take off. Finally we were airborne, headed for SeaTac, the Seattle-Tacoma airport.

I was fretting about making a fairly close connection and expecting to have to take the tram from the “D” to the “N” concourse since I was switching from American to Alaskan. One of my seat companions was a younger business man who clearly traveled a lot. He had an app on his phone to look up gates and assured me we were to come in at D-11 and I would go out at D-3. What a bit of luck. Coming into the crowded airport, I checked the first board I saw and found that was true. I scurried and found the plane already in the boarding process but I was far from the last passenger. I did worry a bit whether my suitcase had made that flight, though. However I knew Alaskan is very good with luggage and would ensure I did get it.

Off we went to land about three and a half hours later in Anchorage. Lo and behold, my suitcase had indeed made it on the same plane and popped up quickly on the carousel. I grabbed it and went out in the chill to catch the shuttle to my hotel.

Two weeks later on March 14, I rode the same shuttle, emblazoned with a picture of sled dogs running in harness, since the hotel is the long-time headquarters for the Iditarod. At sundown the local temperature was about 10-15 (above zero!) but wind chill made it feel colder. I was early—I’d had to check out of my room at 12:00 noon and got tired of schlepping around the hotel. Now I just wanted to be home! The old hurry up and wait routine, too familiar!

I checked in, made it through security and found my gate. Still had time to burn so I visited a McDonald’s for a snack, wandered through some shops and finally it was time to board. We were about on time and landed in Seattle at 2:00 a.m. Again both gates were in “D” but the outbound was in a new area where the concessions had not even been opened yet and at that hour might not have been anyway. Oh well, I was then too tired and dull to want to eat. We were to leave at 5:00 and I would have an hour in Phoenix to get back to the puddle jumper gate.

The hour came and we were not boarding. The growing crowd was restive. Finally the representative told us they were missing two crew members, an officer and a flight attendant for whom substitutes had been summoned. We waited some more. It was right at 6:00 a.m., an hour late, when we took off. The pilot told us there was a headwind so he could not make up much time but he’d do his best to help all of us make any connections.
Just before take off I texted my brother and the friend who was picking me up that there might be a delay. An hour of my expected seventy-two minutes in Phoenix was gone…

When we touched down I had about forty minutes before the next plane was to leave. My set was back in row 21 and it took forever to get everyone on their feet, gear collected and moving. I tried not to get frantic. They had promised me an electric cart when I expressed concern at Seattle but someone lese must have nabbed it. With about twenty minutes left, I went to a customer service desk and got the gate number—the usual long run from the outer wing of “A” to the inner wing of “B”. I ran; even on the moving sidewalks, I ran, almost certain it was a lot cause but I had to try. Gate B-15 was obscure—I asked for it at B-16 and dashed back to find it hidden behind Starbucks. By then I was  shaking as I both cursed and blessed the fact more construction had these smaller planes out on the tarmac in the old fashioned way, though with a long ramp rather than stairs to climb aboard. I was the last passenger to get there.

I barely had time to text that I had made it and would be in El Paso at the appointed time. My hand shook so much I could hardly hit the letters.  I was and amazingly, my bag was too! Outside it was pushing 90 degrees. Even my flannel shirt was too hot and the mid-weight parka I had worn to the Ted Stevens Airport in Anchorage was a useless albatross. I shed both when we reached my friend’s SUV. He cranked up the air and two hours later I was home to be greeted by my eager red dogs. A journey of about fifteen hours total, from winter to summer, from Alaska to the Mexican Border, on which El Paso sits. From sled dogs to pet dogs and my own bed at last.

Yes, miracles on all sides. Heartfelt thank yous to whichever of the Powers-that-Be interceded for me.  Thanks also to the chap with the app between Phoenix nd Seattle and the two young men who shared my set from Seattle back to Phoenix and helped me slip on my backpack and blocked those behind so I could head down the aisle as soon as it was possible. Maybe looking like an old lady, especially a kind of eccentric ‘cowboy girl’ sort of one has its perks!

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