Monday, February 11, 2008

Stormy Weather

Here's how I'd define a trooper: Someone who soldiers on through difficult circumstances without complaint. Someone who gets the job done, no matter how hard the job is or becomes. When life gives the trooper lemons, the trooper makes a lemon meringue pie and invites all her friends over to eat it.

Am I a trooper? It depends. I am good in situations that force you to wait patiently for long periods of time--traffic jams and flight delays, for instance. When my children have taken suddenly ill (that time Will threw up during school pick-up, when we were sandwiched between hundreds of cars and had no way out) or have had scary falls, I haven't panicked. I do pretty well with flat tires and broken down vehicles. I once had a baby without an epidural, but I'm not sure I can claim trooper status for that, since I was screaming my lungs out for an epidural, only Will's head had already crowned and they wouldn't give me one.

I am not a trooper when I'm sick or in pain. I ask my dentist for double doses of novacain. If my throat is the slightest bit sore or I have the tiniest of sniffles, I cancel every appointment on the books (I am the opposite of my husband in this regard, who last year was such a trooper he ended up in the hospital). And I am most certainly not a trooper when it comes to traveling in bad weather. My motto is: If there's half a chance of snow, I won't go. Tiniest bit of ice? Home is nice.

Which brings us to yesterday. I was supposed to fly to Huntsville, Alabama yesterday afternoon for school visits on Monday and Tuesday. I was feeling a little stressed about taking this trip to begin with, and then I made the mistake of checking the weather to see whether or not I needed my heavy coat for the trip. Thunderstorms were predicted across Tennessee for Tuesday afternoon and evening, when I'd be flying home (Tennessee making up the bulk of my trip). I googled "flying in thunderstorms" and learned that they are probably the most dangerous sort of weather to fly through.

As I was getting myself good and freaked out about thunderstorms, the wind outside my own window was building up a head of steam. Tree limbs were crashing on the roof, gutters rattled and hummed. So maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise--and it certainly was a relief--when I arrived at the airport only to discover that my flight to Atlanta had been suddenly canceled. The plane from Atlanta had gotten all the way to Raleigh, but it couldn't land because of the high winds, and so it turned around. Word was, all flights to Atlanta were canceled for the day.

Oh, well, I thought, that's too bad. I stood in line for an hour to find out how to retrieve my bags. I felt good. I'd had a bad feeling about this trip, and now I didn't have to take it.

Only, it turned out, I did. The airline folks very kindly re-routed me. I would fly to Cincinnati, get my connection there, and then fly to Huntsville. I was disappointed, but I was a trooper and I trooped on over to Gate 18, resigned to my fate--death by thunderstorm on Tuesday afternoon.

The Cincinnati flight was delayed ... and then delayed some more. When they finally boarded, I asked the man who took my boarding pass if we'd make it to Cincinnati in time for me to make my connection, and he said, "Oh, sure," but I knew he had no idea; he just wasn't in the mood to deal with me.

Walking across the tarmac to the plane--or should I say the tiny, insubstantial jet--I felt like crying. The zen of this trip was getting so bad. But I was a trooper, and I trooped up the rickety steps into the tiny, tiny aircraft, stooped down (which at 5'4" I don't often have to do) so I wouldn't bump my head, and found my tiny, tiny seat. The passenger next to me was a very nice young man, a freshman at Boston College, who had been visiting his brother at Duke. He was also coughing out cold germs like no tomorrow, which he was apologetic about. Like a good mom, I gave him a peppermint.

We sat on the plane. We sat some more. Finally, we taxied, and I accepted the fact that within a few minutes I would be dead. The winds would push this tiny plane down to the ground, it would explode, and maybe someday someone would find a tooth of mine over in the grass somewhere. I could have freaked out at this point, but I was trying to be a trooper, and so I didn't.

And then the pilot spoke: "Ladies and gentleman, we seem to have a mechanical problem here, so we'll have to taxi back to the gate and have it fixed. It won't take long, and then we'll be back in the air."

This is when I stopped being a trooper. There was no way I would make my connecting flight in Cincinnati, and I no longer cared. Sure, I called my husband, asked him to go on line and see what the possibilities were, but in my heart I knew that I wasn't going anywhere. When we got back to the gate, I got off the plane. I tried to get ahold of my luggage, but interestingly enough, it had made it to Huntsville, Alabama without me (somehow it had gotten booked on a direct flight; I still haven't figured this out). I filled out paperwork to get it flown back to me. I called the Scholastic Books representative who was meeting me at the airport, and who I had been updating on my flight status all afternoon.

Could I fly out in the morning, she asked? There was a 6 a.m. flight in the morning that would get me to Huntsville in time. No. I was no longer pretending to be a trooper, and besides, getting up early is something I simply am incapable of being a trooper about. Getting up at seven is a burden. Getting up at 4:30 a.m. to make a six o'clock flight? Forget it.

Maybe, she speculated, we could call the schools in Alabama and see if they could switch their schedules around so if I got there at noon, the show could still go on? No. A trooper might have done that. I was no longer a trooper. I would happily reschedule for another time, I told her, but now I was going to go home and wait for my luggage.

And that's where I am now, happily writing this while I drink my coffee. Like a trooper, I will reschedule my trip to Alabama, but after that I'm going to stick close to home whenever possible (or whenever there are no direct flights to the places I'm invited). There are schools all over this town, and all over the next town, and the town next to that. I'll go visit them. And then I'll come home and sleep in my own bed, where I belong.

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