I am writing this as I sit in our room at the Best Western Motel in Clive, Iowa (a suburb of Des Moines).  Steve is gone playing pool with some colleagues from the Des Moines VA, and I am basking in the glory of being alone for the first time in four days.  (I believe that God never intended for a man and woman to be together 24/7.)  But we have been together, trying to begin our ten-day vacation to the Midwest, surviving and problem-solving non-stop since my son dropped us off at the Portland Airport at 10:00 a.m. on May 20th

(We were scheduled to be here a year ago, but of course, all of last year’s trips were scrapped).  

Our trip began as usual, and at first there was no hint that this trip may turn out to be somewhat of a debacle.  We were in the “exit” row, so had extra leg room, and all was well.  All passengers wore masks, and everyone was polite and tried to stay as far apart as one can on an airplane.   

As our plane approached Denver, the pilot informed us that there was a thunderstorm with high winds over Denver, and that we were headed to Colorado Springs to fly in circles until the storm passed.   He assured us that there was nothing to worry about:  we still had plenty of time and we would all arrive in Denver in time to catch our connecting flights.  Twenty minutes later he informed us that, oops, the plane was running out of fuel and we needed to land in Colorado Springs to get re-fueled.   There were several planes ahead of us also being refueled and three hours later we headed back to Denver, hoping that there would still be another flight to Des Moines.  Unfortunately, we missed our flight and there were no more flights scheduled for the evening.

When we deplaned, there were already at least 200 people in line, waiting to be served at the “Customer Service” counter, trying to find flights out of Denver to where-ever it is they were trying to get to.   After having no luck trying to arrange a flight on my United app, and a frustrating phone call with a United personnel who was apologetic but absolutely no help, a United representative apparently took pity on us and took us aside to help us find another flight.  (Perhaps we appeared to be especially needy out of the other 200+ people.  I really don’t know why he pulled us out of the line to provide assistance).   It was already 10:00 p.m. and we obviously would be spending the night in Denver.  But we assumed we would be flying to Des Moines the following day.   Nope.

I remember a time when, if you missed your flight, there were staff available to assist with finding a motel.  They also provided a personal care kit so that you could at least brush your teeth and put on deodorant!  I guess those times have passed, because we were literally on our own to figure things out.  I  don’t remember how we ended up at the “Econo-Lodge”, but I do remember that the taxi driver charged $50 for a 9-mile trip.  And there we sat for two days until it was time to board our flight to Des Moines.   By this time, nerves were more than frayed, but we remained surprisingly civil and hopeful.  

We arrived in Des Moines, but our bags did not arrive with us.   We ran to the Enterprise counter, made a quick stop at a Dollar Store for deodorant, toothpaste, and a package of cheap underwear and headed to Missouri for the Round Barn Bluesfest, where we met up with some dear friends.  We were still wearing the same clothes we had on when we boarded the plane in Portland.   I bought a Round Barn Blues T-shirt as soon as I got there and changed my top in the outhouse.  (The Round Barn is in the country, it had been raining, and goopy mud oozed through my shoes which I later washed in the motel sink.)

We made our way back to Des Moines the next day and discovered that our bags had still not arrived at the airport.   Mine had been flown back to Portland, while Steve’s was sitting at the Omaha airport.  At this point, all we could really do was laugh.   

I am reminded of another time when I was stranded, this time at the Portland Airport in 2004.   I had flown out from Des Moines to finalize the sale of my mother’s home (she had died six months prior), and my flight was scheduled to fly out at 8:00 a.m.  (so I had been at the airport since 6:00 a.m.)   But there were mechanical problems of some sort, so we waited.  And waited.  There were regular announcements throughout the day that we should remain at the gate because the plane would be ready to go at any time.  However, at 6:00 p.m., although the plane was repaired and ready to go, the flight crew had been there too long, and I guess the law prohibited them from boarding the flight.  So, the flight was cancelled and we were all told to return to the ticket counter.   At least 150 people trudged as one to join a long snake of weary travelers just trying to get to wherever it was they were trying to get to.    

I became overwhelmed, standing in the forever line, and began to cry.  I realized that I would be standing in line for a very long time, I was bone-tired, and just wanted to sleep in my own bed.   I was already emotionally drained from the stress of dealing with my mother’s estate, and I lost it.   A young woman emerged from the line behind me to provide comfort and solae, and we immediately bonded.   She was in her 20’s and was a pole-dancer from Chicago.   As we visited, two other women joined our conversation.   In all, our ages ranged from early 20’s to mid-40’s.   One woman was a U.S. Bank executive from New York, one was a “Community Organizer” (?) from Dubuque, I was a psychologist from Knoxville Iowa, and, of course, there was the pole dancer from Chicago.  

We banded together, saving each other’s place in line when one needed to use the facilities or go outside for a smoke.   As we slowly wound our way towards the counter, we hatched a plan.   We decided that, due to the circumstances of our flight cancellation, United Airlines owed us free meals and a motel room.  As we moved closer to the counter, we could hear the angry responses of customers as they were told that they would not be given any vouchers for meals or motel rooms.

 We decided that we would present together as one, and that we would not leave until we were given compensation for this extremely stressful inconvenience.   When we came face-to-face with the ticket agent, we stood together and firmly announced that we would be needing meals and rooms and that we would not leave until our demands were met.   Four tired but determined women standing as one were a force to be reckoned with, and the man behind the counter was not prepared to argue with this band of strong angry women.   We obtained our meal vouchers and motel rooms without further discussion.    We were given rooms at the Red Lion Inn and ate a late victory dinner together in the lounge, laughing and sharing our lives with one another.   

We checked into our separate rooms and I never saw them again.  

Today I am thankful that this trip seventeen years later is now moving ahead as planned.   The motel phone rang at 5:00 a.m. to inform us that our bags had arrived and were sitting at the front desk.   I am wearing clean clothes, my hair is washed and styled, make-up applied, and I am sitting in our room on a comfy couch, typing on my laptop in the luxury of alone-ness.  We head to a Bed and Breakfast on the Mississippi tomorrow for a few days and it looks as if we will make it to the Jasper Winery on Thursday for a Brother Trucker concert where we will gather with some more old friends. 

We will remember this trip, because one tends to remember events and incidents related to strong emotions.   And this has been an emotional ride.  I am thankful that, compared to the problems faced by others (homelessness, illness, loneliness, etc.), this trip is just another bump on the road of life.  

And it is a bump that we will never forget.  


Published by doctorphyllis

I'm a semi-retired clinical psychologist living in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

One thought on “STRANDED

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