Yesterday morning at 9 am, I checked out of the Grand Rapids Comfort Inn and boarded their airport shuttle. American Airlines’ alerts sent to my phone had indicated my 11 am flight was “on time.” While the driver navigated the slush and ice-covered streets with caution, sleet peppered the shuttle’s windshield.
The day before, the last day of the Festival for Faith and Writing, we’d had a foretaste of this late-season storm. Cold rain mixed with wintery precipitation and high, gusting winds slicked the sidewalks at Calvin College. Then, overnight, more sleet fell.
At the airport, I checked my bag, cleared security, and walked the long, empty corridor to gate B7. I chose a seat near the window overlooking the gate and took a few photographs. I neither heard nor saw any planes landing or taking off.
A status alert pinged my phone: delayed departure for my Chicago flight, connecting to Charlottesville. I curled up with one of the many books I’d picked up at the festival. More passengers arrived but no plane pulled up at our gate.
10:25 am Ping! Flight Status: “We apologize – your Grand Rapids flight has been canceled.”
I joined the line at the gate to rebook my flights and called the Comfort Inn to reserve a room for an additional night. A weary-looking Asian woman in front of me motioned a request: would I save her place in line while she sat down to rest – she was trying to get to Taiwan. I smiled and nodded then read another pinged message: tentative rescheduled flights for Monday afternoon.
“Excuse me,” a young man behind me said. “Would you call my cell phone? I can’t find it…” I punched in the numbers as he recited them to me and let it ring while he searched his bags in vain. “Thanks, I must have left it at the gate. Would you hold my place?” He glanced at me and the middle-aged man behind him.
“Sure,” I said, “we’re all in this together.”
The middle-aged man stepped beside me and chatted about his travels, visiting family in Michigan and Maine. “My folks grew up in Maine,” I said, “and I have family there, too.” While we talked about the beauty of God’s creation, the young man returned with cell phone in hand.
At the gate, after the Asian woman secured through-flights for Tuesday, I inquired about my options. “The airport is closed, and all flights out later today are full,” the agent said. “Either take the rescheduled flights or rent a car and drive to Detroit or Chicago.” I confirmed reservations for Monday then retrieved my bag, called the hotel to request their shuttle, and waited at the curb.
“I’m back,” I said to the driver, the same fellow who’d delivered me to the airport three hours before.
“I knew it,” he said “even the big boys are taking it slow,” referring to the 18-wheelers, crawling along the highway. He told me he was a retired truck driver now working part-time.
As he pulled into the hotel parking lot, two college-aged girls dashed from their car into the path of the shuttle. They seemed unaware of the danger. “Watch out,” the driver said as he slid-stopped. He sighed and shook his head.
“Yeah, I know,” I said, “I taught adolescent girls for many years.”
He looked at me in the rearview mirror and smiled. “I’ve got four daughters myself,” he said, “all in the military now.”
“You must be so proud. How’d you do it?” I asked as he helped me step onto the curb and retrieved my suitcase from the back.
“I’d like to think I had some influence – six years in the Marines myself,” he said then grinned. “My wife, she looked after them.” I returned his grin, thinking, while you were on the road, making a living for your family.
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