Houston, We Have a Problem
“We have to get to C-17!”
I searched the cavernous innards of O’Hare International Airport for a gate number and came up with C-2. Oh, my achin’ head.
The flight from Elmira had been grounded by fog so thick you could have stood on it. Now we were racing to our connecting flight. It was a Friday in August and every man, woman, child, and tiny dog in America had tracked our online reservations and decided, “Let’s go, too!” It was a madhouse.
The situation at our intended gate was the worst scenario possible. The plane was still nestled against the jet-way, tantalizingly near the window from which we peered out. But the aircraft door was closed and, as the beleaguered agent explained to our panting faces, “Once that door is closed, the plane is gone.”
Robert’s logical mind rebels against regulatory restrictions that run counter to reality. “But, it’s right there!” he argued, to no avail. We were as cranky as old ladies whose lucky bingo cards got snatched up by that new woman, the one who always wears eye shadow that matches her shoes.
The rebooking of our tickets on a later flight resulted in two boarding passes in the name of Robert Barnes. So, we set the alarm off at the gate. Further complicating the situation was the fact that Robert was already on the plane. Yep, another man with my husband’s exact name happened to be on the same flight. For just a moment, I fondly thought of a past beau with the last name Vallelunga. Go ahead Delta, try to find another one of those on your plane! Ha!
Anyway, we touched down in Texas nine sweaty hours after we left the breezes of our Waverly home. As we stood in the line for our rental car, I reminded myself why we were doing this.
Few people travel to Houston in August without extradition papers and an escort from the U.S. Marshals, but our first grandchild was being formally welcomed into the family of God. Nothing was keeping us from her christening, not even the need for oven mitts on the steering wheel of our rental. We hit another hiccup when we got to the security gate at the car center. “I’m sorry,” the attendant said, “but Robert is not listed as the primary driver. It has to be the person who paid for the reservation.” Note to self: get Bobby’s name on the darn Amex. So, we bailed out of the car right at the gate and scrambled ourselves into the approved positions. I got us off airport property, but the specter of Friday afternoon traffic in Houston loomed, and we reversed the seating back at the first wide spot in the road I could find.
We brought our GPS, but it seemed to be suffering from mechanical heatstroke.
“Do you recognize that shopping plaza?” On one of our forays, I pointed, and Bob shrugged. “This place is nothing but shopping plazas. They all look alike.” Trying to make ourselves useful, we had offered to pick up the food for the after-baptism gathering. “When you make that turn, Costco will be on the left.” Yes, it was—on the left hand side of a six-lane highway, on which we were traveling in the opposite direction. “Turning left” meant getting off at the next exit, turning left under the overpass, and getting back on the left side, which is now the right side.
Frustration mounting, Bob and I admitted to each other that what city driving skills we possessed had been whitewashed clean in five years of living in a place that defines “traffic” as the ability to see another car on the same road. Might be a mile off and doing a steady twenty-five miles per hour, but, “Look at the traffic today!”
And the heat. Houston in August is brutally hot and humid, a feeling that permeates your every pore. I never seemed to get dry and my eyeballs were swimming in circles, producing a headache I could have put out to bid to major pharmaceutical companies. As Bob quipped, “I prefer to live somewhere I can shovel my way out of my problems.”
During the ceremony, Annabelle wailed appropriately, thinking her parents had lost their minds in handing her over to a robed stranger who was trying to drown her. We beamed.
The night before our departure, we schemed to swing back to the house early on Monday and snatch up David and Kristina, Son #2 and his wife, as their flight was leaving within minutes of ours. The purpose was to avoid dragging Son #1 back out of the house needlessly for a long drive into the city.
In the predawn light, I kissed the chubby cheeks of the still-drowsy Annabelle and whispered, “Grandma and Grandpa love you very much. But we are never coming to see you in August again!”
We were fifteen minutes into an expected hour and a half ride when David’s voice popped up over the backseat and into my ear. “You guys are flying out of Hobby, right?”
“The airport. The one we always y into.”
“Let me see your ticket.”
Wherever you are right now, point to the farthest spot in the room on your left. That’s Bush Intercontinental Airport, from which Robert and I were flying. Now, turn and point to the right, as far away as you can get. That’s Hobby Airport, where the kids needed to be.
Several options were considered and discarded to deal with this travel tragedy. We ended up summoning Son #1 out of his home anyway, to retrieve his brother and sister-in-law and take them, at a high rate of fuel consumption, to the correct airport.
As we watched our kids walk back down the ramp of the parking garage, their rolling luggage flashing behind them in the Texas heat, my heart sank. They would have to cover a good chunk of ground on foot to get to a corner where Eric could reach them. I turned to find my husband’s face just as pained as mine.
“There goes ‘Parents of the Year,’” I said, “right down the crapper.”
Everyone made it where they needed to be and I really don’t want to know how. Nothing made the local news, so I’m happy.
The next day, I was unwinding the garden hose from the side of the house, calculating how much I would need to reach the flower box on our lower deck. The large oak outside the dining room had been pelting us with acorns all summer. Quiet evenings were punctuated by the BONG of tiny brown missiles ricocheting off the stainless steel grill. I stepped on to the side hill and it was like trying to walk on ball bearings. A carpet of acorns grabbed my feet, rolled me ten feet straight down like a high-speed assembly line, and plopped me on my butt for the final few feet. My hands had constricted in a failed attempt to hold on to something, resulting in the hose nozzle locking in the “on” position. I slid to a dusty, muddy stop with the garden hose spewing water like a crazed snake and acorns crammed into parts of my body that should have required a formal introduction.
I laid there and had one thought.
“It’s good to be home.”