*TO READERS ANXIOUS FOR THE RESOLUTION OF THE CELL PHONE PSYCHODRAMA: we interrupt this broadcast to bring you breaking and fractionally more cataclysmic news on the fudge vs. mass transportation front. please be advised that your regularly scheduled program, alias "the infiltration of the bus company
", may be delayed or moved to another channel. we appreciate your patience and understanding, and would like to offer you a voucher flight to kansas city with connecting service in detroit.*
FOR THOSE OF YOU JUST JOINING US -
awhile back (three whole posts ago, if i count correctly) i mentioned something about my entrenchment in a longstanding vendetta with public transportation, specifically the queens-manhattan express bus company. in the spirit of such well-respected military officials as donald rumsfeld, i also made the confident assertion that i was winning. so let's just get this out of the way now: i've been humbled. humbled! i surrender, mta! no more! have mercy!
perhaps you are thinking, in your cubicle or school desk, "oh fudge, give it a rest. public transportation's unreliable, they do not target you specifically. people lose their cell phones. flights get delayed. it happens."
yeah. you just go on thinking that. and listen, when the airlines and ground buses gang up on YOU, i'll be there. in la guardia. tsking.
watching the baggage carousels, probably.
you'd think after the phone-in-college-point fiasco i would have learned my lesson, i might have realized that any trip surpassing three city blocks in length requires a day's worth of prayer and every kind of documentation available for me. but did i devote even two hours of special attention to my pending flight home for winter break? did i scour the weather forecasts for days, davening against all the israelis that it wouldn't rain? did i have my suitcase packed and ready at the door, waiting to spring into action the minute something went wrong? with suspicious amounts of cash and several valuable forms of identification in my coat pocket?
silly me. i did no such thing. i was too busy beating eschatological and liturgical essays into my head for my final. 'cause, you know. that's important. college. grades. that kind of thing.
did you all get that? THAT is the opening the transportation companies are looking for. THAT was my weakness. my attention wandered! for days at a time (three, i think) i devoted little or no thought to mass transportation. days of scheming and mishaps undetected by the likes of me and you, pitifully focused on the non-travel aspects of our lives. fools! grades may get us into grad school, but they won't get us into any airport in the midwest! for that you must be prepared.
and once again i was not such.
this is not to say that i hadn't thought about my upcoming flight at all. on the contrary, officer. i had been using the flight, carrot-like, to propel myself through the last of my exams. 'six more hours and it will all be over with. four mour hours and i'll be on the plane.' my plan was shamefully haphazard: i would take my mighty dead sea scrolls final, run home, pack my things (wedding outfit to wear to numerous winter weddings, check; cell phone charger, check; video game sheepishly borrowed from 11-year-old sister, check), and depart on supershuttle two hours later. all in time to get home to sleep in my own quiet, stuffed-animal strewn bed. (not my animals, but that's for another post). there is nothing that will keep you going like the thought of a real bed. i honestly feel like explorers stranded in the upper freezes of everest would keep climbing if someone told them their childhood bed was ten feet up.
and i felt like i had climbed everest as i turned in that exam. it was the kind of test that will pose a question to you not unlike this: "analyze the ethical, legalistic and familial aspects of 2nd Temple Judaism, citing passages from each text we have discussed during this semester and being sure to relate each sub-category back to the larger lentil of Jewish identity." i even remember the last word in my (third) booklet, because i stared at it for some minutes, gloating in the knowledge that it would be the last. "ha ha," i thought wildly to my exam. "you aren't wringing any more semi-colons out of me, sucker!" when i finally worked up the willpower to hand the papers into my professor, she gave me a hard, searching look. "you look done," she pronounced. "yes," i agreed. "this is my 'done' face." and i gave her a smile on which hannibal lecter in 'silence of the lambs' has not a patch.
now, lest you think that i completely deserved my fate, i had checked the status of my flight online moments before the exam, and it said 'on time,' so i assumed that i still had another two hours ago. so, cursedly, i dillydallyed in the caf, toying with the idea of buying actual food to take to the airport with me, only to discover when i had finally selected a nice, cheap bagel that of course the cafeteria was closed. slightly disheartened but none the worse for wear i made my way back to the dorms, mentally rapping in pathetic white-girl style (a habit i occasionally fall prey to): "who's gonna sleep at home tonight? uh huh/ uh huh. who's gonna see their little sisters tonight? uh huh uh huh uh huh."
you have to admit. it has a beat.
so in this gliding bubbly spirit i casually let myself into my room, woke up my irritable computer, reached into my dresser drawer for some satisfying...um...tea bags, when i happened to notice my flight status had changed. for instance, where the little blue box had read only moments before 'on time', it now read 'cancelled.'
i frowned and refreshed the screen.
it still said cancelled.
i called the airline. no doubt this was exactly what they expected me to do, because i received a busy signal. no computerized menu, no 'hold for representative.' just, you know, a busy signal.
so then i called my father, glancing at the clock, which read, surreally, 3:05. i found myself still thinking, "two hours to go," even though i knew that the plane was no longer leaving. my father said, "get in a taxi and go to the airport." "but i have a super shuttle reservation," i pointed out. "go now," said my father. "i'm not packed," i added helpfully. "GO NOW," said my father.
go, dogs. go.
my packing is never anything to write home about (neither is my laundry folding; i have actually been barred from helping floormates during laundry rushes), but at that moment it sunk to a new low as i patented the "dump dirty hamper in suitcase and grab credit card" style of packing. it's time for our daily double! three guesses - which suitcase did i yank out unthinkingly:
1) the large duffel bag
2) the small rollable
3) the one with the broken wheel
that's right, it was option #3! faithful readers may remember option 3 from its starring role in another travel-related incident just last week! myself i cannot say that i recalled until i was a block away from school, en route to my bank, to remove large sums of money in a i'm-getting-married-in-vegas-without-parental-permission kind of way. forgetting it was sunday, i wasted precious minutes wrangling with the door, then more precious minutes wrangling with the security card-swipe, which mystically requires you to hold your card in the swiper as you push the door open, despite the card and the door handle being located on diametric opposites of the doorway. this turned out to be a two-person process. but no matter. i collapsed into a cab and sped all the way to la guardia, dispensing last week's paycheck like so much spare change. fifteen minutes later (that's how long it takes when you're doing 80 in the wrong lane) i was carrying my handicapped suitcase up to the ticketing at the airport, one haircomb dangling dangerously around my neck.
this is where the fear of G-d truly began to hit me.
the line for my airline usually consists of three people. five on monday morning flights. milwaukee in january is not a particularly attractive tourist option, and there's a fair amount of natives who could give it a pass too. this is fine. i like making small talk with the gate agents. truly i do.
that day the line from my airline stretched backwards to engulf not only the kansas and minneapolis-bound flights but all of canada and the northwest. it was a long swarm of people, winding down and around the lanes, some - and this was what really alarmed me - already rolling out sleeping bags. (on a side note - from where? do people really travel with sleeping bags in case their flight gets cancelled? is that a superpower?) i observed the line for several minutes, paralyzed by dread, and noted several things:
1. for at least ten minutes, the three gate agents were dealing with the same three people, and they seemed to be making no headway.
2. the line was really, really long.
3. the gate agents were idiots.
4. there were many less people waiting in the kansas line.
5. the kansas line was pretty close to the gate agents.
6. i was probably about to panic.
so, abandoning my honor as a human being, i snuck discreetly into the kansas line and lingered at the front, my eyes on the agent, waiting for my opportunity to strike. and it did. the minute the passenger closest to me walked away from the desk, i pounced on the agent, ticket in hand, suitcase on her scale. if she realized i had just skipped the approximate 75 people in the other line she gave no sign of it. she said politely, "can i help you?"
"my flight's been cancelled," i said firmly. "i need to be moved to an earlier flight or, failing that, put on a plane to chicago."
she looked at me, looked at her nails (long spangly things with stars) and sighed, "shaquille!"
the gate agent next to her turned around, blinking. she made a vague, heavy gesture at me with one hand.
"you take her," she said.
shaquille, on his guard, took me.
"i'm sorry ma'am, we can't do nothing because of the weather there. there some terrible fog out in milwaukee ma'am we can't do nothing about it. all the planes are cancelled."
"so put me on a plane to chicago," i said, in my calm, controlled voice.
he shook his head. "can't do that neither ma'am ain't no planes that fly to chicago."
"there have to be planes that fly to chicago. it's chicago."
he shook his head. "nope. midway....?" he shook his head again. "nope."
"at all?" i asked.
he looked at me. i looked at him.
"what are you going to do for me?" i said, the firmness in my voice wobbling.
the gate agent shrugged, looked pained, and said, "you sure you can't go to detroit or something?"
i began to shake, and i knew from the horror dawning on his face that i was getting that wild, desperate gleam in my eye. "milwaukee," i said. "chicago. today. now."
"i can get you on a plane to dallas," he said.
i stood there and cried like a little girl.
"it's the weather, ma'am!" he attempted to reason with me. "what do you want from me? i can't do anything about the weather. it damn foggy there, ma'am! if the pilot flies like that you could die!"
"plane," i repeated, by way of edification. "ticket. cabfare. chicago. illinois. anywhere in wisconsin. come on!"
"ain't nobody flying to the midwest today," he said firmly.
"reschedule?" i quavered hopefully.
"what are you going to do with me? what am i going to do? where am i going to go? this is my VACATION!" i pointed out, perhaps unfairly. i realized i had nothing to blow my nose on and was forced to resort to old quickie-mart receipts. oh, how i was humbled that afternoon.
"get on some kind of flight for tomorrow," my mother said by cellphone.
"what about tomorrow?" i said. "will they fly tomorrow?"
now he just looked affronted. "miss, what am i, the weather bureau?"
"put me on a plane for tomorrow," i insisted.
"i don't even know if the aiport's gonna be open!"
"sir." i hesitated, then went for it: "i can cry for awhile, sir."
perhaps you underestimate the severity of such a threat, but no rational human being, subjected to my hysterics, ever wants to endure them again, so he printed me a ticket and said, "you can come back at two pm monday and see what happens. bye."
i dragged my one-wheeled luggage away from the desk, leaving long scratch marks over la guardia's admittedly pre-scratched floor, not even caring about the death glares being sent my way from the hundreds of other passengers who had dutifully waited their turn. i dragged my suitcase out the doors and back to where the cab had dropped me off, blinking in the warm non-midwest sun, wondering dazedly where i should ask the cab to take me.
a cab pulled up to the curb, and the driver leaned his head out the window. "you are waiting for a cab, are you?" he said.
"you are not on the right side of the concourse for that," he snorted. "you must go up to the arriving flights. you cannot stay here."
then he soared away. and i just stood there and watched him go.
then i found myself a nice patch of wall, one without too many urine stains on it, propped my maimed luggage carefully up against it, folded my skirt under me, and proceeded to cry for another half hour or so. i just cried. "you moron!" part of my brain screamed. "do something!" but i could not think of anything to do. i could go back to the dorm for another forty-five bucks, admit defeat, and pay another twenty-five to come back tomorrow. or i could sit on the floor and cry some more, which at the moment was much more attractive.
"or," suggested my mother, via cell phone, "you could call your grandmother and ask her to pick you up. she's close to the airport."
call my grandmother?
CALL MY GRANDMOTHER?
"but i had a travel crisis with her last week," i croaked.
"big deal," my mother said.
"she'll be really stressed out," i reiterated.
"she'll get over it," my mother countered.
"she'll think i'm a hopeless case," i said.
"you are," said my mother. "that's why i'm calling her. now." and she hung up on me.
calling my grandmother. that crazy mother of mine. where does she get it from?
i showed up at my grandmother's doorstep some hours later, only slightly the worse for wear. perhaps you might think a first-time-on-the-job, straight-off-the-boat taxi driver would avoid a tear-stained girl dragging a pathetic and malnourished piece of luggage. but my driver was cheerful enough, for all that he had to pull over to the side of grand central parkway and pull out a map to locate queens.
strangely, when my grandmother opened the door, she did not seem stressed out at all. she made one comment - "you look like you've been tortured" - and then allowed me to sleep on her couch while she proceeded to alert the polish press to my latest mishap. "pauli? pauli, are you there? guess who just staggered through my door, you will not BELIEVE it. it's that [polish] pereleh again, mark's daughter. she was just last week at my house and now she is here again. always this happens to her, i cannot BELIEVE this happens to her. one minute, pauli. perlie? perlie, are you sleeping? do you want a sweet potato?"
as i groggily began to re-emerge from my cried-out swoon, she clicked the phone off and sat down next to me on the couch. "poor soul," she said, touching my face. "blood is thicker than water. that is why you are not sleeping at the airport."
i do not remember the rest of the night. we watched the pbs version of jane eyre together. every so often i went out on the porch to check my internet messages. i spent the latter half of the night trying to fish the infected fragments of my contact lenses out of my eyeballs. you haven't had a good time till you've attempted to flush your eyes out with contact solution from the early nineties backwards over your grandmother's bathroom sink, without raising undue alarm.
at some point i fell into a fitful sleep punctuated by the occasional nightmarish "but i don't want to go to kansas city! don't send me to kansas city! i don't want to go! turn the plane around!"
the day dawned bright and early monday morning. it dawned slightly earlier than usual as my grandmother said to me, seriously, as i stumbled out of my father's bedroom in the morning, "we are leaving at nine o'clock, kid. would you like a sweet potato? or some beans?"
i did not want to tell her that my supposed flight was at two, thankful as i was for any ride at all. i threw a sweatshirt on over my pajamas and trekked out onto the porch with my laptop to check the status of my so-called flight. everything was delayed. i wanted to cry some more, but the cost in new contacts was just too prohibitive, so i ate my beans-and-potato breakfast and rolled my suitcase into my grandmother's car. or rather dragged. "perlie," she said to me, "your suitcase has just one wheel."
"this is true," i agreed.
she strapped herself in behind the wheel, took a deep breath, looked at me, and said, "i want you to know that i have already taken one anti-panic pill, so the chances are very good that we will make it to la guardia."
i should have said something like, "of course we will, grandma," but instead i turned to her, blank-faced, and said, "do you have any left?"
with myself on navigation and my grandmother chugging along at a surprisingly pedestrian pace, we reached the airport hale and whole, whereupon my grandmother zoomed off to one of her clandestine appointment. i confronted the line - which seemed not to have shifted at all since last night - and employed the tactic which had worked so well some fifteen hours ago: i skipped.
"can i help you?" said the gelled-up israeli behind the desk.
"i'm on the two," i explained, dry-eyed.
"you are seven hours early," he noted.
"i wanna go standby," i said.
"no problem," he said, and swung my bag onto the conveyor belt.
i stood and stared at him.
"no problem?" i repeated.
he shrugged. "no."
i glanced to my right, where the other gate agent was gently explaining to a distraught woman how the 11 30 was severely overbooked, and perhaps she would like to go to kansas instead.
"you sure about that?" i said.
he looked at me again, puzzled, and shrugged. "she will give you your seat at the gate. bye."
dazed, i led myself up to the gate area, visible from outer-space by the milwaukee-sized area of passengers clotting around the flight information desk. "holy crap," i thought despondently. "who am i kidding? i'm never going to get on this plane." i took out the peanut butter-and-orange-marmalade sandwich my grandmother had made me the night before and began mentally rationing it: the crust at 11 am, the inner circle at 12, the middle at 1, etc. i made many bargains with G-d, all of which i immediately dismissed as shameful the minute they began to form in my brain.
the plane from milwaukee, to milwaukee came. so did the plane from minneapolis to kansas to milwaukee. the gate agent encouraged people loudly to get on the kansas flight instead. i stumbled over to the kansas area, without much of a plan, and was surprised to find the same israeli who had checked me in initially behind the desk.
"what are you doing here?" he asked irritably. "i told you to go to the 11 30. she will give you a seat assignment."
i glanced back at the other desk, surrounded on all sides by people, with the gate agent continuing her entreaties for them to take the kansas option. i looked back at him bewilderedly. he winked at me, as though all those people were supposed to be encouraging.
"any minute now," he said.
"isn't that flight overbooked?" i mumbled, skeptic.
he shrugged. "no," he said.
suspiciously, i wandered back to the other desk and inserted myself into the clump.
they boarded for days. i felt like i was watching the replay of my life in slow-motion as they filed through the door, the children and the old people and the business men who should have been back yesterday. the israeli gate agent came up beside me.
"why are you not on the plane?" he said, starting to sound mad.
"i thought she would call the names of the standby...?" i said hopelessly.
he made a dismissive wave with one hand. "just go," he said.
feeling illegal, and praying the plane would leave before i was discovered, i went.
it was a beautiful, beautiful flight. ho ho, i thought. it's over now. it's finally over.
i'm sorry, are you all worn out? i apologize. let's have a little oasis spot here, in the form of my youngest sister's latest book, "nope nope nope." the manuscript runs as follows:
- "do you wont to ges!?"
- "a bunch of grilus? no!"
- "a graff? no no no!"
- "a -aleun? no no no!!!"
- "a -alugatr? ya? nowa! just gesing."
- "a rabit! kyoot but no"
- "a giayint elufint! NOWA!"
- "I do not wont to GES!"
- "so ar you going to tel me - ill tok abawt it latr!!!"
- ding dong. "a wish cas! ok?"
- "mabe i'll go with ol of them?
- shall i?"
not unlike text messaging, is it?
but back to our regularly scheduled chaos. i arrived in the airport to discover my grandfather already poised at the baggage carousel, ready to pounce on any bag that emerged, regardless of distinguishing characteristics. or perhaps regardless is not the right word - maybe great attentiveness is better. this made for all sorts of spectator fun:
GRAMPA: ho ho, perel! this is your lucky day! there's a red bag!
PEREL: that's a pretty small bag, grampa. it looks like a toiletries kit.
GRAMPA: is it yours?
PEREL: no grampa, i only have one big red bag with a broken wheel.
GRAMPA: oh i see. (ten seconds later) ho ho, perel! maybe that's your bag!
PEREL: no grampa, that bag's purple.
GRAMPA: but it does have a broken wheel!
GRAMPA: well maybe that bag, which has just come out of the belt, is your bag!
PEREL: grampa, that's a travel suit bag.
GRAMPA: but it certainly is red!
while i cannot overvalue the comedic value of this exchange, even other passengers began to tire of it after forty-five minutes or so. also, by that time the baggage coming into the carousel had begun to be from boston, which definitely took some of the zest out of our game. it was at this point that i casually glanced at the ticket stub that winking israeli had thrust into my hand before i boarded the plane.
it was made out to one janet ruske, kansas-city bound.
"perel! i found your luggage!" cried my grandfather, hoisting up a large blue duffel bag clearly marked, "perel skier, mke, standby."
i thought again of that gate agent. the mysterious, kansas-gate-operating gate agent.
and standing there in that airport in milwaukee, a day and a half late, with the clothes on my back and another woman's bag, i was sure of just one thing:
the queens-manhattan bus company was at the bottom of this.