It had been several months since I had seen my son and grandchildren. We had been very close, until we moved in opposite directions. I went to Tennessee and he moved to Arkansas to become a cattle rancher. I like to think they missed me as much as I missed them.
After my understanding boss caught me sobbing over a letter one day, he provided me with a round trip plane ticket to Arkansas as a Christmas bonus. I was excited to be seeing my family, catching up on the news.
The flight from the tri-cities airport in Tennessee was uneventful – a blessing, I could nap. I was able to board with a minimum of confusion. There was supposed to be a change at Chicago, one in St. Louis, to a smaller airline and then on to my final destination – a small town in Arkansas. A simple trip. I snuggled down in my seat and promptly fell asleep while we were still in line to take off.
The plane landed at Roanoke and the flight attendant announced, "Anyone who wishes to stretch their legs or go in the gift shop is welcome to do so as we will be here for about ten minutes."
I kept my seat thinking I could get a few more minutes of much needed sleep. The attendant came and stood over me. "Don’t you want to stretch your legs? Shop at the gift shop?"
"No, I want to sleep."
She went into the cockpit, got the captain and he stood over me. I have to admit I was getting intimidated. "I think it would be best if you deplaned with the others," he said in a pleasant but firm voice. As soon as I saw a passenger I recognized from the plane, I asked, "What’s going on? Why did they want us to get off the plane so badly?"
Sure enough. In a few minutes, there was an announcement. The plane to Chicago was ready to take off. We were herded like cattle into a new airplane. If they had been honest, it would have been simpler.
I was on my way to St. Louis. By 6:00 p.m., I would be home with my loving family. Before, though, I would have to change airlines one more time for the last leg of my journey. When we landed in St. Louis, it was snowing lightly. I checked my ticket and couldn’t believe my eyes! Was I reading it wrong? How could I have missed this one important item? The ticket read that my next flight would be on Air Puerto Rico! What – that was in the opposite direction!
This wasn’t the worst part. Nobody had ever heard of the airline so they couldn’t tell me where to go. I had a six-hour layover – plenty of time to find the right counter – the only good thing about the mix up. At one counter, the clerk actually laughed out loud when I tried to explain my problem. I was beginning to feel as if I were in a Three Stooges movie, or on Candid Camera. I kept looking around for someone to pop out from behind a potted plant yelling “Surprise”.
I took the scenic route and strolled along enjoying the sights and sounds of other travelers. On a limited budget, I wasn’t sure I wanted to purchase anything, but there was nothing to stop me from window-shopping.
At last I arrived at the Air Exec counter. No one there. I rang the "Ring Bell for Service". No one came. I began pacing back and forth, peeking in the little window behind the desk. Finally a young girl came sauntering out from the door.
"When does the plane leave and where can I check my bags?"I asked.
"Come back at 5:00. You can check in then. If you like, you can leave your bag behind the counter until take-off time," she said and disappeared again. I think she must have used a horizontal elevator that went to the building next door. She vanished so fast.
At 4:30 I was back at the counter. The same girl came running up and announced that the plane was grounded, wouldn’t be taking off because of ice on the runway.
"What am I supposed to do for two days in St. Louis, one of those two days being Christmas?"
"You can get a room. There are motels and a shuttle to take you there", in a controlled voice.
"Ok. Fine. Will the airline pay for it? Will there be allowance for meals?"
"No I don't think there will be any type of allowance." With this she vanished one more time into the nether regions of the building.
I went back to the original ticket counter and asked if they could book me a flight, but Air Exec was the only airline that went where I wanted to go. I would only have to pay x amount of dollars more, according to the agent. Under the circumstances, they were giving me a discount. Right.
There was nothing left to do but go back to the offending desk. When I got there, new passengers were milling around trying to find a clerk who would take complaints or answer questions. For a small town this place was getting popular.
I enlightened the passengers and hoped that a larger number would make things happen. The desk clerk came out of hiding and told the others what she had told me.
One woman suggested we share the cost of renting a car. A man offered to drive since there was quite a lot of snow. I decided to check buses. Nothing was available. Renting a limousine was then discussed. We tried three limo companies. Nobody wanted to work on Christmas Eve.
I looked down the concourse. A passenger with backpack flopping and sweat popping out of his forehead was rushing towards us. He reached us just in time to wait for two hours while one of the limo companies found a driver to make the trip. We had to meet the driver on ground level where taxis pick up baggage, which was what we felt like by this time, anyway, baggage.
At 9:00 p.m., four hours after we were supposed to take off in a jet plane, we finally left St. Louis – without a map and nobody knew where we were going. However, we did have a television, a bar, ice, soft drinks, glasses including wine glasses and a phone to call the driver. This was my first time in a limousine!
I sunk into the soft seat. I could feel the tension draining from my body. I closed my eyes for a well deserved rest. When I woke up two hundred and fifty miles later, we had reached the home of the elderly lady in our party. Everybody but me made their phone calls to have their relatives pick them up. The woman of the house invited me to spend the night or as much time as I needed until I could find a way to the country.
I had no one to call since my son didn't have a phone. The same man who had gone to the airport to tell my son of my dilemma now offered to drive me to my son's house. This would mean a sixty-mile round trip for him – an extremely generous gesture for someone I only knew from this trip. Now I was sure I had fallen in a time warp and was making an Abbot and Costello movie. I kept thinking someone would pop up and say, "Who's on first?"
When we did get out to the middle of nowhere, the man asked if I knew where the house was. I had no idea, as this was my first trip. Right now I was sure it would be my last, too. If I lived through this adventure, I was never coming back.
We drove around in the dark for a while until we came to a small town – about six buildings. There he called the number of a neighbor. It was now about two o'clock in the morning. A half hour later, we saw the lights of a car. A young man got out, shook my hand, and said, "I’m here to take you the rest of the way."
This kind man, got out of a cozy bed in the middle of a cold, snowy night to do a favor for a neighbor That's the way people act in Arkansas.
The sun was beginning to peak from behind a bank of snow white clouds. My first daylight view of an incredible state was of skies so blue, they must have been painted, and clouds so white, it hurt your eyes to look at them. The colors were magnificent.
My son hugged me and said, "I was worried about you."
I hugged him back. "I was worried about me too."
There is an abundance of wildlife, in fact, wild turkeys come right up to the door and deer feed with the horses. On the second day I saw a bald eagle soaring across the horizon. It must have had a wingspan of more that six feet, white head, dark body – against that incredible sky. A sight I'll never forget.
When someone asks, "What brought you to Arkansas?"
I can truly say, "A limousine."