Sunday, January 01, 2006, 4:53 PM
3:16 a.m., Dec. 24, 2005
My alarm goes off. It’s Madonna’s Santa Baby. I groan because it’s still dark outside and I’m sleepy, but I get up anyway because I have to shower, dress and go to the airport. I’m going home for Christmas!
It’s still dark outside. A bit chilly, too, but I’m warm with embarrassment and exertion from lugging my bag down a flight of cement stairs during the dead of morning. Kuh-crack! Kuh-crack! Kuh-crack! went my bag down every step. The only other person I see is a cross dresser next door who looks like he’s going to fall off his shoes any second.
And I’m surprised because there’s no taxi waiting for me. It was supposed to be here at 4:45 a.m. I call the taxi service and do the jiggy through the 90-second recording until a girl’s voice comes on the line.
“Uh, hi. I’m wondering where my taxi is. I reserved one for 4:45 a.m. this morning.”
“Let me check,” she says. A moment later, “It should be another five to ten minutes.”
“But I scheduled one for 4:45,” I say. “Has the driver gotten lost?”
“I … do not … know,” the girl says. To me, it sounds like I … do not … care. “We’re really busy,” she adds.
My mouth is dry. I can’t believe the taxi isn’t here and I can’t believe they’re busy. It’s Christmas Eve Day. Fricken early. Who needs a taxi at this time of day?
I call the taxi service again, the stupid taxi service that makes me listen to the same 90-second recording until I get to talk to someone. And oh goody, it’s the same girl.
“My taxi still isn’t here,” I must’ve gasped insanely because she immediately puts me on hold. Meanwhile, I walk another twenty feet down the sidewalk, then back again. I’ve done this at least twenty times already. The world seems deserted. Where are all of the taxis? I just want one.
Suddenly a heavily accented Latino voices barks into the phone, “Ma’am, your taxi should be there in another five to ten minutes.”
“That’s what I was told fifteen minutes ago. I called last night to—“
“I understand you had a reservation, but we don’t receive the information until fifteen minutes before a taxi is scheduled. And blah, blah, blah, we’re just the dispatch service, we don’t control the drivers, blah, blah, blah, you’re annoying me.” And she hangs up.
Surely I’m dreaming.
A taxi from another service shows up. I dart out into the road, waving my arm like a wild woman and dragging my bag after me. By this point I figure I probably won’t make my flight, but miracles happen all the time.
“Please hurry,” I tell the driver. And he does. His son is coming today from India for Christmas, the son he hasn’t seen in over five years, and he has the Christmas Spirit in spades, mostly in his foot. He brakes at the last moment for red lights and takes the corners so fast that the tires squeal. Yes!
Maybe I won’t have to call my mom after all.
Long lines of taxis are crowding the roads that lead to the airport. There must’ve been at least fifteen in front of me. Los Angeles Airport is bedlam. My heart, which had been lodged hopefully in my throat, sinks to my stomach. But I leap out of the taxi anyway.
“Good luck,” the driver tells me.
I refuse to look at the time. My job is to get to the check in counter and that’s it. I want to scream bloody murder and shove my way through the sea of bodies in front of me, especially people who are pushing carts with four or more bags to check in. I’ve only got one, damn it, and my flight is leaving at 6:30. To hell with the Christmas Spirit and why aren’t all of these people at home in bed?
I finally reach the counter. They are no longer accepting check-ins for my flight and my ticket only allows me to stand by. There’s no guarantee I’ll get on a flight today, nor is there any guarantee that if I do make it on a flight to Chicago that I’ll be able to make one going to Fort Wayne.
I turn around and go back home. I’m out of cash because I gave it all to the first taxi driver, something that makes this taxi driver mumble incoherently because he’s fresh out of credit card slips. I want to slap him upside the head.
“Will you take a personal check?”
He scares the bejesus out of me by doing a 180 in his seat and gives me a stern look, the kind Oogie used to give me when I was a kid and tried to lie.
“Yeah, I’ll take a check from you. You look like somebody I can trust.”
After I reschedule a flight for Christmas Day, I call Oogie and break the news. We’re both busy being brave and hopeful so we don’t cry.
6:40 a.m., Dec. 25, 2005
I called the taxi service to make triple-dog sure they were still coming for me. I’d called the day before to make sure they were running on Christmas Day and scheduled a taxi for 7:00 a.m. It was a good thing I called, too, because for some reason they had me down for 7:30 a.m.
My taxi driver is out of credit card slips and tells me he won’t accept personal checks, but he’ll drive me to an ATM machine so I can withdraw some cash.
“As long as I’m physically at the airport at 7:30,” I tell him. “My flight leaves at 9:00.”
He assures me this should be no problem.
I arrive at the airport to see that the lines are worse than they were yesterday and I am beyond shocked. I want to throw myself down and kick and scream and cry, actually. This is definitely one of the bad points of big city living. Or of living on the other side of the country from your family.
I discover the line I’ve been standing in is for people with no bags to check. And like so many other people, I have trouble finding the end of the correct line to stand in because there are so many people. Everyone's walking around with lost, panicky looks on their faces. It’s awful.
The line I’ve been standing in suddenly … disappears. Me and six other people have to go all the way back to the end of the line. I call Oogie, angry and near tears because I’m afraid I’m not going to make it again. She tells me to have faith but I'm fresh out. I can’t believe this is happening.
I make it to the check-in counter. They are still accepting check-ins for my 9:00 flight. The security line isn’t too bad. I think I can make it! Now if only someone would come over and put that sticker on my bag so I could go through security.
I'mthisclose! But then I have to remove my bag because the tape that printed out has two other people listed before me. They tell the man behind the counter that I was there first and he says everybody has to wait, as if I hadn’t already been waiting for him for over ten minutes. Ho, ho, freaking ho. So they heave their three bags into the stainless steel niche while I twitch through every second. Twenty-five minutes left. I hate this. Finally, the grumpy man behind the counter slaps the tape on my bag and I’m free to go. I don’t breathe easily until I’m through security and I’ve found my gate.
I call Oogie and we share howls of glee that I’m going to make my flight. Once I find my seat on the airplane, I’m weak all over from relief. I’m sitting next to the window. A thin, older lady who’s reading one of Janet Evanovich’s books is sitting in the aisle seat. No one comes to sit in the middle seat, so we use that for our purses.
It’s a perfect flight. Once we make it up past the clouds over L.A., I see blue sky and feel the warmth of the sun.
5:48 p.m. (2:48 California time)
We pull into Fort Wayne airport. It’s snowing. I’m freezing, but I’m home.
Well, my bag is still in Chicago. It won’t be here until 11:30 tonight if the flight’s on time. Should they deliver it tonight or tomorrow morning? “Tonight,” I tell them with a smile. It doesn't really bother me that my bag hasn't followed me yet. I can't believe I made it this far.
On the way to Oogie’s house, I’m laughing and chatty and ridiculous. Making it back home never felt so good.