Christmas at the Country Inn
I flew North to snow country the week before Christmas to see my mother this year. It was a relaxing time in small town America. Main Street was filled with holiday lights as I shopped at small store fronts with hot cocoa in hand, much like a scene from a Hallmark movie. A warm fireplace greeted me after shoveling snow, along with popcorn, puzzles, and favorite holiday movies. I shared fresh baked banana bread right out of the oven with neighbors stopping by with gifts. Pretty idyllic. I am blessed to have had this time.
I left at 5 am on Christmas Eve to journey “over the river and through the woods.”
I was Phoenix-bound to spend the holiday with my married family at home. My hopes were high with anticipation. When my first commuter flight was canceled, things started to turn into my own version of trains, planes, and automobiles. I hired a private shuttle to get me to the bus station an hour away. We took it slow, lots of snow and deer crossing the road along the way.
At the bus station, I board The Polar Express. It seemed they brought out the motor coach that frequented the North Pole this time of year, all decked out with twinkle lights. Still dark out, it lifted my holiday spirits. We headed West to cross the wintery mountain pass for my “on time” flight from SEA to PHX, scheduled later that day. Cell phone alerts dinged along the way, many travelers getting notice of cancellations. Nope, not mine; it was still “on time.”
We then learn the Eastbound lanes were closed on the pass. We proceed West. The bus stops to “chain up,” and we continue along through ice and slush over the pass. Foggy conditions prevailed. Lots of snow sliding down the mountain onto the roadway, cars started to slow to a stop. There was so much snow blocking the road that we barely inched our way through with just one lane remaining open. We made it! Just like the parting of the Red Sea. We soon learned that the pass was closed minutes behind us from an avalanche.
I counted my blessings; we were safe.
After six hours, we arrived at the airport. What a zoo! It was Christmas Eve – what did I expect? People camped out in lines with reindeer hats and bells, filled with excitement of leaving on a plane later that day. An hour and a half later, I was through baggage drop and security, headed to my gate. I’m going to be home for Christmas, I thought to myself with a sigh of relief. Ding. “Your flight has been canceled. Go home. There are no flights available for days,” it read. Go home? I can’t go back; the pass is closed. In a moment, my heart sank, and the reality that I wouldn’t be having soup or playing games later tonight with family sunk in.
People are friendly when camped out in four-hour lines to rebook flights. When you need to charge your phone, go to the bathroom, or get something to eat…they hold your spot for you. You learn that the theory of Six Degrees of Separation is true. We are all connected in some way. I start to notice how lucky I am. I don’t have a baby in my arms, hungry and crying. I’m not an unaccompanied minor going home with vetted strangers instead of home waiting for Santa to arrive. When the customer service agent suggested that I try the D gate to sleep because it was quieter down there, I replied, “I’m not Tom Hanks, and this isn’t the movie, The Terminal.” I pulled out my credit card and booked a room at the Country Inn and Suites, just a shuttle ride away. Many people weren’t so lucky. Many people slept on the airport floor – for several days, in fact.
I was rebooked on the earliest available seat back to Phoenix, three days later.
I was kind of numb at this point. They said there were so many suitcases in baggage claim that they took them to a warehouse. It could take up to 12 hours to retrieve them, so I was told to be patient and call this number. The number was busy. I headed to baggage claim to see if there was another line to talk to a real person about my bag. There was a line; fine, I’m good at lines. As I am lamenting to my husband on the phone, I look up as the baggage carousel next to me starts to roll, and I scream, “My bag! My black OGIO with a lime green tag! It’s a miracle!”
I hung up as I grabbed my bag and contemplated, What are the odds? Given it’s the second miracle of the day (remember the avalanche in the pass?), I strategized how to make good of this situation. I realized that, not too many weeks ago, I found myself wishing I could go to a hotel without any distractions and bang out some chapters of my companion workbook for Food, Body, and Love, due out this spring. My wish came true! I just had to forget that it was a holiday and get focused.
Spending Christmas alone at the Country Inn wasn’t all that bad.
I met some nice people at the restaurant bar for dinner on Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, from midnight to three o’clock in the morning, I helped the hotel desk clerk figure out what to do when a car alarm below my window wouldn’t turn off. I have a much better attitude now than I did that sleepless night a few days ago.
As my plane prepared to land in Phoenix, while listening to the NSYNC holiday album, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Christmas was over, but the presents were still under the tree. Besides, reuniting with loved ones is sweeter when you’ve been apart. After the stormy weather, sunny and 70-degree skies are ahead. As the wheels touched down, I smiled and whispered, “I’m home.”
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