Flying and Irene

Returning to the weekday feels like being pulled down under water slowly and gasping for breath. The problems that I managed to forget about for two days wait for me with evil grins. I quickly find myself embroiled. But, I have only half a day to tackle work before I have to get on a plane and take my first business trip out of the Chattanooga airport. The airport website boasts of direct flights to 8 cities. To complicate matters, I am trying to get into White Plains, NY via Atlanta. Atlanta is not a problem, but hurricane Irene has just passed through New York while I was busy enjoying myself over the weekend. I was supposed to fly out Sunday, but my trip was postponed a day to accommodate Irene. I mentally prepare myself for a difficult travel day.

We check the directions to the airport several times, not being familiar with the route. The GPS and google both say it will take about 18 minutes to get there. We allow plenty of time in case there is traffic or long lines, since sometimes small airports are the hardest to get through efficiently. The drive to the airport takes us on some back roads on the Southeast side of the city. The houses we pass remind us that times have been hard and not everyone has a fantastic view of the riverfront.

I am on a conference call as we drive and, of course, am mid-sentence when we get to the airport. Pat takes the drive in and, confused by the signs directing us to long-term parking but not to passenger drop-off, picks a drive that takes us right back out of the airport. I laugh out loud that we have driven less than 50 yards and managed to go right by the airport and find myself explaining my laugh to the folks on my call. Fortunately, it’s a laid-back team call.

Pat finds the drop-off on the second pass and I manage to mute myself long enough to tell him good-bye. The airport seems abandoned. There are only a handful of people in the ticketing area. I continue my conference call while I use a machine to print a boarding pass, attempting to get a seat assignment on my second leg with no luck. It never bodes well to not have a seat assignment.

I find myself with time to kill, waiting for my conference call to end before attempting to go through security. I walk around a display of photographs of Chattanooga. Listening to the call makes it hard to appreciate the photos, but it at least gives me something to look like I’m doing besides lurking. When the call ends, I get into a security line that has 3 people in it and, in spite having removed all metal, a beep goes off, I am told I’ve been randomly selected for additional screening. Seems like I am frequently the target of random forces. In this case, it just means they test my carry-on for traces of explosives. I always wonder what kinds of dust might attach itself to my suitcase that would register as explosive, but so far I’ve always passed this test and today is no exception.

When at last I am sitting on the plane, lifting into the sky, I bend down to look out the window. We curve up and back over the downtown area. I am surprised by how flat it looks. With most of the buildings being less than 10 stories, they don’t register as office buildings from above, but flatten into the landscape, looking not much taller than houses. The river bends crazily through the town and I spot the now-familiar bridges that we have so often crossed. I try to feel like this is my home town, but seeing it from the air for the first time makes it seem completely unfamiliar.

The flight to Atlanta is so short that by the time I get my iPad out and start reading, it’s time to turn off electronics again. The pilot startles me several times as we come in for a landing with sudden drops in altitude and quick turns. I don’t startle easily on planes, but I haven’t been flying often the past few years, I wonder if I’m getting rusty. We land hard and stop fast; I’m thrown forward against my seatbelt. The pilot seems to be racing and I find myself looking out the window again, fearful that he’s crossing a runway in the path of an incoming plane. But, we are safe and we arrive at the gate on time and uninjured.

Of course, the premonition evoked by my lack of a seat assignment on the next flight comes true. I am stuck in Atlanta overnight and will not arrive in White Plains until late the next morning, meaning I will miss the first several hours of my training class. After waiting in line for 45 minutes to get my ticket changed, I am grumpy and irritated. But the woman who helps me seems to take it all in stride,and in a matter of minutes, she has me laughing and feeling grateful for the opportunity to meet her. I can’t say what she did to cause this change in attitude except her best to help me, but I wish I could get a dose of whatever it is she’s got that has this calming effect on people.

I manage to get a hotel room at the near-by Marriott. When I arrive, it is swarming with people greeting each other and catching up on the disasters they’ve worked since last seeing one another. It turns out that Atlanta is FEMA headquarters for the response to Irene. I am reminded that being stuck in Atlanta overnight in a comfortable hotel is hardly a disaster. When I get to my room and my key doesn’t work, I find I am not irritated. I return to the long line in the lobby and feel nothing but patience as I listen to people swapping stories about flooded areas, lost homes, and injured people.

When I get settled in my room, I work for a couple of hours, trying to get caught up, knowing that it’s impossible, being in class for the next three days will mean I get woefully behind, but I look forward to the class anyway. I have missed the mind-bending of corporate training classes since working for a smaller company who didn’t worry so much about creating a culture. I’m interested to know what direction the mega-huge company that purchased us expects our minds to bend.

I put my work laptop away and call it a night. I feel like I will not sleep for hours, but when I pull out my iPad and start reading, I find my eyes closing almost immediately. Apparently travel (or lack there of) is exhausting.

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