After staying in Atlanta overnight, I wake at my usual 4AM and prepare for the trip. I go through my old routine for getting ready for work including make up and hair, two tasks I’ve grown accustomed to skipping. I put on my comfortable business casual clothes. In fact, I’m wearing jeans, but they’re so dark and cut so full through the leg that most people don’t notice they’re jeans. I pack up all my belongings and head for the door. I turn back one more time to check that I have everything–it’s so easy to lose track of a bottle or a charger.
The airport shuttle waits outside the hotel lobby and I board it unassisted. On the way in the day before, my suitcase was whisked out of my hands and I was offered a bottle of water, but now, the driver isn’t in sight. I find a seat and park myself amongst the other weary travelers, all of us looking like we should have spent at least another hour in bed.
When I get to the airport, it’s busy. Atlanta cannot be mistaken for Chattanooga. It’s early and I have two hours before my flight, so I am in no hurry, but I never relax until I’m at my gate, so I make my way through security and down to the tram. A man passes me on the escalator, worming his way around those who don’t stay to the right and rushing for the tram just seconds too late to make it. For a moment I think he will try to jump between the closing doors and I close my eyes, but when I open them, he is safely standing on the platform, although he’s cursing.
Making it to my concourse with still plenty of time, I stop at the only open restaurant for breakfast. The waitress is impossibly friendly and efficient for this time in the morning. I use my meal voucher from the airlines since they didn’t get me on the plane last night, but I tip extra generously since I figure the happy waitress should benefit from my voucher, too.
As I make my way to the gate, I pass dozens of people wrapped in blankets, still sleeping from the night before. I have never spent the night in an airport and feel grateful that I’ve always been able to get a hotel room when the need arose. I cannot imagine what it would be like to wake up among strangers with no way to get cleaned up and to have to get on a plane.
At the gate, I set up my MiFi device and get my work laptop out. I manage to get several things done while I wait for my plane to board. I’m in zone three. Although it’s now been years since I flew often enough to have the kind of frequent flier status that gets you free upgrades and early boarding privileges, having been spoiled for so many years before makes the lack of those benefits sting a little. This flight is on a relatively small jet with gate check for roll-a-boards and only a “fake” first class with slightly wider seats, so I’m not sure why I care.
I remember boarding a plane for Newark when I was on my way to Italy when I was still in my twenties. It was a Sunday flight and I was dressed in jeans and a black leather biker jacket. Back then, companies still paid for business class tickets for long flights, so I was in first class on this connection. But when I got on the plane and went to put my carry-on above my seat, a flight attendant called to me, “Miss, that overhead is for first class only!” I muttered “uh-huh” at him, but he didn’t understand his mistake and said, “Are you in first class?” with a little more surprise in his voice than was polite. Having finished stowing my bag, I looked directly at him and said, “Why yes, I believe I am!” as I slid into my first class seat. To this day, I don’t know if it was my youth, my jacket, some combination thereof, or something entirely different that made him think I didn’t belong in first class, but it’s a memory that sticks.
Back to today, I board with my zone and get over myself, happy that I have a seat at all. The plane takes off and soon I am lost in my iPad, enjoying a book I’ve not had time to read nearly as fast as I would like. Recommended to me by a friend, “The Help” has me hooked and I’m dying to know what happens. Unfortunately, the flight is not long enough for me to find out, but that’s just as well–I’m always disappointed when a good book ends and find myself wondering what happens next.
As we approach the White Plains airport, I stare out the window, scouring the scene below for signs of Irene. From the air, all looks well. I find my way to the taxi counter and am put in one of those big, black Lincoln Town cars that people in NJ call a “limo.” As we make our way to the training facility, I see downed trees and ask the driver how bad the storm was. He tells me that the area was not hit too hard as we pass bands of men with chain saws trying to clear more fallen trees. He does say that some still have power outages, but all-in-all, they seem to have weathered the storm well.
Nearly a day after I left my home, I arrive at the training class. I walk into the room at roughly 11:30 in the morning and am surprised to see half a dozen colleagues from Columbus. I knew 2 would be there, but didn’t realize there would be so many others. I smile, wave, and silently greet my familiar colleagues as I’m led to a seat waiting for me with my name tag in front of it–both my first and last name are spelled correctly and fit on the tag. Now that is a good omen!