After sneezing and coughing until it felt like I'd see a lung fly out onto the floor, I got a ride to the Newark Airport to get home to see Laura for her fifth birthday.
Laura is my youngest's youngest, and she has transformed quickly from cute baby to precocious toddler to an even cuter little girl.
The recently merged United/Continental staff created a fun game for all of the passengers to play as we waited. It's called UAL, You Ain't Leavin'. From the overhead sound system came this announcement, "Flight 4899 to Pittsburgh is on time, but, because the Phoenix flight is delayed, it has been moved to gate 109, right next door." One hundred or so travelers waiting at Gate 107, some with babies, some with walkers and wheelchairs, and some with roller bags the size of the Hindenburg, dutifully got up and moved down the corridor past stores and bars to Gate C109 which was, well, kind of right next door... like Germany is next door to India.
Then, about 37 minutes later the same perky-voiced agent announced, in an accent that was somewhere between Brooklyn and Antarctica, "For those of you on Flight 4899 to Pittsburgh, the flight is still on time, but the gate has been changed to Gate number C107." Remember, Gate C107 was where this adventure had started in the first place. After dragging everything back up the busy corridor to Gate C107, we settled in. About another 20 minutes later, I couldn't help but notice that people were walking up to the desk, speaking with the agent and beginning what can only be described as a vision quest back down the hall. This time there was no announcement, just a clandestine movement of humanity back to C109.
Of course the flight was not on time, not even close to being on time, and the chaos at the gate when it finally did arrive could have been a skit from the Carol Burnett Show. One agent did not know what the other agent was doing or even what the other agent was saying. Old people in wheelchairs were yelling; a young German couple had a double stroller the size of a Volkswagen Passat that had to be disassembled, tagged and stowed; two guys with coffin-sized suitcases tried to jam them in the overhead; an overhead that would not even hold a stick with a handkerchief; and several people had been ticketed for the same seat.
Our prop plane finally began to taxi out to the runway where the pilot announced that every plane that would EVER be going overseas had been placed ahead of us by traffic control. When we finally landed hours later, it was snowing. After a few hours of sleep, and a day full of meetings, I headed over to see my little, blonde baby girl. She wasn't home, so I settled in with the dogs.
As it turned out the birthday girl and her sister both had gymnastics, and no one was going to be around until about 7:30 p.m. But, we did have a great meal, cherry-flavored cupcakes and lots of Barbie presents. We sang "Happy Birthday;" I jumped back in the car and sneezed my way back to the 'Burgh.
It was raining, snowing, sleeting, and the road looked like the inside of a snow globe. The 90-minute drive became a two hour drive, then a two and a half hour drive. The best, however, was yet to come, a flashing sign overhead. The sign spelled out the dreaded sentence. Left lane closed ahead. All traffic merge right in two miles. It was, of course the dreaded Squirrel Hill Tunnels and with merging lanes coming in from both the right and the left, it was clear that this birthday would be one more lifetime memory.
(Nick Jacobs, Windber, international director for SunStone Consulting, LLC is the author of the blog Healinghospitals.com.)