A couple years ago, I made a change in my personal outlook and committed to never let negativity enter my daily thoughts.
My routine now begins every morning when I wake up. I say a short prayer and remind myself of all to be thankful for. If Lori is up, we do this together. And then I head out and deflect bad thoughts.
But lately I’ve felt negativity knocking on my door. Some days it kicks it in. And when it arrives, I have another routine — I think of my grade school principal at St. Pats —Sister Mary Rose (SMR) — a Dominican sister whose residence was in the convent across the street from my parent’s home in Great Bend, Kan.
She lived a full life to age 95 and passed away four years ago. So I ask her for her help, and she is there for me.
But of all the Debbie Downers that come at us, largely from the national news, what happened to me recently was completely unexpected. I had the misfortune of having a Southwest flight when their reservation system crashed. Some 1,600 flights canceled. One was mine.
When you get off your plane and walk to the terminals to check on your connection, it’s a moment when your immediate future is suspended.
For those moments, you hope your connecting flight is at the gate, with a full crew not at risk for clocking out, without blinking lights requiring a mechanical call, paperwork problems, ground stops, or plumbing issues. You gather around other hopeful travelers who, like you, are about to learn their fate in seconds.
The anticipation mounts. And when my eyes came to Kansas City, the monitor in small font spoke loudly. Canceled.
Bad news like this needs a soft let down.
You need someone to greet you and say “hey wanted you to know its bad but we will figure out a plan.” Or failing that, someone to extend his hand a smile and say “OK yeah that stinks but we will get you a hotel and find a fun bar. I know it’s late, but maybe there is something on cable. Like a soccer game in Turkey.”
You get none of that. You are lugging two bags, have chronic halitosis thanks to that Subway sandwich with extra peppers you inhaled back at John Wayne airport. You have other issues — BO, bad stubble coming in, bracket creep, and that’s when I heard something that darkened my mood. A ding-ding-ding of slot machines. I was in Las Vegas.
Airports are downers. Vegas airport is the low of lows. Correction: Vegas itself is a downer, especially when its’ 106 degrees at night. Throw in people desperate to forget all their mistakes of the preceding 48 hours.
If misery loves company, on this night it was having a field day.
There was no channeling SMR. She was sound asleep on a cushion of clouds. I went full bore negative.
It was now midnight KC time. My phone was blowing up with Lori texting “What?” No options?” This was an epic meltdown by an airline I happen to love. I called Southwest. After all I was A List Preferred, TSA pre … I was somebody. Sorry pal.
“Check with your gate agent” the Southwest guy told me. By now the gate agent had a line resembling Arrowhead men’s room after a four-hour tailgate. I waited.
Be nice. Be calm. Think SMR.
At this point there are a couple sure things. One is that the line moves at a reasonable pace and then one person clogs it. Bingo.
Help me, SMR.
Eventually it was my turn. The options are always one of three:
▪ “Well, everything is sold out for tomorrow, Friday. I can get you on a flight on Tuesday. Along with a voucher to the Bed Bug Motel. They have a shuttle that picks up every hour.
▪ “There is a flight out in the morning but makes stops at Cleveland, Baltimore and Houston. You arrive in KC at midnight.”
▪ “There is one flight available but you bought a discounted ticket. It’s an additional $500 and it’s nonrefundable. But with that money you fly on the wing.”
She told me option one. Saturday morning, maybe, with a possibility of flying standby at the 5:40 flight Friday morning. “You need to arrive two hours early to get a spot.”
The negativity dam broke. I was drowning in ickiness.
All this time, I was on hold with my employer’s after hours travel number. Just then, someone answered the line. “There is a 12:50 am flight direct to Kansas City on a budget airline.” I looked at the gate agent and asked if that airline was in fact located at this airport, and not some county airport.
“Yes” she said “it’s at the far end of the terminal.”
“Book it,” I told the agent on the phone.
If Vegas airport is depressing, the budget terminal is like a clinical trial for extra strength Prozac.
There were other issues. This budget airline charges for extras. Like carry-on bags, seat belts and oxygen. But do you want to get home in the month of July?
Our 12:41 a.m. departure rolled into 1:41and then 2:15. We boarded. “We are waiting on a crew member.” Turns out it was the other pilot. He was late. Everyone got off the plane. I was standing down the hall from the gate, and an hour later I saw a man walk by in a captain’s suit. “Are you the pilot?” “Yes.”
SMR was back in action.
We landed at 7 a.m. Friday morning. Dorothy is right. There is no place like home.
Matt Keenan writes the first and third Wednesdsays of the month. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.