Saturday, March 27, 2010

What Happens in Denver

The skies were a brilliant blue when I woke up on Tuesday morning, the kind of day that is inspiring and full of possibilities. My flight was later in the afternoon so I had some time to linger on the island. After two days of blustery weather, a regular pattern it seems, the wind was calm.

I went to the East side of the island, which I could see every morning from my hotel room.

Then off to breakfast. I decided on the Hidalgo Cafe after a lovely review from Wendy and Paul. There I sat with Chris who shared a table with me and was on her way to the beach. I chose a ham and cheese crepe:

Note the glass of orange juice to the right. I had a hard time choosing between sweet or savoury so I had both. My second crepe was apple and cinnamon. Both were amazing.

I went off to Adriano's studio, having made some fairly vague arrangements for 10 am. Adriano is a night time kinda guy so the early morning arrangement was not favourable. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. He decided that the piece of art needed another layer of paint on it; it had a strong smell when I picked it up. What is it, I asked. Fibreglass. Not quite what I imagined. He packaged it up.

A couple of other stops (a half litre of orange juice for the road), and some good instructions from Gabriel on my transportation to the airport. My journey to the airport went well! Despite some definite language issues, confusion about my departing terminal (all of the other occupants of the bus got off the bus in one location - not mine), and a rather insistent cab driver who wanted to offer me a "good price" to the airport. After checking in, I went out into the Yucatan sunshine and drank my Starbucks and orange juice.

On the plane, I sat with two "Spring Breakers," young women who spent the last week in Cancun, and they told me of their many adventures. During the last couple of hours of the 4-hour flight, we watched our free TV. Looking back, I can see the clues of what was coming ahead. The weather channel was focussed on Denver.

During our descent, we had the next clue. A gigantic flash of light outside our window, and our lights went out. All was quiet. There was white all around us - clouds, snow, fog. We landed. The captain came on the speaker system to tell us that there would be a delay in disembarking because of a backlog in planes. He also told us that the flash was lightening; it hit our plane. We sat on the tarmac. My seat companions and I contemplated what this might mean to our connecting flight - our waiting was cutting into the time we needed to be at the next gate. An hour passed.

Out of the plane, we rushed to customs. Wait in line. "Where have you been? How long have you been gone?". Wait, wait, wait for luggage. Recheck luggage. Catch train to next terminal. Find gate. The plane has been delayed until 12:29 am. 2 l/2 hours.

I find Jimmie's Bar and Grill, one of the only places open in Denver airport. I order caesar salad and a chicken panini. The caesar salad is the best that I have ever had in my whole entire life! I calculate the number of hours since my crepes - 13.... I pack up l/2 of the panini and go back to the gate. The flight has been delayed to 12:43 am.

I look out the window.

10:45 pm: We wait. Quiet. Announcement: "Flight 38 to Spokane has been cancelled. Please proceed to the customer service desk to rearrange your travels." I hear the Frontier agent talk to another passenger - there is another customer service area being opened.

11:15 pm: I find the end of the lineup between Gates 42 and 44. All flights have been cancelled coming into and leaving Denver. I hear an announcement: "For passenger information, there are blankets and sleeping pads by baggage claim." I meet Justin who is trying to rebook on his computer. K is on his way to Seattle. Sierra is going home to Portland; she spent the last 5 hours on a bus from Boulder to Denver, normally a one-hour ride. We inch forward. We place our bags on the ground. The woman ahead of me studies. "How can we turn this into an opportunity," we laugh.

12:30 am: My feet are tired. I decide to sit on the ground, as do my companions. Some people lie down between the infrequent moves forward.

1:15 am: A woman comes by and says that there are more customer service agents in another part of the airport. We send a scout. The woman ahead of me says, "I don't know if I am ready to go to another ticket counter. I feel committed to this one." Indeed we have a lot of investment here.

1:30 am: Our scout returns - nothing any better than what we have now.

1:45 am: We see the front of the line, and the customer service agents. They look tired. Hair askew.

2:30 am: "Next please." This is for me. "The next flight to Spokane is at 8:35 am, but it is all booked. I can put you on standby. The next guaranteed seat I can give you is 9:35 pm - 19 hours away." The other choice is buying a ticket on another airline. I take my two boarding passes - for the standby and for the evening flight. I am 7th on the standby list.

2:35 am: Sierra's next guaranteed flight is 8 days away; she is 44th on standby. I hear about a woman who is getting married in Las Vegas the next day, and cannot get a flight. I call the hotel reservations; there are no rooms available within an hour of Denver airport. I hear later that people who did have hotel rooms could not find transportation to get there.

3:00 am: I sit on the airport chairs - ones with arms. Other than upright, there are no other positions to sleep on these. I find a spot on the ground between two benches, place my head on my backpack full of square objects. I open my carryon bag. A waft of fibre glass reaches my nose - I decide not to use the beach towel in there. Besides it is sandy and salty; too stiff for a pillow.

4:05 am: The trio on the bench beside me wake up. And start talking. I get up and move to another spot. This is my pattern until 6 am. There are people lying everywhere. Babies. Children. Old people curled up together. Others walking, some reading, and some with their computers and cellphones plugged into receptacles.

At 6 am, the airport comes more alive. I look at the schedule; Spokane to depart at 9:50 am. I go to Hudson's News; I buy a book, Sudoku, pen, and emery boards - a couple of broken fingernails since I left Cancun - just because I feel terrible doesn't mean I need to look it. I find Sierra again, and we talk about our night. Spokane is delayed again. We are told that the plane will be in at 10:35 am, but no problem because it will be empty. I talk to many people - Jan is from Nelson. A woman is on her way to meet her fiancee's family in Spokane; she keeps them posted by cell phone.

At 11:45 the plane arrives, full of passengers, one who is quite rowdy. We have to wait for the police to escort him off the plane. I ask the Frontier agent where I am on the standby list. I am #6.

At 12:15 pm, they begin loading the plane. There are many, many people getting aboard. Disheartening. They call a man's name. I am now #5. The agents scramble with their computers. At last, an announcement, "we have spaces for standby. We are figuring out how many."

Rawson... Patricia.

I leap out of my seat, tears welling up.

Once we get in the air, the view of our world shifts. Sun shines. Joyful passengers! I sleep all the way to Spokane. I am alert when I get there; driving home seems doable. I shop, and leave Spokane at 5:30 pm.

I arrive home at 8:15 pm. The cat is very happy. Me too. I change into my pajamas. The clothes I shed have been on me for 36 hours. I tally up the number of hours that I spent in Denver - 17 - all of it waiting. The next day at work, Christine asks me how would I rate myself for how I did?

An A. Definitely.

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