Made it! It was more than 40 hours from the time I got out of bed in Valencia to the moment I laid down again in my old bedroom upstairs at my parents house. Well, I did get that one hour of sleep on the floor at the airport, but other than that it was the longest day ever.
By early this morning at DFW we were all Airport lounge zombies. Every one of the hundreds of people wandering around the gates at 5 am had the same 1000 yard stare. Not able to function properly. Loafing and shuffling as we walked. Most in yesterday’s clothes, except me in my eclectic pajama ensemble. Eventually, I found an airport 7 Eleven and got a large coffee. Jeff and I were in communication at that time. He reminded me to get my free slushie at 7Eleven since it was, in fact, 7/11. But I had no quarter for the mere mortal slushie. I needed to be at top mental readiness if I had a snowballs chance in Hell of getting to PDX. This required American Convenience store Rot-Gut coffee. No tame cafe con leche or cafe au lait would do. No. Just the high octane of coffee that was not just brewed yesterday, but has that bitter taste of overnight fermentation would to get me across the finish line. The drink of early risers, college students and fishermen.
To achieve this miracle, I did the only thing I could do – the gate standing thing. You go to the gate for the flight you’re hoping to get on. It could be your 4th or 5th of the day, but you go anyway. You look at the board and check your position on the standby list. Supposedly, this list is static. Your position shouldn’t change because they take people from the top. But we found out this isn’t strictly true and our positions were relative to others who were on the list too.
It seems they can manipulate the list and their algorithm also takes into account the class you were flying – both inbound and outbound. Do I understand it completely – No. I do not. But having watched the dance on a previous flight, I knew being in line first after you didn’t make a flight was very important to setting you up for the next flight. It would not only have an impact on your chances of getting on next time, but it was an opportunity to speak to the gate agent before they were completely worn out by all the other passengers.
But on this flight I was number 6 on the standby list. Out of 88. (the board only listed 64 names but I was close enough to the gate agent to hear her tell someone on the phone there were 88 passengers waiting for flights) Nearly a whole other plane. And then suddenly I was number 7. Wait what? I had the lowest number of those in my tribe – so I couldn’t complain. I just needed to wait and see.
They boarded all passengers with a seat assignment. This helps them figure out who is not coming. Then they start the calling out the names. And they did. Veeery Sloowly.
It reminded me of the first time I went to Lebanon on a boat from Larnaca, Cyprus to Jounni, Lebanon. They took your passport when you boarded the boat – supposedly to stamp them all in for Lebanese immigration while on board. I didn’t like it. But there was a war going on so they didn’t want people standing in the ferry terminal upon arrival when it could get bombed.
Just before disembarkation in Jounni they called out each person’s name and handed them their passport with a distracted ‘Awafe ya Shebab. Allah mauk’ Which means basically ‘Hi guys – go with God’ cause you’re gonna need it. It was a little scary. You wanted to get off the boat but it felt weird having this person call you out to come up and pluck your passport from his hands as he stood there in his military uniform in the belly of the ferry. Especially waving my US passport for all to see. And he had an angry intimidating scowl.
Yesterday, it was no different. Well, maybe a little. But the three people in front of me at the counter were from Saudi Arabia and were speaking Arabic, so even the language I was hearing was the same as on that boat from Cyprus. And the agent had that same intimidating scowl.
This time the gate agent calls out a name and waits. If they don’t come on the first try she’ll do it again. If they still didn’t show she moves on. Time is wasting. The plane needs to leave.
The third name on the list didn’t show. My chances were looking up. Others wandered to the counter lost – asking how they could get on the plane. The gate agent shooed them away and pointed to the standby list on the screen.
‘You’ll have to wait until I’m done here. All of these people are waiting to get on this flight.’ she pointed to the pulsing laser-focused crowd gathered. All of them had a ticket that said ‘See gate agent’. None of them had a seat.
Then she called another name. This was a party of 3 and she got them tickets and got them on. My name was next. But then I heard her say ‘I think we’re full.’
The guy next to her said ‘I think we still have x seat’ and she said they need to make a visual check but that she thought it was reserved. Maybe broken. I promptly offered to sit in the broken seat – unless it had knives sticking through the cushion. And even then I was open to negotiations. They went away and came back. I watched her slowly pick up the microphone. Would she say the flight was full? Would she say we would all just need to move on to the next gate for the next flight to Portland – doing this dance yet again? Could the first prediction that I wouldn’t get out until Saturday morning be true?
‘Kelli Feldrg@%*?’ she said – totally butchering my name. Even she seemed confused that all those letters came out of her mouth in that configuration. But she had me at ‘Kelli’
‘That’s me!’ I shouted and leapt before her. I felt like a contestant on the Price is Right! My tribe erupted in the gallery! They were cheering and I turned around and basked in the glow, raising my arms in victory above my head. I had just scored our only goal in the DFW World Cup. I could hear Freddy Mercury’s voice from the movie on the flight from London – We really are the champions! One of us made it out! The gate agent was unimpressed.
‘Come on. I don’t even have time to print you a ticket. You need to get on the plane.’
I crawled under the stanchion with my backpack and wheelie bag. I hugged her when we got to the door of the plane. She just grunted.
They didn’t even wait for me to be seated. They closed the door and pushed back. As though zombies might attack the aircraft before we got away. The flight attendant found a place for my bags and we were taxiing as I put on my seat belt. But I was on a plane – I would have stood on my head the whole way, if required.
When I got to Portland I was so tired I took the moving sidewalk – I never do that. Pro Tip: You don’t want to fall asleep standing up on a moving sidewalk. Because, like Shel Silverstein warned us all as children, ‘the sidewalk ends’ and you’ll fall off. In my head I knew this, but my body was so tired it wasn’t able to react in time. No matter! I didn’t care that others were openly gawking at my inability to stay upright in my own home town. I had made it! Even though I was still wearing my pajamas from my night trying to sleep on the floor of the airport. Nothing to see here, folks! As I popped right back up, a little dizzy.
Then something equally magical happened. I went down to collect my bags – not thinking clearly enough to realize that there was no way they could have loaded them on the plane when I didn’t know 5 minutes before push back that I was going to actually make that flight. Then I remembered they had told us at the counter when our initial flight was cancelled to check with the baggage guy to arrange to have our bags delivered. So I did. Both my suitcases were on my flight! It was a Milagro de Navidad de Julio! And there they were – coming out of the shoot like they were just regular bags!
At the curb, my Mom pulled up. Emilie had a coffee made especially for me and was playing Andre Bochelli on the in-car entertainment system. Heaven. When I got to my Mom’s she was playing all the culinary hits and she whipped me up a duck egg omelette. So it all ended well. I hope the rest of my tribe got out and are waking up this morning to a cloudy Portland sunrise – just that much more appreciative of being here. But I’ll never forget the night we spent together at gate C11. We’ll always have DFW.