You have to remain constantly amazed at what it takes for things to work out well, and the fine line between success and failure in daily life. My first grade daughter and I were due to take a surprise trip to the Caribbean last Thursday (January 27), leaving in the early morning. We had heard of the impending snow storm and, during Wednesday, my wife, who had arranged the surprise for my birthday, suggested that I try to leave a day early. I called American Airlines and managed to rebook to leave Wednesday evening at 6pm. I arranged to stay in a hotel in Miami overnight. A taxi was booked for 3.30pm. All set.
The cab arrived on time, though the driver parked some distance from the house and I had to hail him to come to the door. We set off. First, rain, then sleet, then snow greeted us as we approached downtown Washington. Then traffic at a standstill greeted us as we tried to enter the highway to National Airport. “This is crazy!” said the driver. But we had no option but to sit and wait. So, 75 minutes after leaving home, we arrived at the airport.
We began to check in, but were soon advised that the flight was cancelled. We were rebooked for an 8pm flight, and went to relax in the lounge. Snow was falling heavily and the news reports were painting a picture of havoc to come. By about 7pm, the 8pm flight had been cancelled. I quickly went to the front desk, and saw a rapidly growing line of people. I stepped to the front and asked what could be done for our travel. Nothing from National Airport before Saturday, I was informed. But, we could go from Richmond the next afternoon, if we arranged our own transport. That’s a big ask. I thought about the possibility of driving. But I figured that a train would work better.
We left the airport in search of a taxi to Union Station: long lines of hopeful people but not a cab in sight. Off to the metro we went and an hour later–power failures restricting metro to a single line on the route–we were at Union Station. We had just missed the last train to Richmond for the night, so booked for another at 10am on Thursday. Our flight was due to leave at 3pm so that seemed like enough time; I could not contemplate the 7.30am train.
Next, somewhere to spend the night. A helpful Amtrak agent gave suggestions and we were going to try something a few blocks away. With more than 6 inches of snow already on the sidewalks, I did not think that we would get far with our bags. But, again, long lines of people and no cabs to be seen. So, again, we went back to the Amtrak ticket desk. I tried to call some hotels and was getting nowhere to stay. Eventually, a Marriott agent told me that nothing was close to the station but I could stay at the Wardman at Woodley Park, right by the metro. Off again to metro, and we reached the hotel at about 9.30pm, dead tired. I had carried my little daughter part of the way as the path to the hotel was not well cleared. Arms were burning and legs were sore. But we were glad to be somewhere we could sleep.
The next morning, we set off to Union Station, hoping that all would fall into place. The train arrived and left on time, so that part was working, but we trundled along, and arrived one hour late in Richmond. The taxi ride was only 20 minutes so we got the airport with enough time to check in. We got boarding passes and then tried to grab a quick-lunch before the flight.
The plane took off on time and I felt relief that we were at last in the air. I heard from one of the crew that the plane had come from Chicago, and had to weather its own adventures as deicing machine, then towing vehicles, did not function, and the crew was running close to its work time limits.
When we reached Miami we were at a satellite gate and had to take the new Skytrain to the main terminal, but only one train was working. Bleary-eyed, we walked to the gate and waited for our flight to Barbados to leave. We met some people we had known from our time living there and it was nice for my daughter to find some former school mates with whom to play for a short time. The last leg of our journey was just about to start and it had been a real challenge to that point. Though the plane left late and got us in around midnight local time, we had completed our outward bound trip.
At various times the next day, I wondered why I had not taken what might have seemed an easier option, and just accept that the winter storm was too bad to travel this time. My little daughter barely uttered a word of complaint during the whole adventure. We were both being driven by the prospect of seeing some former friends and neighbours, albeit for just a couple of days. She was constantly asking what time it was and when we would arrive. The precise time and hours to go did not translate in her mind into anything other than points of reference. I never thought we would not reach our destination as rescheduled. Inwardly, I was constantly hoping that each step would work as it should, but as delays and new obstacles came into view I put them into their rightful place–things I could not control. When I read some of the press reports I also realised that our ordeal, while hard to deal with over the hours, could have been much worse: we had managed to move and to get to somewhere warm and safe the night of the storm–no 6 hour traffic jam or abandoned vehicles, for example. We managed to find food and drink, even though we would not wish our diet to be based on food available at airports and stations or on airlines. We met great kindness, as little gestures from people trying to help us added up.
The trips back home after the weekend were relatively simple. The inconvenience at home of problems caused by electricity outages and fallen trees may annoy but they are minor. (I have to be grateful to Starbucks for having free wireless Internet service.) The cold is back into the bones, but the warmth of friends’ smiles and their company eased away much of the chill.
Faith and self belief count for so much, maybe much more than we often realise. Neither needs to be expressed outwardly, but they need to be there. When I next hear the phrase “Yes, we can!” I will have my own very vivid images of what that means.