Sunday, December 27, 2015

The airport sprint

Sitting in the teachers' room on the last day before winter break, conversation naturally veered towards plans for the holidays.  I mentioned to my co-workers that I was headed to the Florida Keys that afternoon to spend Christmas with my in-laws.  I was looking forward to this, but I could certainly do without traveling at one of the busiest times of the year.  At this, one of my co-workers chimed in.

"I love flying during Christmas!  Everyone is on their way to see someone they love, so everyone is in a good mood, and I can sit and relax with a book and people watch and enjoy the atmosphere."  His eyes practically glazed over after imagining such personal bliss.

I thought about my co-worker the following morning when I finally reached the Keys, sans luggage, after 18 hours of travel, resolving this year to slap him in the face the first chance I get when back in New Jersey.

I arrived at the Philadelphia Airport at 12:30, a full four hours before my plane departed because that was the only time I could get a ride from a friend.  My flight was then delayed an hour before we ever even boarded.  Once in the air, the captain came on the intercom every ten or twenty minutes explaining another delay that kept us from landing in Atlanta. Eventually all of these delays in the air caused an unplanned stop in Chattanooga to refuel.

After a half hour of sitting in Tennessee, the captain came on the intercom again.  "Yeah folks, looks like this airport only has one fuel truck, and it was accidentally sent to the wrong airplane, so we'll have to wait for it to come back."

After nearly two hours, we took off again and landed in Atlanta at 11pm.  I had long since missed my connection, but Delta's app told me there was one more flight for the night.  There was only only one catch: it left in 15 minutes.  Knowing it was the only available flight for the next 24 hours, I rebooked myself as we taxied to the gate and told my seatmate I was going for it.  

"Do you think you'll make it?" he asked, doubt in his voice.

"I'm a very good runner," was my only reply.  "I'm also very modest," I should have added.

I shot off the plane towards the departures screen and groaned when I saw the connecting flight was in a different terminal.  With the straps of my backpack battened down close to my body, I stormed down the terminal towards the escalators.  The airport was near empty, save for a group of guys who whooped and hollered and offered high fives as I drew near.

Onto the shuttle.  Up another flight of escalators.  Down the length of another terminal.  I pulled up beside another guy doing the same maniacal sprint I was and exclaimed, "well this is exciting!" before edging him out at the boarding gate desk.  The woman at the counter looked my name up, issued me a boarding pass, and I staggered, panting, onto the boarding ramp.  About two minutes later she closed and locked the gate.

There were no age group awards for this race.  No post race water or bananas.  No medals and no finishers' shirt.  But there was the satisfaction of finally having found a practical application to all those hours spent training to hone my speed and endurance.  And that felt incredible.

We spent another hour sitting on the plane before take off due to more odd delays.  I knew I wouldn't arrive in Fort Lauderdale until 2am at this point, and not make the drive down to the Keys until the morning.  And I knew that because my connection had been so close, the carry-on they made me check in Philadelphia would most likely be stuck in Atlanta for another day or two.  

But none of this mattered.  Knowing that I wouldn't be spending Christmas Eve away from my wife and son was all that did.

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