There’s a point mid-flight when you finally acknowledge the fact that you’re going to miss your connecting flight and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you’re in first class, this moment is usually accompanied with a slurred curse and another gin & tonic. If you’re in coach, like me, the realization comes with relief. You no longer have to fear what’s going to happen, because now you know. Instead, you can plan. My plan? Make a B-line for the customer service desk and see if I can get on the last flight of the night from Denver to Albuquerque.
As it happens, during nationwide spells of inclement weather, charging the customer service desk becomes the plan of quite a few stranded passengers. A line of no less than 200 outraged travelers sprawled from one customer service desk all the way to the next. When I called the airline, the automated service noted that my wait time for the next representative would be “more than 60 minutes.” My mid-flight relief might have been misplaced. Images of my lanky form sprawled across uncomfortable airport benches for upwards of three weeks flooded my mind. Could I subside on Starbucks and paperback novels for the rest of my life? Tom Hanks managed it in The Terminal, but he’s an international movie star and also it was a film and not real life.
Fortunately, when I travel for work, chances are good that coworkers will be on the flight. If I’m lucky, these coworkers will be natural take-charge types who find me and let me know that everything is going to be okay because they called travel and are working on a solution. I was finally able to let my bowels unclench and breathe that sigh of relief. This was also a chance to bond with these other young, attractive people who I silently pass in the office hallways day in and out. We grabbed beers and some shitty airport grub and laughed about being stranded on a business trip. Why not? We’re all in the same stupid boat – no one really wants to get to the destination because arriving just means working. In a way, this missed connection was a blessing, a free day off work. We just had to be careful not to leave anyone behind when carpooling to the airport hotel. This category included myself, desperately tending to a bloody nose in the bathroom.
Our company decided that, instead of waiting an additional day in Denver for a flight opening, we should rent minivans and drive to Albuquerque. Many groaned, but my mind immediately turned to the glorious landscape we would soon be passing through. I wrote a descriptive paragraph for an abandoned post that best explains my feelings on the situation:
You don’t need a distraction for the seven hour drive from Denver to Albuquerque. You don’t need to take a nap or read a book to make the seven hours go faster. Clutched in the passenger seat of a rented minivan, the onrushing landscape is your distraction. Just try to have a conversation while the Colorado front range looms ominously over your flank. Attempt to read when the beautiful desolation of the Great Plains offers its cleansing vastness. Go ahead and take a nap, but know you’ll miss the cliffs and crevices, the cornices of the earth.
Suffice it to say, the snow-soaked plains being devoured by dark mountain ranges had me on the edge of my seat for the entire drive. I marveled particularly at the lack of trees. This starkness expertly revealed the contours of the land such that even the expanse of flatness to the east became interesting. Small hillocks and creases in the earth stood out unexpectedly. The yellow grass seemed like a vast sea of gently sloshing pee, coated by a light dusting of snow, as if from a heavenly sneeze. It was damn poetic.
Sometime between here and there we stopped for lunch in Santa Fe. The city is home to wealthy artsy types and some of the best cuisine and Indian craft shops in the southwest, but we chose to dine at a gas station restaurant that received 4.5 stars on Yelp. This was not my decision. The waiter brought out small cups of green sauce, claiming it was “very hot.” If what was essentially paint thinner is considered “very hot,” I’m curious what would qualify as “extremely hot.” A flamethrower aimed down the gullet? Watching my coworkers steam and cry in a cheap Mexican restaurant with cage fighting posters, I wondered at what I might have missed if I had made that connecting flight. The beauty of the west, passing by at 90 miles per hour, and the camaraderie of five people stuck together in a car long enough that satellite radio begins repeating tracks, not to mention the surprisingly delicious heap of spicy red pig organs on a Fiestaware platter.
Then, when we arrived in Albuquerque, we traded in the minivans for Mustangs and Cameros. Icing on the cake.