Friday, September 27, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers Amid Our Traveling Disaster

"Oh!  Heavens to Betsy!"  What does that truly mean anyway?  I don't know how to reword it in a way that makes sense, but one thing I do know is that I've used the phrase more this week than I have in my entire life.  It's kind of like the expression, "For Pete's sake!"  Sometimes I wonder if only my family says that, because I have an Uncle Pete, or if others know it's a definable & normal kind of exclamation.
For the first time in 3 years, Mitch and I took our little family on a vacation.  In the past we've traveled with extended family, or attended reunions, but this time, it was just me & Mitch, braving the bright, big world, with our 3 kids, 3 car seats, and 7 bags. We set out to Washington D.C. and bunked up at my sister's house to visit her cute family for her birthday, our anniversary, and to take Mitch & the kids to see the Nation's capitol for the first time ever.  It was an AMAZING trip, and one that I HOPE Tyson and Emmett will have memories of for the rest of their lives. Everything was perfect.  It reminded us how proud we are to be Americans. It made us so happy to reflect on the significance the Founding Fathers and be in a historic place with our little family.  But for whatever reason, the Universe decided to jinx our final hours!  After church, Tyson started feeling queasy.  He actually threw up at a gas station on the way to the Lincoln memorial.  We let him sit in the stroller and still saw the site, took some family pictures, and then said our good-byes to Mike & Erin.  We were aiming to be at the airport 2 hours early. 
First of all, if you've ever driven in DC, you will know that the streets make no sense whatsoever.  There are traffic lights on every block, one way streets on steroids, and a plethora of pedestrians. People tend to treat traffic laws as suggestions and there's nothing convenient about the driving in a city that was designed for walking.  That's when Tyson had to throw up again.  We pulled over, let him hurl, cleaned it up, and got on the road again.  The puking set us back a little, but I started praying and thought we were going to be okay--we would still be an hour and a half early.  Then Emmett started squirming and announced, "I need to pee!"  Of course he did.  Why wouldn't he need to go at that exact second?  We tried to make him hold it for a while but in no time at all, he started freaking out in his car seat, "Look at me!!!  I'm doing the potty dance!!!!"  Finally we found a CVS.  Mitch pulled over. I unbuckled Emmett, and we RAN inside.  Every CVS I've ever been to has had a public restroom, but not this one!  I finally asked an associate if they could help us out, because my 4 year old was going to have an accident. She kindly led us to the scary part of the store to use the Employees ONLY bathroom.  The GPS re-routed us back through the city, and Mitch & I started trading nervous glances.  All we could do was drive, and drive, and drive, and think, "Why didn't we choose the Ronald Reagan airport?" 
Minutes felt like years and my eyes were glued to the "estimated arrival time" on the GPS screen.  I was jumping with joy when we pulled in 4 minutes earlier than predicted to the Budget car rental return section of the airport.  We explained our situation that we had a sick kid and were getting worried about making our flight, and they said, "No problem!  We'll have one of our drivers take you in your vehicle straight to the terminal you need to be at."  That's when I really believed we were going to make it in time.  It would be cutting it close, but we still had an hour and 5 minutes to work with, and we no longer had to unload the kids and luggage before the terminal, so I was grateful, and thought we would really make our flight.
As we rode with the Budget driver, we came to a security gate. 

The Security man smiled and waved our driver on.  Driving across the threshold, the arm of the gate suddenly came down onto the hood of our minivan, and the spikes came up.  In Tyson's words, "And we could hear a hissing noise through the windows and metal of the car!  The air from the tires was hissing out, and 3 of the 4 tires were sliced!"  I was in complete and udder dismay.  "Are you serious?  Is this really happening?"  The reality was completely UNBELIEVABLE.  Now we had to unload our kids and luggage from the car onto the CURB OF THE ROAD.  Emmett had to go to the bathroom AGAIN (fortunately there were bushes this time), and Mitch ran to flag down a shuttle.

Imagine this tire 3x--I was in a hurry to make my flight, so I didn't take pictures of all them.  The driver and the Security guy were in as much shock as we were, but we didn't have time to freak out, yet.  We had to get a shuttle to stop in our awkward location & and load up our luggage.  When it pulled up, I put Miles in first.  A gentle German man named Olaf could tell we were in distress, and he kindly reached for my baby's hand to help him stay put while we loaded our belongings in a hurry. I got an immediate lump in my throat--such a small gesture went a long way for me. 

Sadly, the nails in the tires became the nails in our flight-coffin.  Everything went downhill from there.  Perhaps we were on the downhill, anyway:

  • The shuttle wouldn't drop us off at the terminal.  We could only be dropped off at the furthest place from where we needed to check in.
  • The extra time from the tire fiasco, and the 5 mile hike to check in made us a couple minutes too late to check our bags.
  • We paid $3 to use a cart to push our STUFF through the airport, just to find out 20 yards later that we weren't allowed to take the cart through security.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
  • A lady who worked at the airport realized we looked ridiculous and took us a different way trying to save us time, but I PROMISE the line she took us to was LONGER than the one we were already in.
  • Our bags had to be double checked at security, because we had Gatorade in one.
  • Just when I thought we were going to make it to the gate with 10 minutes to spare, we had to travel up 3 separate elevators because the Dulles airport layout doesn't make sense, and THEN we still had to take a fancy shuttle car to take us to THE OTHER SIDE OF THE AIRPORT.  We walked up to our gate at EXACTLY 5:00pm, but it was too late. 
There was nothing left to do, so we let the boys watch our plane fly away.

We met another man (named Jen) who ran up a minute after we did--he missed the same flight--it was supposed to be his connecting flight from Denmark to AZ, and he was lucky enough to be in Customs for 1 hr 40 min.  He couldn't believe it, either.  We spent about an hour next to this man & chatted as we both tried to figure out how to get to AZ.

At customer service, Mitchell found the only flight with 4 seats to AZ at a different airport the next morning, so we took it, and thanks to United Airlines for waiving the fees to re-route the flight for us on our extremely unfortunate day.  We decided to load up our things, and make the TREK back out of the airport--the same ridiculous way we came--all the way back to the Budget car rental place to see if they would give us a deal on a car for the next 12 hours.  We were tired, and hungry, and our kids were going crazy in the airport.  As reality sank in for my 3 year old, he started cry, "I WANT TO GO HOME!  I NEED TO GET ON A PLANE RIGHT NOW!"  We just laughed, because it was exactly how we felt, too.

I was holding it all together VERY well.  I knew we could do it--just one foot in front of the other, right?  I was ignoring the fact that our MOUNTAIN of luggage and car seats, let alone the gaggle of kids we had, made us look like SPECTACLES.  In the very moment we began to walk away, Tyson hurled all over the carpet AND MY LEG!  In my efforts to find a plastic bag, he nailed me TWICE, and finally on the 3rd heave, I caught the vomit in a bag and LOST the facade!  I was half laughing, half crying.  It was over.  I was a mess! I couldn't try to pretend it was all okay. 

And that's when it all started to get better.

In the middle of my breakdown, even though my son was still throwing up on me, the sweetest stranger I've ever met, named Shirley, came and hugged me.  She was probably in her 60's and told me she has 3 kids who are grown and moved away.  She & her husband were coming home from a trip to Europe.  She said to me, "Dear, just remember, someday you're going to look back at this and think it was an adventure."  And then her husband, Brit, walked over to comfort us, too.  He got our minds off our own misery by telling us of his recent traveling disaster in Prague.  Then he looked at us with our crazy kids and said, "At least you don't have 6."  I hugged them good-bye and thanked them for their kindness. 

My husband looked like a turtle with the way he jimmy-rigged one of the car seats to stay on his back on top of the backpack he was wearing.  As we walked away, another kind stranger, probably in his early twenties, named Ryan, offered to help us on his own accord.  He said, "I have 3 hours to burn, so let me help you."  He picked up the bags we couldn't carry and helped us to the airport shuttle.  We told him how much his kindness meant to us, and Mitch shared our crazy turn of events as we walked.  Ryan exclaimed, "I've never heard of that happening before!"  I was like, "Me, neither!" 
We rode the shuttle, and when we got off, another stranger (probably in his 40's), named Ellis, offered to carry our bags to wherever we needed to go.  My son, Emmett was still crying about wanting to go home, and then he saw Dunkin Donuts, and wanted to stop, but we just had to keep forging on, so Ellis pulled out a package of peanut butter crackers to give to us.

We went to Budget, where they gave us a deal on another van for 10 hours, laughed about the situation with the Security guard, and only 6 1/2 hours after we said good-bye to Mike & Erin, we were back on their doorstep hoping we could have a place to stay for the night.  Haha!  Another unbelievable event happened--they were traveling to Cabo the next morning, and would you believe it? Our re-routed flight was the SAME EXACT FLIGHT they had!  We even got to sit next to them on the plane, now that's unbelievable, and it was such a huge blessing.  It was also hilarious to watch my nephew Hudson tease Miles.  He's so funny--he likes to wave things in front of Miles' face and then pull them away.  We all ate lunch together at a layover in Houston, and then said good-bye to Mike, Erin, & Hudson.

On our next flight, a flight attendant, named Tisha, listened to our sob story. Another flight attendant, named Sarah gave the boys cookies.  They were so warm & delicious, and this time I shed some tears of joy that they would reach out to us.  Exactly one week prior to that flight home, there had been a shooting in the DC Navy yard, and all I could think was, "What a horrible, and scary world we live in."  But on Monday, as we had stranger after stranger reaching out to help us on our way home, all I could think was, "There is so much good in this world!  It's all around us."  And I was so grateful to be alive; I felt so uplifted.  I also felt inspired, because while we started out the trip with the motive to honor & revere the Great Americans of the past, it was so refreshing to see modern day Americans displaying greatness in action--even though two of the people we met were of international origin, I felt like they fit in with the melting pot of Great Americans, and that this wonderful place connected us.

Last, but not least, a friendly, and very tall man, named Tim, offered to help us with our bags getting off the flight.  He told us that he & his wife had 4 kids in 5 years.  YIKES!  We actually didn't need his help with bags at that moment, because fortunately our bags and car seats were checked on the plane, but he made a point to help us at the Baggage Claim, and he helped us pile up our things on the curb outside the terminal, where my mom came to get us. 

Life was good.  I've never been so grateful to fly over the flat lands of Arizona, and see the ugly brown carpet at Sky Harbor airport.  Driving home was a relief--no GPS was necessary.  It was a great trip--we were blessed with family to help us, and when we weren't near family, strangers stepped in.  Even though we lost our sanity at times, I'm so grateful we didn't lose our kids anywhere on our adventures and I'm so grateful for the kind people who reached out to us that day--I can still see their faces.  I am so grateful that through all of this we were able to meet and learn from the examples of Olaf, Jen, Shirley & Brit, Ryan, Ellis, Tisha, Sarah, & Tim.