(In this flashback, I’m making my first trip back to see Z since we’ve become a couple. It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m desperate to get to him before the clock strikes twelve.)
I’ve already failed the first test of a long distance relationship. I had a little, almost tearful, freak-out. United had a bit of a problem, so I was late landing in Chicago and missed my connecting flight to Seattle. As did, apparently, everyone else in a 500 mile radius. I had been assured that United really takes good care of their people and that they’d have it all sorted for me and have me on the next flight by the time we landed at O’Hare.
Hardy har har.
Once in O’Hare, I stood in line for a half hour and then gave up because it was clear that if I continued to wait, all flights to Seattle would have departed. Then I waited on the customer service line for 40 minutes, and the situation got more and more desperate. Finally, the customer service representative told me that she could get me out in TWO DAYS. She said this cheerfully, as if this is all just part of their friendly service. As if I would like the whole Tom Hanks “The Terminal” experience for myself. Because it was weather related (rumor has it that it wasn’t technically weather but that United had run out of de-icer), there would be no compensation, no nice hotel. Just me, wandering around O’Hare for two days, buying travel pillows at Brookstone and covering myself with McDonald’s sacks.
So I did what any normal girl does. I called my boyfriend and almost, but not quite, cried. You would have thought I’d just missed the last helicopter out of Saigon in 1975. It was as if this meant I would NEVER see him again. The end.
He is a world traveler and thus was not as disturbed and had a variety of suggestions, all of which meant me standing in long lines, talking on a crappy cell connection to strangers, and, as he put it, “being firm.” What I could see that he could not was that this was hopeless. There were 60 people ahead of me for a flight out the next day.
“You must be firm,” he said. “That’s the only way to get anything done.”
This is one of our bigger differences, Z and me. In the world of Fight and Flight, he is the Fighter and I am the Flighter. (Only today my wings were clipped by de-icer.) What I wanted to do was quick book another ticket on Alaska Air for a thousand bucks and run away to him. Do I have a thousand bucks? Uh, no. But I do have plastic and this seemed like an emergency. I told him I had to go because I feared the crying and I’d like to save tears for something really important.
I wandered around, stood in line, felt hopeless, called my cousin in South Bend to see if perhaps I could spend two days with her. (She wasn’t home.) And then Z called. He’d found a flight out of Midway if I wanted to book it. “It’s pricey,” he said. How much? Half the cost of what I secretly paid to get to him on New Year’s Eve so we could start the year right. I told him I was being punished for greed and he laughed when he found out how much I paid because of my own impatience, and that made it all okay. Z’s laugh should be made a ringtone.
I had time to kill in the Loop so I made my way downtown on the El with all the TSA workers whose shift had ended, so I felt very safe and very much like I was just one of them. Someone asked for directions, and I was pleased that I could (sort of) answer them. Chicago always comes back to me like, well, what? Riding a bicycle?
It’s still Christmassy and Chicago is a great city for Christmas. I went to the former Marshall Field and was disturbed by how Macy’s has made it, somehow, more tacky, less grand, and just like every other store at the holiday. The Christmas windows were still good with animatronic Mary Poppinses, but the inside decorations could have been JC Penny. Carson, Pirie, Scott, the other former staple of downtown Chicago shopping,it turns out is going out of business. In the past, their window displays have rivaled (and frequently surpassed) Marshall Field’s, but this year the displays were just of things you could get inside for 40% off. I decided to run over to the Midwestern-Sized Woman Store on Wabash to buy something to sleep in in case my suitcase doesn’t catch up with me tonight. (It supposedly caught the next flight to Seattle—the one I wasn’t allowed to catch!) Only there is just a shell of a building where it used to be, and next to it at the Champlaign Building where I spent many hours lurking in the lounges of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is also a shell. The sign proclaimed that a new skyscraper will be built there that will change the skyline.
I can hardly wait. Don’t people know the world as I knew and loved it is meant to be laminated?
So I bought some haircare products (Meredith Grey hair has begun in anticipation of Seattle, it would seem), gave money to some homeless people because they were full of New Year spirit, and I marveled at how I must have lost a lot of weight in the last two months with all of my difficult gym work because my pants were really bagging in the seat. Some more people asked for directions. I cruised around my favorite streets. Then I hopped the Orange Line to Midway, checked in, bought an oversized Chicago T-shirt just in case my suitcase never shows up, and then went thru security. The TSA officers suggested I should have a happy new year, but also, perhaps I should zip my fly. My pants felt huge because they were unzipped and my giant turquoise underwear was greeting tourist and native a like.
Now I am at the gate, waiting for the plane to get here to whisk me off (please God) and as I look around at my fellow travelers I wonder how many of them saw my underwear earlier.
To recap, 2006 has ended with flight woes, flat hair, and underpants flashing. Here’s hoping for a brighter, “fuller bodied,” well-zipped new year.