The hardest part of waiting is not knowing how long you’ll have to wait. – Aidan, age 13
Come on, say it with me: “I will never spend Christmas in an airport.” That’s what I’d said all of my adult life and certainly believed that I never would. Then, after eight years of transporting my children 700 miles back and forth to LA to visit their father and dealing with harsh – and scary – winter driving conditions, we decided to take advantage of a new economy airline that offered non-stop flights to LAX from our little airport in Medford, Oregon. The boys were excited about their first solo flight, Nigel had been prepped about not loudly saying things like “Can’t these people just start moving?!” while waiting to de-plane, and not mentioning 9/11 to airport security, and I was thrilled at the prospect of avoiding the 700-mile drive during winter. The only catch was that the economy airline only flew on Fridays and Mondays. The ticket cost for the Monday after Christmas was, for some reason, $100 higher (for each person) than for the flight on Christmas Day. At a little airport serviced by only four airlines, I thought, how bad could it be?
We sat there for six hours, dear reader, waiting for the fog to clear. We got there at 11:30 AM, an hour and a half before take-off, and did not leave that airport until 5:30 PM, when they finally announced that the flight had been canceled. The really maddening thing was that the three other airlines were all landing and taking off just fine, but the economy airline had stricter regulations than the other airlines. The officials kept telling us that “they’re circling,” “the pilot is waiting to attempt a landing,” and so on. For six hours. Six hours of watching other planes land, board new passengers, and take off. Six hours of crying toddlers (Nigel covered his ears a lot), monotonous recorded airport announcements about not leaving bags unattended and using hand sanitizers “during cold and flu season,” and even a boisterous youth minister who took it upon himself to try to engage everyone and loudly started singing Christmas carols right behind my head. And Nigel’s. Nigel actually handled it better than I did.
The next morning we trundled back to the airport. The fog was worse than the day before. When we stepped up to the counter we were told that they had already delayed the flight, and there was no guarantee that the fog would clear by the delayed time either. The forecast was for fog all day. We couldn’t spend another day in the airport, not even knowing how long we’d have to wait, or if they would even fly at all. We walked back to the car and I called their dad. We decided to drive and meet half-way, as we’ve done several times a year for eight years. Eleven hours in the car. No one, especially Nigel, was happy about it, but we braced ourselves and got on the road.
Of course, the day after Christmas is the worst day to drive. I-5 was two long streams of cars, northbound and southbound. Three hours into the drive, a minivan nearly merged into me. I braked, swerved to avoid it, and felt sick as fear and adrenaline coursed through me. We were inches away from being in the middle of a pile-up at 75 miles per hour. It was so hard to keep it together until the next off-ramp, where we stopped to refuel and get lunch. I sat in the restaurant calming myself, recuperating, relieved and grateful, trying to put the what-ifs out of my mind. We are truly, utterly blessed.
I called my mom, who lives near the airport, and she said that they were still socked in with fog, three hours after the boys were supposed to fly. She’d heard no planes coming or going. The thought that we would still be sitting in that airport for the second day in a row spurred me on. I felt much better knowing that we had done the right thing by driving. After we got back on the freeway, I saw a sign that made me want to joke with the boys. It was one of those green and white official highway mileage signs, and it read, Sacramento 17, Los Angeles 391.
“Look, guys!” I said. “Only 391 more miles to LA!”
Aidan, seated next to me, did not skip a beat. “Yay! We’re almost there!”
Even Nigel chuckled in the back. “Yeah.” A year ago, he was just learning to recognize the humor in sarcasm. I think he’s got it now.
And at least, as I told Aidan, with driving they know how long they have to wait. They know exactly how many hours it takes to get from our house to Dad’s house (eleven, including a quick stop for lunch). They see the familiar landmarks along the way, they recognize the various gas stations we use. After eight years, they know every bend in the road, all 700 miles of it. And the best part of waiting, I tell them, is knowing who’s waiting for you when you get there.