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Layover Largess

All is not lost that is delayed.

-- French Proverb

After a long sprint, he arrived at the door as the gatekeeper closed it. Words were exchanged. His expression was one of disbelief. How could you give my seat to someone else? Ten people were on standby, sir, all of them here on time. He'd missed his flight to Minneapolis and stared forlornly out the window as the 757 he should have been on pushed away from the gate.

No one was behind the counter where I had been waiting patiently. The man who missed his plane came and stood next to me.

"I can't believe this," he said in a British accent to no one in particular. He was 20-something, dressed urban chic in dark jeans and a T-shirt, his brown hair short and deliberately messy, tapering into well-manicured sideburns.

"The next one isn't until 4:00," I volunteered. I had been standing there for a while, waiting for someone to help me with my own problem and listening to other people deal with theirs.

"That is so annoying," he said. I turned to share a look with David, who showed me his dimples with a smile.

"You might be delayed a few hours, perhaps even a whole day. You think that's bad?" I said to the distraught-looking guy. "We've been trying to get home since Wednesday, so you better show some respect."

"No shit?" There was that look of disbelief again. David nodded at the man, proving my point.

"Wow. Now that sounds annoying," said the Brit.

"Go on ahead of us. We're used to waiting," I said. Enjoying his reverence at our plight, I refrained from telling him that David and I considered our three-day, two-night layover (spanning two cities) to be not as much an annoyance as it was a fabulous, spontaneous adventure.

Wednesday morning we left David's family home early to catch the ferry from Martha's Vineyard to Woods Hole, where we hopped on a bus. Two hours later, we arrived at Logan Airport with three hours to spare and took our place in the line for first-class passengers. After 20 motionless minutes, David left to examine the departure board and returned to report that a dozen flights were either cancelled or delayed due to weather.

"What about ours?" I asked.

"Delayed," he said. When we finally stepped up to the counter, a stressed-looking attendant booked us on a later flight from Denver to San Diego to ensure that we would make our connection. Tickets in hand and minds at ease, we went to hang out in a higher-end airport restaurant.

Not two seconds after I sighed with relief at the sight of our plane pulling up at the gate, a male voice announced, in a matter-of-fact Boston accent, that on the way in, a bird had been sucked into the plane's right engine and two blades had been destroyed. Mechanics would investigate the problem and give an estimate for how long it would take to replace the blades. Not to worry, folks, if we are unable to get this plane off the ground, we should have no problem finding a replacement airbus to take you to Denver.

"If this problem takes longah than half-an-owah to rectify, yaw going to miss the last flight out of Denvah," said Mr. Boston when we presented our tickets to him at the gate. He told us we'd most likely be sleeping in the rocky mountain town and reserved seats for us on a flight from Denver to San Diego for the following morning.

But we never made it to "Denvah." An hour after we learned of the kamikaze bird, a disembodied voice declared that all flights to Denver had been cancelled. People raced to the gates. Rather than stand in another long line, I sat down, called customer service, and booked a flight for the following morning to San Diego, this time with a stopover in Chicago.

While we waited in line for our hotel, taxi, and food vouchers, I made plans with Ellen, one of our friends in Boston, to come meet us for dinner. David and I reassured the frazzled staff that our schedules were flexible and that things like birds and weather were beyond anyone's control. In an effort to soothe her nerves, I handed one woman behind the counter a chocolate lollipop from the famed Chilmark Chocolates on Martha's Vineyard.

Shortly after David located our luggage, Ellen showed up and took us to the Park Plaza, where we were surprised to find two bathrooms and an exercise bike in our room, but no Q-tips, cotton balls, or minibar. While other travelers were making frantic phone calls and snarky remarks to airline personnel about wasted time, we dined at the fine Smith & Wollensky steakhouse, located in a cool, medieval structure that was originally built in 1891 as the headquarters for the First Corps of Cadets.

Thursday morning, we caught a cab to the airport before 7:00 a.m., stood in the familiar line, and checked our suitcases one more time. The sky was clear and our plane was waiting for us at the gate. All right, everyone, listen up. I listened for him to announce the order of boarding -- first-class, seating area one, seating area two... We are grounded due to weather in Chicago. No planes in, no planes out. The good news is, if you have a connection to make, chances are your next plane will also be delayed, so don't worry. Twenty minutes later we boarded. An hour later, we took to the air. The weather cleared just in time for our connecting flight to San Diego to take off exactly two minutes before we landed in Chicago.

I waited on hold for 14 minutes while a customer service rep researched our options.

"Thank you for holding," she said. Then, "It looks like every flight for the rest of the day is booked full." It was noon. "The first available flight to San Diego is tomorrow at 2:50 p.m."

"Can you confirm our seats on that?"

"Yes," said the tinny voice in my ear, difficult to hear through the undulating background noise of a bustling terminal.

"I guess that will have to work, then," I said. We were advised to let our luggage continue on ahead of us.

"Didn't I just tell you the other day that I always wanted to see Chicago?" I asked David. He nodded with a smile.

We walked to the Hilton at the O'Hare International Airport and checked in. Someone suggested that we take a train downtown to Taste of Chicago, the annual street fair. We freshened up as much as we could with the emergency-amenities bag provided by United and headed to the subway station, where we caught a ride into town.

"What were the chances yesterday morning that we'd be eating ribs and listening to a live blues band in Chicago tonight?" David asked. We sat on benches shaded by trees in Grant Park and commented on the fashion tastes (or lack thereof) of the passersby.

"This is great!" I said. We took a stroll by the water's edge (Lake Michigan is so massive, it looked like an ocean), traded three of our food and drink tickets for a bottle of water, gave our last ticket to a woman who we overheard was one ticket short for something she wanted, and headed back to the subway.

Friday afternoon, David was wearing the same pants he'd put on at his parents' house Wednesday morning. When we arrived at the airport, we were informed that our seats were not actually "confirmed," but that we were on a "kind of waiting list for them." David made a show of eating crackers with ketchup and mustard in front of the gate attendants and saying, "I am delayed... uhhh, long time," in a Russian accent to anyone who happened by.

After the Brit who missed his flight had walked away with a pout on his face, we stepped up to the counter. Despite the fun we'd had, I knew I couldn't take another day of waiting and rescheduling. Tickets were printed for us. I held the golden envelope as if it were my ticket to Wonka's chocolate paradise. When we had to wait on the tarmac for over an hour before clearance was given for takeoff, we weren't fazed. Marielle, our smiling flight attendant, kept the wine coming.

"I wouldn't mind being rerouted to Paris," I said, surprised to find myself disappointed when the plane finally lifted to take us home.

"Maybe next time," said David. "Remember, we're coming back for Thanksgiving. Who knows what other adventures await us?"

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All is not lost that is delayed.

-- French Proverb

After a long sprint, he arrived at the door as the gatekeeper closed it. Words were exchanged. His expression was one of disbelief. How could you give my seat to someone else? Ten people were on standby, sir, all of them here on time. He'd missed his flight to Minneapolis and stared forlornly out the window as the 757 he should have been on pushed away from the gate.

No one was behind the counter where I had been waiting patiently. The man who missed his plane came and stood next to me.

"I can't believe this," he said in a British accent to no one in particular. He was 20-something, dressed urban chic in dark jeans and a T-shirt, his brown hair short and deliberately messy, tapering into well-manicured sideburns.

"The next one isn't until 4:00," I volunteered. I had been standing there for a while, waiting for someone to help me with my own problem and listening to other people deal with theirs.

"That is so annoying," he said. I turned to share a look with David, who showed me his dimples with a smile.

"You might be delayed a few hours, perhaps even a whole day. You think that's bad?" I said to the distraught-looking guy. "We've been trying to get home since Wednesday, so you better show some respect."

"No shit?" There was that look of disbelief again. David nodded at the man, proving my point.

"Wow. Now that sounds annoying," said the Brit.

"Go on ahead of us. We're used to waiting," I said. Enjoying his reverence at our plight, I refrained from telling him that David and I considered our three-day, two-night layover (spanning two cities) to be not as much an annoyance as it was a fabulous, spontaneous adventure.

Wednesday morning we left David's family home early to catch the ferry from Martha's Vineyard to Woods Hole, where we hopped on a bus. Two hours later, we arrived at Logan Airport with three hours to spare and took our place in the line for first-class passengers. After 20 motionless minutes, David left to examine the departure board and returned to report that a dozen flights were either cancelled or delayed due to weather.

"What about ours?" I asked.

"Delayed," he said. When we finally stepped up to the counter, a stressed-looking attendant booked us on a later flight from Denver to San Diego to ensure that we would make our connection. Tickets in hand and minds at ease, we went to hang out in a higher-end airport restaurant.

Not two seconds after I sighed with relief at the sight of our plane pulling up at the gate, a male voice announced, in a matter-of-fact Boston accent, that on the way in, a bird had been sucked into the plane's right engine and two blades had been destroyed. Mechanics would investigate the problem and give an estimate for how long it would take to replace the blades. Not to worry, folks, if we are unable to get this plane off the ground, we should have no problem finding a replacement airbus to take you to Denver.

"If this problem takes longah than half-an-owah to rectify, yaw going to miss the last flight out of Denvah," said Mr. Boston when we presented our tickets to him at the gate. He told us we'd most likely be sleeping in the rocky mountain town and reserved seats for us on a flight from Denver to San Diego for the following morning.

But we never made it to "Denvah." An hour after we learned of the kamikaze bird, a disembodied voice declared that all flights to Denver had been cancelled. People raced to the gates. Rather than stand in another long line, I sat down, called customer service, and booked a flight for the following morning to San Diego, this time with a stopover in Chicago.

While we waited in line for our hotel, taxi, and food vouchers, I made plans with Ellen, one of our friends in Boston, to come meet us for dinner. David and I reassured the frazzled staff that our schedules were flexible and that things like birds and weather were beyond anyone's control. In an effort to soothe her nerves, I handed one woman behind the counter a chocolate lollipop from the famed Chilmark Chocolates on Martha's Vineyard.

Shortly after David located our luggage, Ellen showed up and took us to the Park Plaza, where we were surprised to find two bathrooms and an exercise bike in our room, but no Q-tips, cotton balls, or minibar. While other travelers were making frantic phone calls and snarky remarks to airline personnel about wasted time, we dined at the fine Smith & Wollensky steakhouse, located in a cool, medieval structure that was originally built in 1891 as the headquarters for the First Corps of Cadets.

Thursday morning, we caught a cab to the airport before 7:00 a.m., stood in the familiar line, and checked our suitcases one more time. The sky was clear and our plane was waiting for us at the gate. All right, everyone, listen up. I listened for him to announce the order of boarding -- first-class, seating area one, seating area two... We are grounded due to weather in Chicago. No planes in, no planes out. The good news is, if you have a connection to make, chances are your next plane will also be delayed, so don't worry. Twenty minutes later we boarded. An hour later, we took to the air. The weather cleared just in time for our connecting flight to San Diego to take off exactly two minutes before we landed in Chicago.

I waited on hold for 14 minutes while a customer service rep researched our options.

"Thank you for holding," she said. Then, "It looks like every flight for the rest of the day is booked full." It was noon. "The first available flight to San Diego is tomorrow at 2:50 p.m."

"Can you confirm our seats on that?"

"Yes," said the tinny voice in my ear, difficult to hear through the undulating background noise of a bustling terminal.

"I guess that will have to work, then," I said. We were advised to let our luggage continue on ahead of us.

"Didn't I just tell you the other day that I always wanted to see Chicago?" I asked David. He nodded with a smile.

We walked to the Hilton at the O'Hare International Airport and checked in. Someone suggested that we take a train downtown to Taste of Chicago, the annual street fair. We freshened up as much as we could with the emergency-amenities bag provided by United and headed to the subway station, where we caught a ride into town.

"What were the chances yesterday morning that we'd be eating ribs and listening to a live blues band in Chicago tonight?" David asked. We sat on benches shaded by trees in Grant Park and commented on the fashion tastes (or lack thereof) of the passersby.

"This is great!" I said. We took a stroll by the water's edge (Lake Michigan is so massive, it looked like an ocean), traded three of our food and drink tickets for a bottle of water, gave our last ticket to a woman who we overheard was one ticket short for something she wanted, and headed back to the subway.

Friday afternoon, David was wearing the same pants he'd put on at his parents' house Wednesday morning. When we arrived at the airport, we were informed that our seats were not actually "confirmed," but that we were on a "kind of waiting list for them." David made a show of eating crackers with ketchup and mustard in front of the gate attendants and saying, "I am delayed... uhhh, long time," in a Russian accent to anyone who happened by.

After the Brit who missed his flight had walked away with a pout on his face, we stepped up to the counter. Despite the fun we'd had, I knew I couldn't take another day of waiting and rescheduling. Tickets were printed for us. I held the golden envelope as if it were my ticket to Wonka's chocolate paradise. When we had to wait on the tarmac for over an hour before clearance was given for takeoff, we weren't fazed. Marielle, our smiling flight attendant, kept the wine coming.

"I wouldn't mind being rerouted to Paris," I said, surprised to find myself disappointed when the plane finally lifted to take us home.

"Maybe next time," said David. "Remember, we're coming back for Thanksgiving. Who knows what other adventures await us?"

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