“There’s no way on earth we’re going to get out of here tonight. We’d have more luck playing pickup sticks with our butt-cheeks than we will getting a flight out of here before daybreak.”
Del Griffith, Soothsayer, in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
We started to get suspicious when the cab picked us up in the pre-dawn hours. We had packed the night before, gotten up early, calmly gotten the last things together, and were cruising through light traffic to National Airport. Thing seemed to be going uncharacteristically smoothly, but we shook off our superstition.
We were expedited through the TSA lines, grabbed a nice breakfast (which the Girlie was scarfing down especially wonderfully), and even grabbed a long-expected cup of coffee. On the flight to O’Hare, the Girlie was happy– if a little fiesty– and I even read a few pages of a book. She promptly fell asleep as we pushed her stroller though the airport, which develpment graced us with a quiet, leisurely lunch of healthy salads before we headed to our gate with hours to spare. We were celebrating our unbelievably good fortune, in fact, when we noticed that the departure board was lit up like a Christmas tree.
Dense fog across the Midwest had closed most small airports. There were no confirmed flights for two days, and a blizzard was bearing down, with forecasters predicting two inches of blowing snow per hour for the next day. We weren’t going anywhere, but our luggage was: come hell or high snow, all of our bags– and our carseat!– were headed to Cedar Rapids, Iowa on a truck, though not right away. We could ride the bus that the airline was providing to our destination (it was leaving in 5 hours, and had only 50 seats), but they weren’t sure they’d have a car seat to loan us, and they weren’t sure it could be belted in, anyway. We were considering taking my sister up on her offer to drive all the way east to drive us all the way west when a quiet man in a plaid shirt and a Hawkeye cap approached us.
He was driving a rental car to the Cedar Rapids airport, and having heard our predicament (though we certainly hadn’t been broadcasting it…), he offered to complete our journey. Other than his obvious insanity at thinking that a now-squawking 19-month old would be a good travelling companion for a 4-hour drive through fog, he seemed balanced and healty: he hesitated for an appropriate period of time when I asked him if he were an axe-murderer, and seemed able to walk in a straight line and carry on a conversation. Plus, I reasoned quickly, with the airline hoarding our checked bags, there was no way he had a weapon of any kind.
So with our options almost nil and with our fellow rats jumping off the ship for rapidly disappearing $220/day car rentals, we swallowed hard, said ‘yes’, cheered our new friend, cashed in our tickets, and nervously celebrated our grace and good fortune. What kind of world is this where people hang out in desperate airport concourses trying to chauffer hopeless people?
Now, as a native Midwesterner, I’d like to think I’ve retained some of my old charms, yet I now see that bi-coastal living has sharpened my round edges. Jeremy waited in a huge line at the rental counter without blinking, and we chatted about drywall and varnish. Up at the counter, he was folksy, familiar, and even hokey at times, but he netted a discount and an upgrade inside 3 minutes. I tried to join in on the magic, but it was clear that these two were speaking another language. It was enough for me to smile, and say what a kind soul I was travelling with. Which comment earned me the straight, unspoken ‘outsider’ scorn from the agent for mentioning something so obvious. I thanked the lady for renting us a car seat, and followed her directions like they were a treasure map.
Once on the road, I worked hard to regain my former conversational skills: that apparently effortless combination of comfortable silence and concerted storytelling that is commonplace in these parts. We talked about everything, and we talked about nothing, and we watched the snow in the fields. But he was friendly to a fault, never even doing me the dishonor of listening to the radio, save when he was obviously tired. Heck, he even trusted us enough to leave the key in the car when we stopped at The World’s Largest Truck Stop, and tried to refuse a gift of cash upon the completion of our journey (though my still-sharp skills of monetary subterfuge prevailed…).
So if ever a friendly, folksy guy asks if you’d like a free ride, you just look him in the eye and say, “yup, you betcha!”. Merry Christmas, Jeremy.