I love airports.
I hadn't yet been to O'Hare.
Inside, I weaved in and out of the crowd of travelers who had congregated at the counter. I scanned a giant screen in search of my next gate. I found my flight.
And in big, red letters, the screen flashed "CANCELED."
I asked the man at the counter what my options are.
"You could drive," he said.
I laughed. "Next option."
"You could fly to Peoria,"
I shook my head. "I'd rather fly to Moline."
"I can put you on standby for the next flight there..."
"...which has already been oversold by two seats."
Sigh. "I'll take the risk," I said.
He printed my ticket and I took it to the gate, where I sat near a couple older guys, with whom I struck up a conversation. We shared from where we had come, and shared to where we were headed (and they were headed to Asheville). After awhile, we introduced ourselves.
"I'm Arleen," I said.
"I'm Jay," said the tall one. "Billy," said the one carrying a bass guitar in a case.
"So are you, like, in a band or something?"
"Yeah," one of them said. "Jay and the Americans."***
"Hm," I said. "Haven't heard of ya."
Jay smiled. A flight attendant invited passengers for Asheville to board. The guys and I exchanged business cards, shook hands, and said goodbye.
I sat at the gate, awaiting the arrival of the plane that would take me to Moline, hopeful I'd get a seat despite the odds.
Until the woman behind the podium made an announcement.
"Flight 243* to Moline has been canceled. Please see a customer service representative."
"Hi!" he said. "I'm Rob." And then he shook my hand.
Rob had charisma.
But the airline had no flights.
So Rob and I had dinner.
Before we ate, I booked a new flight for the morning. My brother - from back home in Tampa - booked me a room at a Hampton Inn. (How awesome is he?) He suggested I swing by the desk at a gate to ask for free stuff, like a t-shirt and some toiletries, since all but the clothes on my back and my purse had been checked.
When I reached the counter, with my ticket for the morning in hand, I said, "My flight to Moline was canceled this afternoon, and---"
The rep, whose name was Peggy, interrupted: "Let me see your ticket,"
She scanned it, typed a little, and said this: "You're confirmed for the 9:40 flight to Moline tonight." She handed me back my ticket.
"Are you serious?" I asked. And then I copped a 'tude. "Why did the last rep say I wasn't flying out until tomorrow?"
"Things constantly change," she said.
"...but my brother just booked me a non-refundable room." I shook my head. "This is unbelievable."
Peggy raised her voice. "You better mean unbelievable in a good way!"
I shook my head in silence, grabbed my ticket, and stormed off.
Peggy yelled after me. "I can take you right back off that flight!"
I stopped short, turned around slowly, and I may or may not have snarled.
Which is when Peggy loudly explained our miscommunication (I thought Peggy scanned my ticket and discovered my flight was for 9:40. Peggy in fact had changed my flight to 9:40, as a seat on it had since opened up.). Then she excused me from her gate.
I called my brother, to encourage him to ask the hotel to refund what he paid for the non-refundable room. (And they did.)
Rob and I finally ate. (Johnny Rockets, and Dutch. And I'd be lying if I said I had no crush.) After dinner, we exchanged phone numbers, he left for concourse F, and I for concourse B.
On the way to my gate, I heard a "Hello!"
A familiar voice.
The voice of a friend from church, with whom I, smack dab in the middle of O'Hare, now stood face to face.
"ARE YOU KIDDING ME?"
We cracked up, talked for a sec, and headed for our flights.
I didn't believe I'd finally fly out until I was on the plane. And at 9:40, we were in the air.
Twenty-five minutes later (yep), we landed in Moline, where my aunt and uncle met me at the terminal. We hugged, and laughed about my late arrival, and walked to the baggage claim.
Where we waited.
Until we got the news.
"Yeah," said the guy who scanned my baggage claim tag. "Your luggage is still in Chicago."
Rob emailed me the next day. The airline delivered my suitcase the day after that. The trip itself was a blast.
When I got home, it had been days since I'd heard from Rob. The journalist in me was curious. So, I Googled him.
I got nothin'.
"That has to be a mistake."
Just in case, I Googled his phone number.
Which is how I found his real name.
As well as his wife.
- - - - -
True story. Late July, 2010.
*Fake flight number, can't remember the real one.
**By awesome, I mean not awesome.
***1. I'm not sure the Jay I met is not the original Jay, so much as the Jay who now owns the rights to the band's name, 2. I HAD NO IDEA THEY WERE FAMOUS ONCE (Awkward!), and 3. This song of theirs could sarcastically sum up so many moments that day: