Sunday, August 31, 2014

Goodbye California, Hello... Chicago?

Ahoy, mateys! This is yer cap'n Angel ere in a hotel in Chicago.

     Just this past January, I started my day at 5 a.m. at the airport. I wore a floral dress over two pairs of leggings, thick wool socks, a cardigan, my warmest parka, and snow boots, all in preparation for the icy New York weather in store for me upon my back-to-school arrival. My first flight, between SJC and LAX went smoothly, as did the flight from LAX to Chicago. But then, American Airlines did that thing that's getting familiar to me way too quickly. They canceled my flight. (And rescheduled me for another two flights- Chicago to La Guardia, La Guardia to Syracuse, but that's not important. Just ridiculous. Four flights to get from coast to coast? Really?) 
      Fast forward eight months, and here I am again. Stuck in Chicago. 
      I always get the worst anxiety/panic/rage when my flight gets cancelled. I had all these lovely travel plans and arrangements, and, regardless of past instances, this amazing optimism. [The night before my flight. Hmmm... Should I pack an extra pair of clothes in case I get stuck somewhere?.... Nah!] And when my flight gets cancelled, all of these happy things go down the toilet, and I am very unpleasant to be around. 
       Rewind 8 hours. My flight was supposed to board at 4:00 pm. Then, the flight attendant at the desk revised this to 4:30 pm. Then, there was another change in plans: the plane would arrive at 5:30 pm. Finally, the group of us waiting in the lobby were asked to move for the people flying to Kalamazoo. A white lady yelled, "Ugh, Where's Kalamazoo anyway?" 
       "Michigan!" I retorted. (Just something I know.) 
       The flight was cancelled and all the following flights to Syracuse were over-booked until 27 hours from 5:30. At least this time around, I was keen on what to do.
What to do When Your Flight Gets Cancelled
1) Go up to front desk and ask for a possible re-booking.
     It is the responsibility of the airline to help you to your destination. Be patient and see if you can make a later flight to your destination (be it a direct flight or through transfers). 
2) If the new flight is the next day, ask for a hotel voucher.
      If the flight was cancelled due to "weather," the airline does not have to pay for your room and meals. They should, however, be able to provide discounted hotel rooms. (For example, my hotel room was supposed to be triple digits, but my discount ticket allowed me to get it for $69. $69 for free wifi, free breakfast buffets, two beds, and complimentary candy at the front desk is pretty suite! I mean sweet.) 
     Also, when calling the toll-free number on the voucher paper, be extremely patient. It took me 23 minutes to connect to a human one time.  
3) When looking for the hotel shuttle, ask ask ask a worker.
     The signs are helpful, but some airports are too confusing to maneuver without experience. 
4) Keep your cool.
     There's no need to freak out. In the end, everything will be okay. Go to the closest Starbucks and ask for a cup of water. Drink it. Calm down. Breathe, baby, breathe! 

Chicago Adventures
          I finally got a hold of an actual person. The first hotel recommendation she listed was "Springhill Suites" for $69. "How far is-" "It's 2 miles away." "Oh, thanks. Yeah! I'll take it!" Last year, the cheapest offer was $129, so at the sound of $69, I couldn't not say "yes."
     I got lost on my way to finding the shuttle which would take me from ORD to Springhill Suites O'Hare. In the process of wandering semi-aimlessly, I happened upon a convince shop. A tan, dark-haired Hispanic woman was neatly folding a gimmicky "CHICAGO" shirt, and I casually inquired, "Um, do you sell underwear here?"
     "Yes," she answered with disinterest; her expression was bored if not annoyed. "Over there in the left corner. You should see it."
     I sauntered over and proceeded to browse through a small hanging assemblage of panties on thin, plastic hangers. I awkwardly caught the glance of the sales associate who was now behind the cashier next to the lingerie rack as I searched for something that would work. Yes! I found a basic white Aeropostale number in my size. I handed the find to my cashier, and as she eyed my choice (a thong) my cheeks flushed.
      I quickly rushed to explain myself. It was kind of weird for an airport guest to need to purchase a thong at 9 pm, especially some girl who looked fifteen at most. "My flight got cancelled," I babbled. "And now that I need to stay overnight at a hotel, I thought, 'I definitely need clean underwear for the morning!'"
      Though wearing a stern expression, the woman carried on my conversation. "Why was it cancelled?" she asked.
      "Weather-related, I think. It's rainy over there."
      "You're staying over there?" she motioned to the Hilton hotel underground entrance to our left.
      "No," I laughed. "That's way too pricy for me."
      "Oh, then do you know where to go for shuttle?"
      "Is it that way?" I gestured behind me.
      "No," she retorted as if I were an idiot/ lost puppy. "You go over to the trains. Take the elevator to the first floor."
      "Thank you!"

      The wait was probably just 10-15 minutes, but it felt like eons. I'm always paranoid that I'm at the wrong terminal or that the bus came and I missed it, especially since this always seems to happen to me at night. I stood with my back leaned against the glass wall. The weather was slightly-humid and like, seventy-something here in Chicago. A blonde woman stood beside me. She had on work-out leggings, running shoes, and a water-proof sweater. She looked around my age (not that I look my age, but that's besides the point) but a few years older. I heard the sound of a baby, and I realized it was coming from her iPhone. A tiny blonde girl in pink walked around the screen; she was FaceTiming her daughter. "I know baby. But you'll be good with Grandma. I have to travel for work, remember?" Soon, my shuttle came, a white van that could seat seven passengers. I sat beside a middle-aged, largish white guy in a button-up and behind him was another white, thirty-something man with circular glasses and a flight attendant getup. An Asian girl around my age with a Samsung Galaxy phone sat in the front seat, her hands in her lap and holding her phone.
      Our driver was crazy friendly and accommodating. He asked things like, "Does anyone want a bottle of water?" or "Have you stayed with us before?" or "Where are you all from?" and told us about all the guest perks as we made our way out of the airport loading station and onto the merge toward the highway. "And there's a free continental breakfast from 6-9."
      Then, the man in the back gossiped about his life as a flight attendant. "I survived Cleveland, Ohio" "When an airline says 'Mechanical' problem, that just means, 'We messed up.'" The man beside me told me he was a pastor and taught at a small Lutheran college in Los Angeles. I told everyone I was from San Jose, but I went to college in upstate New York. The pastor and I agreed that Californians don't know what "cold" means. He told me how he'd taken a group of LA kids on a trip to Colorado and they walked out into six inches of snow in flip flops. I told him that my friends at UC San Diego freeze at sixty degrees. This made the flight attendant giggle. "Californians are babies," the pastor declared, and the flight attendant and I agreed.
       The tall, black man at the front desk saw me pull out my blue "Distress" voucher. "That's never good," he joked. He gave me a card for my room.
       "Breakfast's 6-9, right?" I asked.
       "Yeah.." he looked at me as if I were psychic. Then he realized, "Oh! Driver?"
       I walked into a room with a small dining area (microwave, mini fridge, table, two chairs, coffee machine), living room area (couch, table, plasma screen tv), and two queen-sized beds (two!?). The guy at the front desk did know it was just me, right? This room definitely did not cost $69. The sheets were white and pristine. The eight pillows were hella fluffy. There wasn't much of a view because I was on the second floor, but the shower was nice and the kitchen shelves were stocked with paper plates and plastic cutlery. I looked at the door and price of the room was set at $259.

       I spent the night Skyping with my boyfriend and spent the next morning eating delicious turkey sausage patties, yogurt, eggs, and an orange from the free breakfast, and watching America's Next Top model re-runs, Dance Moms, and Project Runway. The kind front desk guy had extended my check-out from 12 pm to 1 pm. I stayed as long as I could before exceeding check-out, and my suite life regrettably reached its end. I brought my ass back to O'Hare wearing yesterday's ensemble (omitting the underwear), went through security (again. ughhhhh), and proceeded to wander around until my heavy backpack got the best of my weak baby back. I stopped near the rotunda where a curved set of stairs wove to the second floor. A sign read, "Yoga Room."
      Yoga room? I asked a young, Latina flight attendant where the yoga room was.
     "Right up there. That-a-way," she pointed. "There's also a garden up there. Obviously, it's not an actual garden, but there are plants. And there's stuff to do up there besides yoga, like relaxing areas."
     "Thank you," I said and went on my way.

     A woman was just preparing to leave the Yoga Room when I came in. Three used, blue Yoga mats lay flat on the dark brown wooden floor. Mirrors lined the wall in front of me. I proceeded to perform the Vinyasa I remembered doing in Yoga class. Plank, cobra, upward dog, downward dog. Then, I was touching my toes when a young girl in a pink ruffly top and equally bright hot coral skirt and red crocs sauntered into the room. She nervously looked my way and then back to her reflection in the mirror. "Hi!" I said.
     She instantly smiled. "Hi!"
     "Do you actually know how to do Yoga?" I asked.
    "Nope!" she replied. She started doing these crazy hand-stands though and after that, we started "talking about our lives!" (That's what she told her dad when he came in.)
     "Are you Asian?"
     "How long have you lived here?"
     "Since I was born. I was born in California. But my parents are from the Philippines. My dad's side is all here though. But my mom's side is still over there."
     "Like my family!" Katie laughed. Her family's split between the mid-west and Hastings, England. She doesn't have an accent but says words less heard in my neck of the woods such as "Pardon, dodgey, and quite." She didn't look Asian at all with her pale skin and orange hair, but her mum is actually half-Korean. Katie talked about living among the London Fog and having a tradition to take selfies with her sister with the Buckingham Palace every time they visit London. At ten-years-old, she'd already traveled to Spain, France, and many states in America (we both haven't been to Hawaii but really want to!). Her favorite place in the States is Utah. She also wants to visit her mom's hometown, Seoul. She's homeschooled because, "My dad is a pastor, and my family, we believe that God created everything. So, my parents didn't feel we had to learn... what's that thing in science?"
     "Yeah, evolution. We're not against others teaching it or anything, it's just not what we believe. Plus, I get to learn what twelve-year-olds like my sister learn. Because my mom teaches us both from the course recommended for 10-14."
      She asked me how old I was and I said, "19." She tried to hide her surprise. "But I don't think I really look 19. I look about 15, right?" 
      "Yeah," Katie laughed in agreement.
      We talked for at least an hour when her dad came in to tell her they'd found a flight. They were on standby; they get free tickets this way since her mom used to be a flight attendant. Her mom was actually still in Utah. Since they're a family of six (four daughters), it was hard to find a flight together to get to their connection before heading back to London.
       As we said goodbye, she seemed to want to give a hug, but being a reserved Brit, she stuck out her hand. "Very diplomatic," I joked as we shook.
       "I really hope I see you again!" she beamed. "If you're ever in London! You should visit. I'm in Hastings!"

      Now, it's just me in a cushy, bright Crayola-colored-pencil-light-green chair beside the "garden" on the second floor. I have a bag of Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel Bites from Auntie Annies, and there's a good five hours before my flight boards. (If it boards). There's an 80% chance of rain in Chicago, and the sky already looks unpromising. It was thundering this morning, and bright lightning flashed at my hotel window at least twice. It's just overcast now, but there's a lot more haze looming in the horizon. I've heard the weather's not so great in Syracuse either. Airplanes are still zooming out though. I'll hope for the best. I really don't want to leave my seat, but I'm curious about the upcoming flight to Syracuse. There's an earlier booked flight at 4:30pm.

      I asked the black man at the front desk if I could be put on the waitlist (standby) for the 4:30 flight (which soon became a 5:38 pm flight due to weather). I blurted out things like "I need to go back to school- Colgate- to start my job!" and he gained interest. "Hmm, my fraternity started at Colgate." I was bumped from number 9 on the waiting list to 7. A Filipina woman in a sweater, practical jeans, and black, one-inch wedged thick-strapped sandals, asked me if I were going to Cornell. "My husband, daughter, and I were supposed to go at 4:30 pm yesterday, but it got cancelled (the same flight as me). My husband went in the morning, my daughter went by 1 pm, and now I'm trying to get on this flight." She was second on the standby list. Meanwhile, the flight before Syracuse at our gate, Kalamazoo got cancelled due to weather, and I saw the look of some poor, foreign-exchange, unaccompanied minor. When the flight attendant told him his flight had been cancelled, his mouth made a perfect "o" and his eyes looked like they would tear up if he were just a smidgen worse at handling himself decorously. Finally, the Syracuse plane arrived, and everyone who came off the plane looked miserable and slightly damp with the Illinois humidity. I love people watching at airports. You see the people who look like their on business trips and the ones who don't give a shit. Now, it was time for all the Syracuse standbyers to wait to hear their fates.
      Simultaneously, the people headed for Great Rapids (supposedly at 4:30 pm) at the gate beside ours, were suffering from their own dilemma. The Indian man standing at their gate repeatedly called out bad news. "Your flight will be delayed half-an-hour." (Repeat) "I am very sorry, but your flight will be delayed half-an-hour. Thank you for your patience." (Again, now, with feeling!) "Thank you for your patience, but for everyone on the flight to Great Rapids- one of your crew members is late. Your flight will be delayed until 5:30." (More feeling!) "I am sorry to say that your parents have perished in a fire-" (Just kidding) "I am sorry but one of the crew members is still in Wisconsin. He is the head flight attendant. He is stuck in Wisconsin and his plane has not landed." (One last time!) "I'm sorry but the flight attendant is now in the air. Your flight will be delayed until 6:30 pm." The flight to Syracuse was boarding and an Indian woman held her tan, blonde baby in her arms (her husband was white) and said, "Why does he keep repeating that?"
      A man on standby who lives in Syracuse said, "Yeah, he's just making their blood boil."
      "Why don't they just put a marionette in the seat? How's the flight going, captain? It's going great!" a tall, burly white man in his mid fourties/early fifities hooted.
     The adults burst into laughter.
      Well, I didn't make the flight. The nice Filipina lady did, though, (and the guy who lives in Syracuse and I actually applauded because she'd been here among this chaos for over a day now and we'd been waiting for something good to happen at this horrific airport) and some other woman with a cute, at-the-chin hair cut that rendered her head very onion-esque boarded, too (but sadly, not her husband, to whom she gave six other potential standby tickets to Syracuse. Oh, man. Good luck to that guy).
      Now, I'm sitting at a Starbucks, and thankfully, I have a gorgeous view of the G gates. I snagged a table right at a corner, and the sun's streaming down onto my laptop. It's kind of chilly in here, but my new Northface fuzzy makes-me-look-like-a-black-bear jacket keeps me cozy. For some reason, tall green tea Frappuccino's are $5.25 here. It is 6:06 pm (Chicago time: +2 than Cali time, -1 than NY time), and I'm not hungry, so I'm thinking of just eating a million gluten free cheese things (Van's cheese snacks) for dinner.

    I finally boarded. Of course, the flight got delayed by half-an-hour, but you know how American Airlines is! Before the flight, this super pissed off brunette woman told off the guy at the front desk because of the constant gate changes for our flight. I really hope I don't have to be a flight-desk person ever. I'd get so much crap about things I had nothing to do with and couldn't control. I sat next to a large, middle-aged white man and a row from the guy who lived in Syracuse. My seatmate and I started conversing after I asked him when he thought our flight would arrive. We spent nearly all of the two hours of our flight gossiping about our families and college. I told him about my little sister who's a junior and he talked about his girl who's a senior. He did that thing all parents do, brag. I learned his girl was a life guard, in the top 5% of her class, a cheerleader, etc. etc. and they'd started college searching that summer. I told him about my aspirations with art even though my parents think it's too unconventional, but he was totally open to the idea of having an artistic career path. "There are so many more jobs out there than you're told about," he advised. He was super fatherly and when our flight landed, he handed me a business card and told me to call if I ever needed help, helped me find the Birnie Bus Driver, and told her to make sure I got back to school safely.

    A girl from Hong Kong who'd been on the same cancelled flight as me the day before searched for her luggage without success. I asked her if she was going to Colgate, but she said she went to Syracuse. The flight attendant at the desk, a twenty-something blonde with bird-like features was being bombarded with nasty accusations and threats from the same brunette who told off the other flight attendant in Chicago. "I am NEVER flying with AMERICAN. EVER. This is TERRIBLE! I NEED my LUGGAGE. I have MEDICATIONS!!!!! I need it NOW!" That poor blonde woman was noticeably struggling to keep herself together; her mouth was trembling. The Hong Konger and I were tiredly waiting behind the screaming lady when another airport worker came up to us. "What's your last name?" I told her and she said, "I know where your bag is." She led me to a room behind the check-in desk, asked me to describe the bags, and swiftly found them. I motioned the Hong Konger toward me, and she was also reunited with her luggage. "I'm glad someone has her shit together!" I announced. We smiled and went our separate ways.

     I decided to sit in the front with the Birnie Bus Driver. It was almost 2 a.m. and we started talking about her kids. She talked about how her daughter used to get really sick, so she'd give her children's cough medicine. "Turns our the meds had too much sugar, man, and they rotted her teeth!" I was pretty drowsy but the driver chatted about her life. She's 59 and never went on a plane because she's afraid they'll crash; she'd much rather cruise. She's one of twenty-six kids, and even though she's adopted, she'd reconnected with many of her siblings (most in different states) and her birth parents. "I asked 'em, why'd you have so many kids even though you knew you couldn't support them all?" And they said, "We wanted a big family!" She talked about how she loves to help disabled kids by driving them around. She told me a story about one boy who'd always throw tantrums. The driver is supposed to set the kid in the seat directly behind them, but he'd always be kicking her back. So, one day, she moved him to the very back seat of the van, took the middle seat out, and he behaved himself. It turned out he was pretty blind and was happier in the back because he could feel the vibrations of the wheels. However, the disabled boy's dad raged when he saw that the driver had put his child in the back. "Why you put my kid all the way in the back? Why would you treat him like that?? he said. But I talked back to him, said, 'Because he likes it there, man! He don't have a tantrums anymore when you put in there!' And that shut the dad up." She talked about an old woman she'd met a dance club. The woman was asking random men for a ride home, "When I came to her and told those men, 'Nah! She's with me!' And then I told 'er, 'You don't go home with strange men! I'll take you home!' And I did. And we became friends, I'd take her shopping, you know, with my daughter. This woman, she loved animals, always feed the squirrels. One day, we went shopping and then I didn't hear from her for a while.  Then, a few days later, her daughter calls me, says her mom didn't pick up the phone. So we go visit. And when we opened the door, we saw her on the floor. Face down, her butt sticking up. Like, she'd walked down stairs in the middle of the night for a snack or to use the bathroom but then, coming back up, had a stroke and died. Must've been there two days."
      "Oh my God, that's so sad," I whispered.
      "Yeah, and I think, I coulda done something. You know, before I went shopping, a day before I saw her in her garden, lookin pale and not able to trim her hedges. Do know what I do? I told my son to trim the hedges, and he did that. And I took her home and told her, you should go see the doctor. I should have taken her right then. I knew something wasn't right."

       When we came onto campus, I waited for my roommate, Gian, to come help me take my bags up to the third floor of our building. However, three very drunk guys talking way too loudly sauntered up to the Birnie Bus. "We can help her," one guy in a button up announced to the bus driver.
       "She's waiting on her roommate," the bus driver said.
       "Ok, we'll wait, too," another guy announced. It was past 3 a.m. Even though the guys insisted they could help me, the bus driver did not leave my side. Once the three guys realized my roommate was a guy who could carry my suitcases himself, they went off on their way. I thanked the bus driver for staying with me.

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