My faux Christmas trip to Nebraska should now be cozy memories of friends, good food and late nights. And it was, really, with a dump truck full of inconvenience.
I suppose it all went sour when I decided to fly to Nebraska. Faced with driving across Iowa in winter – and a crummy Amtrak schedule – I decided to take my chances by hopping the short distance between Illinois and the cornhusker state.
Omaha’s Eppley Field is a perfectly serviceable airport. It’s small, with quick security procedures, and seems to offer a decent selection of flights. However, no one would confuse it for a city within a city. Amenities are lacking. Like last call at a bar, dinner hours are strictly enforced; don’t be caught hunting for food after 7 p.m.
So when a bad ice storm in Chicago cripples any airplane within 1000 miles, I’m left watching my departure time change every 30 minutes. A six hour delay now, and they still won’t cancel the damn flight. That connecting flight home to Peoria is a pipedream. I’m ready to rent a car, hop a train, anything – tuk-tuk isn’t out of the question.
We finally drop into O’Hare at slightly after 1 a.m. and I see that another group of weary travelers are waiting on the arrival of our plane to head to Des Moines at 2 a.m. My feelings toward United Airlines oscillate between admiration for pushing through and anger at the preposterousness of it all.
After a quick stop at the only (and I do mean only) Starbucks open after midnight in the entire airport, it was time to haul my granola yogurt parfait and oatmeal across acres of airport. Entire cities of airport, each decorated differently, with no shuttles running between provinces. Two, three, no – four men’s restrooms closed for service.
Terminal F, at last. There are many sleeping already, some with newspaper over faces, others cocooned in mini-cities with suitcase walls and coat ceilings. I switch spots several times as better locations open, like some sort of real estate shark, and finally end up horizontal across four seats with coats as makeshift blankets. It is a fitful few hours of slumber.
I awake to the sound of an angry gate attendant, yelling at her charges like some sort of sadistic second grade teacher. Time to break camp, freshen up and drag my ass to the correct gate.
My departure gate is the 3rd world of O’Hare gates, sitting in the basement of the terminal building with only sliding doors shielding us from the 4 regional jets parked directly outside. Hades is full this morning, and I park my disheveled self in a chair.
At this point, I’m feeling mighty handsome. I’m snotty (literally), a red-eyed demon, and I likely smell like a YMCA. A smile hasn’t crossed my face in 12 hours. And it is at this very moment that a pretty girl sits directly next to me. No, not even a seat to buffer between us. She is practically sitting in my lap.
She’s the epitome of cute – short brown hair, a foot shorter than me – and sporting a large Buddhist tattoo on her neck.
“Are you going to Peoria,” she asks, slightly shy but meeting my eyes. And with that, a conversation is struck and we share brief histories of our lives. It’s first date material, but my constant fear of flying is diminished and I soon find myself on the plane, switching seats to sit next to her.
“Do you need a ride when we get back,” she asks, still friendly and adorable. I wistfully tell her no, I have a car in the parking lot. Hindsight has me offering HER a ride, as she was without car. And without cell phone, curiously enough. She claimed that she had no desire for one – “I don’t like the idea of being reachable all the time.”
Megan? My mind is a cheese grater at the moment, and I’ve had to ask her name again twice. So it’s not Megan. Morgan?
The flight to Peoria is a scant 20 minutes in the air, an amount of time that’s both sinful and silly simultaneously. We land, but walk together to the baggage claim, and I bid her adieu.
I leave a business card with her, instructions to reach me for a night out. Her idea, honest, but not meant to be. The connection was never made, and I felt mopey about it. I replayed scenarios in my head, ones where I actually made plans or asked how I could contact her. But then I remembered that these things happen all the time, random collisions of humanity that have a very specific purpose at a very specific time.
And so, Megan/Morgan, if you ever stumble upon this, I apologize for blathering on about you. 800 words may be overdoing it.