I had pushed a few too many of my S-I-L’s buttons. She pushed back.
It was the end of a too long Christmas visit to Houston. I had planned on renting a car. “No. No. Don’t do that. You can use our second car.” Except it wasn’t that easy. The second car had other demands on it and was often tied up. When it wasn’t tied up I had to ask for the keys. Like a teenager. I didn’t handle that well. S-I-L didn’t handle my asking “Mom. Can I have the car keys” very well, either. She’s not that much older. And maybe I made a few other transgressions.
Somewhere in there she lost it and started screaming at me. Probably justifiably. Or not. It was what it was. We rented a car and fled to spend the last day in Houston hiding out in malls. We had no house key and spent our last evening checking back to see if anybody was home. Late in the evening there was and they let us into the house. Amid awkward silence we bedded down the toddlers and ourselves.
The three-a.m. alarm rang way too soon and off we stumbled in the darkness to our rental car and the foggy drive to the airport. Check bags, carry kids, carry-on bags and diaper bags through the terminal to the gate and get on the crowded plane. Door closes, but the plane just sits there in the fog, waiting for clearance to take-off on the hop to Dallas – Ft. Worth. Long wait. Kids are sleepy, dopey and grumpy. And restless. And have diarrhea. Well. Maybe we don’t know that yet, but we will. Soon.
Finally, some hope – they announce they are bringing us free do-nuts. Yeah!
Do-nuts show up on the jet way. We can see them through the windows! Just then they announce we have clearance and the plane starts pulling away from the gate. No do-nuts for you. We roar down the runway and we have take-off. The air pressure changes. The kids have colds. Their ears are plugged. They start screaming with the pressure change. We’ve only just begun.
The plane levels off, the pressure stabilizes and the kids calm down.
Pretty soon the plane starts its descent into Dallas – Ft. Worth. Air pressure changes in the other direction. Kids scream again. The plane lands and taxis to the gate. The air pressure seems to have settled down. Screaming has stopped. People start getting off the flight. Not us. This is just a brief stop for us. Try explaining that concept to a one and a two-year old. They want off the plane. Now. Not happening, but a fair bit of crying is. So far only the kids are crying.
Plane takes off for Denver. Kids scream. We try to avoid eye contact with other passengers. Things calm down again once the flight levels out. The diarrhea is making itself known by now. We are going through diapers at an alarming rate and the stuff is squirting out around the leg holes of the diapers and taking out the sleepers. We use up all the sleepers we have in the diaper bag. Any other clothes are in checked luggage tagged for Vancouver.
The plane descends into Denver. The kids scream.
The plane empties. We rush into the terminal. I get in line to check-in for the next flight. Juanita rushes to the washroom to change kids and to wash the sleepers in the hand basin and stand forever in front of a hand drier to dry her impromptu laundry. I guess she must have had the kids. I can’t remember that detail. I am writing about this for the first time after almost forty years. In any case we both would have been laden down like pack mules. Her with the fussy, poopy, squirmy loads. Me with everything else and the anxious “where are they? Boarding call is happening”. Juanita shows up and joins me in line at the last possible minute.
The boarding passes we are given are for four separate seats in four different rows. That should be interesting. I am told the plane is full and overbooked and we will have to sort the seating out for ourselves once we are on board. That is surprisingly easy. We don’t get four seats together, but we manage to get two twos. Think about it. If I arrived next to you and said. “Ma’am/sir can you help me? My seat is over there. Would you mind moving to my seat so my fragrant infant and I can sit together instead of leaving her next to you while she screams for her parent for the next three hours?” That last is implied, but people are really good at detecting imminent danger. That’s how we all got here. We are a species of survivors.
“Thank you sir/ma’am. You are so kind.”
Every seat is taken. Some pudgy airline guy shows up at the front of the plane and starts playing “Let’s make a deal”. He offers a $100 voucher and a flight on United Airlines in an hour. He gets a few takers and they leave. He ups the ante in stages, but it’s a hard crowd. They didn’t take the hundred and who knows how high he will go. He gets the last one at eight hundred dollars and a flight. I do a very very brief mental calculation that even the eight hundred dollars is not worth my life if I took it and left Juanita and the kids to fend for themselves. Things settle down and the pre-flight announcements happen and off we lumber into the wild blue yonder leaving the mile-high city in our jet wash.
The kids scream. Rinse, repeat for landing in Salt Lake City where they still don’t understand why all those other people are allowed to escape but we have to sit there until the plane leaves for Vancouver. Maybe Spokane was in there, as well. Maybe not. My memory is kind. It blurs certain details together.
We arrive over Vancouver. It is sunny. Above the fog. We can see the north shore mountains and the towers on the Lions Gate Bridge, but not much else. “This the captain speaking Vancouver is fogged in but we think we can land.” Down. Down. Down into the fog. Abort! Up! Up! Up! Out of the fog. Circle around. Down down down up up up. “This is the captain speaking. We are going to try one final time before diverting to an alternate airport.”
The plane lands. People cheer and clap and start breathing again. There were probably a few finger impressions made in the armrests that day.
Great! We are about to be re-united with our luggage and a supply of diapers and kids’ clothes. We unload and line up at the luggage carousel.
I guess the plane was overbooked for luggage as well as people. Our luggage didn’t make it. We line up and fill out forms at the lost luggage counter. We go to the airline counter. Let’s call it Frontier Airlines. The airport is fogged in. No planes are leaving. I have tickets on Pacific Western, but no cash. Who has cash left on the last day of their vacation? Not us. The Frontier agent gives me four airport meal vouchers and four downtown shuttle vouchers but he can do nothing about a bus to Powell River. He says he could fly us around the world through Sydney Australia, but not give us a bus ticket.
By this time the kids are in a shopping cart with our carry-on luggage. If the cart stops moving the kids start crying. We all got to bed late last night and up at three this morning. But that is three Houston time. About fifteen hours ago at this point in our Odyssey or is that an Iliad? An Odyssey is a journey. An Iliad is a series of misadventures. This is probably both. But I digress.
Juanita shuffles the cart from one end of the terminal to the other and back, slowing briefly to say hi on their way by. The Frontier airline counter line-up was not too bad, but lining up at Pacific Western is another matter. Frontier was only dealing with a few people who arrived and had additional issues. They don’t have any flights not out until tomorrow. This is Pacific Western’s world and welcome to it. They have lots of flights not going out today and hundreds of people who are going nowhere except to stand in lines.
There are two major lines. One for people “with tickets”. One for people “without tickets”. We have tickets. I get in that line. Forty-five minutes later I get to the front of the line and ask for a cash refund on our tickets so I can buy bus tickets. “Sorry. We have no money here. We only deal with tickets here. You need to get in the line for people without tickets. The people at that counter have the cash and can make your refund.” Forty-five minutes more and I am at the head of that line and they give us some cash.
Somehow the idea of a sit-down meal does not appeal. I walk through the cafeteria line and get sandwiches, juice and fruit to go to the max of our vouchers. We go outside the terminal and I parlay four shuttle vouchers into a cab fare to the bus terminal with a stop at a drugstore for diapers and rubber pants.
The bus terminal is full of people who can’t fly and want to get home from Christmas vacation. I buy four bus tickets, but am told it is first-come, first-serve seating and there will be two buses to the first ferry, but only one loading onto and getting off the ferry. And the kids need to sit on your laps. Full fare but no seat. Have a nice day. Every seat in the bus terminal is taken. Every floor space (yech!) next to a wall or pillar or substantial vertical object that can be leaned against is occupied. We do the prison yard shuffle until they designate the departure bay for the bus that goes on the ferry. We go stand in the gray, dark fog so we are sure of getting on the bus. We are dressed for Houston, not BC winter.
After about an hour they let us board the bus. It fills and an overflow bus fills. There are people standing. (IIRC – it’s a bit fuzzy) The kids are on our laps. Full fare, but no guarantee of a seat.
The bus arrives at the ferry at Horseshoe Bay and eventually boards the ferry. It parks at the very front of the vehicle deck. The driver announces that nobody is allowed to stay on the bus while the ferry is in motion and take your stuff because it is first-come, first-serve seating when we re-board the bus at the end of the ferry ride and you probably won’t have the same seat.
We briefly go upstairs to the bright, warm passenger deck, but don’t linger long. We want to be seated and not standing with a kid under the arm. So back we go to the front of the vehicle deck to stand by the bus. The clamshell doors at the front of the ferry don’t quite meet perfectly. The cold, winter wind rushes through the gap and reminds us that BC is not TX and we are dressed for TX.
The driver arrives, opens the door and we load. We are early enough boarding the bus that we get to sit together. And yeah! Enough people are just going to Langdale that the kids can sit on their own seats. The interior lights go off. The bus rolls off the ferry at Langdale. The exhausted kids fall asleep instantly.
Ten minutes later the driver yells “Grantham’s Landing!”. The door flies open. The lights come on. The kids wake. They scream. People get off. The door closes. The lights go off. The bus rolls. The kids fall asleep. Ten minutes later, “Gibsons!” and so on every ten or fifteen minutes up the Sechelt Peninsula to the ferry terminal at Earl’s Cove. People are muttering “$#%#’ing kids”. I empathize. Hey, I probably concur but most silently.
The ferry shows up. The bus loads. I am muttering to Juanita, “I am not getting off this bus. They can come drag me off with the RCMP, but I am not getting off.” The bus driver being carefully attuned to reality announces, “anyone who wants to stay on the bus may do so. See you after the ferry ride” and beats a hasty retreat upstairs. We doze and the kids sleep on the trip across Jarvis Inlet to Saltery Bay.
My Dad meets us at the bus terminal in Powell River about eleven. I ask if he could run us by Trevisanutto’s house in Cranberry. I had left our car for Claudio to use during his visit over Christmas. He was scheduled to have gone back to Masset and I might as well pick it up. When we got there Claudio was sitting at his parents’ dining room table. The planes weren’t flying out of Powell River either. He was fogbound like the rest of the world. We stopped just long enough for me to suggest Claudio drive our car over to our house for a visit and I would drive him back to his house afterward.
We got home and put the kids to bed in clean sleepers. Claudio arrived. Juanita said, “Enjoy your visit. I’m going to bed.” Wise lady. It was getting on to twenty-three hours since the alarm had jarred us into movement in Houston.
Claudio and I visited for a couple of hours and I drove him home to Cranberry, about three miles from our home in Wildwood. Then I came home. I went to unlock the door I had locked when I left.
The keyring I had was the one I had loaned Claudio. It was just for the car. There was no house key. I knocked on the door. Quietly at first. Don’t want to wake the kids. Our bedroom was upstairs at the front of the building as far as you could get from the door I was knocking on. Juanita slept soundly on. I slide open the bathroom window. It is only big enough to stick my head in and yell, but nobody hears me.
I went around front and threw pebbles at the window. Carefully. We had been remodelling an old country store on a pay as you go basis. Before we moved in I had used a sheet of acrylic for a bedroom window. We had just recently replaced it with a proper double hung double glazed window. No way that I wanted to break that. Pebbles weren’t enough. Rocks breaking the glass might not have been enough. Remember that we had all had a short night followed by a long, tiring day.
I drove around Wildwood looking for a pay phone. No joy. I drove to the old Town Site a couple of miles from home. Found one pay phone at a gas station. Broken. I drove to Westview found another. It works! I called home.
The phone was on the counter about six feet from the door that nobody heard me knocking on. Nobody heard the phone either. I drove to my parents’ house and created a bit of alarm waking them, but they calmed down pretty quickly and loaned me their copy of our house key.
Three miles drive home. Inside at last. To bed right away. To sleep almost as quickly. Somewhere north of twenty-six hours. A couple of hours longer than your typical day. Longer than any other day I remember.
Copyright Paul W. Alton 2006 through 2019 All Rights Reserved
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