This past August, I went to Maine with my dad’s entire side of the family to re-visit the town that we grew up going to every summer. Both of my grandparents passed away, and this trip was our final goodbye. It was a beautiful weekend, all things considered.
However, that is not the story I want to tell today. I want to tell you about my trip back to the city.
My flight back was in the late afternoon. We figured out that my cousins and I could be on the same flight to Philadelphia (the end of their trip), and then I would connect and continue on to LaGuardia. That is a little inconvenient, considering it was the same price as the flight that goes straight from Portland to LaGuardia, but whatever – more time with my cousins. I did not book my own flights, so I cannot really complain.
It may have been weather or it may have been a technical issue, but whatever the reason was, our flight was incredibly delayed leaving Portland. We had planned it so that I would have an hour layover, but time was ticking and this layover was quickly becoming a tight squeeze. I went from having one hour, to 45 minutes, to 20 minutes, to 10 minutes…and after that I pretty much knew I was going to have to find the next flight.
Once I got to Philadelphia, I asked the attendant right outside of our gate if she could tell me where the gate for my next flight is. She told me that they were currently boarding but it was in another terminal. So, I ran. I ran as quickly as I could with my little suitcase and my bag. Have you ever seen someone awkwardly running with a backpack or suitcase? It’s not glamorous. But I threw dignity out the window, and kept running. I made it to my supposed gate, winded and red-faced, but they had already closed the doors only 60 seconds prior and would not re-open them for me.
As beautiful as it was, the weekend had been extra emotional for me and much of it was spent wiping my eyes. Being the oldest of the grandchildren, I felt closer to my grandparents than the younger ones, and it’s hard to say goodbye to someone you were so close to. By this point, I was tired and I was fragile. As soon as I saw those doors closed, I cried again right there in the gate.
Someone else came running up to the gate, apparently his layover and been cut short as well (I will note that he did not cry like a baby). Together we followed an attendant to customer service where we were told that our flight had been the last one to any of the New York metro-area airports for the night (oh yeah, it was midnight). The next flight was not until 9 am. Well, that was not going to fly – I needed to be at work in the morning and was not about to spend the night in Philadelphia.
Still crying, I did the first thing that any normal, responsible, independent person would do – I called my mom. She told me to rent a car and just drive back. It’s only a couple hours. I realized that the other person who had missed the flight was walking to the car rental area. We kept making awkward eye contact. I was tired, and really did not want to drive at this time of night. I knew what had to be done, so I made small talk and asked him where he was going. Once we realized we were going to the same area, it seemed logical to split a car and drive together.
Before you lecture me about strangers, let me explain. It was the kind of situation where we both just got stuck. He did not creepily come up to me and ask me to get in his van. He did not offer me any candy. He was just a normal-looking, nice guy who seemed to be about the same age as myself, and needed to find a way back as much as I did. And hey, I’m still alive.
I came to find out his name is Neil. Neil drove the whole way (thank goodness), and we spent the car ride chatting about anything – life, family, friends, careers, etc. When we finally got back to the city and parted ways at 3 am, I felt like we had just experienced this crazy, secret adventure together. Would I ever speak to this stranger again? Would my mom ever forgive me for giving her a heart attack? He and I are totes Facebook friends now, so I’d say all is right in the world.