Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanks, Donna!

A few days before leaving for Oklahoma, I started checking the extended weather forecast. After not seeing a flake of snow yet this season, I was somewhat alarmed to see a snowflake symbol on Saturday's forecast. The chance of snow? 100%.  I try not to worry about things I can't control, so I pushed it to the back of my mind. On Saturday morning, the three of us went to a holiday parade and then went home and had lunch. My plan had been to leave at around 2:00 but in light of the weather forecast, we left earlier. My daughter and I had a flight to catch at 5:35 and the airport was two hours away.

So, we loaded up the car, said good-bye to daddy/husband, and then hit the road. We saw flakes as we got closer to the airport but a quick check of our flight status showed that it was still scheduled to depart on time.  We parked in the long-term parking lot and then caught the shuttle to the terminal. We then rolled our suitcases to the baggage check-in.  This is when things started to go downhill.

First, I noticed that all of the United Airlines employees were dead behind the eyes, signaling a long day filled with crabby travelers. I started hearing rumblings of problems in Chicago. Apparently, Chicago (where we needed to go in order to catch our connection to Oklahoma City) had been slammed with a foot of snow. Flights in and out of Chicago had been canceled or diverted. When we finally got to the desk to check-in, the United Airlines employee informed me that our 5:35 flight was now scheduled for midnight. She looked at her screen and said, "It shows wheels-up at 12:01 a.m. which means that it will probably be canceled." She checked us in anyway and the kid and I went to the gate to wait.

The flight listings were still showing that our flight was on time so I kept hoping that maybe we'd be one of the lucky ones. My daughter was starting to worry about things like sleeping at an airport, but I assured here that I am the grown-up and therefore will assume all of the worry-related responsibilities.

As late as 5:15, the flight information screen at the gate was still showing as on time. I couldn't help but notice that there was no, um, airplane at the gate, though. I checked the flight again on my phone. It now showed a departure of 7;45. This would have been fine, except that we would obviously miss our connection (which was the last one of the day). I saw a line forming at the desk so I joined it, waiting for my opportunity to speak to the apathetic gentleman about what options were available to us. After a few minutes, he told me that he had re-booked us for the next morning. We would connect through Denver and then land in Oklahoma City at 4:45. At that point, I was just relieved to have a firm plan.

The kid and I headed back to the main check-in area to retrieve our suitcases. I also asked for a hotel voucher that would get us a discount at a hotel across the street. At this point, our luck started to change a bit. I called the hotel and asked about availability. The friendly guy on the phone (who, unlike the United employees, had apparently not lost the will to live), told me that he had rooms available and that he would send a shuttle right over. "Just go to Door 4 by the baggage claim," he said.

We walked to Door 4 and within two minutes, the shuttle was there. We checked in to a room (using the "distressed traveler" rate) and got settled in. Since our car was still in the remote parking lot, we didn't have a lot of options for dinner. So, we headed to the hotel's restaurant. This is where we met Donna. She was an energetic blonde lady - in her 50s, I'd guess. "Sorry for the wait!" she exclaimed. "I thought I was getting off early tonight but wow! Everyone came in at once!" I told her how a lot of flights were canceled, which might account for the unexpected influx of hungry people.

She took our order. I ordered a pasta dish and the kid ordered a quesadilla. I also ordered a glass of merlot - my reward for a long, sucky day. Donna winked and said, "I'd order one of those, too!" She laughed as though I had ordered something naughty. She brought us our drinks and also dropped off a salad and a basket of bread. "The bread isn't really supposed to come with your meal," she whispered, "But I brought it anyway."

The salad had some ranch dressing on the side. I didn't really want the salad (and obviously couldn't eat the ranch) so I figured I'd just let my daughter pick at it. Donna leaned down to tell us another secret. She looked at my daughter.

"Dip the bread in the ranch," she said. "When I tell people that, they say, 'You're crazy, Donna!' but just try it and you'll be addicted!"  She nodded knowingly.

After Donna left the table, my daughter did indeed dip thick slices of bread in the ranch. I drank my merlot and looked away. A few minutes later, Donna came back to the table with our entrees. "What did you think?" she asked my daughter. The kid gave her a thumbs-up.  "See! I told you!"

Every time she came by our table, she told my daughter, "I love those quesadillas! I have two of them in the back!" By the end of our meal, I started to wonder about food safety issues related to Donna not eating her quesadillas in a timely manner.

Finally, dinner was over and we were ready to head back to our room. "I wish I could go swimming," said my daughter. "But I didn't bring a swimsuit."

"Good news, Goober. I packed two swimsuits for you." Her eyes lit up in gratitude and for about two seconds I think she forgot about how her mean old mother wrongs her at every turn.

Donna came back to give us our bill. I handed her my debit card. She opened up the little black padfolio she uses to take orders and showed me two photos that were taped to the bottom. "These are my boys," she whispered. Both young men are in the Navy and are currently deployed. "I'm not really supposed to be over here right now, but I wanted to show you my boys."

"They're very handsome," I said. "You must be very proud."  I couldn't help but wonder if hotel management actually cared if she showed off photos of her sons?

We bid Donna a fond farewell and spent the next hour or so at the pool. "She was nice," my daughter said.

"She sure was," I agreed. Donna really did make a terrible day a lot less terrible.

The next morning, we got up bright and early and the hotel's shuttle took us back across the street to the airport.  This time, everything went exactly as planned. Our flight took off on time. Because we were booked on these new flights at the last minute, the airline had given us the only seats available, which were in different rows. I asked a young woman if she would mind switching with us and she was more than happy to do that. As a matter of fact, because of the switch she was seated next to a young guy who appeared to be her age. They chatted for the whole flight and even walked together on the jetway. If they make babies together, I'm taking credit.

We connected in Denver, where we had several hours to kill. It's a really nice airport, so we didn't mind too much. Our flight to Oklahoma City took off on time, too. We landed on time, picked up our rental car, and headed to my mom's house. We were finally on vacation - woot!

As I was typing the blog entry, though, I just realized that my daughter's swimsuit and cover-up are still on the back of the door at the hotel. Crud. I guess they are probably dry now?

I wonder if this guy on the plane knew that I could see him.

No comments: