Today started with a lot of bitter thoughts. My Twitter feed was full of people complaining that they had been out of power for hours. Cleveland seems incapable of taking any challenging weather without making a complete drama scene out of it. Being from Pennsylvania, heavy storming is a common side effect of east coast hurricanes. My mom texted me how grandma once again lined her hallways with buckets of water and plugged her drains to fill up. Grandma treats every storm like it’s going to leave her stranded for weeks. Yet we were hit considerably harder at home than in Cleveland. One friend in Cleveland wined that his laptop was running out of power, so how could he watch his favorite shows once it dies? I wanted to slap him. “Ever heard of candles and board games?” I asked him, reflecting on my times as a child when the storms would hit home. “That sounds horrible,” he replied. “Well, while you’re busy feeling bad about yourself for missing Glee, consider that someone’s day is below average because he’s missing his wife and house!” I snapped back. That kind of selfishness really irks me.
Because of Hurricane Sandy, my early departure today was unfortunately canceled. I had spent an hour waiting to get through to the airlines, then another considerable amount of time was spent trying to communicate with the Indian man on the other side of the phone. I needed to know if I couldn’t get an earlier flight. My arrival time in Alaska was supposed to be around midnight Alaska time – my hostel would be locked. I got nowhere with the man. Every time I asked if there was an earlier flight, he would forget what day I was leaving in the first place and tell me a time even later. I gave up. Too many people must be calling, anyway. I would manage. I was still sick to my stomach about the potential of being stranded at night, though, and with the thoughts swarming in my head about the conference as it was.
I packed my things in for the last time and took off walking to the RTA railway station. My down jacket and hiking boots felt way too hot, especially considering I was dressed in layers. However, I need the warmth in Alaska… and the space in my suitcase. I sat at the station and had a moment of panic: Do I have money? I’ve had a history of problems with money and my credit card, a Discover card my dad gave me that doesn’t work anywhere outside of the US. Oh, outside of the US. I’ll still be in the US… it just won’t feel anything like it. I began breathing again and boarded the train that had just pulled up. The ride was miserably hot in my jacket and I felt like an awkward minority, as I always do when riding Cleveland public transportation.
I arrived at the airport for my afternoon flight a little later than I was hoping. I didn’t realize the train would take so long. Coming back from my last trip to Montreal, it had seemed much shorter. I was originally supposed to catch a flight to Chicago then Seattle, but instead I was going to Denver for my layover. As I walked in, I realized how many people had “was supposed to” stories. The crowd wasn’t so bad when I first arrived, but I checked in quickly then turned around to see an enormous line. I had over an hour before my flight; my ticket recommended having at least 30 minutes. However, the line was not budging. I stood and watched painfully as the minutes ticked away. A cameraman from Channel 5 scooted past us. I looked woundedly into the camera, exaggerating the effect waiting had on me and wondering who was watching, who might feel bad for me. Then the reality of it sunk in: The crowd is so bad that it’s on TV… I’m never going to make it to Alaska! With 10 minutes before my plane took off, the line was backed down across the front of the building, one of the three entry points was still closed, and I was not even in the front row yet for passport checks.
I tried asking certain people what I could do. The lady in uniform told me to ask the airline people, but the airline people told me it was out of their power. One guy in line said, “So many people are in this position, I’m guessing they’ll hold your flight.” But the people behind me were nervous for me, an older couple on their way to Tennessee. Finally, the lady spoke for me: “Do you mind if she just…goes in front of you? At least we have 30 minutes extra. She’s making me nervous.” One by one, people said, “Go in front of me, go ahead.” With 5 minutes before departure, I was shoved to the front of the line and going through TSA. With 3 minutes to go, I got stopped in the body scan and forced to go through extra tests. They said I had metal in my pockets, which I didn’t (no buttons, just stitching!) and someone had to swipe my hands. I still don’t know why that happened, but I didn’t have the time to spare. Dismissed at last, I threw my unzipped jackets on, tied my laces just enough that they wouldn’t trip me, then sprinted down the halls sloppily, but as quickly as I could. I hadn’t eaten all day, though, and I was really feeling how heavy my luggage was as well as how hot two heavy coats are inside a heated terminal.
Naturally, my gate was farther than I’d ever had to go before for a flight. I got there very literally as they were shutting the door. “Where are all these people coming from??” they asked as I pleaded to be let through, and I tried to explain that everyone had come in from Pennsylvania and more just to use our airports in the storms. They grabbed one of my carry-ons and checked it in for free, due to the full flight, which worked for me because I was definitely pushing the carry-on limits with my suitcase, duffle bag, purse, and poster tube. I sat down on the plane, my seat taken and settling for whatever was open, completely out of breath. I tied my shoes. My blisters were bleeding on the sides of my feet and I was panting and sweaty. I sat between two women. One was an older lady going to visit her girlfriend in Denver and the other, who was around my age, works for the airlines, was from an hour outside of Cleveland, and was going back to Denver for a few days before her next flight. I kept telling them how I wish I could go back and thank all of those people who literally sacrificed to get me to Alaska. I would have undoubtedly missed my flight, and I hope they made theirs. The only person to come on after me was a woman with a stroller who had been several switchbacks ahead of me, and I don’t even want to imagine what she had to go through to make it with her child.
The flight was only a few hours to Denver. I used it well, drawing sketches for my EEPS 220 EPA RainWorks Challenge. I also read some of Tony Hillerman’s first book, a reread for me. When we landed at Denver, I said goodbye to the ladies I sat with and went to a bar for a salad and local brew. I’m all about local experiences, and, yes, beer totally counts. The Ranger IPA from Fort Collins was amazing. I had two while uploading my class files to Driven. My professor had asked me to do this extra work for him, even though he knew I was flying to Alaska. I’m not sure why I accepted, but he must have known he could ask and that I would anyway.
With that done and my bill paid, I wandered over to my second flight. My seat on the plane was an aisle seat; I usually sit by the window, but I was zero-for-two today. I got to sit in the back of the plane next to a lady who was visiting her new grandchild in Alaska, where she grew up. She now lives with her husband in Oklahoma. He will come to visit the baby when she returns. She had a slightly southern accent, a drawl which I always find unusually comforting. I guess I get my own share of southern drawls at home, near the Mason Dixon line.
Looking around the plane, I could see a cluster of kids around my age, some with posters. I could tell by their looks and by their clothes that they were going to the AISES Conference. One jacket said “Rosebud”, which is probably the Rosebud tribe. I didn’t say Hi to them, but they were busy talking to strangers and playing iPad games with them a few rows in front of me. I couldn’t help but stare. These were clearly Rez kids from the Dakotas. It was my understanding that those reservations were not as well off as the eastern ones, so I marveled at the idea of them flying clear to Alaska… and playing on iPads! Even I couldn’t afford fancy toys! I’ve read so much about reservations lacking electricity and plumbing in a lot of places, with the majority of residents under the poverty line, and yet here were these kids playing games on a plane to Alaska, chatting about Facebook and cars and everything I would have expected from a typical, non-isolated American resident. Technology and connectivity has a way of changing the world, that’s for sure.
When I finally got to Anchorage (I paid for a movie for the 5.5 hour flight, but then slept towards the end – an effort to get on the 4-hours-behind time zone), the landing was scary due to the temperature change and the turbulence as we broke into the lower atmosphere. The airport itself was extremely empty, especially in comparison to Cleveland and what I speculated to be the case out east. Additionally, it was around midnight when I got there. I had to wait for my bag, then figure out how to go outside and get a shuttle. The shuttle service I was going to use before my flight got pushed back was now closed due to the late hour. I learned how to grab a cab for my first time alone and took it to my hostel. At my hostel, I picked up the phone in the birdhouse outside as instructed (I had previously asked about afterhours check-ins and they told me to do this), but no one came to let me in. There was no ring on the phone (maybe there wasn’t supposed to be), but I gave up after several minutes of trying. I called my mom. She was already up for the next day since she gets up early every day and I was hours behind. She left an angry message for the hostel after telling me to go to another hotel. I then dropped $100 to stay a night in the Sheraton, whereas my whole week at the hostel was $125. Not a good way to start off my weeklong experience alone.
The workers in the lobby sympathized with my situation and gave me this discounted rate. I was in room 1010, a nice number. The guy who gave me the key card was from Apollo, Pennsylvania. Small world, I thought, because I knew exactly where that is. My room was super nice. I had two beds and I had to choose which to stay in. This decision was actually a difficult one. I wanted to lounge for a while then sleep but, sadly, I only had a few hours left of the night. I wish I could’ve slept much longer, but I had a tour in the morning and needed to check in. I also saw in my emails that I needed my presentation on thumb drive when I had only brought it via email. The thumb drive idea had completely slipped my mind for some stupid reason. I knew I had to figure out what to do in the morning.
I was so tired, I didn’t even shower. I just looked up some opening times and stores, set my alarm, and fell asleep to the television, ready to walk a few miles in the snow the next morning if need be.