Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Blizzard for Isabel

The following tale of a blizzard long ago is for young Isabel who, rumor has it, is currently stranded in New York City with her double dutch jump rope team. She and her team mates were whisked by the blizzard up the East Coast highways from North Carolina to Manhattan to compete at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem on Saturday night and now she is in the thick of a great snowy adventure...

Probably one of the reasons I like to stay put these days, is that as a child I traveled alot. I spent holidays and school breaks with my mother or my father -- and it was always stressful to decide where to go. They left the decision up to me and so early on I learned how to balance my parents. I spent more time alone in airports than probably most normal kids back in the Seventies. Today, of course, kids never go anywhere alone, and most especially not the airport.

I knew LaGuardia Airport like the back of my hand. I knew how to get there using the Connecticut Limo (I was 9 for my first solo trip on the limo service), I knew how to conduct myself at the Eastern Airlines counter, check my bag, how to go through security, get to my gate, get on the plane, fasten my seatbelt, enjoy a Coca-Cola while we flew, and how to get my bags when I arrived at my destination. I enjoyed all of it -- the process was orderly to me and there was adventure in talking to strangers in the limo car and on the plane. I was a “good shipper” as they say of horses that travel well.

One trip from Raleigh to New York proved my mettle as a seasoned traveler. It was February, 1976. I was 11 and my mother put me on a plane bound for LaGuardia. I had just spent my school winter break with her in Southern Pines, NC -- a week of riding race horses in the sunny pine woods. The weather was clear and beautiful and warm when my plane took off in North Carolina. But things began to deteriorate by the time we got close to New Jersey -- a snow storm was causing chaos at all the major airports. Our plane began to circle and the pilot announced that we could not land at LaGuardia, so we were either going to Montreal or to Newark. I stared out the window into the darkness...the land and little lights below us obscured by the snow clouds. All I could see was the beating red light at the end of the wing.

For some reason I knew Montreal was in Canada, but I had no idea where Newark was. So I asked the stewardess -- she told me Newark was in New Jersey. Okay, I told myself, my dad lives in New Jersey, that’s not far from home. I asked her if they had a Connecticut Limo in Newark? She replied very confidently that they did. Then she told me that I could spend the night with her if we went to Montreal. That was cool with me, she would be my knowledgeable companion in Canada. She said I could fly back with her to New York after the snow storm was clear. That was a plan I could deal with. Well, we didn’t go to Montreal, we landed in Newark.

I followed all the passengers to the baggage claim and the place was mobbed with people whose flights had been redirected. I felt tiny as I was bumped about by the tired and cantankerous crowd. I waited patiently for my bag. It was dark outside and it was snowing hard. I turned to see the taxi and limo service desks -- I didn’t see a Connecticut Limo desk. So I asked one of the taxi guys, “Where is Connecticut Limo?” The guy smiled at me and said “No Connecticut Limo here” but, but the stewardess told me...”sorry kid, I told ya there ain't no Connecticut limo here.”

Well, now I felt completely lost. How could she have been so wrong? Stewardesses were supposed to know everything! I just started to cry and then I remember this woman pointing at me. She was a tiny Asian woman in a short short skirt and an astonishing rabbit fur jacket. I was sure she was a father had pointed them out to me once in Times Square. I didn't really know what the true nature of a hooker was, just some sketchy idea of their profession, but I did know how they dressed and she was definitely dressed like a hooker.

She laughed at me “Look at the little girl, she’s crying!” Her fat man companion just stared at me while chewing on a cigar stub. This just made me mad. The stewardess had lied to me and now a hooker was laughing at me. I dragged my suit case through the throngs of adults who seemed completely unaware of me. They were all trying to get home too and my predicament meant nothing to them.

My anger turned to determination -- I pulled myself together and decided to find out how I could get to LaGuardia, because I knew there was a Connecticut Limo there and as far as I knew, that was the only way I could get home to Connecticut. You would think I would have tried to call home -- that it would have occurred to me to go to a pay phone and call my worried grandparents, but I didn’t, I was a kid on a mission.

I looked out the big wide windows and saw lines and lines of busses. Their roar and squealing in the cold snowy night gave me hope. I could smell the bus exhaust mixed with the cold. I went to a desk and asked if there was some way to get to LaGuardia? The guy didn’t hesitate, he pointed to a bus loading up passengers outside...”yeah, that one's going to LaGuardia.” I was thrilled!

I ran out into the snowy night with my bag and got on the bus. By now it was probably 10 pm and little did I know that my grandparents and my mother were in contact with the New York and Connecticut State police.

I rode the bus through the snow storm with all these other displaced travelers and I might have even fallen asleep. I remember the snow lighting up the night. The lamps along the highway glowed in dirty orange. The turnpike might as well have been the frozen tundra. When we arrived at LaGuardia I felt like a sailor who had found her way around Cape Horn. I asked the bus driver to let me off at the Eastern Airlines terminal. I got off and dragged my big bag to the Connecticut Limo desk -- finally, a familiar beacon in my long night! The man behind the limo desk was the friendliest face I had seen all night. They had a car leaving almost right away. I got in with a few weary people -- a family returning a sunny trip to Florida and world worn business men, the kind who you saw all the time in Connecticut...standing on the train platforms in the morning with their brief cases and coffee...they all looked the same to me.

Suddenly the snow stopped falling and we were on I-95 making all the usual stops that the Connecticut Limo made -- pulling into hotels in Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, Norwalk and finally my destination -- The New Englander Hotel in Westport. I got out, payed the driver, went into the hotel lobby, dropped my dime in the pay phone, and dialed. Pop answered, quickly and out of breath, “Hi Pop, I’m home, can you come pick me up now?” It was 3 am and I had made it home.

Safe trip home Isabel! I look forward to hearing your story!


casawest said...

This story is both funny and inspiring...My daughter was on the trip to NYC Apollo trip, too. As parents, we were freaking out at the weather reports, and the kids were coping with each situation like it was no big deal. You were truly a kid "on a mission" and as an adult you tell it so well!

Robert said...

Merry Christmas!