I travel a lot for work, and sometimes for fun, and most of the time for the entertainment of some cruel anti-Saint Christopher type of god who has granted me some truly terrible travel karma. If there’s chance for something to go wrong, I’m there. Missed, delayed and canceled flights are my specialty. I was even in a train crash!
Take Christmas, for example. Seth and I were going to visit my mom in Fort Wayne, and I couldn’t find us plane tickets for much less than $1000, so I decided it would be a great idea just to rent a car for $250 and drive us both. GPS told me it was 8.5 hours from Ithaca. Then Seth couldn’t go, because our new puppy, Iris, has been sick, so it was just me and my suitcase. I hit a blizzard in Erie, PA and could barely see the road. So I stopped at a hotel, hoping it would be better the next day. It wasn’t, but I set out anyway. Total driving time: 19 hours, PLUS the unplanned hotel stay. Then on the way back on the 26th (at my mom’s for only Christmas Day itself), another blizzard in Erie. This time, it was the worst snowstorm in Pennsylvania history, with 5 feet of snow in less than 2 days. I ended up staying at the exact same hotel. It was not any better in the morning, and I had to dig out my car, which the hotel had plowed into its parking space, with an ice scraper. Even then I couldn’t get the little Nissan out, so a guy digging himself out of the adjacent parking space pushed me out. I rolled down the passenger window to say thank you, and the window wouldn’t go back up. No amount of pounding and cajoling made any difference. Fortunately, I had gotten a matching set of gloves, scarf and ski cap as a Christmas gift, and with the heat going full-blast, it was tolerable driving for 5 hours in the 10 degree weather. In a way, it was a good thing it was much too cold to rain. Well, I made it back alive with no major mishaps other than the blizzards. But with the 2 nights of hotel rooms and gas, I ended up spending well over $500 and nearly 40 hours of driving through snow and ice. Never again! I know that if I had flown, I probably would have spent at least one night sleeping on the floor of wherever my connecting airport would have been, but I think that would have been preferable.
The train crash could have been much worse. It was May, 2015, and I was on my way to New York City from Baltimore in order to catch a flight out of JFK Airport to India. I was asleep in a seat in one of the rear cars, and all I remember is waking up on the floor with people around me screaming. The train had derailed. It was dark, but I could see cars turned over ahead, but fortunately my car was still upright. I grabbed my suitcase and ordered an Uber car that took me all the way back to Baltimore. 8 people on that train died. I had a few bruises, but nothing serious. I didn’t know that the crash was so bad until I got home and saw the news reports.
So far, I haven’t been in a plane crash, although I had a close call once. It was 1994, and I was planning to practice take-offs and landings in a little Cessna 152 two-seater trainer plane. It was early morning in Chester, Connecticut, and I could see fog and mist rising off the Connecticut River and the surrounding valley. Briefly after takeoff, I was at only about 500 feet above the ground when the engine started sputtering, and I began to lose altitude. I didn’t have enough altitude to turn around and land at the airport, and I began to look for a clearing or a wide road somewhere for what seemed to be a certain crash landing, but it seemed to be all trees. Just then I had a moment of clarity and thought maybe the carburetor had frozen. I pulled out the carburetor heat knob, and the engine sputtered back to life and then full power. It was that mist I had noted earlier that had gotten into the engine and froze once I got a little distance off the ground. I turned the plane around and landed on the runway as soon as I could, just so I could have a few minutes of deep breathing to relax. I was the only person at the tiny airport. I decided I had better get back in the plane and take off again soon, or else I might be too frightened ever to fly again. That second time, I turned on the carburetor heat for an extended time before takeoff, and kept my shaking hand on that knob the whole time!
I suppose I shouldn’t complain about travel karma. I lived through a couple close calls.
I was kicked off a plane once. It was a 1AM flight, and I fell asleep in the business class lounge, waking only a few minutes before departure from JFK to Hong Kong. I ran across the airport and down the jetway only a moment before they were closing the door. As I ran onto the plan, I tripped and landed flat on my face. The flight attendant accused me of being drunk. I had had a few drinks, but I was far from drunk. No amount of arguing allowed me to stay on board, and she literally pushed me out of the cabin and slammed the door shut. I ended up finding a less expensive flight, but had to connect through Seoul and arrived in Hong Kong about 12 hours later than planned, with only an hour of Jeffrey’s birthday left to celebrate.
Speaking of Jeffrey, he had disappeared. He texted me 4 days ago on Thursday saying, “Hey I’m in trouble. It’s likely that I won’t return to USA this coming semester but I won’t know too soon. I’m so sorry.” I texted him a couple times, including one urgent-sounding message, but he hasn’t replied. It appears he hasn’t even seen my messages. I have no idea what’s going on, although he did text me last week saying he was summoned at a court hearing about a theft that occurred in Singapore on December 9. He was still in the US then, so I can’t imagine he could have had any problems with that. But no idea. I will send him an email today, but I don’t know if he can get any messages.
Our student visitor from Honduras, Allan, arrived Saturday evening to what is likely to be the coldest day of the year. It was so cold that the furnace at home couldn’t keep the house warm, so the property manager brought over 2 space heaters. Even that wasn’t enough, so I built a big fire in the fireplace, and eventually the temperature crawled back into the mid-60s. Seth and I went to dinner with him and Lilly Briggs, who is supervising him here at the Lab. She picked him up at the Cornell bus from NYC and brought him to our house, along with several large garbage bags full of warm clothes that staff here had donated. After finding someone more appropriate for Ithaca weather, we went to dinner at Ciao, which was surprisingly very crowded. I had not expected so many people would brave the brutal sub-zero weather and whipping winds, even on a Saturday night. Allan seems to be a good sport about the weather here, despite never having experienced anything much below 70 degrees before. That’s a good thing, because he is stuck here for 10 weeks.
This week is supposed to be much warmer, and it is already a good 20 degrees warmer than Saturday. The house is nice and cozy without the space heaters and fire burning.
Þrettándinn was otherwise fairly uneventful. It was FAR too cold to build a bonfire, so I settled for the fireplace. I recited my customary welcome to the Elves in Icelandic at each entrance to the house, and had dozens of lights and several dozens of candles burning. After midnight I took down all the Christmas and New Years decorations, which is mandatory to do before dawn on January 7, or else it will be a year of bad luck. The house looks a little plain and sad now. Not sure if any Elves managed to find their way in, but they would have known they were welcome!
I spent almost all of Saturday and Sunday cleaning, and cleaning up after Iris. She has an unexpected early appointment with the surgeon tomorrow due to a cancellation. Seth and I are hoping they can figure out a solution to her problem, or we might have to put her down. I hate to think of that, because she really is a very sweet puppy, but neither of us can imagine living with this problem for the next 12 years, let alone the discomfort she is in regularly. I had a thought the other day that perhaps dealing with Iris is my payment for my beloved Casper the miracle cat coming home after disappearing for 6 weeks. He has gained 3 pounds since then, 60% of his body weight on the day he came home looking like a walking skeleton. We (and he) are so lucky! So maybe Iris is compensation for that good fortune.