Travel Writing / USA

Between Gate A22 and A14

“Should I run ahead?”  she asked, a reflection of my stress in her eyes.

I only hesitate a moment before telling her, “Yes, go!  Remember, Gate A14!”  And she was off.  I watched my recently turned 15-year-old daughter’s head bob in and out and around people in the growing distance as I speed-walked farther and farther behind.

Not all our travel is fun vacations.  Dad travels for work. (A lot, to some awesome places like Shangai and Berlin, but that’s another discussion.)  KatieRose and I travel once a year to California to see her neurosurgeon for follow-up appointments, and sometimes to conferences that focus on her condition.  This was one of those California trips, just KatieRose and I.

We had gotten off to a really rough start.  Departure was supposed to be insanely early Monday morning, but then it started to snow.  Where we live, snow causes panic and chaos.. Snow and freezing rain, as this was, shuts down the world.  Pretty quickly our flight was canceled.  We got a new flight at noon, which was canceled long before that time arrived.  Then we were told Tuesday morning.  So, we stayed in a hotel beside the airport – because again, everything is shut down and rescue is unable to reach us.

The next morning, that flight is delayed, delayed, and canceled.  We are scheduled on a 3pm flight – at a different airport, which no one thought to mention to us when we were given that reservation.  SO – we taxi it to the other airport, get through security and settled, and get bumped to 5-ishpm flight, and finally to a 6-something pm flight.  It was exhausting and stressful, and required many phone calls back and forth with the airline.

When we were bumped to this final flight, it was routed through Phoenix, then a connection on to Santa Ana, California.  I explained to the clearly overworked airline employee that it was getting late on Tuesday, and my daughter’s appointment with the neurosurgeon was in California, on Wednesday morning at 10am.  Her neurosurgeon didn’t have another appointment opening for over a month.  I really, really wanted to be in CA tonight.  When the AA representative booked us on this flight through Phoenix, she explained pointedly that this connection out of Phoenix was the last thing they had this evening going to CA.

So as we sat on the runway, on the plane that would hopefully take us to Phoenix,  the minutes ticked by delaying that arrival.  With each passing minute, I was watching our connection time tick away.  Forty-seven minutes later, with only three minutes of a layover remaining, we finally took off.  I was already mentally listing the phone calls I had to make upon landing: hotel room, rental car in CA notified, return flight probably changed to accommodate reschedule of appointment, CA lodging called…

But as we were welcomed to Phoenix and allowed to use our electronic devices, a quick search of American Airlines website informed me that our connecting flight had been delayed by 30 minutes. If we could move a little faster and get to that gate, just maybe we would arrive in California 37 hours later than planned.  The odds increased by the fact that we were arriving at Gate A22, and our departure was from gate A14 – just 8 short gates.  I have hope.

A seeming eternity later, when the flight finally connected to the jetway and we were released, the flight attendant kindly asked all passengers not connecting to other flights to allow those of us who were off the plane first.  Either every single person on the flight had a connection, or they all conspired to completely ignore this instruction.  And of course, Katie and I had been slipped onto this flight at the very last minute, so we are sitting in the absolute last row.

By the time we stepped off the actual plane and tried desperately not to mow down the frustratingly slow-moving elderly couples in front of us as we shifted into passing gear, we had 20 minutes until that connection was supposed to take off.  So… they should be closing the doors about now.  Sigh.

When I freed Katie from the shackle of her feeble, breathing-impaired Mother (I was just barely over a nasty bout of bronchitis), she took off through the airport.  With only those few gates to go, I had thought this would be fairly quick.  But as I counted down, I passed gates A17, A16, A15… aaaaannnnd…. there’s no gate A14.  None.  There is however a sign pointing toward further A gates if I make a left, this is where Katie had turned.  As I do I am looking down a long hall of people movers, no gates in sight.  In the distance I see a blond head race to the left, yet again. As I get closer, I find she has turned under a sign declaring “Gates A1-A14” are down this concourse.

I suddenly realized my 15 year old daughter is apparently completely capable of negotiating a large international airport, with no help from the load her mother has become.  I mean, I could probably put her on a flight across country, complete with connections, and she’d get there just fine.  No more needing to hold her hand lead her through the crowds.  No more grabbing her or calling her name harshly as she distractedly saunters past wherever we need to turn.  She has grown up, become confident and capable, and I’m not sure when it happened.

I’m also not sure where she is, as I’ve completely lost sight of her in the distance.

I have also just realized that this concourse of gates A1-A14, starts with gate A1, and yes, A14 is somewhere far, far away.  All the fates of travel and airport chaos have conspired to place this connection we are sprinting for at the farthest possible gate that is still within the “A” category.  Ah, yes.  After the debacle that this trip has been, I can’t even muster surprise.  Only resignation and a determination to push forward until I know all options are gone.

So, I continue my speed-walking, with the occasional short jogs thrown in.  I count down the gates, and slowly see that gate A14 is indeed the very last gate.

The strap on my carry-on snaps.  Of course it does.  The bag doesn’t even hit the ground, I just snatch it on the way down and keep moving.

As the crowd between me and A14 thins, I see KatieRose standing beside the counter, talking to the woman in the airline suit-uniform and looking toward me.  No one else is there, just the two of them, holding the door to the jetway open.  I later learned that Katie had sprinted the whole way, waving her arms and calling out “Orange County, California!  Orange County, California!” as she approached the gate, stopping the airline employees from shutting the doors before she could reach them.

As we boarded the plane, we are smiling and laughing, and telling the flight attendant who greeted us that we are absolutely thrilled to see him.  We tumble into our seats as the aircraft door is closed and sealed, and discover the third seat in our row is empty.  The tides have turned, my friend!

I smile and praise Katie as she relays to me her adventure, running ahead of me and relying on herself to navigate an unknown airport.  She’s smiling, and tired, and hungry, and proud.  And she is significantly older in my eyes than she was at gate A22.

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