Every race begins with a sleepless night, an early morning alarm, and rising anxiety about how it will finish. I’m usually confident that I’ll cross the finish line — it’s really a matter of when.
I didn’t know I was in a race until American Airlines alerted me that my Philadelphia to Dallas flight was cancelled leaving me stranded on the east coast until after Jonas passed (that’s right, the blizzard of 2016). What looked like a Friday evening homecoming was turning into a snow-filled weekend alone in a hotel.
Jonas now has my attention and I begin to obsessively watch the Weather Channel. The forecast is for over 2 feet of snow in Philadelphia with the storm hitting Friday night at 7 PM.
With airlines canceling flights ahead of the storm, I’m racing to figure out how to get home. Only two hours after American cancelled my fight, it is reinstated, but I am instructed to call the airlines to confirm by booking. What does that mean? I have no idea, so I call.
American now has a cool “call back” system so you don’t have to wait on hold. Instead, they call you back while saving you place in the queue. Only, this queue is over two hours long. Instead of brooding over my fate, I hit the treadmill, eat dinner, and resume my spot in front of the Weather Channel. It’s been over 3 hours and I wonder if I will ever get a call back.
To force American’s call back system to work, I take a shower. Of course, somewhere between shampooing and conditioning, the phone rings. Half showered, I answer and get confirmed on the flight.
The race is on. I’m scheduled to fly from Harrisburg to Philadelphia , Philly to Dallas, and Dallas to home beginning at 9 AM. I’m confident that I can beat Jonas since the Philly to Dallas flight departs at 11:30 AM and the Weather Channel projects the storm to hit at 7PM. But still, airlines are canceling flights in advance of Jonas. Nervously, I go to bed.
I wake up before sunrise, check out of the hotel, and work my way to the Harrisburg airport. Even with the impending storm, the sunrise is beautiful filled with orange and deep red colors. Instead of stopping for a more scenic picture, I settle for a quick shot at a stop light. After all, I’m in a race.
At the airport, there are no lines at the car rental return, check-in desk, or security check points. In fact, there are almost no people at the airport at all. Most airlines have simply cancelled their flights leaving the airport an empty shell filled with bored airport workers. But, my plane is ready, and soon I’m in Philadelphia.
Unlike Harrisburg, the Philadelphia airport is buzzing with other racers. I chat with one woman who moved her Saturday flight to today hoping to get to France before Jonas shuts down the airport. I take great comfort in knowing that I am not racing alone and still on schedule. I’m so confident that I’m going beat Jonas, that I race across the airport to pick up a Chick-fil-A sandwich for the flight (hey, it’s a long flight and I’ll need lunch).
Panic ensues an hour before the departure when there is no plane at my gate. Where is it? Others nervously play with their phones understanding that you can’t fly anywhere without a plane. No plane means a delay. A delay pushes us closer to Jonas. And, Jonas want to shut down the airports.
In every race, there are thing I can and can’t control. I can’t control Jonas. I can control my attitude. I pace, text my friends, and update my adventure on Facebook. Keeping my anxiety in check, I smile and remind myself — I will finish. I don’t know when, but I will finish.
Twenty minutes before departure, I hear the announcement. My gate is changed. Simultaneously, the waiting racers stand and trek across the terminal. Gate 11 is beautiful because it has a plane. I sense the impending victory. After boarding, the cabin is abuzz with the confident chatter of victory– stories of delays, new routes, and the mass exodus. After 20 minutes of air turbulence, the pilot announces we are clear of the storm. I am west of Jonas.
In Dallas, I check the weather radar. Jonas is now circling Philly. The flight status board is showing all flights to and from Philly are cancelled. But, I relax and settle into my book because I know I just won the race.
Instead of a finisher’s medal, I am greeted by blue skies and palm trees. Welcome home.
Saturday morning: I just checked the news. Jonas is shutting down Philadelphia, Baltimore, and the DC airports (really all the cities) all day. Over 9,000 flights are canceled.
Sunday morning: From the warmth of my palm tree lined city, I read that Harrisburg has 34 inches of snow in their largest storm recorded. Philadelphia reports 22 inches and the storm is their 4th biggest snowfall in history.