I leave my house at 6 in the morning, gliding in an absurdly fancy town car with a paper cup of coffee in my hand, wearing a smart black jacket and a scarf. My bag is packed neatly with papers and spreadsheets. I'm bound for Akron, Ohio for work. 'The buckeye state is lovely this time of year,' says my boss, dryly, from his office at the opposite side of the country.
I never make it to Akron.
Instead I fly directly into the sleeting heart of Winter Storm Luna, which is punishing the city of Chicago in sheets of ice and crashes of thunder. The scene at the airport is dismal, business men and women slumped in their seats watching the weather deteriorate. The little commuter jets are sprayed down with thousands of gallons of orange de-icing mist. Some poor soul is wandering around giving out samples of Tylenol decongestants. The flight to Cleveland is delayed, then cancelled. Shortly after, all planes are grounded. There's an uproar. A stampede to the ticketing desk. I throw my elbows out.
In an instant, someone new emerges from within me, the person that I rarely ever get to see- efficient, clipped, polite but steely. I'm on the computer snatching up a hotel room before they all disappear, pushing numbered tags to harried desk workers, demanding my luggage, shouting on the phone to the airline (bad connection) while simultaneously insisting to the cab driver that the airport suites should really be closer than the length we're driving.
There are no workable flights to Cleveland. I make a snap decision- I give up and grab the last seat on the last flight to Seattle. (It's always the last seat on the last flight.) Actually, I reserve that ticket three times in a row, my confirmation evaporating from their system each time.
From the seventh floor of the hotel I watch the sky seize with white lightning and a brick square of a bar pulse neon blue in the deserted parking lot below. I turn the TV on and off. Then, overtaken with a sudden energy: alone in a hotel room, a gal on the go, a real person! I spread out all my papers on the giant white bed which could fit eight of me. Quite chipper, I write a magazine query, some book work, I drink a corona with lime sprawled out on the bed, typing away, happy as can be. I decide that being stranded outside O'hare in January is the quintessential American experience, that I'm very lucky. I order room service.
The next morning I fly to San Jose, then Seattle, having spent two full days traveling and going absolutely nowhere, a big useless triangle on the map. "Such is the way of these things," says the new me, the business me, tightening my black pea coat and ordering an airplane cocktail.
In less than a week I'll be back to Chicago, another training session, another meeting. Then California, then Kentucky, then Massachusetts. Again and again and again and again.