Now that the Blackhawks’ season is over, I can share with you my most enduring memory of the playoffs. Because ESPN prohibits its employees from writing anything about sports for any other outlet, I trust my loyal following – you – will not let them know. I also trust that this blog is not big enough to be considered an “outlet.”
The day – last Wednesday, otherwise known as Game 6 — started out like any other. That is, I was running late.
I love that I don’t have to travel as much as I once did in my days as a beat writer. What I don’t love is the gradual loss of flight status to my current level, where you begin lining up for the security check outside the airport; sit so far back in the plane that the seats don’t recline and you have to hold your carry-on luggage on your lap.
I used to be one of the cool people. I would arrive roughly 12 minutes before my flight, stop briefly for my boarding pass and proceed directly to the VIP security line where I would breeze through with the other bigshots who knew how to pack and remove their laptops and shoes in less than 15 minutes. From there, I would stroll briskly to my gate — though still with an air of superiority over my fellow travelers — and would not even try to see if it was time to board. I just boarded, the flight attendants smiling and welcoming me to my seat up front with superior leg room.
If memory serves, I believe they also met me at those seats with a fluffed-up pillow.
Last Wednesday, however, I assumed the role I have had for the last year or so, one I am clearly not getting any better at. I walked into the airport dazed and confused, went to two priority security lines first – the first out of habit, the second because I’m an idiot – before slinking to the line that starts outside the airport.
I tried to talk my way into the priority line. “But I am Premier,” I argued. I mean, I had to be I thought, before whipping out my ID card from 2008 to no avail.
Exactly an hour before my flight was to depart, I was still in denial, formulating breakfast plans to kill time as I joined the line with my fellow steerage passengers. Soon I started looking at my watch, exhaling loudly in disgust though never really thinking I would MISS MY PLANE. All around me were people who clearly had been in this line before and therefore had flights that were scheduled to leave in three hours. They were calm, relaxed, chatty even.
I, on the other hand, was now tense, panicked and sweaty but sort of thought maybe my no-status buddies would sense my desperate situation and any minute now, the line would part for me. As my flight began boarding with approximately 75 people and seven strollers still in front of me, a friend texted that I should “CUT THE LINE.”
Don’t think I did not consider it. But how to even maneuver without getting beaten by the others? I had tried throwing hints to the guy who checked my boarding pass – “Gee, I’m a little nervous I might actually miss my flight,” I said with just enough desperation in my voice and yet the dignity of someone who wanted to let him know, “Heh, heh, I used to be a Premiere Executive, you probably know me. Isn’t this ridiculous that I find myself in this demeaning position?”
“Step over there,” he said, directing me to a little open area next to where the line resumed. I figured any minute now he would let me through the ropes. I glanced back and smiled.
“Ma’am, the line is over there,” he said disgustedly.
Anyway, I missed my flight. Actually, that’s not right. If they just would have pulled the person to whom they gave my seat, off of the plane, wheeled the jetway back into position and re-opened the door, I could have made my flight.
Another woman going to Philadelphia was also bumped and we quickly forged a bond based, at that point, on the fact that we both used the same curse words.
Like the rookie that I am, I first insisted on trying to catch a flight on another airline in another terminal, despite the fact that a new one-way would have cost approximately $1,200 and I was wearing new sandals.
Hobbling back to my original gate, sweaty and defeated and with seemingly no chance to get to Philadelphia, my new best friend formulated a plan that had us taking a cab to Midway Airport. She knew Southwest would have availability because she had been paying attention to their constant commercials which advertised hourly, affordable flights and she booked reservations for both of us.
So giddy was I that I was not going to miss potentially one of the bigger sporting events in my lifetime, that by the time we got to Midway we were exchanging phone numbers and making plans for her return flight to Chicago.
The fact that this airline does not assign seats and there appeared to be twice as many people at the gate as seats on the plane, did not deter us. We merely stormed the plane as graciously as we could and arrived in Philadelphia with enough time for me to make the game.
I was even cocky enough to take the train to my downtown hotel because my friend told me that traffic, especially in the rain, would be a nightmare. Then she insisted on walking me to the train, where she all but pinned instructions to my shirt.
When I got out at my stop and paused to figure out once again where I was going, a flight attendant who had been on the train and had overheard my conversation with a Blackhawks’ fan, lead me in the direction of my hotel.
Through the kindness of strangers and dumb luck, I made it to the game. One of those days that had disaster written all over it, actually turned out to be a really uplifting one.
Coincidentally, the Blackhawks had one of those days, too.