Travel: Halfway To Everywhere in Grand Island, Nebraska

Last week I got to cross not one, but two states off my bucket list! This brings me up to 32. I traveled to Nebraska for work, and while there, spent a very little time in Iowa. Not much, but enough that it counts!

That’s the good news.

The bad news? It was literally the worst travel experience I’ve ever had. It even topped the night I spent in the Detroit airport. And yes, it involved Detroit. Again. (That’s an old story.)

In theory, it shouldn’t be hard to get from Tennessee to Nebraska. I mean, it’s not THAT far.

Tn to NEBut of course, you can’t get anywhere from Knoxville, so we had to connect in Detroit.

Let me pause here and say that the Detroit airport holds a special place in my heart. 3 years ago, after hours of delays, I ended up spending the night in the Detroit airport. I’m partial to A terminal. I learned a lot of things on that trip…chief among them was to always carry socks in my carry-on. Spending the night in a mostly empty airport with no socks wasn’t fun. My feet were icicles! Also – the best way to sleep is under the seats, with your carry-on bag as a pillow. It’s dark and quiet, and you don’t get stepped on. Always carry a cell phone charger. And makeup. Unless you like looking like death. But I digress.

Anyway, I’m fond of Detroit. So I was fine with connecting there, even though we typically go through Atlanta because it’s a bigger airport with more flights (we always fly Delta). As it turns out, there’s some sort of financial crisis at the Detroit airport. I don’t think that had anything to do with anything, but there was definitely some bad ju-ju going on. We have a 3 hour layover in Detroit. Oh, and by the way….there are 8 of us traveling together. We’re supposed to fly into Omaha and then drive almost 3 hours to Grand Island.

No, it’s not an island. No, there’s no water. No, it’s not especially grand. It is, however, halfway to everywhere, according to the visitor’s center website.

Grand Island

Our layover comes and goes, and we board the plane. We eventually push back from the gate. And then we sit.

And sit.

And sit.

At some point about 50 minutes after we’re supposed to have left, three of us start texting back and forth. They’ve told us there’s some mechanical problem, so we’re going to go back to the gate and wait on a part. I’ve got a huffy guy sitting next to me who’s pretty upset we’re delayed. Like there’s any point in being upset….but whatever.

So we wait a little longer, and we’re starting to get hungry because the original plan was to stop for lunch in Omaha. And huffy guy gets up to get his phone out of the overhead, and sits on me and doesn’t apologize. And then things start to go downhill in the group text:

K: Come back here and bring food. (I had snacks, which I never have.)
J: Cookies specifically. And pizza. Oh, and a fry. (because of course I carry one french fry with me at all times)
C: I want a milkshake.
J: I ALWAYS want a milkshake.
K: I want beef.  (we ARE going to Nebraska after all….)
C: He just said “bless you child” to me because I loaned him a pen. “Thank you honey.” (ewww)

And so it goes about the creepy huffy guy for a while….and then back to food…because we still don’t know what’s up with the plane.

K: Are we or aren’t we getting off the plane?
C: Doubt it. But I want cookies.
J: Healthy eating intentions just went right out the window.
K: How many cheeze its do you have? (to me, who had just eaten them all)
C: Um, not many now lol
J: Roll one a them grapes down the aisle. (also to me, and no I’m not a mom)

So I stop the flight attendant and tell her my coworkers are getting hungry and unhappy and maybe she should take them some cookies. She gives me a weird look but says ok. Meanwhile the maintenance people are zooming around outside the plane, and people are starting to need to use the facilities, so we’re taking bets on how many people are going to hit the head on this little tiny plane (end count was 9).

J: I desperately need a cheeseburger?
K: Just water. She’s not bringing cookies. (so not cool, flight attendant)
J: I’m hiding in the bathroom while K asks for cookies.
K: Where is that B with my cookies!
C: I see cookies!!!!

And then we finally get to get off the plane. Because it’s going to take even longer. At least this means we get lunch, and time for a photo op.

IMG_1738And then….our flight is cancelled.

No sense in panicking, right? Nope. We’ve got a Gold Medallion member with us, so we throw our boarding passes at her and let her work her magic. Meanwhile, Delta automatically re-books us….or sort of. Two of us were booked from Detroit to Chicago to Omaha, arriving at midnight. Don’t forget the 3 hour drive. Not ideal.

Two others were booked from LaGuardia to Omaha, but had no flight from Detroit to LaGuardia. Another had a flight from Charlotte to Omaha, but no Detroit to Charlotte. A sixth and seventh had a flight arriving in Omaha at 11:00 on Tuesday morning (since the workshop was supposed to start at 8:30 in Grand Island, also not ideal), and the eighth had no flight at all. Oy.

Finally, our Gold member worked her magic and got the 4 of us deemed most critical to the workshop on a flight from Detroit to Dallas, then switched over to American for a flight from Dallas to Grand Island. We’d get in at 10:00, but we wouldn’t have to drive 3 hours. The other 4 would go from Detroit to Salt Lake City, Salt Lake City to Omaha. They’d get in at 12:30 and still have to drive. Best we could do. So we get on our happy planes, half of us to Dallas and half to Salt Lake.

I’m on the Dallas crew, and guess what…..another maintenance issue with the plane that’s supposed to take us to Grand Island. It’s now about 8:00pm, and we’re starting to talk about the very real possibility that we may not make it to Nebraska before the workshop starts. Our contingency plan is that two of our coworkers will lead the charge if we don’t make it. Eventually we get on the plane, make it safely to Grand Island, and arrive at the most adorable airport I’ve ever seen around 12:30am.

I’ve never seen Wings, but I’ve been told that’s what it looks like. Seriously, the CUTEST airport ever. If we’d been in parkas it would have been like being at an Alaskan outpost. You can’t really tell, but this is the entire airport.

IMG_1739Super cute. By this time we’re all delirious we’re so tired. We’ve got someone coming to pick us up from the airport, and she just walks right in because there’s no security. And here come the bags….and you guessed it. Mine’s not on it. In fact, 3 of the 4 of us have no luggage. AND THE WORKSHOP STARTS IN LESS THAN 9 HOURS. Oh, and did I mention I’m the one who’s supposed to be leading this workshop the next day? Of course I am.

Our bags are lost. They’re not even sure which airline has them. Hell, they’re not even sure mine left Knoxville. They’ll put out alerts and let us know when (if?) they find them. Here, have a toiletry kit.

Grand Island does have a Walmart, so at least we could buy underwear.

By now the Salt Lake crew has landed. They check for our bags in Omaha, but no luck. We’re frantically texting, and my amazing coworkers are offering us all clothes from their own suitcases. I stay up to wait on the girls to see if I can bum some clothes. Thank the stars, K has a suit that will fit me. She even has shoes. I bought a cheap tank top at Walmart, so I can make that work under the jacket. Tomorrow will be ok. Nevermind the fact that I have to be up in less than 3 hours.

Because this is the kind of thing that just DOES NOT HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE I take some pictures of all my worldly possessions:

Yep, that's my bra. Victoria's Secret. Super comfy, but sadly practical. Right next to my new Walmart undies.

Yep, that’s my bra. Victoria’s Secret. Super comfy, but sadly practical. Right next to my new Walmart undies.

The pink bag is my makeup. Thank you Detroit-2010. The rest is from American Airlines. A good kit, considering - it even had hairspray.

The pink bag is my makeup. Thank you Detroit-2010. The rest is from American Airlines. A good kit, considering – it even had hairspray.

And then I lost it. Completely broke down. Everything was under control, I had clothes, we were all there safe and sound, and I knew what I was going to do the next morning. But I was exhausted, and emotionally spent. I’d held it together all day, and seeing my meager goods was just too much for me. So what did I do?

I called Jimmie, of course. At 3:30 am his time. Oops. To his credit, he woke up fairly quickly and wasn’t the least bit annoyed with me. Calmed me down and everything, so I could finally get some sleep.

AND THAT WAS MONDAY. We logged 22 hours of travel. Your tax dollars at work, folks. (Don’t blame me!)

Tuesday morning, up bright and early in my borrowed suit and shoes (which are all quite comfy and got me compliments all day long). Walk outside the hotel to meet up with the rest of our group to caravan over to the workshop, and our PA-based coworker says….

Hi, how badly do you need me? My house flooded last night.

SERIOUSLY. Pause for about 3 seconds while this sinks in to everyone. My reaction? To give him a hug, say “Hi, bye, good to see you, go home.” So we pack him up, get him out of there and home to deal with that. And the best part? He was one of the two coworkers who’d been our contingency plan the night before.

I wish I could say that was the end of the bad luck, but it wasn’t.

We had another team member’s brother in the hospital with a heart attack. When we finally got our luggage, hairspray had exploded in one of them.  Half of the crew got caught in a monsoon when they arrived in Knoxville on Friday. The other half of us were delayed 3 hours in Atlanta coming home. 3 of our crew got sick. Our boss’s son was in a head-on collision Friday night. My car broke down on the way home from the airport. (Everyone is fine, though we’re all still tired.)

But the workshop? The workshop was fantastic. The community loved it.  We were out there doing a workshop for a rural community to prepare them to deal with a surge in patients on their healthcare system during a disaster. Huge success. And the people were so nice – they even offered to do laundry for us.

We ate steak, drank wine, and commandeered a picnic table. We learned that it takes 3 people to open some bottles of wine, that Dairy Queen is still good when melted, that Thai food in Nebraska is surprisingly good and Mexican not so much, We learned about nut feed fests (don’t ask) and that you shouldn’t milk steers (again, don’t ask).

Delirious from lack of sleep

Delirious from lack of sleep

Finally got our suitcases at midnight on Tuesday!

Finally got our suitcases at midnight on Tuesday!

Yep, that's a steer. Not a cow.

Yep, that’s a steer. Not a cow.

Learning that sometimes it just takes 3 to get the wine open

Learning that sometimes it just takes 3 to get the wine open

And we learned maybe some of the most important things of all – that the worst experiences make for the best stories. That we can count on each other to lend a suit, take us underwear shopping, or send us home when we’re needed elsewhere. That we are capable of operating on 2 hours of sleep and doing a damn good job. And that sometimes all you can do is laugh about it.

But for the record? Once was enough.