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December 21, 2008

The Long Trip Home

At 4 am on Wednesday December 17th, we set out from our LA condo to the airport, visions of being home in frosty PA/DE by 5.30 Eastern Standard Time. It would be perfect, just enough time to still grab a bite to eat and catch up with family before we had to catch some Z's.

We caught our plane out of LAX without a hitch – showing up early and being well prepared will do that for you. And that's about the last time anything worked out for us.

We landed in Las Vegas for a 15 minute layover. We weren't even allowed off the plane, it was going to be so short! Just 15 minutes. But then we were told that Philly wasn't giving us clearance to take off. Wicked, difficult Philly! Something about swirling weather patterns. So we waited. And we waited. And we waited.

They let us off the plane. "But be sure to hang around the gate as we may have to reboard on a moments notice so we can take off!" That's what we did. And then we got that blessed call, time to reboard, time to take off! OK, so now 5.30 EST would be turning into the slightly less convenient 7.30 EST. So maybe not a long leisurely dinner, but something quick before we want to bed.

Then it started to snow. In Las Vegas. What?

Now let me now tell you that I didn't even know it ever did snow in Las Vegas. And that's because it doesn't, normally. But this was no normal trip, so it was snowing. Apparently the people who ran the airport also didn't know it snowed in Las Vegas, because they only had two de-icers for all the planes that needed to take off. Because of this, they told us we could get off the plane again, but still.... to be read at a moment's notice. Another couple of hours pass, and the snow is now a strange surreal desert blizzard. The kids, who had been doing so well, were now getting frazzled and impatient.

But then we got the call again! Scramble scramble back onto the plane, and this time we actually pull out from the gate. Yes, we're finally leaving. We may have blown our arrival time by 6 or 7 hours but we'll be there. But then the captain says, "I hate to have to give you bad news again..." which had become a fairly common intro to just about everything he had to say. Because those two de-icers were not able to de-ice fast enough, apparently. And now, at 4.30 PM, for a flight that had landed at 9 AM and was meant to be back in the air by 9.15, we were told the airport was closed and all flights canceled.

MADNESS. Like some kind of apocalypse, without the antichrist and the zombies. Phones weren't working anymore, people were sobbing (the leader of which being Ollie, who was just heartbroken to hear we were stuck there.) The line to re-book a flight instantly grew hundreds of people long. The baggage claim was basically a riot of angry travelers and bags that weren't ours. I was able to get enough of a signal to call a casino / hotel on the strip called 'New York New York" and book a room. Darby tried to entertain Ollie by putting him in a wheelchair. It didn't work. Lyric heard people saying, "Oh, the saddest thing... that little disabled boy just wants to see his cousins for Christmas and he won't be able to." Darby kicked the cheering up a notch, sitting herself in the wheelchair and putting Ollie on her lap and then rolling down an incline – all to nearly disastrous results as she lost control of the contraption and nearly collided, mother and child, into the floor. She insists only an angel stopped them from certain calamity.

Our kids our too tired to make them wait as we sit in that neverending line. The Southwest phone number is so overloaded it just hangs up on you. You can't rebook online because the internet is slammed and unresponsive. Ollie and Lyric get scolded for leaning against a slot machine in the airport – They are everywhere!

We wait for our bags at the crowded baggage claim. Our kids are losing it – it's now nearly 8 PM and they're bitterly disappointed. Loud, inappropriate Vegas-y ads run on the big screens. Ollie really starts to lose it, so Darby and Lyric plan to meet us at NY NY with the bags later so I can take him now. This was a bad idea, we should have just left, because Darby and Lyric never saw our bags.

Ollie and I take a shuttle to NY NY. The Shuttle driver stops to TAKE A PICTURE OF THE SNOW. "This never happens here!" Lucky us.

Ollie's spirits brighten because he gets to make snowballs and throw them at cars. I vaguely sense this isn't the best behavior, but it's been a long day and honestly I feel like throwing snowballs at cars too so I let it slide. We get to NY NY, which is a huge bustling (pretty cool) replica of the city. As we wait in a forever long line to get our key and all that, Ollie and I have a good conversation about gambling.

Ollie: Why can't kids play with these (slot machines), they look like they're for kids (which they do.)
Jason: Because Gambling is actually very dangerous for people.
Ollie: What's Gambling?
Jason: When you spend some money to try to win a lot more money.
Ollie: But then why wouldn't kids like that? Kids love money.
Jason: normally you lose. You normally lose all your money.
Ollie: Oh, is that why they call it "Lost Vegas"? (clever, that boy!)
Jason: You know what, if that's not why they call it that, they should start doing that. But some adults lose their houses, all their money in the bank, even money they don't have. Some become homeless.
Ollie: Well, that wouldn't happen to kids. I'd just spend the dollar you give me!

I finally get the key and get to the room. Darby texts me and lets me know that Lyric is now breaking down. I tell her to forget the bags – which we've learned will be sent to Philly – and just come to NY NY. I finally get through to the airline. And now the horrible reality of our situation... no new flight until 12/19, and it won't get us into Philly until midnight. So we've now lost 3 days of our time home. These tickets cost me $2,000 for the family, in the hopes of getting together with family and friends, to lose 3 days was killer. It made me quite grumpy. I got all Jack Bauer on the phone, telling them to route us to NY or Washington or Baltimore but we needed to leave the next day. She said SWA hadn't authorized rebooking outside of the original city pair, and they had no control over the weather. I said what they did have control over was authorizing a new city pair, and that's what they needed to do. She got a manager to do this, but no flights to any of those cities were available either. Jack Bauer hung up.

Darby and Lyric finally arrive at 10 PM. Lyric is very tired. This girl hates things to change, and I feel so bad for her. We go to bed.

The next day, we make the best of it. We go to a fun arcade called Gameworks, check out a bunch of the themed hotels which are fun to see, go to a "Secret Garden" which has lions and dolphins and cheetahs and tigers. We have a genuinely good time despite the disappointment of not being elsewhere. Darby and I also have to do our best to shield our kids' eyes from seeing the many different advertisements and billboards and videos which prove that Vegas has earned the name Sin CIty. In the words of my daughter Lyric, much of it was "Weird."

That night, Lyric gets violently ill and throws up every 20 minutes. Darby decides that we'll probably have to postpone our flight again because Lyric can't travel like this. I check the Saturday flights, and the only one available routes through Chicago, which has a winter storm advisory. I honestly, at this point, consider just going back to Calfornia. Vegas has run us all down, and I can't imagine waiting our an illness in this hotel room and paying for all the meals and the room rate for who knows how many days. Darby says maybe if Lyric can sleep until 10 AM, she might get healthy enough to fly. She asks me to take the wakening Ollie "out" so she and Lyric can get some sleep.

Taking a 6 year old boy out into 7.30 AM Vegas is not fun. The only thing people do in Vegas at this time is drink and gamble. There really isn't really anywhere to even sit and do anything else. Ollie and I wandered around from casino to casino in the sub zero weather, trying to find an arcade or a pad of paper for sale or even a pen. Fortunately we found a pad of paper for sale, but no pen. Finally we found a cheap breakfast buffet at Excaliber. Sick of Vegas buffets (this being our 3rd in 2 days), Ollie got yogurt and I ate a biscuit. It occurred to me that as cheap as it was, we weren't getting our money's worth. We folded paper airplanes and tried not to eat the nasty food available to us. Then we wandered again, upset at all the arcades that wouldn't open until 10. We found a 2 foot long novelty pen and bought that. I wrote him math problems and he answered them as we sat on the floor of a casino lobby.

Finally, we found an arcade that was open. But it was lame, because half the games stole your coins, and the other half had parts that were broken. Why are all arcades like this now? on the skee ball game, only the "30" would register any points, all others would give you zero. Ollie and I proclaimed the arcade bad and were about to leave when a bleary eyed man gave us a fistful of prize tickets. We cashed them in and got a pretty nice assortment of prizes, half of them for Lyric because Ollie's a thoughtful little guy.

We brought Lyric bottled water and muffins and the arcade prizes. She had slept the 4 hours and was feeling better. Not good, but better. The flight was a go.

At the airport, we couldn't print our tickets at the self service because they were a switched flight. There wa a line about 200 people long to get our tickets printed for us. We saw, however, that there was a MUCH shorter line of people in wheelchairs.... Let's see. Wheelchairs. Sick kid. Short line. Wheelchairs.

it wasn't too long before Lyric was (embarrassed to be) in a wheelchair and we were in that shorter line. It worked like a charm. Except for the fact that it made Ollie insanely jealous, and he faked a knee injury, an eye injury, a sick stomach, tried to make himself throw up, and frequently collapsed to the floor in an attempt to score one for himself.

But it was a good thing we picked up extra time by skipping that long line, because the ticket lady took FOREVER issuing our tickets because there was an "issue." After whispering to coworkers and typing furiously and calling people and checking handbooks for what must have been 15 minutes, she finally issued us our tickets.

These tickets with the dreaded "SSSS" printed on them. Oh yes, of course we were selected for the "Specially Selected for Secured Screening." Lyric – in a wheel chair – and Ollie both got a complete pat down, (and of course Darby and me, too). They went through every one of our carry-on bags, and there were six of them. It took forever. Fortunately, the flight out of Las Vegas happened without incident, and we landed in Phoenix...

And sat on the runway for 45 minutes while we watched our connecting flight's board time come and go. And the take off time come and go. You know that portable hallway that they attach to planes so you can exit? THE ENGINE FELL OFF OF IT. Once again, we hear a chorus of "That's the first time I've ever seen that happen!" So now we have to wait for another gate to open. It does, and it's in another terminal from our connecting flight, which has fortunately been delayed an hour. (Finally, one of these neverending delays works in our favor!)

We run, Forrest Gump style, Darby pushing Lyric in a wheelchair, me carrying about 100 pounds of carry-on bags and truly winded, and Ollie sprinting like quite a champ. He had been complaining but I got down to his level and said, "Ollie, if we do not make this flight, we will not get back to the east coast tonight, and it's leaving soon!" Ollie took off like Steve Prefontaine, no more begging to be in a wheelchair, no more pretending like he needed to be in a wheelchair. it was impressive.

And finally, we arrived at the connecting flight with minutes to spare. As we were boarding the attendant said, "Folks, we don't mean to rush you, but if we aren't able to take off in the next 18 minutes, Philly Air Traffic Control will not authorize us to leave because of a winter storm warning they are receiving." Oh my goodness, de ja vu! Wicked Philly again, rejecting us. But people took the warning seriously, and in fact they boarded and left in record time. And then... a mere 4 hours later, we arrived in Philly. Only 55 hours later than we had expected.

Posted by jason on December 21, 2008 12:32 AM


sounds like a movie! man, if you didn't want to see us east-coasters you could have just said so; you didn't have to make up an entire 'snow in vegas' scenario.

Posted by: bsweber on December 21, 2008 01:42 AM

Yikes!! It DOES sound like a movie! That is just crazy, Jase! Glad you guys finally made it, though! Is Lyric feeling better?

Posted by: kathiek on December 21, 2008 02:24 AM

Blah! So ridiculous! They should refund your money for the original flight and pay you for the hotel room.

Did you ever think "let's just rent a car and drive home?"

Posted by: peaj on December 21, 2008 09:21 AM

I was laughing so hard at this post I was CRYING. Sorry, it does sound horrible and frustrating but Ollie is hilarious. I mean. Seriously...lost vegas, faking injuries to get a wheelchair, Sprinting like Prefontaine.And Darby almost crashing a wheelchair with Ollie. I could picture it all and I am still wiping away laughter tears.

Posted by: mers on December 21, 2008 11:15 AM

I am sure this was incredibly frustrating, but I am with Mers. I was laughing SO hard at some parts of this story.

Posted by: Collin on December 21, 2008 12:09 PM

UGH. That is so sad and awful and funny at the same time. I hope you guys have a great relaxing time home.

Posted by: kate on December 21, 2008 03:50 PM

Las Vegas is a weird place. It is surprising the number of children that can be found in the casinos. I think Ollie's got a good point about why kids should be able to gamble, though.

What a horrible ordeal. Glad you finally made it out east, with all in one piece.

Posted by: Mike on December 21, 2008 05:23 PM

Being a wheelchair user myself, I found this story to be particularly hilarious! Awesome and so very funny! :)

Posted by: sean on December 21, 2008 08:58 PM

Jase, this is just crazy! I am so sad it happened, but it does make one heck of a story!!!

Posted by: Jessica on December 22, 2008 12:30 AM

That sounds like a royal mess.. I definitely would have considered renting a car and driving back to LA... Glad you guys were able to make it home finally

Posted by: Jason J on December 22, 2008 03:53 PM


Posted by: ian on December 23, 2008 12:23 PM

If I didn't have little kids myself, maybe I would have found this amusing also. It sounds like pure TORTURE. It reminds me of why I don't travel around the holidays now that I've graduated and am not tied to a school schedule. Well you will be rich and famous soon and be able to buy your own plane. After a story like that, it definitely seems worth it, even if not environmentally responsible. I always thought John Travolta was very indulgent to have his own plane, but now that he has a special needs child, I see it in a completely different light.

Posted by: Anonymous on December 24, 2008 04:06 AM

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