Adventures getting to Montana

I must say, my trip to Montana was much more… um… exciting… than I’d planned. The plan was to leave Detroit metro airport, fly to Denver, have 2 hr layover there, meet April there for lunch, get on the next plane to Great Falls, Montana; Lisa would pick me up there and we’d head for their home near Helena, where we’d spend a few days together. Sounds like a good plan, doesn’t it? Well… we got as far as Detroit before the plan started to fall apart…

Kathleen dropped me off at the airport for my 9.30 am flight, where i checked my bag through to Great Falls. I had my backpack with me with a few magazines, some pain killers, and 2 books, a snack, etc.- the usual traveling stuff to combat being bored. Anyway, so i’m heading through security at DTW and they scan my stuff, scan the purse again, scan it again, scan it again, ask if its mine, scan it again. I’m totally not worried since i never carry anything weapon-like in my purse… so naturally I’m horrified when they call over another security guard who approaches me holding my brother’s Leatherman tool (you know, those handy tools with all the blades and tools that fold out). My bro had left it at my grandparents house and my Gram had handed it to me the day before over my birthday lunch- and I’d promptly put it in my purse and forgotten about it. I started stammering when they asked if it was mine and told me that i couldn’t fly with it (duh). They insisted my two options were throw it away or check it in my baggage- yeah, the baggage I’d checked on my way in the door. Great. So, short of throwing away my brothers new expensive gift, my only option was to check my backpack with the knife inside. The guard carried the weapon and escorted me to check the bag, and she had to place it in the bag and hand the bag to the agent herself- clearly I wasn’t to be trusted! It was all rather stupid and kind of embarrassing, but oh well. I’d grabbed a book to shove in my purse before checking the bag at least. By now I’m worried I’m going to be the last person boarding the plane… until I got there and realized the flight was delayed an hour. So I called April and to arrange a later and shorter lunch in Denver, and settled in to read my book till it was time to leave.

A few hours later in the Denver airport… I went out to meet April and we had a nice lunch together. It was great to see her and her adorable daughter Claire, even if it was rather short. I had to hurry to get through security again and back to the opposite end of the huge airport for my flight, scheduled to depart at 1.50 pm. Well, I race through the airport and get there to discover the flight has been delayed until 5.10 pm. That’s a long delay, I say to myself, but oh well. I finished my one book (everything else got checked, remember?) and head to the airport bookstore for some more reading material. Wandered the huge airport several times to ward off boredom, had to stop and buy an expensive dose of painkiller (yup, mine was in that very same checked backpack), read on and off, people watched, and basically just waiting for my next flight. When the time neared, i headed for the gate area and was ready to board… and then they announced another delay until 6.10 pm. Not a good sign, i say to myself, but oh well. I passed the next hour attempting to read my book while watching the people around me, also bored by the long wait, so they were rather entertaining. Around 5.45, the airline attendant announced “Good news! The plane we will be boarding is on the way here from Fargo ND! We will get it turned around as quickly as possible and should be set for a 6.25 take off!” Thank goodness, i thought, and finished another chapter; at which time the attendant came back on the overhead “Flight 6615 to Great Falls, MT has been cancelled. Please make your way to the customer service desk to rebook your travel.” WHAT??? I’ve never had a flight cancelled before, but I can’t say it was a total surprise after all the delays, and the rumors of tornados in Chicago shutting down the airports there… hmmm… I grab my purse and charge for customer service, I’m about 10th in line.

While we waited (for 2.5 hours), the people around me chatted, complained, agonized… it was a bonding experience. I was standing with a woman a few years older than me who had a business meeting early the next morning in Great Falls; an 83 year old woman, Geri, who was on her way to visit her kids; and Hannah, a 16-year old girl on her way home from 2 weeks at camp in Virginia. Hannah kept panicking, whining, “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me! I just want to get home and now I’ll never get there.” Geri, also rather confused and distressed, kept fretting about how on earth this would work and that she just needed to get to her kids!! Ever the optimist, I was very upbeat and encouraging, “Don’t worry, they’ll get us all taken care of and where we’re going.” and “Oh, its just an adventure, its all going to work out.” (By 2.5 hours later I was feeling less optimistic, but still kept up the encouragement since my fellow line waiters were getting more tired and upset by the moment.) I finally got up the counter and told the agent that I needed to either get to Helena (where Lisa actually lives) or Great Falls (where I was supposed to arrive, around 1.5 hrs from Helena). “Sorry” she says, “the soonest we can get you there is Saturday afternoon.” WHAT???? Its Thursday??? and I’m only in MT until Tuesday!! Out loud I said, “Well, what can you do sooner than that?” It turns out my best bet was flying into Missoula the following morning, leaving Denver at 8.25 am. There were no more flights into MT that evening at all. Okay, book that one. Geri is right behind me asking me what my plan is. “I’m going to fly into Missoula and rent a car to get to Helena.” I said, sounding more confident than I felt, but at least glad I wasn’t stuck in Denver until Saturday.

Next thing I know, Geri is talking to the agent next to me and also booking for Missoula the next morning. “Can we split the rental car costs and drive together?” she asks me. “Sure” The plan sounded good to me, its cheaper for 2 of us to rent the car. Now Hannah wants to do the same thing. Again, fine with me 3 of us is cheaper than 2. The airline agent finishes my ticket, and says if I wait, she can give me a discount voucher for a hotel room (the airline doesn’t pay for weather related delays). Fine. I move aside and wait… and wait… and wait… Geri finishes her arrangement, still very confused and concerned, but happy that we’ll be driving together. I start calling rental car companies to see if there are cars to be had between Missoula and Helena.

Meanwhile, Hannah is trying to also book a ticket to Missoula, but she’s an unaccompanied minor, so it turns into an hour long saga between her, her dad, the airline discussing how this is all going to work. It turns out that as an unaccompanied minor, she has a right to a seat on the next plane bound for Great Falls… but that isn’t until the next day at 1 pm. All the while she keeps checking in with me (usually crying), “Don’t leave me here, okay? Can you wait, my dad’s working on my ticket, but I just don’t want to be alone.” Always the reassuring sucker, I agree to wait (the vouchers still aren’t here yet anyway). Geri is also waiting for the vouchers, so i make her go sit down (she looked ready to collapse) and promise to come find her once the vouchers arrive. Eventually, they manage to get vouchers and I hand one to each traveling companion and I call the number on the voucher. It basically assures you a room at a discounted rate at a hotel of their choosing. I’d considered calling April and just crashing on her couch, but was torn- my two traveling companions were confused and panicky, at least we could stay at the same hotel and meet up again in the morning. Besides, calling April after 10 pm to beg for a spot on the couch for a couple hours seemed rotten, especially since the airline was recommending we be back at the airport no later than 6 am the next morning (I guess Friday mornings are busy). Sigh.

I call the hotel and use the automated system to reserve a room in my name. Geri borrows my cell phone to update her kids… it turns out they will just come to Missoula to pick her up, so she won’t need the rental car after all. Hannah finally works out her plans and gets a seat on the 1 PM flight the next day to Great Falls, “But I want to stay with you guys tonight!!” I call Lisa to update her on all the details and she insisted that she come pick me up so I didn’t have to rent a car. Okay, I guess we’re all set for tomorrow.

Before I really knew what was happening, it became clear that neither of my traveling companions wanted to book a room, they didn’t want to be alone, they would just share my room. What? Honestly, to this day, I have no idea exactly how this decision was made, but clearly the decision had been made for me, and I couldn’t come up with a good way to change it. Interesting. This is definitely an adventure.

I gather my newly acquired people and we begin the long trek through the airport toward ground transportation. Geri was exhausted and I kept offering to call her a ride or get a wheelchair, which she refused again and again. To be perfectly honest, my reasoning was not entirely heroic or unselfish, partially but not entirely. My reasoning was threefold, 1. she looked exhausted and ready to collapse and heck, if you can get away with a wheelchair, do it (if I could have done it, I would have!); 2. I didn’t know what the heck I was supposed to do if this newly acquired senior collapsed in my care (heck, i didn’t know how she ended up in my care!!) and 3. we would have gotten through the airport a lot faster if we’d been pushing her. But no. We walked through the airport at a snails pace and eventually got our free overnight toiletries from the airline and called the free shuttle to the hotel. Somewhere on this long trek through the airport, it occurs to me I don’t know either of their names, and they don’t know mine. So I introduce myself and find out their names. Weird. I’d adopted people before even knowing their names!!

Baggage… did I forget to mention the miracle of the baggage? Well, apparently, although our flight was canceled and none of the people made it to GF, apparently our bags went there. Hmmm. The airline agent assured me they would be re-routed and should be in Missoula waiting for me the next morning, but I still had my doubts. So for tonight I had, oh yeah, my purse and 2 books. Hannah had a small bag and Geri had a slightly bigger bag and even had PJs and a change of clothes.

When we finally make it to the ground transportation section of the airport, the first 2 shuttles are too full to fit us, Hannah’s still rotating between crying, talking on the phone with her family and whining (as she has been for the last 4 hours). I’m just too exhausted for words at this point, and am incredibly grateful to squeeze on the 3rd shuttle and ride the 25 minutes in silence to our hotel. Turns out in the morning, the shuttle goes to the airport at the top of every hour, meaning we sign up for the 5 am shuttle (it is almost midnight now). I send my people to go sit down while i wait in line for our room key. “What kind of room is this?” I ask the clerk. “It’s got a king bed,” he replies. Smiling as best as I can I beg, “Can I get anything with 2 doubles or 2 queens or something?” “Nope, these are the only rooms available.” “Okay, I’ll take it, but we need a rollaway.” In my head I’m trying to come up with a good solution- I don’t think there is one. I just don’t know how to suggest to 2 perfect strangers that either I share a bed with one of them, or they share one together. Nope, I’m not gonna do it.

When we get to the room, I tell Geri to take the bed, Hannah to take the rollaway, and I’d grab a pillow and hit the floor. Geri insists that she doesn’t want the king, she tosses and turns so much she’d keep other people awake. She wants the rollaway. “Okay, take the rollaway.” Again, I’m not about to suggest to this poor 16 year old that we share the bed – All I can think is what Virtus would say about it (Virtus is the diocesan training we have to do that basically teaches you how to look for child abusers and how to stay above suspicion.) Somehow I didn’t think suggesting to a helpless 16 year old girl that we share a bed would put me above suspicion, so I scoped out the corners of the room and looked for an extra blanket. Hannah suggested we share the bed, and I agreed, it wasn’t nearly so sketchy that way. Besides, on a king bed, you’d never know someone else was there it’s so big.

I pull out my free toiletries kit, unwrap the toothbrush, blindly grab the tube and apply it to the brush and put it in my mouth, thanking God for the small things right now, like the toothbrush. Yuck!! Apparently I’d just put shaving cream on my brush. Nasty. I found the smaller tube of toothpaste and was able to get that nasty taste out of my mouth eventually. I collapsed into bed, Hannah was already asleep. I think I fell asleep the minute my head hit the pillow, never suspecting what would happen next.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I wake up to someone yelling in pain in the darkness… and in my tired and now very alert state I say to myself (all in my head), “Wow, Maureen, let’s review. You are in a strange hotel room, with two strangers. In fact, one of them is in the bed with you. And now someone is yelling. and it is very very dark in this room.” Out loud I say, “Are you okay?” Geri responds that she’s got horrible leg cramps from all the walking in the airport. I feel terrible for her, but have no idea what to do. “Can I do anything?” I ask out loud, praying that she doesn’t ask me to massage her legs. Thankfully, she says, “no, I’ll work them out and be okay.” (THANK YOU JESUS!!)

Amazingly after that adrenaline rush, I fell immediately back to sleep and slept like a rock until my alarm went off at 4.30. More than anything else, I just wanted a shower!! Geri heads for the bathroom before I shower and again, the unexpected greets me as she comes out of the bathroom. “Good heavens,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s something I ate or if its just the traveling, but I had diarrhea in my underwear, so I rinsed them and hung them on the sink. Looking amazingly composed, I respond, “Gosh, I’m sorry, are you okay?” She assured me she was fine and I headed for the bathroom, again reviewing in my head. “Spent the night with strangers, woke up to yelling in the dark, and one of said strangers has crapped her pants and left them in the sink… okay.” I showered, pretending the underwear with the brown stain and bad odor were not hanging there, and got out feeling much better.

I got my people up and out the door for the 5 am shuttle. We got through security and naturally had plenty of time to wait for our flights. Geri let us get her a wheelchair today, so Hannah pushes her while I carry my purse and their bags. Geri buys us breakfast at McDonalds and we spend the next couple hours reading and watching the sunrise. Friday at 8.00 am was a beautiful moment for me. Hannah wheeled Geri to our gate, Geri boarded the plane, and Hannah gave me a hug and went to wait for her flight. Ahhh, sigh of relief. I am free!!

To this day, I don’t know exactly how or when I adopted these people, but apparently they needed me and I know for a fact that God has a sense of humor about these things. Even when I was exhausted and frustrated with them the night before, I kept thinking, “if it were my daughter or my grandma, I’d want someone to take care of them…” Nonetheless, it was a great relief to shed that responsibility and board the plane alone. As I boarded, I realized I’d missed a call from work, so while other passengers were boarding I called back and talked to Brendan. I answered a few work questions and he asked how Lisa was. “I’m still in Denver,” I told him. “My flight got canceled, met some people and we got a hotel room together, and now I’m heading for Missoula. I just feel bad Lisa has to drive so far with the babies!” Just then the young woman sitting in front of me turns around and says, “You’re going to Helena? So are we, we can give you a ride.” “Bren, I gotta go.” She explained that their car was in Missoula and they were heading for Helena. “Okay!” I called Lisa and told her not to come, I had a ride. “With who?” she asked. “Um, I don’t know, they are sitting in front of me on the plane and just offered, I’ll call you when we get near Helena with a meeting place.” Seriously, one adventure after another!!

As it turns out, Anne and Brandon were on their way home from their honeymoon!! They’d been in Jamaica, got stranded an extra day in FL, were heading back to Helena to pack up their wedding gifts and then heading for Reno, where they were living. It was soooo kind of them to offer me a ride! Wow. And yet it was rather strange to be accompanying a newly married couple (strangers, no less) on their last leg home from the honeymoon. God sure has a great sense of humor. When we got off the plane in Missoula, I was amazed at the tiny airport and that there were animal heads mounted on every wall- yup, we must be in Montana. I met Geri’s kids who were there to pick her up. They hugged me and thanked me for taking care of their mom. Geri’s and my bags had not, in fact, managed to get there from Great Falls, so we filed missing bag reports and I headed out with my other new friends. Anne insists upon stopping at this sandwich place for lunch- naturally I assume since we’ll be grabbing a sandwich and eating in the car. Nope. We got a table and sat down! Amazingly, it wasn’t nearly as awkward as I would have thought. Anne reminded me of my good friend Alexis, and she had a steady stream of stories, comments, and questions for me.

Over the next couple hours in the car I heard stories about the wedding, the honeymoon, the sister-in-law that she doesn’t understand, plans for school, why they don’t agree about putting the u-haul on the credit card, etc. It was really great fun. We even stopped at the side of the road so Anne could pee (she couldn’t wait for a stop). It turns out they had gotten married at the Cathedral in Helena, where Lisa and Glen are parishioners. And her family knows the a family, who I’d also met since Maria (one of their daughters) had lived with Lisa and I for awhile and we’d gone to her wedding, which was also at the Cathedral a few years earlier. Montana really seems like a small town- not that many people so everyone somehow knows everyone else. After a relatively uneventful ride, we met Lisa and the girls in a parking lot… I had arrived!!! My bag, however, did not arrive at the Helena airport until Saturday afternoon, so thankfully Lisa lent me some clothes and shoes. Nonetheless, I was just happy to have made it and all in one piece! Thank God!

5 thoughts on “Adventures getting to Montana

  1. Wow! What a story! I have to admit, if I was stranded in an airport I would probably be tempted to latch on to the first person with a competent-person vibe, and you’ve got that in spades! Geri and Hannah were fortunate you were there, even though it sounds like it was a bit weird and stressful for you. 🙂 Glad it all worked out and you got your visit – the pictures are precious!

  2. For some strange reason I found this story side-splittingly funny and oh-so-very-Maureen. Partly because it happened, partly in its retelling! The pics are great too.T.

  3. Maureen I am dying laughing here on my little green couch oh-so-far-away and thinking I need to share this story with all my friends here- most of whom have nightmare travel stories, but NONE that bad!! I’m glad you made it eventually and had a great time. The pictures look beautiful.

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