Christmas Chaos

September 25, 2021

Of course the South Bend commuter flight was cancelled. A snowflake was forecasted to fall somewhere in northern Indiana and thus to be safe United sent out a succinct and cryptic message that said “Flight 4869 cancelled due to air traffic control issues.” Nothing about snowflakes here, but you clearly get the message.

Calls are made to United where the waiting time is 18 minutes but you can leave your number and someone will call you back. Someone will call you back sometime in the next decade, is what I’m thinking. Never-mind, I’ll wait. Eventually, just before the next ice-age buries my dentures forever, someone from India says “Hello, United Airlines, how can I help you?” Please un-cancel our flight, thank-you. As this is not possibly done from India, she instead makes the cancellation official and we say thanks, we will convey ourselves to Chicago by way of the toll road and our trusty van. She says we will refund you that portion of the flight. I think, sure you will, weather is an act of God and we all know how United Airlines treats Acts of God. No refunds. Oh, and no free hotels. Discounted rates perhaps, but no free lunch.

We pack in an hour for ten days, a feat heretofore considered an impossibility. The snowflakes are coming, a “wintry-mix” as the weather channel is wont to say, often, ominously, and with a hint of malice. Clothes are thrown in suitcases, cosmetics are placed in TSA approved zip-locked bags and don’t forget the neck pillows. Passports are almost forgotten in the rush and as we all know, forgotten passports are much worse than errant snowflakes.

The trip to Chicago is uneventful, the wintry mix swirling outside the van, we inside all warm and fuzzy, stopping at a well-lit toll road Oasis for a bite and to let traffic thin out a little. Various accidents pepper the interstate like a bright red rash.

The brightly lit, Christmas-decked Hyatt Regency is a welcome sight, and the porter says, in a rather regal Russian accent, may I take your bags, sir? We say sure man, please do the job when we’re in town, and we pretend like we do this all the time. We head up the escalators and fall straight into a bizarre wonderland of costumed humans, a strange throng of people, hundreds of young men and women, all dressed in every conceivable contrivance imaginable. A fully suited ghost buster walks by, death-ray blaster at the ready. Two mermaids and a vampire stroll by, laughing and pirouetting. A dance ensemble of young girls practices their moves over by one of the many convention halls. All very strange, very entertaining, very disturbing. The lady at the desk assures me we are safe, it’s just an Anime convention. There is also a fencing convention taking place—and I picture rows of posts, various types of barbed wire and post pounding competitions. On the other hand, it could be that it is the sport of fencing of which they are concerned. Helmets and swords and things like that.

As jets take off overhead, we head to bed, comforted, after checking flight status one last time. The flight to Vancouver is still on time, snowflakes are not falling.


O’Hare is a Christmas maelstrom. I tell Emese, as we walk briskly, trying to get our steps in before flight time, that the picture ahead, of hundreds of people milling at gates, rushing to gates, standing in long lines at a gate-side Starbucks, is a “maelstrom.” “What’s a maelstrom, dad?” she asks. I tell her it’s what happens at the bottom of a waterfall when all the water is rushing and tumbling and swirling together. “Well,” she says, reasonably enough, “This isn’t a waterfall.” Right-o but it’s still a maelstrom.


The flight is good, uneventful. Actually, that’s how you want flights to be, uneventful. The cloud cover clears as we near the Pacific and we know we are close to home when Mt. Baker’s majestic snow-covered peak passes slowly, closely, on the starboard side of the aircraft. We crowd the window, drinking in the incredible knife-edged beauty. Old familiar landscapes pass slowly under the wing—the North Shore mountains, Vancouver in all its splendor, and then we are over the Strait of Georgia, banking, counting the ships, picking out favorite haunts. Final approach, wheels down, and then… home for Christmas.

BF – 2016

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