Home for Christmas. What a lovely, nostalgic phrase. Said slowly, relishing warm and comfortable thoughts of knocking snow off wet boots, sitting with hot cups of chocolate, discussing the real estate market with my father, and telling my mother I will only have one more piece of that pie (ok, two if you insist).
While booking the tickets, I was trying to compute the last time we had been home, doing the math, working through the tangled algebra of COVID-19. And then I noticed an essay from 2016. I’m thinking that must have been the last time we experienced Christmas on the West Coast.
I shall re-post the essay here for the Christmas fun of it. And perhaps to remind ourselves that getting there could be challenging but worth all the pain of turbulent weather, layovers, and delays.
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2016 – Abbotsford, British Columbia – Home for Christmas
The South Bend commuter flight was cancelled of course. A snowflake was forecasted to fall somewhere in northern Indiana and thus, to be safe, United sent out a cryptic message that said “Flight 4869 cancelled due to air traffic control issues.” Nothing about snowflakes here, but you get the message.
Calls are made to United where the waiting time is eighteen 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 for ten days in an hour, 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 pesky snowflakes.
The trip to Chicago is uneventful, the wintry mix swirling around the van, and we are warm and fuzzy, stopping at a well-lit toll road oasis for a bite and to let traffic thin out a little. 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?” Sure man, please do the job when we’re in town. We head up the escalators to the mezzanine and fall straight into a bizarre otherland 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 along, laughing and pirouetting. A dance ensemble of young girls practices their moves over by one of the many convention halls. All very strange, very disturbing, very entertaining. The lady at the desk assures me we are safe, it’s just an Anime convention. She tells me helpfully, “Oh, and there is also a fencing convention taking place this weekend as well”—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. 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.
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The next morning O’Hare is a Christmas maelstrom. I tell Emesé, 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.
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The flight is good, uneventful. That’s how you want flights, uneventful. The cloud cover clears as we near the Pacific and we know we are close to home when Mt. Baker’s majestic peak passes slowly, closely, on the starboard side of the aircraft. We crowd the window in wonder at the incredible knife-edged beauty of the coastal range. Old familiar landscapes pass slowly under the wing—the deeply green and demure North Shore mountains, Vancouver in all its shining-glassed splendor, the bay waters reflecting the blue cloud-pocked skies. And then we are over the Strait of Georgia, banking, counting the ships, picking out favorite haunts. Wheels down, final approach, and then… home for Christmas.
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This year we are watching radar weather maps, checking the flight trackers, listening to reports of snow piled high in Seattle. It’s Tuesday. Almost all the Delta flights on our route from there to Vancouver have been cancelled.. They say by Thursday everything should be cleared up. Meanwhile, over here, east of Chicago, the news happily reports the incoming “bomb cyclone” or something equally enigmatic and terrifying. Snow, wind, and cold. I look at my wife and say, well, either I get extremely anxious about this all or I just sit back, accept whatever happens, and call it the Great Christmas Adventure. She tilts her head, looks at me rather whimsically, and says with a big smile: “Yes! Finally you’re starting to catch on.”