Texas

So how was your Thanksgiving? Mine wasn’t bad but getting there and back was, well, a story…

We left on Wednesday for Houston where my brother-in-law and his wife live (he’s an engineer with Boeing and he works on the Shuttle program). We flew out of Portland (which is even smaller than Manchester) and were lucky enough to find absolutely no line at the counter or at security (it is Maine, after all). But an hour or so before our scheduled departure time we found out that our plane was delayed coming in from New York which meant that our flight out would be delayed (turns out our nearly brand new Embraer 190’s weight and stability computers needed to be rebooted which can only be done at the gate and thus it got caught in a “traffic jam” at JFK). Anyway, we had a connecting flight out of JFK at 1:10 PM and only had 35 minutes originally to get between flights. If we missed that connection the next flight didn’t leave for Houston until 8:00 PM. Yes, that’s 7 hours in JFK the night before Thanksgiving – also known as DantĂ©’s Sixth Circle of Hell.

Nonetheless, it rapidly became a moot point when we realized we would miss our connection before we even left Portland. The airline was kind enough (and, actually, they really were nice about it, seriously) to book us on a flight to Austin which is about a 3 hours drive from Houston. So, frantically, as they tried to deboard the arriving passengers, clean the plane, and get us on, they changed our flight to Austin and yelled down to the guys on the ground to change the stickers on our luggage so it went to Austin and not Houston (ah, the advantage of flying out of Maine). In the process we quickly dialed my in-laws and had them rearrange our car rental so we could pick it up in Austin and return it in Houston (the airline wouldn’t pay for the car rental since they argued that we could have waited for the 8 PM flight – personally 7 hours in JFK ranks slightly below cleaning toilets in my book).

So off we went to JFK. The ride was extremely bumpy and an E190 is not a huge plane (not tiny either, but small enough to really feel those bumps). We were seated in row 2 and there were probably 30 rows or so. So as we were about to get off the plane in New York (and it turned out to be the same exact plane taking us to Austin but we had to get off and back on again anyway), my son threw up in the middle of aisle. Remember, we were in row 2 which means all but about 4 people on that flight had to step over my son’s puke on their way out of the plane.

We figured it was air sickness (which it was) and as we were waiting for them to clean the plane so we could get back on, we were frantically calling the pediatrician to see if he could take bonine (a drug that helps such things). Of course, this was during the one hour a day when the doctor’s office is closed for lunch and we were calling on a cell phone which kept cutting out. So, since we only had about ten minutes, we never got through and had to get right back on the plane.

The flight to Austin did smooth out after awhile, but not after my son puked twice more. The flight attendants were nice enough to give my poor wife (who was sitting next to him since I was still nauseous myself) a few trash bags and a stash of rubber gloves. About the only redeemable aspect of this part of the trip was the fact that our airline had 36 channels of DirecTV in each seatback. Of course my son insisted on watching the Food Network…

We arrived in Austin at dinnertime with the prospect of a three hour drive to Houston so we asked where we might find a place to grab a bite to eat. Now, this is a little bit complicated since my daughter has Celiac disease which is a severe gluten intolerance (that is she can’t eat anything with wheat, barley, or oats in it and can’t eat anything even prepared on the same stove). Amazingly enough there are some national chains that have gluten-free menus including Chilis which we were told could be found on the way to Houston, about 20 miles from the airport. Now, the first half of the 180 mile trip to Houston, it turns out, is not on a highway but rather on a four-lane divided road with lights (though not many). We were doing very well until we were about eight miles from the restaurant. That’s when we came to a dead standstill. Now, we had been assured that even in the worst traffic the restaurant was no more than 30 minutes from the airport. It took us 50.

As it turns out one of the lights on this road was out and, combined with rush hour and Thanksgiving traffic, an eight-mile jam had formed. We inched along at between 0 and 15 mph all the way to the restaurant (mind you, with one sick kid and one cranky kid, plus two parents hungry enough to start aiming for roadkill). And, as it also turns out, the restaurant was right before the light that had gone out. And, no kidding, ten feet – yes, ten feet – before we got to the restaurant’s driveway, the light suddenly began to work again.

Regardless, we had finally made it to Chilis in Barstrop (Belstrop?), Texas – only to find out that there was a 35 minute wait (and it was really smoky which made my wife’s asthma go nuts). Amazingly enough, the folks at Chilis were really nice. They told us it would be faster to order take-out, which we did, and they said we could use the bathrooms even though we were eating in the parking lot. They rushed our order and the manager felt such pity on us that he gave us a stack of gift certificates to Chilis (good thing they’re building one near my house). No burger has ever tasted that good.

Well, that’s about it – the rest of the trip was uneventful. A bit anti-climactic I suppose, but it felt utterly absurd as it was happening. We did quite nearly miss our connection on the way back thanks to the fact that we had to get from gate 24 to gate 1 (partially via a shuttle bus) in ten minutes – oh, and it wasn’t really gate 1, it was gate 6 and I only realized it when I noticed we were headed for Fort Lauderdale and not Portland, but hey…). But we finally made it home.

It was quite a trip and not one I wish to repeat, but my heartfelt thanks do go out to Gina and the JetBlue ground crew in Portland, the folks at Enterprise in Austin, and the manager and crew at Chilis in Barstrop (or Belstrop?). Your kindness and understanding kept me from committing some heinous act of violence I would have later regretted.

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