I almost missed the Alaska trip. I had booked two separate itineraries from Buffalo to Chicago and Chicago to Anchorage on two separate carriers to save around $200. Without the benefit of hindsight, I had assumed that a 41/2 hour layover in Chicago would be more than buffer enough for minor delays.
And a delay there was; the beginning of a harrowing experience, which ended with me running for 20 minutes between terminals in a crowded O’Hare. Initially, they said the flight had been delayed by an hour, making my layover in Chicago 31/2 hours. The United schedule was such that an airplane would come from Chicago to Buffalo, and immediately turn back to Chicago with us on board. A little after announcing the 1 hour delay, the ground staff, happily announced to us that the airplane is on the runway waiting for clearance to take off at O’Hare and the delay will be no more than an hour and a half. Half an hour later, the flight was still at O’Hare and the delay was 3 hours.
The perception of time is weird. Now that my layover in Chicago was a ‘mere’ 90 minutes, I began to worry. In my quest to find the cheapest ticket to Anchorage, I had booked United to Chicago and American to Anchorage. This meant that I will have to switch terminals in O’Hare, which, in my estimate, at a sprint, I would take 20-25 minutes. Mentally, I calculated that if they delayed the flight by more than 3.5 hours, I will miss the connection.
The United staff read my mind. Just as I finished double-checking my calculations, they announced that the airplane was being taken back to the terminal, as while waiting to get permission to fly, it developed a technical snag. The delay was indefinite (the flight was still officially not canceled). No surprises, that I panicked. I ran up and down the Buffalo terminal looking for flights that will reach Chicago in time. There was one, which would get me with 1/2 hour to make the terminal change, but it being the long weekend, they were full. I sent a mail to the others making the trip asking them to enjoy on my behalf, and resigned to the fact that I will not make it. However, I hung on in the terminal (with nothing better to do). At 4 PM, a flight arrived, and the ground crew excitedly announced that the flight to Chicago will leave at 4.30 PM (a delay of 4 hours). My quick calculation told me that I will have 10 minutes between flights. I called a friend in Chicago asking him to pick me up from the airport as I boarded the flight, hoping that the Anchorage flight gets delayed by 20 minutes and that I can run like the hare across O’Hare.
We boarded the flight at 4PM, ETA at Chicago was 5.15PM. The flight to Alaska was at 5.30 PM.
I falsely pride myself in being an agnostic; but as I entered the plane, I was a believer, beseeching, arguing, bribing, blackmailing, emotionally blackmailing (What have I asked of you God? Grant me this one thing), taunting God into granting me a wish.
By 4.10; the air hostess asked us to switch of our electronic devices. The dynamics of time suddenly changed. Time came to a screeching halt. I was staring outside the window, as the flight waited on the tarmac; waiting for a couple of flights to land before it can take-off. As every second felt like a minute, and every minute on land made my heart beat faster; my mind worked through million possibilities right from reaching O’Hare too late to; to my friends valiantly attempting to stop the flight for 10 minutes or so. They succeed but I reach the gate just as the ground staff closes the gate (too much TV you would say), to making alternate plans for the weekend in Chicago. The transfer of hope to God was complete, when I stopped thinking about possibilities and started contemplating about the wonders of the brain. Just a few hours ago, waiting for the airplane to reach Buffalo, time was flowing along; racing along towards that mental deadline that I had set for myself (depart by 3.30 PM), and now, as the plane awaited take-off clearance, time slowed to a stop, and I kept honking at it like an agitated driver at Panagal Park.
Finally though, God, it would seem was listening. My flight touched down 10 minutes earlier at 5.05. The flight to Anchorage got delayed by 10 minutes, and I sprinted through O’Hare to my gate, reaching there 5 minutes ahead of time.
All this drama, I thought later.
The midnight Sun is strange. Although, Anchorage itself does not have the midnight Sun, daylight savings has ensured that the Sun sets at 11.45 PM. Twilight and dusk mean that it stays bright enough to play harmless tennis ball cricket till around a little after 1 AM. It takes getting used to. We landed at Anchorage at 9.30 PM and made our way to the hotel by 10PM. A little later, we walked over to a Walmart, and then to a pizzeria, which was just about closing. That is when, despite having knowledge of the time, we realized it was “late” in the evening.
As a kid, my standard response when asked to draw a scenery was to draw a river flowing beside a mountain. A lonely boat plying on the river. That scenery has kind of become my holy-grail when it comes to scenic places. We spent 2nd evening at Seagard, AK. Boats in the harbor with the snow-capped mountains looking over it, while we enjoyed a lazy walk to the restaurant, followed by a brisk one back to another (when the first one had an hour waiting time) was just heavenly.
I am not going to attempt to write about Alaska. My vocabulary of synonyms for “oohs” and “aahs” is very limited.