Earlier this month I was at the single digit A gates at Washington’s Dulles Airport late on a Saturday afternoon. There are few airport concourses in this country more reminiscent of the American embassy in Saigon in 1975 – as South Vietnam is collapsing once and for all – than this corner of Dulles: It is a massive human scrum of people desperate to get out, surrounded by turbo prop jets and gate agents herding travelers to different planes through the same door. And, sure enough, that afternoon all of us traveling to Burlington were loaded on to the plane that was going to. . .Buffalo.
I haven’t been to Buffalo since before my daughter was born. I figured I was due. Or, perhaps, being sent to Buffalo when I wanted to go home was some sort of karmic retribution for making a joke last week in this column that people should call my next-door neighbor, Rudy, with their home winterization questions. Apparently, people really did call the poor guy. I wasn’t expecting that. Only I’m supposed to call Rudy and drive him crazy.
Fortunately, before we took off, someone at the airline figured out that we had been ushered aboard the wrong aircraft, had us exit the plane, and then put us back into that innermost ring of Dante’s inferno: The pig corral of single digit A gates to wait, while a disembodied female voice from on high told us that we would board another aircraft. . .soon.
Frequent flyers know that “soon” usually is the airline euphemism for “you’re not going anywhere for hours, so boot up your laptop and try and find wifi.” The word “soon” all too often means “creeping delay.” I thought there was going to be a rebellion, a spontaneous “Occupy Gate A1A” movement. And, unlike most of the “Occupy” movements, we actually would have had a specific demand: Take us to Vermont.
Just for the record, my sister-in-law, Cecilia Blewer, is participating in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. I know this because she was quoted in the “Huffington Post” the other day, apparently with a broom in hand, sweeping in Zuccotti Park so the city sanitation workers would not have a pretext to evict the protestors. “There’s always work to be done,” she told the Huffington Post reporter. Indeed. It is worth noting that my sister-in-law has single-handedly won more blue ribbons for potatoes and phlox from northern New Hampshire’s Haverill Fair than the entire “Occupy” movement combined, but – as far as I know – has never swept her own kitchen. She’s brilliant and eccentric and I love her, but housekeeping isn’t exactly her strength. I didn’t even know she knew how to use a broom.
In any case, eventually we did climb aboard the correct aircraft and the wait was no more than half an hour. And because the airlines pad their schedules like an Eddie Murphy “Papa Klump” fat suit, we landed in Burlington only 35 minutes late. Not a big deal.
What was a big deal was this: We landed in Burlington from the northwest, heading north up Lake Champlain, the city just to our east, and then dipped our wings and descended over Winooski to the airport. Most of you know that landing well. In the decades I’ve lived in Lincoln, I’ve experienced it hundreds of times. But we were landing at twilight and when we emerged from a layer of clouds, the city’s lights were just starting to sparkle and there was still a halo of red to the west. The Queen City looked radiant, downright luminescent, while the hills in the distance still had a phantasmagoric trace of autumn in the trees.
It reminded me of the miracle that air travel really is, even when it begins at gate A1A at Dulles – and how grateful I am that for roughly a quarter-century now I have occupied Vermont. It was great to be home.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on October 23. His new novel, “The Night Strangers,” was published earlier this month.)