I’m going to remember September 11th 2015, for a long time, for much more than the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. I’ll remember it as the day I almost didn’t get to Racine, Wisconsin for a book event that had been publicized both in the newspaper and on the radio.
I had been so excited to head off to National Airport at the crack of dawn, though for the first time ever for my book presentation I’d be checking a bag with books in it, because books I had mailed on August 24th never made it to Wisconsin and are still missing. I had just opened my eyes at 4am when the phone rang. When a phone rings at that hour it’s either about my Mom or the airline. It was the airline, advising me that my flight to Charlotte was going to be delayed and that it may impact my connecting flight to Milwaukee. I wasn’t worried at all and headed to National with my usual positive outlook. It was 5:30 am when I arrived in the line to check my bag for my 7am flight now delayed to 7:30. But things went downhill quickly.
I didn’t get waited on until 6:02, which was a long time at that early hour to have to wait, but all caused by early flight delays. When I finally got waited on I was told I would most likely miss my connection in Charlotte, but that there was another flight leaving Charlotte that would get me to Milwaukee at 6pm. Because I was speaking at 7pm, I explained that wouldn’t work and asked her to check other cities I could fly into that would allow me to fly or drive into Milwaukee by 5pm at the latest. She said that there were no such flights, and that I’d have to take my chances with the afternoon flight to Charlotte, so she booked me on my original delayed flight but supposedly “held” the ONE remaining seat for me on the flight getting me to Milwaukee by 6pm.
I headed through security feeling like this wasn’t going to end well for me. I checked in at the gate and learned my delayed flight was now delayed until 8am and I was absolutely going to miss my connection in Charlotte. I told the agent that I needed a new boarding pass for the seat “on hold” for me on the later flight. I was told the upstairs agent had NOT held that seat for me which was now gone. There was now no way I’d get out of Charlotte on Friday to Milwaukee if I went there. I asked the agent to get me close to Milwaukee so I could drive there in 4 or 5 hours. Everything to Chicago was sold out for the day, including the last four seats that had been sold while I was in the line upstairs. But thankfully she found a flight connecting through Philadelphia that would get me to Milwaukee at 4:20pm.
With my new boarding pass I at least felt I had a chance to get to Milwaukee on time, but it was only 7am and I had a three hour wait at National before the flight to Philly. At 9:40 they began boarding the flight to Philly scheduled to leave at 10:05. I began to feel a little more confident that all would be well. Just as we were getting settled and ready to go came the dreaded announcement that there was a “ground stop” in Philly which means that the airport was temporarily closed and we went back to the gate. Tears came to my eyes because there was no further information given. I called Tim to see if he could drive me to Philly so that when the airport opened, I’d be there for my flight to Milwaukee. He suggested I checked flights from Dulles and BWI but nothing was available for me. I was in total panic mode but thankfully the Philly airport re-opened at 11am and I arrived there at 12.30 to wait for my 2:30 flight to Mikwaukee. I was thrilled that it was showing on time, though it very much looked as if it was going to storm any minute.
I texted and Facebooked my friends and family asking for prayers and they responded in a huge way!! To put me at ease, a gate agent in Philly checked my bag claim number to confirm for me that my bag with the books would be on the plane with me and not in Charlotte, my original destination. I had very little trust left in any airline employee at this point. We left Philly on time and actually landed in Milwaukee 10 minutes early at 4:10.
I bolted from the plane and headed straight for the rental car counter since it would be a few minutes for my bag to appear at baggage claim. There was no line at the car rental counter!! Hooray!!!! We did all of the paperwork quickly BUT then I was told that no cars were available at the moment and there would be a wait. I asked how long the wait would be and was told no more than 30 minutes. I was starting to panic again and thinking about getting a cab to the church where the presentation would be. I returned to baggage claim, thrilled to see my bag waiting for me. My map / traffic app said I’d be able to get to the church in 38 minutes from the airport so I decided to wait for the rental car I had paid for in advance. The car arrived at 5:10pm and at 5:45 I arrived in the parking lot of the church.
I was literally shaking by then, and weak and exhausted too. Thirteen hours after receiving the call from the airlines it was over!!! I had arrived 7 hours after my originally slated time. But once I met the folks at First Presbyterian Church, my energy began to return!! I believe that my presentation exceeded everyone’s expectations!! I wanted to make my dear friends Ellen and Larry Cardwell proud given all the advance work they had done for this event and I believe I did that!!
The reception afterward was awesome, with an amazing raspberry punch and every kind of cookie you could imagine! I was even invited by a great group of African-Americans to speak at their church in Chicago and of course I accepted. They took photos with me and I was beyond grateful!! I sold quite a few books, but what I’ll remember most is the warmth and love I felt from all of the folks at First Presbyterian Church. I was embraced by everyone, and in the sanctuary where I presented I felt God’s love too. I finally checked into my hotel at almost 10pm, more exhausted than I’d been in a long time. As I closed my eyes for the night, I smiled and felt such a huge sense of accomplishment, and it had ALL been worth it in the end!!