Saturday, January 23, 2010

Plenty of Time

When I volunteered to drive Huck and Nell to the Oakland airport, I allowed myself plenty of time to get there for the 1:30 pm check-in. After dropping a work project off at the Junction, I made my way up Phoenix Lake Road, driving first through rain, then sleet, and finally softly falling snowflakes. My Subaru negotiated Belleview Road fine. Culley loaded the kids and their baggage in the car, and we were on our way before 9am

Huck and Nell are veteran travelers and great in the car. They took turns listening to stories on the iPod. Huck skillfully set up the story that Nell wanted to hear when it was her turn. The child who was not listening chatted with me. We got to Tracy where we made a pit stop. We all used the rest room and stretched our legs before getting back in the car for the last leg of the journey. It was 10:30.

As we came down off the Altamont Pass, traffic slowed to a crawl and then to a complete standstill. About that time, I got a text from Andrea, saying she was on BART after taxiing around SFO for an hour, but she was sure she would be in Oakland on time. I texted back that we were stuck in traffic in Livermore.

Forty-five minutes later, we had gone less than a mile, so I called Cindy and asked her to see if she could find out what was going on. Using the Internet, she discovered that a big rig had overturned near Livermore, effectively closing all four lanes. The advice was to take an alternate route. But how could I do that when there weren't any off ramps and I was surrounded by green hills where cows were peacefully grazing oblivious to my plight? Every time one of the lanes started moving, Nell suggested, "Why don't you get in that line, Dearma?" The kids made a game of shouting at the trucks and cars to get moving, and though it didn't work, it was entertaining.

At 1pm, we finally crawled past the scattered debris from the big rig, plus a burnt out hull of a van and gathered speed. It was raining pretty hard and I needed a rest-room again, but time was of the essence. I drove fast (for me). By the time I hit 880, it was imperative that I stop for a bathroom. I took the first exit, saying, "I have to go to the bathroom. I'm feeling sick!"

"How can you get sick because you have to go to the bathroom?" asked Huck.

Good question! But my legs were trembling violently and I had a raging headache. I was sick! Maybe toxins were leaking back into my blood stream from my kidneys. I don't know. I just had to get to a bathroom. "Look for a restroom, you guys," I said.

"Try that dress shop, Dearma," said Huck. I pulled into a parking place and waddled into the store, but the clerk was immune to my desperation and directed me across the shopping center parking lot to a Starbucks.

When I got back in the car, Huck said, "That's weird. People always have bathrooms where they work."

At Starbucks, I begged to go in front of a woman who just going into the bathroom, and she graciously let me. While I was relieving my bladder, Andrea called. I told her what was happening and said I thought I was close to the Airport. I left the bathroom still buttoning my pants and ran for the car on firm legs, the headache GONE!

"Now I have to get back on the freeway," I said as I started the car.

"It's that way," said Huck helpfully, pointing back the way we'd come.

I could only turn right out of the parking lot, which was the wrong way, so I immediately flipped a U-turn around a cement divider and sailed into a left turn lane squeaking through the signal as it turned red.

"Now you have to go that way," said Nell pointing right. She knew what she was talking about because a half block later there was a sign for the on-ramp to the freeway. I thought the Airport exit was coming up, but I had not seen any signs yet. Then suddenly there it was: "Oakland International Airport-1 mile."

"Put all your stuff in your bags, kids," I directed. "And grab your coats. When we get there, Mommy is going to get you out and you will have to run to catch the plane."

I drove the Airport ingress road at 70 miles an hour through the pouring rain, scanning signs for Terminal 1- United. "Look for your mommy," I shouted.

"There she is," yelled Huck!

I pulled over and leaped out to get the luggage from the back as Andrea got the kids. "Can you wait and see if we make it?" she asked.

"Yes," I said as they disappeared through the door, Nell running as fast as she could while hiking up her drooping jeans.

That's when I remembered that the kids' passports were in my coat pocket. I yanked on the passenger door. Locked! I ran around to the driver's side, reached across and pulled them from my coat and ran after Andrea, leaving the car running, lights on and windshield wipers slapping. I could see her half way up the sloping runway on her way to the security station. I yelled, "Andrea! Andrea!" She heard me on the second call, and I waved the passports. We ran toward each other. I passed them off and then turned and ran back to my car, where a green and black vested parking Nazi stood frowning at my car. I got in, my heart pounding and breath ragged, and pulled away as the attendant honked her obnoxious horn at me.

I drove the departure circle 3 times at a leisurely pace, scanning the United door each time I passed. As I came around the fourth time, my phone chimed. "We made it!" read the text message.

A big smile! I moved over to the freeway access lanes, and as I left the airport, a second chime came through. "Thanks, Mom!" wrote Culley.

Can I just say that Huck and Nell are simply amazing: cooperative, patient, helpful, and smart. I will always have plenty of time for them.


tuckova said...

You're heroic! I'm glad your story had a good ending.

anna mae t. said...

I love your writing talent!!!!!!