Certainly the flight attendant had heard all of this before. Ninety three people wouldn’t be getting home tonight, Mr., not just you.
She smiled in what appeared to be a sympathetic way and repeated, for the umpteenth time, “Sir, the planes are all grounded. We can offer you a pillow and a blanket but we are not authorized to provide hotel accommodations.”
Frank Bush, that’s what he’d said his name was, turned in frustration, knocking into one of the other passengers, a small Asian man who had crowded the podium to hear what the flight attendant told Frank. The bigger man muttered an apology, barely made eye contact, and staggered forward, his emotion getting the best of his balance, his energy failing at eight p.m. Central Standard time.
Since four a.m., Frank thought, doing the time change calculation in his head, he had been at this since four a.m. When he said it that way it didn’t seem like that long and that frustrated him even more. Why was he so tired?
He pushed a hand through thick grey hair, blinked a few times against the drying of his contact lenses, and focused on a youngish woman sitting against the wall next to the now closed boarding ramp. He took in her posture, her clothes, the backpack on the floor next to her, and the pink earbuds in her ears. Then he turned and walked away.
The Memphis airport had closed thirty minutes before their flight landed. The emptiness of the terminal, the metal gates hanging low over all of the stores and fast food restaurants, made it seem much later than it actually was. Frank didn’t expect to get a taxi or a rental car. He just did the only thing he knew to do and headed out to the arrivals deck to see if anyone remained.
A white van bearing the crest of the Marriot sat idling under the overhang. Upon seeing Frank emerge from the baggage claim concourse, the driver leapt from his seat down into the slush. Hand on the hood of the van, he steadied himself while moving around to the passenger side.
“Hi!” the driver said, a broad grin lighting up his face.
Frank smiled, too, despite the misery of the previous two hours.
“Need a place to stay?”
When he went to speak, the words caught in his throat and some emotion choked him, so Frank just nodded.
The driver understood and without further conversation took Frank’s suitcase from him and opened one of the passenger doors. Frank climbed inside, the cabin was warm and the stereo a bit louder than he expected. Stevie Wonder pumping through the cheap factory-issue speakers.
As he plopped onto the bench and reached for the seatbelt over his left shoulder he heard, “Wait! Please wait!” in a woman’s voice.
Across the sidewalk, in exactly the location from which Frank had emerged, a woman ran toward them. She had a younger woman in tow and Frank realized it was the girl with the pink earbuds. He didn’t speak, the driver had already waved at the pair and was waiting, his broad grin aimed at them.
They made the last of the party at the Marriot that night, waiting out the snow and the closed Memphis airport. The driver, Randy, had only expected to work until six, but the weather made a boon for Marriot and his boss sent him out over and over to retrieve guests from the airport.
By the time Frank had showered and made it to the dining room for a late dinner, eleven guests, all evictions from American Airlines flight 1262 with nonstop service to Greenville-Spartanburg sat around a long table drinking and chatting. Frank joined them; the women from the van waved him over, and he introduced himself.
“I’m Frank,” he said.
“Hi, Frank,” the table chorused, in what had apparently in just thirty minutes become an old joke with the group. They shared smiles and some raised glasses. The snow fell beyond the windows, whiting out the patio and the pool deck.
The waiter brought Frank a drink and took his order for a cheeseburger. Frank smiled, raised his glass, and surveyed the room.
What would follow is a series of stories, mirroring The Canterbury Tales as each passenger recounts for the group how he or she ended up on the flight to Greenville — going home, going on business, etc. Have you seen this done before? If so, where?