June 18, 2006
I am writing this note from our motel room in Colorado Springs. Outside I can see Pikes Peak just a few miles away. Marlene and I are here for the MEF Bible Conference that starts tomorrow morning. So far our trip has been an unexpected adventure. When we left the cabin in Mississippi yesterday, we thought it would take us about 8 hours to get here. Instead, it took seventeen hours. To begin with, a massive storm system moved across the mid-South on Saturday, starting in Oklahoma, then moving east to Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. At one point the local weather radar was a flashing mass of bright green and red and yellow, signifying dangerous storms. When we got to the Tupelo airport a few minutes after 10 AM, the skies were cloudy but there was no rain. So we boarded the little prop jet that was going to take us to Memphis where we would catch a flight to Denver. The Tupelo-Memphis flight normally takes about 25 minutes, just a little puddle-jumper. After about ten minutes in the air, the pilot said there was bad weather in Memphis and we were in a holding pattern. So we flew in circles for about 40 minutes. Then the pilot said we were running out of fuel and would return to Tupelo to refuel. By this time, rain had reached our area. We discovered that three other flights had been diverted to Tupelo, including a flight from Birmingham and one from Paducah, KY. The little terminal (it has only one gate) suddenly was overflowing with passengers anxious about missing their connections in Memphis. The overworked airport staff did all they could to help us, which wasn’t much because by this time the Memphis airport was completely shut down.
One by one the diverted flights left Tupelo for Memphis. Eventually our flight was called, we went through security a second time, re-boarded the prop jet, found our seats again, and discovered that the plane had no air conditioning while it was parked, which meant that because of the rain, the humidity inside the plane made it feel like a sauna. So we sweated it out for a while until the flight started. We ended up arriving in Memphis about the time we should have arrived in Denver. As a wise man said, where there are no alternatives, there are no problems. So we went to a restaurant to have a leisurely meal. An hour later we walked to our gate, where I plugged my computer into the wall and starting writing email and updating the weblog. When I stood up to stretch an hour later, I discovered that bad weather to the west of Memphis had caused our departure for Denver to be delayed until 7:07 PM. Then 7:17 PM. Then 7:22 PM. The waiting area was crowded with people who like us had missed the earlier flight. We noticed lots of families with young children, including some who had been in the Memphis airport for six hours. Everyone seemed in good spirits. At 7:40 PM I checked the monitor and noticed that the gate had been changed from B11 to B22 (earlier it had been changed from C4 to B11). The monitor said that the flight was leaving for Denver at 7:50 PM. At that moment a voice came over the intercom announcing the gate change, sparking a stampede of weary, bedraggled passengers heading down the walkway as fast as we could go. Upon arrival at the new gate, the door to the jetway was closed and nothing was happening. No one seemed to know what was going on. Different airline personnel came and went. We waited until 8:10, then 8:15, then 8:20, then 8:30. Finally it was time to board. So I called Jamall in Denver with the good news that we would be departing. He laughed and said he would drive up from Colorado Springs to pick us up himself. When we got on the airplane, we waited and waited and waited. Someone jokes that we would probably end up in North Dakota. The pilot announced that when they made the gate change, they forgot to switch the luggage that had been loaded on another plane. So we waited some more. Finally we took over for Denver about 9:30 PM. I kept checking my watch, thinking that the first service this morning started in less than twelve hours. Weariness overcame me and I slept for part of the flight.
Upon arriving in Denver, we made our way to baggage claim where we joined a large crowd of folks from several different flights. We waited and waited and waited. Here’s a useful travel tip: It’s not a good sign if you are the last person standing at baggage claim and the carousel has stopped moving. Somewhere around midnight, we realized that our bags got left in Memphis. Evidently because of all the cancelled flights, they had too many people and too much luggage so they just left ours on the tarmac. Doesn’t seem right, but what can you do? So Marlene gave our motel information to the lady working at Northwest Lost Luggage and off we went. Here’s a further travel tip: Always carry a change of clothes with you in your carry-on luggage. Always do that, especially if you’re traveling to Denver and have to preach on Sunday morning. You never know when you’ll lose your luggage. It happened to us several weeks ago when we flew to Lincoln, Nebraska. After that, we promised each other we would always carry a change of clothes in our carry-on bag, which of course we didn’t do.
We arrived at the motel in Colorado Springs sometime around 1:30 AM, dead tired and feeling grubby. Jamall said there was a 24-hour Wal-Mart across the street. So we hopped in our rental car, drove to Wal-Mart, which was deserted at that hour, and started buying things like toothpaste and mouthwash (because the motel didn’t supply those items), plus socks and underwear and t-shirts and something we could wear that would make us presentable for the first service, which started in about six hours. Marlene discovered that the fitting rooms were locked at night for security reasons so she tried on various items by holding them up and guessing whether or not they would fit. When we went to check out, the lady said, “You lost your luggage, didn’t you?” We ended up with a full cart of clothes and sundries. By now we were both dead on our feet so we made our way back to the car, back to the motel, finally reaching our room a few minutes after 2 AM. In my general stupor, I couldn’t figure out how to make the alarm clock work so I fiddled with it until 2:20 AM. And course I woke up three or four times because I was worried about oversleeping.
I can’t quite find the words to describe how it felt to drag ourselves out of bed at 6:01 AM. Did I mention that my Bible was in my suitcase plus the notes for the message I planned to preach? No problem because Jamall told me at midnight that the pastor wanted me to preach on forgiveness, which wasn’t what I had planned, so I wasn’t any worse off. I scratched down a few notes on the motel stationery and borrowed Marlene’s Bible, which she had with her, and that didn’t matter because the type was so small I could barely read it. We ate some grapes and crackers and drank some bottled water from the gift basket the MEF folks had kindly prepared for us. Thus fortified we went to the lobby to meet Frank and Beverly St. Louis who drove us to the church.
By this time my Circadian Rhythms (is that the right term?) had kicked in and I was feeling slightly less terrible and borderline human and as the morning went on, we had a great time. Pastor Steve Turrentine and his wife Eileen welcomed us warmly. I apologized for wearing only a shirt and a tie and told him our Wal-Mart story. He said not to worry about it, only two or three people would be wearing a tie today, and now he had an excuse not to wear his suit coat. The people of the congregation were warm and gracious and friendly and we felt right at home among them. After the second service, Frank and Beverly took us plus the pastor and his wife to the Officers Club at nearby Peterson Air Force Base. Very cool. I had never been to an Officers Club before. We enjoyed the buffet and the fellowship, and then we joined hands and Pastor Steve prayed for us and for our ministry at MEF this week.
Frank took us back to the motel where we discovered that our bags still hadn’t arrived. Nap time. Call the airlines. Check NWA Lost Luggage on the Internet. Good news. The bags arrived in Denver and were in the process of being delivered. Several hours pass. No bags. Marlene calls the NWA office at the Denver Airport. The bags were sent out for delivery at 3 PM. They should arrive in “five or six hours.” So we sit and wait and I ponder what I will do if the bags don’t arrive soon.
The cell phone rings. It’s Josh calling to wish me a Happy Father’s Day. When Leah gets on the line, I can hear her smile all the way from Oak Park to Colorado Springs. Marlene and Leah talk about the wedding (five weeks from yesterday). They talk, Leah and I talk, Josh and I talk. He says they are going to the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor in Forest Park in my honor on Father’s Day. He tells me, “Happy Father’s Day, Dad.” I thank him for calling. “Love you.” “Love you.” When the call is over, Marlene and I can’t stop smiling. “It’s amazing how one call from your children can change everything,” she says.
Thirty minute later our luggage arrived. All’s well that ends well. It’s going to be a great week in Colorado Springs.