Curveballs

Curveball: Slang Something that is unexpected or designed to trick or deceive.

I travel for business about two weeks a month. Sometimes I luck out and it’s fun, like when I got to go to South Beach. I may not get to do anything besides work but I get good pictures like this one from my hotel window in May 2013.

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Sometimes I luck out and the travel itself goes smoothly, getting there and back with no delays, no lost luggage. Smooth. As. Glass.

Sometimes life reflects perfectly, like on calm water. If your day started like this, it’s hard to believe it could go wrong. (photo courtesy of the internet, couldn’t find the photographer’s name)

Sometimes, though, life throws you a curveball or two. Recently I had one of those trips. Several of us flew to Denver, had a good meeting and then headed to the airport. I was flying home to San Antonio via Dallas (DFW) and had a very tight layover. On the way into the airport, I was already thinking ahead to how I was going to manage it. I have the FlightTracker app on my iPhone and it gives you all kinds of flight info, including gate numbers. I know DFW well and was all ready to map out my layover.

You know when you have plans, you assume life will play along? Silly you. To borrow from another saying, plans are made to be broken. It takes a lot of strength to realize that the plan is not reality. That afternoon, I had to dig deep for it. I was tired and, thanks to some chronic health problems, very close to a physical crash. The delays on my last trip were so severe that I needed a wheelchair.  The prospect of more delays was stressful, beyond what many can imagine.

My first flight was delayed and making the connection wasn’t looking good. Mini-melt down time.

“But wait,” you say, “aren’t there other flights? Can’t you just get them to re-book you?”

“Of course,” I respond. “I should have thought of that.” Seriously. So I take a deep breath and tell the ticket agent I’m panicking over missing my connection. She’s not terribly friendly but I’m calmer just for having said it. She gets me on a later flight from DFW to home and I’m on my way. I’m not thrilled but it’s no big deal. I figure I’ll park myself at my gate, do some email, read a book. Except we’d used my phone for navigation to around Denver and the battery was low.

“No problem!” you say. “Just plug into an outlet.”

“I’m on it,” I respond, looking around. “Huh. No outlets in sight.”

“How can Denver’s airport not have outlets?” You look at me as if I should try harder.

“Wait,” I yell, “there’s some over there!” I point at a bank of pay phones. Yeah, you read that right – it’s 2013 and the outlets are at a bank of payphones.

But, hold on. There are no chairs next to the payphones. And I’m in a dress. “Blerg!” It may seem unladylike but that’s the least of my concerns. I drop my bags, park myself on the floor and try to act like it’s perfectly normal for a businesswoman in a dress to sit on the floor. Thank goodness for stretch! (Uhh, fabrics. I know guys don’t care, but girls do.)

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Finally, our plane arrives. By now, I’m frustrated because the airline can’t seem to predict when the flight will actually take off. Uncertainty is itself a stressor. My new layover time is shrinking by the minute but it looks like I’ll have just enough time. Passengers line up and I can tell in one sniff that many have passed the time in the airport bar.

I find my seat and learn quickly that my seatmate is not just frustrated, he’s passed into the zone of being pissed. Pissed as in he’s very, very unhappy. He’s also more than mildly inebriated (pissed means drunk in UK slang). His lack of inhibitions and his frustration nearly end up getting him thrown off the plane for not turning off his phone. After a face down with the flight attendants, he quiets down and we finally (!) take off.  It’s only two hours to DFW. We’ll be off the plane soon enough.

We land in Dallas and the entire plane is now in a frenzy to get to their next gate. Thanks to my iPhone app, I already know my next flight is delayed. It’s late – after 10 pm – and the terminal is surreally empty except for us.

A funky sculpture in DFW's newest terminal.

A funky sculpture in DFW’s newest terminal.

It's late, I'm tired and yeah, the escalator made me dizzy, too.

It’s late, I’m tired and yeah, the escalator made me dizzy, too.

I ride the Skylink to my next gate, where, sure enough, the flight is delayed. We have a plane but no crew. Since the delays are not weather related, I know the airline will do nearly anything to get us home – they won’t want to pay for lodging. Now, after delays, drunken passengers and being a seriously tired puppy, I am in my happy place. I park myself on the floor again, open my book and zone out.

Once the crew arrives, the passengers crowd the gate agent like they think there aren’t enough seats for all of us. We finally get  on board, the attendants give the turn-your-electronics-off speech and…we continue to sit at the gate. The pilot informs us we’re waiting for a passenger who has “gotten turned around” in the airport.  It seems my day could have been worse, I could be worried about missing the final flight home. Isn’t it nice of the crew to wait for a passenger who is likely panicking as she runs to catch the plane? I wonder if she knows this? I wonder if she realizes how all of us (well, most of us) are happy to take a few minutes and make sure she gets to the plane.

So what’s the moral of the story? Life throws curveballs at you. How you react is up to you. There may be lots of justifiable reasons for you to lose it. Do you think, though, that my drunken seat mate made it easier for himself? I’ll bet he walked away from that day that thinking everyone was a jerk. We, of course, thought he was the jerk.

Having a plan is good, being prepared for curveballs is better. Equip yourself by working with what you got. Be grateful for what works, let go of what doesn’t. Curveballs come and plans go but your peace of mind goes with you everywhere.