May 15, 2014

roanoke colony

Travel is not the time to break in new shoes. ~Lynne Christen

In 1587, over 100 people sailed to America to establish the first English settlement in America on Roanoke Island, located on what is now the coast of North Carolina. Three years later, they vanished without a trace, and became known as “The Lost Colony”. While there have been many theories about their disappearance, there has been no conclusive evidence as to what happened to the colonists.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and shift the scene to ROANOKE, VA, where most folks who visit Lexington, VA arrive and depart by air. Lately, we’ve had our fair share of travel disasters whether arriving or departing from this particular airport, and I can’t help but think about “The Lost Colony”. I think I’ll rename Woodrum Field “The Lost Airport”.

roanoke airport

May 2012: We were traveling to Roanoke for Joel’s W&L reunion and really looking forward to our visit, because our daughter and son in law were living in Lexington, where Kat was then a first year law student at W&L.

It was an early morning flight, and we were running late to get to the Houston airport, which was our fault. But upon arriving, we discovered that one of the security scanning machines had malfunctioned, so two very long lines of travelers had to merge into one. Long story short, although we RAN to the gate, we just missed our flight, and we had to scramble to find another way to get to Roanoke.

I don’t know what I would do without Joel, who always saves the day in situations like these. He worked to find the best way to get us there, which was to go through Washington DC and get a rental car to drive to Lexington. But, oops, our luggage was already on that plane that we missed to Roanoke. So Shannon made the round trip to Roanoke to fetch our luggage, and we arrived about 6 hours later than we had hoped, just in time for dinner. Whew.

December 2013: This time we were traveling to Roanoke to spend Christmas at the Homestead with Shannon and Kat. It was another early morning flight, and we left in plenty of time to get there; I remember thinking, “This is great; we’re not in a hurry, and it’s going to be so much fun when we arrive!”

But as we neared the airport exit from the Hardy Toll Road, Joel all of a sudden exclaimed, “****!” I was so confused, and then beyond angry when it became clear that we had run out of gas. My first thought was “Who runs out of gas these days when cars warn you that you need to refuel?” But Joel was angry, too, and as it turned out, while I look at the gas gauge to determine when I need to refuel, he only looks at the miles traveled. He said thought he had enough gas. However, I was the last person to fill up his car, and apparently I didn’t put in a full tank’s worth.

All this to say, we were stuck by the side of the road in the freezing pre-dawn darkness. AAA finally rescued us after an hour and a half, but we missed our flight, and had to scramble again to get to Roanoke. Mind you, this was December 23, and it was really hard to find two seats on any flights, but thanks to Joel, we arrived safely, albeit about 7 hours later than we had planned.

May 2014: Once again, we took that same early morning flight to Roanoke to attend Kat’s graduation from W&L Law School. This time we left in plenty of time and had plenty of gas; we got there safely, checked our bags and we actually left on time!

Arriving at Dulles in Washington DC, we had a short layover to make our connecting flight. We hightailed it to the regional terminal, and boarded with no problem. But then the electrical system on the small jet failed. So we sat for a very long time on the tarmac, getting warmer and warmer, due to having no ventilation. There was some concern as to whether or not we would have to switch to another plane, but they finally figured out what was wrong, and off we went.

When we landed in Roanoke, there was some confusion on the part of the ground crew, so we had to sit on the tarmac there awhile, as well, but at least the air conditioning was working. We only arrived about 3 hours later than planned. No big deal, considering. We were very thankful that we had had no major problems.

It was on the return trip that we got unlucky. Our flight to Chicago was scheduled to leave at 6:30 pm on Sunday, so we arrived a little before 5 pm to eat a quick supper before boarding. What we didn’t know was that a major storm was raging in Chicago, so our take off was delayed until it was safe for us to travel there and land. They kept pushing the time back, and it soon became clear that we were going to miss our connecting flight to Houston. We thought that if we could just get to Chicago, we could find another way to make it to Houston. But then they totally cancelled the flight, and we were stuck. Unbelievable!

What were our options? Either go get a hotel room in Roanoke and try again the next day (not arriving back in Houston until mid-afternoon), or rent a car immediately and drive 3 hours to Washington DC, where we would be able to get out at the crack of dawn on a direct flight. Joel really had to get to the office on Monday, so we retrieved our bags, rented a car and off we went into the darkness!

I drove while he made arrangements on the phone with the United Airlines people. He was on hold for a very long time, and we were forced to listen to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” on the speakerphone for at least an hour. Apparently, there were a lot of other people who needed help re-booking flights after Chicago O’Hare was shut down! I don’t think I will ever enjoy that song again.

We finally made it to Reagan National about 12:30 am, turned in the rental car and found a virtually empty terminal. Since our flight was due to board at 5:15, it made no sense to rent a hotel room for only five hours (less, if you figure in the travel time to and from the hotel). So we just settled into a row of chairs to “spend the night” at the airport. In all the years that I’ve traveled, this was a first for me.


See those chairs to the left by the windows? That’s where we were. It was impossible to sleep. There was music blaring over the speakers, and every thirty minutes, a voice would loudly announce the LOCAL TIME! It became clear that these annoyances were purposeful, to discourage people from sleeping in the terminal.

It was also freezing cold. Despite having earplugs and being bundled up, I gave up trying to sleep at 3 am and instead just read my book.

About an hour later, I went to the ladies’ room to attempt to make myself presentable, but really, I was so tired, I was beyond caring. So I just washed my face, brushed my teeth and repaired my hairdo as best I could. I had on yesterday’s clothes and my fuzzy house shoes, and I just didn’t care anymore. All I could hope was that I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew.

(There have been times I’ve seen someone at the airport whose appearance was disheveled or slovenly, and I would think, “Geez, what a slob!” Now I have greater empathy for them, for perhaps they, too, had had to spend the night at the airport.)

Reagan National comes to life about 4:30 in the morning. We checked our bags and went through security easily. Breakfast was at 4:45 am, and then we boarded our plane. Off we went for a trouble-free flight, until a call went out asking if there were a medical professional on board. Now what?

Upon landing, we were told to remain seated while the EMTs boarded to remove the stricken person, which everyone did (except the man next to me, who got yelled at by the flight attendant). Finally, FINALLY, we were released. It was about 7:45 am.

Happily, our bags arrived, and the car started easily and had no flat tires, so the only thing left to face was the Houston rush hour traffic. I was never so happy to be home in my life! After two naps plus a 10 hour sleep on Monday night, I became a functioning human again.

I have to say “all’s well that ends well” here. In each of these three situations, we arrived safely, albeit late. If that’s the worst thing that ever happens to us, well then, we are truly blessed. We’ll probably regale our grandkids with the story about the time their grandparents had to spend the night at the airport, and I know we’ll laugh about it together. I only wish I had taken a “selfie” to illustrate our predicament!

Well, maybe not.