Normally, I’d make this an entry laden with link and squee, and be done with it. It would certainly be true, every second of it, just as it was last year and the year before, because Weet and her army of Family and Boys work hard to make sure we are entertained and taken care of at all times. Threetacon was lovely, just the kind of mini-break everybody should indulge in at least once a year. There is no pretension, there is faultless hospitality, and there is a sleigh ride and gourmet bratwurst. Somewhere in that combination, I’m convinced there lays the solution to world peace.
I have been itching to write this all week, and there are many aborted attempts crumpled up under my Delete button, which is where – and you should trust me on this - they should be. The problem is that I really don’t know from which angle to tackle this year’s weekend away. I guess the simplest way of explaining it is this: for me, it was like sitting down to watch a favourite episode of Friends, which somehow got pre-empted by an episode of The Amazing Race, and immediately followed by one of Survivor.
There was a storm, you see. It started on Thursday afternoon, about 20 hours before I was supposed to fly out of Toronto. My capacity for freaking out quickly and at high volume is such that I was quite proud of myself for the simple feat of ignoring the weather and keeping my head attached to the rest of my body. The snow fell in rather worrisome amounts, but I continued to smartly pack my suitcase and carry-on. Frankly, it was an exercise I was enjoying, because for the first time my cases weren’t bulging ridiculously, and I still managed to have separate shoes and accessories to match each separate outfit. Two and a half days and five separate wardrobe changes is light packing for me, as I’ve started to relax of late. I don’t feel the need to pack two emergency outfits anymore, and am willing to travel with only as many pairs of shoes as there are days in my trip. I am, as many people have started to suggest I do, starting to get a grip. Because cosmetics are forbidden in a carry-on, I was able to pack one complete change of clothes from skin out instead. Well now, isn’t that sensible, I thought to myself, and gave my cases a very proud once-over.
Though it looked like the apocalypse was approaching, the storm was actually following the forecast, and indeed, at seven o’clock on Friday morning, the roads were slushy, but completely manageable. I made it to the airport, and though there were flickering lights and computers that couldn’t decide if they wanted to stay up or not, my flight made it out of Toronto with only an hour delay. There was still plenty of time to catch my 1:10 connector to Green Bay from O’Hare.
More than plenty of time, as it turned out, because my 1:10 had been delayed to 4:10. At 3:30, my 4:10 got delayed to 5:50. At four, it got cancelled. That’s when I started to wonder how attached I was to my head.
It was now two hours past my estimated time of arrival in Green Bay, I was still in Chicago, five hours away, and the next flight out wasn’t until six o’clock Saturday evening. One hundred and sixty flights out of O’Hare had been cancelled that day, and the airport had actually run out of hotel vouchers the night before. Clearly, my options were limited. As I had no intention of waiting it out at the airport, I had to make a decision – figure out if going home was an option, or find an alternate route to Green Bay.
In short order, I found myself attached, by luck alone really, to three other stranded travellers: Rebecca, the brassy blond from Seattle; Barb, the sensible motherly type from Wisconsin, and Prey-Yun, the pretty Chinese girl who was still getting a grasp on the English language. And then there was me. I can match my scarf to my purse, and flirt with all your friends, but somehow, those skills don’t work in situations such as these. Even when I hear enough to find out what’s going on right away, I am not learned in the art of Dealing with Things.
Rebecca suggested that we all pitch in and rent a car. “But our luggage?” I asked, thinking about the red and black striped sweater I was looking forward to wearing, and my flattening iron, and the travel-worn state of my hair.
“We have no choice, except to leave it, and hope it makes out on the next flight out,” I heard somebody say, but it was a little voice, from far away outside my thoughts. I was busy picturing my tooth brush, and my hairbrush, and my lint brush. I remembered the jeans that camouflage my bum into something smaller than it is. I thought longingly about every single grooming and vanity product in my cosmetics bag. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that my eyes may have been a bit shiny when I took a deep breath and said, “Right, well, let’s go rent a car, then.”
There were no cars to be rented, of course. When 160 flights get cancelled, the rental car business does a booming trade in one-way hires, and we were out of luck.
“Hey buddy, how much to Green Bay?” Rebecca called out to the first city cabbie she saw parked in the queue outside the terminal. He suggested a flat $375, which we agreed to instantly. The only catch was that we couldn’t climb in immediately, as he wasn’t permitted to pick up fares from his position in the middle of the line. We had to walk, and walk, and walk to the front of the line, which is where he’d pick us up. (I don’t understand – a queue jump is a queue jump, whether it be in the middle or at the front of the line, no?) Still, it’s what we had to do, so we started the long haul. After three minutes, one of the outside porters asked us where we were headed. We explained what our plan was, and he said, “Why not hire one of those suburban taxi services? They’ll definitely be cheaper!”
The four of us looked at each other, different in all ways except for wanting to get where we needed to be without bankrupting ourselves. “Well, alright then!” we chorused, and followed the guy back into the terminal. In short order, he’d called us a car, and negotiated a price of $250. We made little yelps of glee, and went to get to know each other better while we waited for the car. Twenty minutes rolled along before a big black automobile rolled up to our shivering little group. I really hadn’t had much to do with the thinking and the planning thus far; I knew I was lucky enough to have been standing in the right place at the right time, and I was willing to throw some money at the problem. More out of habit than anything else then, I piped up from the backseat to confirm the price. “Two fifty, right?” And he said, “Yeah. $2.50 a mile,” and started the car. “Wait, wait! What?!” we chorused, and he sighed, and turned off the ignition.
Either the porter had to brush up on his communication skills, or he misunderstood himself. Either way, the new math meant that the ride would have cost us upwards of seven hundred dollars. I bit my lip and silently tried to remember how much American cash was in my wallet. I just didn’t want to quibble anymore. However, sensible Barb stepped in, and after negotiating price with the driver and calling her husband to rendezvous with us somewhere along the line, she brought us down to $400. I smiled happily and went back to worrying about the bigger problems, which was dealing without products and wardrobe changes for the rest of the weekend.
And there it went that Nick, our driver, escorted us through rush-hour, crappy winter weather conditions four hours to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Barb’s husband picked us up in Oshkosh, and drove us to Appleton. In Appleton, Rebecca met her friend, and Prey-Yun’s fiancé drove his girl and me to Green Bay. The roads were such that all in all, we passed half a dozen accidents. I reached St. Brendan’s Inn at 10:40, five hours and ten minutes after leaving Chicago. I was nine hours late, but, dammit, I had made it. The stress of keeping an anxiety attack at bay was causing an anxiety attack, but I’d made it, I was there, and that’s all that mattered. I didn’t chicken out and wait it out at the terminal, which would have been so like me. Honestly, I still shake my head and wonder what prevented me from saying, “No, I’d better stay here, thank you.” I have to tell you; I was half convinced that the fates had me ending up in a horrible road accident with strangers that night!
Instead, fortune had it that as I was checking in, Rachel and Mark were just getting out of the elevator, and about to go meet the others at the bar. A quick plea to the adorable couple to “wait three seconds and I’ll come with you, and also, do you have a brush I can borrow?” and off we went.
See, that right there is where I start to really shake my head and wonder what got into me. I got ready to go to a bar in 3 minutes. I shoved 8 Listerine strips in my mouth, grimaced at my almost bare face, thrust some money in my pocket and I was out of there. I couldn’t dither over which tiny little purse to use, because I didn’t have any to choose from. I couldn’t apply reassuring coats of mascara because I didn’t have any. I had lipstick, and I had a fresh blouse and that is all. That is all.
The whole weekend - and anyone who points out that it was just another day for the love of Christ, better just shut it because that translates to at least two other wardrobe changes for me - the whole weekend, that’s all I had. Do you understand how impossible that seemed to me before this? Do you realize how much TRUST you have to have in people before you decide to just go out, willy-nilly, and have all the fun on offer, with no products in your hair?
After that, it’s all a happy blur of many people kissing me all over my face, and me clinging to Jessie and to Jake, and letting me whinge in everybody’s ear about how make-up is very important to me. It’s a whooshing sleigh ride of kindness, as Susan, in a voice that drips honey, offered me everything on her bathroom vanity, and ever thoughtful Fred found me all the basics - toothpaste, toothbrush, prophylactics. Amy was endlessly wonderful and reassuring when I asked for the 72nd time, “Seriously, how’s my hair?” and Kari, in a move that touches me even now, offered to go and pick up my wayward luggage at the airport, so I wouldn’t have to miss the sleigh ride. Poppets, the woman has rainbows and bunny rabbits around her all day long.
And then… and then… I don’t know. I can’t even tell you what got into me, because Jesus Mary and Joseph, I got up - with my non-exciting attire, and my naked face and my fuzzy, floppy hair - and I sang in front of people and I did it freaking twice! And Lord knows I wasn’t good, but I didn’t care because it was the best high I’ve ever had. “Do it, Mare, do it do it do it just doooo it,” ordered Eben, and I totally did it! And people danced! Granted, I asked them to, but they did, they totally did! And it was indulgence of the highest order, but isn’t what the whole wonderful weekend is all about? Trust, and indulgence and old-fashioned fun? Hm?
Thanks, Weet. You did it again.
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