Cathy Hamilton: At the end of a long rope

Boomer Girl

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Believe it or not, I have a very long rope. By that, I mean I possess a seemingly endless amount of patience in times of inconvenience and duress.

For example, when other drivers are honking and yelling out their windows in a traffic jam, I will wait quietly, knowing that making a scene will not improve the situation or shorten my journey home.

I never lose my cool in long grocery store lines even though the queues I choose are always the slowest, due to someone paying with a temporary check from an out-of-town bank or the dreaded "price check on aisle 3!"

On vacation recently, I was jolted awake every morning, pre-dawn, by Type-A roosters who lived across the street from my inn. The fact that those birds are alive today is a testament to the accommodating length of my rope (not to mention the local police station a half-block away.)

My rope is a source of personal pride. So, it was a shock last weekend when I came to the end of it and dangled perilously from its frazzled ends.

It started on Friday when my husband, daughter and I rose at 4:45 a.m. to begin our journey home from spring break. As vacations go, it had been a mixed bag. I was neither happy nor sad about returning home, but I dreaded the 10-hour trip back with stops in Miami and Chicago. (New rule of thumb: If the destination is south, never - EVER - fly north to get there, especially in March, no matter how cheap the fare.)

We arrived at the airport with ample time to check in and wait. Soon, it was announced that our flight would be delayed one hour due to "crew rest." Hmm, I thought. I wouldn't have minded an extra hour of shut-eye myself (assuming I could slip those roosters a mickey), but I wanted our pilot to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I didn't complain.

In Miami, we learned of a raging snowstorm in Chicago. Reports ranged from "9 inches" to "1 inch per hour." This did not bode well for a timely arrival, I thought. But, it's nature. What can we do? I still had plenty of rope to spare.

By the time we left Miami, we had spent five extra hours waiting at the gate and, thanks to a temporary ground hold in Chicago, an hour and a half on the tarmac before taking off. We would miss our connection home unless it, too, was delayed. A LOT. I held on to hope and the few yards of cord I had left.

After a harrowing, white-knuckle landing, our plane was on the ground at O'Hare with no gate at which to dock. We spent another hour on the tarmac gazing at the 5 inches of snow on the ground.

Did I mention we were wearing shorts, T-shirts and sandals?

We deplaned into throngs of stranded passengers, trudging like zombies through O'Hare International. It took us 20 minutes to discover that A) our connecting flight had departed; B) there were no flights home with three available seats for two days; and, oh, by the way, C) there was no way to stop our luggage from taking the next flight to Kansas City, even if we weren't on it.

"I don't care if you're wearin' a bikini, lady. We aren't pulling bags. No way, no how."

With inches to spare, I held on to my rope for dear life.

Airport workers started to set up dozens of green cots in Terminal 3.

"I'd rather spend the night in Abu Ghraib," I declared. We settled instead for the Embassy Suites.

After check-in and mocking looks at our tropical garb from the hotel staff, I started calling rental car agencies to find transport home.

"No one-way cars available."

"All sold out."

"Sorry."

The end of my rope started to fray.

Finally, a barely comprehensible chap named Nevil, working from a phone bank in God-knows-where, offered a Thrifty car to rent - at Chicago Midway. (Cab fare with tip: $70.) I reserved the vehicle and fell asleep clutching the last fibrous strand I had.

Twenty hours later - bullied, battered and broke - we pulled into our garage. I looked up and noticed several lengths of rope hanging, neatly coiled, from the rafters.

I laughed at the irony and thought, "It's a good thing I don't have a ladder. Give me enough rope, and I'll hang myself."

Cathy Hamilton is editor of BoomerGirl.com and a 52-year-old empty-nester. Events recounted here may be embellished, exaggerated or completely made up because she can't remember squat anymore.

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