Like so many great stories of strife and triumph, this one begins with my dear friend’s bowels. We were sharing an apartment in Evanston, Illinois, and one morning in June, Kathleen woke up with some intestinal issues. Perhaps it was the several beers she drank the night before or the midnight snack at the Burger King next door—whatever it was that had upset her stomach, it was extremely inconvenient.
Normally I wouldn’t be concerned with Kathleen’s bathroom habits. To each her own, I say. The trouble was, on that morning she was supposed to drive me to the airport so I could catch a flight to Denver. The plan was simple: I would wake her up when I was ready to leave, a little over an hour before the flight, and she would hop in the car and take me. That way she wouldn’t have to wait for me, and I wouldn’t have to wait for my flight. But that’s not what happened. Instead, she got up, stopped off in the bathroom for her morning pee, and stayed there. For a very long time.
While I was on the other side of the bathroom door, hopping around and doing what probably looked a lot like the potty dance, Kathleen was doing her best to rid her body of whatever terrible thing had gotten inside it. All my pleading through the door—“Kathleen, we really need to be leaving right now.” “Hey, uh, just letting you know my flight is in an hour.” “So, how’s it going in there?”—wasn’t helping. “What do you want me to do?” was all she could say. And it’s true, there wasn’t a whole lot she could do. So I waited.
By the time Kathleen emerged from the bathroom, shaken and sweaty, fifteen minutes later, I was anxious to get going, and fast! We had just forty-five minutes to get from Evanston to O’Hare, find the terminal and gate, zip through security, and check me in. This was pre-9/11, so security wasn’t much of an issue, but O’Hare is a big airport. No matter what year it was, we were cutting it close.
Kathleen was still feeling poorly—even after all that effort in the bathroom—so her girlfriend, visiting from a small town in Missouri, offered to drive while Kathleen sat shotgun and I fidgeted in the backseat. This was not ideal, but as long as we sped the whole way, I could still arrive at the gate in time for late boarding. So what was the trouble? Amy, it turned out, had no capacity for speeding. In fact, she seemed to be driving under the speed limit. With time ticking away I was feeling twitchy, so once again I began to plead. “Amy, we’re really running late. Will you please speed?” She laughed. “No, seriously, please? This is important.” Another chuckle. Could she not hear the anguish in my voice? Alas, I was just a passenger. I sat back and willed the car to go faster.
It’s no secret that missing your flight is bad news. This time, however, the consequences would be worse than usual. I was headed to Denver to see my boyfriend, and we had had a disastrous argument the night before. It looked like we might be breaking up. If I didn’t turn up at the airport when he was expecting me, he would certainly take it as an extension of the argument, the trip would be ruined, and our year-long relationship would be over. I really needed to get on that plane! In another attempt to convey the urgency, I laid all of this out for Amy, and she seemed to understand, saying not to worry, she would get me there in time. I took some deep breaths and tried to stay calm. Surely I was getting through to her now. Maybe we were going faster than I thought.
Then I looked at the speedometer.
35 miles per hour!
“Oh my God, Amy, please, please, please speed! Seriously, if you get pulled over I will pay your ticket! I’m not kidding. This is an emergency! Please!!!”
Nope, that didn’t do it either. I flopped back in my seat, breathless.
So there we were, meandering through the northwest suburbs of Chicago, trying to catch a flight that was leaving in thirty minutes, with me having an aneurysm in the backseat, Kathleen cradling her guts in pain in the front seat, and Amy oblivious to all.
Finally, with no time to spare, signs for the airport began to appear. Oh, thank heaven. All we had to do now was wind our way past International and around to Terminal 1 on the far side of the airport. They could drop me right outside the United check-in counter and I’d be at the gate in no time. Easy, right? But no, not this time. Instead, just as we were coming upon the airport proper, an awful habit I had of reading signs out loud bit me in the ass: “Let’s see, there’s International . . .” And Amy took the exit! It’s clear to me now that I should have kept my mouth shut, but in what universe is it an international flight from Chicago to Denver? And yet, there was no time to backtrack. The flight was leaving in fifteen minutes and I was as far away from the gate as was physically possible while still being in the airport. I would just have to deal with it.
And that’s when the magic happened. Kathleen’s stomach was finally feeling better, and knowing my terrible navigation abilities, she offered to lead me through the airport to find my gate. I accepted the offer immediately, threw my bag across my shoulder, and we took off running. We raced through the corridor, past the ticket counters, around the corner, down an escalator. Kathleen was reading the signs and I was running for my life. We zipped through the birth canal—that tunnel with the trippy multicolored flashing lights—down another corridor, up some stairs. No time for moving walkways or trams, we ran and ran and ran.
And then, seemingly out of nowhere, there was the gate. We skidded to a stop and looked around. No one was behind the counter. No one was in the waiting area. Uh-oh. A flight attendant stood at an open door to the jetway. Recognizing the crazed look in my eye, she motioned me over and shuttled me quickly down the walkway. I called a hasty good-bye to Kathleen and hurried onto the plane. As I entered the cabin, the flight attendant put her hands on my shoulders and said, “Sit here,” placing me firmly in the first empty seat. Then she closed the door and we immediately pushed back from the gate. It was harrowing. My throat was dry and scratchy from all the running. The blood was pulsing in my ears and sweat dripped down the sides of my face. My adrenaline was up so high I couldn’t think straight. But I was on the plane. I’d made it! And I owed the whole exhilarating experience to Kathleen. Just think what might have happened had it not been for her and her disgruntled bowels.
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