It all happened without warning. It was the first winter storm of the year, and I was right in the middle of it. Flight 3544, the one I was flying, got delayed. Not too long after that, the other flights got delayed. Just like that. None of the other flights had a chance of taking off when the unforgiving storm hit. After seeing this, I ask myself, why?
At that moment, I shook my head, as I left the concourse of one of the terminals. Looking outside, I could barely see the runway. It was like a smoke screen in the battlefield. The visibility was getting worse by the second.
I walked down the main hallway of the airport. If you’ve ever been to O’Hare, you would know that they’re one of the busiest airports in the world. So many planes touch down while so many take off every few minutes. In this case, it was different. O’Hare has transformed from an airport to human zoo.
As I passed another terminal, I saw a couple late planes come in. Fortunately, they all touched down safely.
At this terminal, I was stopped by a voice.
“Andy!” the voice shouted.
I turned and saw that it was Eric. In a deck of cards, Eric would be the joker card. You can never really tell when he is serious. He’s a good person to meet if you get the chance to meet him. He and I go way back.
I first met Eric in college. Showing off was his thing back then in those days. He begged me to have a contest with him to see who could fit the most M&M’s in our mouths.
“Hey Andy!” Eric shouted. “Let’s go get some M&M’s!”
“Eric,” I sighed, “I don’t have time for this. I have a major exam to study for.”
“C’mon Andy! You can study after this!”
Well, to make a long story short, I lost and he won. I didn’t understand why he wanted to have an M&M contest in the first place. He always seemed to have these crazy ideas.
Another thing that bothered me about Eric was the way that he studied. Eric always goofed off the whole weekend and was still able to ace a test. On those weekends, I spent about half the day studying. I spent the other half with Eric, talking about his show-off ideas of his.
I walked closer to the terminal. “It looks pretty bad out there.”
“Yeah, it does,” he nodded. “Have you heard of all the delays? None of our flights can take off.”
“Yes,” I sighed. “Isn’t it awful? There’s nothing that I wanted more than to wait here in a crowded airport.”
Eric adjusted his hat and shook his head. “Come on, Andy! This is a good thing! Now we can have time to catch up on our lives.”
“Nothing new here,” I told him.
Eric looked at me with that light bulb expression of his. He usually gave this expression when he had some kind of idea, crazy or not.
“Let’s get something to eat,” he told me. “I’m starving. There’s nothing else we can do, right? We’ll get something and bring it back here.”
“You can go and get something. I really need a little time to myself.”
“You do, huh? Okay. I’ll be right back.”
I walked over to one of the seats and sat down. This place was a zoo. All around, there were people sitting in the waiting seats, some of them watching the news. Many of them were frowning. I saw some of them shake their heads in disapproval. There was one that was outraged.
This angry person was wearing a red winter coat. He approached me and shared his ranting and raving with me. What could I do? I don’t control the weather for crying out loud!
“Hey pilot,” Red Coat growled, “When am I gonna take off? I got my brother to meet in Vegas!”
“I’m sorry,” I told him. “All of the flights are delayed at this time. You’ll get your flight when the weather improves.”
Red Coat sharply stared at me. He was appalled. “Whaddya mean delayed?! I want my damn flight right now! You will give me a flight right now!”
I looked at him and frowned. I didn’t have time for this. “Are you threatening me? Please don’t make me call security. Just sit back in your seat and wait like everyone else, okay?”
“Okay,” Red Coat sighed.
He walked back over to his seat and sat down, quietly continuing his complaining.
It was such a drag looking out of the window. The storm was only getting worse.
I then focused my attention on the departures table. It was delays all across the board. There were so many delays, all because of the stupid elements. Delay, delay, delay. I think that my entire life is a delay. You’re born and then you die. The delay is living between the two. The one delay I would’ve wanted was a delay in weather.
Eric came back with the food. He was wearing the same kind of smile as he did when he left. He was carrying a bag, with a couple fountain cups. It was going to be fast food again. I knew it.
Eric took the seat right next to me. “Sorry I took so long. There was so many people in line.”
“What’s in the bag?”
“I got us some Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches.”
“And the drinks?”
“I got some Dr. Pepper. I got you your iced tea.”
I got my sandwich out of the bag and took a bite. “What ‘catching up’ do we have to do? There’s nothing new for me!”
“Nothing new?” Eric took a sip of Dr. Pepper. “Did you marry her yet?”
“Julie?” I asked. “I have not gotten around to it yet.”
I marry her? That question didn’t seem to make much sense. If I did marry her,
he would’ve known that I was getting married and I would invite him to my
wedding. Julie and I are not the kind that would go to a different city and
elope. If there was going to be any wedding at all, it was going to be right at
Eric gulped down some soda. “You haven’t gotten around to it? Come on! You’ve known her for 20 years and you have not yet planned your wedding. Get around to it already!”
Eric took a bite out of his sandwich and sighed. “Don’t you like her anymore?”
The one thing I
couldn’t say was that I haven’t proposed to her yet. It’s not that I didn’t
want to. I just didn’t feel that I was ready to. Even now, I couldn’t fly to
“Don’t get me wrong,” I told him. “I do love my Julie. I just can’t find the time to marry her. My work here is demanding as it is. Give me a break here.”
Eric set his empty cup down. “Give you a break? That’s the problem. You never take any breaks! You have vacation time but you never use it. Get a grip, Andy!”
Taking time off is the last thing that I want to do. My loyalty would take a nosedive if I did that. At United Airlines, the other pilots can count on me when they want time off. If they’re planning a vacation, they know that I am available to fill in for their flight. This has always been my reputation, and I wasn’t about to change it.
“The one thing that I want to grip is a yoke,” I told him.
I looked outside, and saw nothing but white. Strong winds cascaded with the snow and the sky grew darker. The weather wasn’t getting any better.
Eric stared at me and sighed. “C’mon Andy! Work with me here! I haven’t seen you in a few months. I know that you have something to share with me. Don’t hide it from me, okay?”
I took the last bite of my sandwich. “It’s easier said than done. I can’t just plan a vacation just like that. You know how busy I am.”
“Answer this, Andy. Do you love Julie?”
“Yes, I love her.”
“Do you love her enough to take some time off to even see her?”
“Eric, it’s not that easy to get some time off.”
“If you really loved her, you would love her enough to stop stalling and have the wedding.”
I looked at Eric and sighed. If only he could understand my reputation. With that, I’m at a dilemma. I don’t want to take any time off. I would just have to make all that time back. If I continued working, my chances of proposing to her would be close to nothing. Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation.
I stared at Eric and sighed. “If I took some time off, I would have to make up all the time I would lose.”
“Let’s face it. You don’t have a good reason why you don’t want to see her. Take some time off. That’s what those vacation days are for. Use them.”
“Look. I haven’t told you this but my reputation will be lost if I go on a vacation.”
“What reputation?” he asked me.
"I have a reputation for being the one you can depend on if you want vacation time off.”
“There are other pilots that can fill in for you if you want the day off. Do you have any idea how ridiculous you sound? Come on, Andy! You sound a lot like a workaholic. Don’t give me that stupid excuse that you have that reputation. What do you love more, your fiancé or your job?”
I turned away from Eric and sighed. People sat restlessly sitting, waiting for the storm to end.
I then turned and saw something different. Something that I wanted. Sitting in seats, I saw couple kissing each other. Oh, how I wanted that for Julie. I wanted that so bad. The more I saw that, the more I saw myself for the first time. It was the way that Eric saw me: a stubborn workaholic idiot. In the distance, I saw a light glistening from the woman’s finger. Looking at them, I knew that they were married. Why haven’t I asked Julie yet? What was keeping me from planning the best day of my life with her? Looking at the couple, I could picture Julie and me doing the same thing.
I turned to Eric and stared at him. “To be honest, I haven’t proposed to her yet.”
“You haven’t?” he gasped. “Well, you know what you need to do.”
“Eric, do you see that couple over there?”
“Yeah, I do. What about them?”
“Looking at them made me realize how much I love Julie.”
“Oh, I see. It looks like the light is finally turning on for you.”
“I want to see Julie. The only problem is that I promised to fly through this weekend.”
Eric looked at me with that light bulb expression again. “Don’t worry,” he told me. “If you love her so much, I will take your flights. I will talk to our boss and arrange it. You can take the time off to see her.”
“Who’s going to take your flights?”
“Don’t worry about it. There are plenty of part-timers that are willing to take my flights.”
“It’s going to be just tomorrow and Sunday, okay?”
It took four hours
for the storm to end. During that time, the flight times got rescheduled and I
was able to get a flight to
Before my flight, I said goodbye to Eric.
“Thank you for everything,” I told him. “I don’t want to delay this any longer.”
“You take it easy,” he told me. “It won’t hurt you to have a vacation every once in a while. Go over there and pop the question. I want to hear that you did next time I see you.”
I then left Eric and walked through the terminal.
Right ahead of me was my gate. Looking at it, I knew what lied behind it. It was a path that led to not just an aircraft. It led to my chance to finally propose to Julie.
I walked through the gate, hoping that she’ll say yes after all these years.