A flight of crisis takes off

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Editor's note: This column originally ran Wednesday, July 28, 2004. A new column will appear next week.

Have you ever had a crisis by which you judge all others?

I'm not talking about people bleeding or a divorce -- or both. I mean those midlevel ones that are manageable but, at the same time, so awful that they set the gold standard in hassle and, in my case, humiliation.

That sort of event will keep me from returning to Houston-George Bush International Airport. And if I ever meet the guy who designed that hellmouth, I will personally kick him in the face.

Apparently, everybody but me knows air travel through Texas is a crapshoot in the summer because of random thunderstorms, which lead to 45-minute delays, which lead to travelers sitting in agony wondering if they'll miss their connections.

That's what I was doing in Austin, Texas, on Thursday. If I didn't make my 6:59 p.m. from Houston to Tampa, I was going to spend the night alone in some faceless airport hotel, then spend the next day on standby attempting to get home. Of course, this would seriously diminish the joy from my fabulous four-day visit with my best friend in the coolest city in Texas.

My professional, I'm-an-airport-veteran persona quickly crumbled, and I called The Other Half near tears. "I'll be stuck in HOUSTON!" I sniffled. "All ALONE!"

"Think of it as an adventure," he advised.

Ah, men. What would we do without their wisdom?

When I arrived in Houston, I had 10 minutes to make my plane. My arrival and departure gates literally could not have been farther apart and still be in the same building. Glancing around, I saw no form of motorized transportation except those carts that carry the disabled. Even if I could have convincingly faked a disability, those weren't moving very quickly with the crowds.

I ran like O.J. Simpson was behind me. That wasn't very fast, considering I was wearing sandals and haven't even broken into a trot since 1997. I felt cellulite jiggling on me that I didn't even know existed.

I was the third-to-last person on my plane, meaning row after row of normal-sized people were in place to stare at the gigantic, sweaty woman who just stepped in. Understandable, but they were staring even longer than normal.

I looked down to see the right side of my tank top had snapped, and roughly 50 people knew whether I preferred athletic or underwire.

"Uh, could I use the powder room before takeoff?" I asked a nearby flight attendant.

"Please do," she said, handing me a cup of ice water.

The truth is, I wasn't that mortified. Sure, my foundation was all over my shirt and I'd turned air travel into a burlesque show. But I was on that plane.

I rigged up my outfit the best I could and went out to take my seat. It was right next to an absolutely gorgeous brunette businesswoman in a dainty pink suit and pumps.

"Congratulations," I said. "You get to sit next to the sweaty fat girl."

She flashed a big smile. "Not at all!" she said. "You sit right down here. We're going to have a great flight!"

And it was. But I'm still not ever flying through Houston.

Heidi Hall is a former managing editor of the Southeast Missourian who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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