Saturday, February 12, 2011

Escape from Branson

Some of you may recall that a week ago I left on a writing retreat to Branson, MO (which is where we happened to find a cheap house big enough to fit 23 authors). Rare is the vacation where so many things go wrong that if you could go it all over probably wouldn't. But the Branson retreat was one of those trips, for me. Not because of the company (which was lovely) or the beauty of the lakes and hills of the Ozarks (it really was beautiful there). Just because of...everything else. Which means it makes for some great blog fodder.

We arrived Saturday, and had a fun time with the usual hijinks that occur when a zillion writers get together. I had a lovely little room on the top floor with my critique partner Jessica Spotswood with windows all around overlooking snowy woods and snowy lake. It was lovely. Sunday was our first full day. I talked to people. I even got my 1000 words for the day. I also noticed a tickle in my throat.

The tickle, alas, did not go away. By that night it was more like a lump of congestion that kept me up all night, and in the morning I had a fever. I made my way downstairs, weakly, and soon realized...all I wanted was to go back to bed. So I did. The fever got worse. I was so exhausted and with such chills that all I could really do was sleep. At that point I was so sick I didn't even CARE that I was missing out on fun. I just wished I was home with Dade and the kitties and access to my local health food store and my teapot.

On Tuesday I was able to sit up and mostly stay awake, but I still couldn't really make it downstairs. But Wednesday we were leaving. I wasn't looking forward to flying and changing planes since I was still pretty wiped and dizzy, but it would be all worth it once I got there.

I woke up to the news that we were snowed in and our flight was canceled. Despair! But then it got a lot worse. I called AirTran to reschedule my flight and they told me I couldn't go home until FRIDAY. "When are they telling you guys you can go home?" I called at the rest of the group. (There were twelve of us on the same flight.) "Tomorrow!" they said.

Yes, every other person got on the flight home the next day. EXCEPT ME. Even people who called AirTran AFTER I did. I called them a couple more times, and Jessica even called and pretended to be me, but they just kept saying the flight was booked, overbooked in fact, and I was not likely to get on it.

After a good crying jag, I really TRIED to make the best of this. We had almost run out of food in the house, but I had brought food with me, including a bag of baby potatoes, which I brought out at this point to share for lunch. 24 ounces of potatoes for 18 people = 1 baby potato per person. While Myra stretched them out into soup, I looked at hotels in Branson and tried to find a place where I could maybe walk to some attractions or shops or something. There were some thrift stores downtown. Maybe I could trudge through the snow and thrift.

But, let's face it, I really did not want to wander alone and sick in Branson, I wanted to GO HOME. So I kept checking AirTran. Around 8pm, I saw that I could buy a ticket from Branson to Atlanta. But now there were no Atlanta to Orlando tickets. I called again and asked if they could at least just LET ME LEAVE BRANSON. I was told no, they had to book the whole ticket at once. Dawn said I should call customer service, so I did, and the nice woman there was finally willing to work with me and she found some way to book me on the flight. She seemed a little confused by my enthusiasm for the new situation.

AirTran Woman: Okay, ma'am, here's what I can do. I have you on the Branson to Atlanta flight.
AirTran Woman: Yes, but, ma'am, all the flights to Orlando are full. I can get you a flight leaving at...ooh, that's a long layover. I can get you out at 8:30 the next morning.
AirTran Woman: That's 8:30 in the morning, ma'am. I can't get you out that same day.
Me: I KNOW! YOU ROCK! All I want in life is to LEAVE BRANSON.

I really wasn't worried, honestly, if I could just get to Atlanta, because there were five flights leaving Atlanta for Orlando that evening and I found it highly unlikely one would not have a standby seat. And in fact, Dade called again for me around 1 am and got me a seat on the 5:49 pm flight out.

However, the flight was only half the battle. There was another battle going on, a battle that was luckily not mine to fight, but a battle for all of us still trapped in the Branson house. You see, even with a flight out, we were still all trapped in the house. There are four cab companies in Branson, apparently, that are all actually run by the same people. They had two vehicles capable of traveling in the snow. But there were twelve of us. We needed a van. They were trying to get use of a shuttle van, but they weren't willing to take it all the way to the house.

At some point, I was told, "Worst case scenario, we just have to walk a mile at 7 am in 0 degree weather and 6+ deep snow with all our luggage uphill to the main road."

No, worst case scenario is, the weakest among us are left to die. At least I've heard freezing to death is very peaceful.

But, what luck, some kind local soul helped us out. I was now told, "All right, this guy with a truck is going to pick us up in batches and drive us down to the Mule Mart to wait for the cab. I don't know if the Mule Mart will be open, so dress warmly."

So that is what happened. We were trucked on down to a convenience store called the Mule Express to wait for an hour with our luggage. It was open. At some point a local came in and asked, "Are you ladies havin' a sewing circle?"


So, the shuttle arrived (at this point, each thing that happened: transport to mule-themed convenience stores, or the shuttle actually happening, was greeted with exclamations of joy verging on disbelief) with ALMOST enough room for all of us (we crammed in there somehow) and we got to the airport. Our plane was late. There is no food in the Branson airport except a barbecue joint. Not a tasty one either. Woe to the stranded traveler. Did I mention I came home quite a bit skinnier than I left?

As a final note, my plane from Atlanta to Orlando was full of cheerleaders (perhaps junior high age) from Tennessee. I mean, fully half the plane was solid cheerleaders. When I got on there was a cheerleader in my seat.

Me, to patient-looking stewardess: I think that's my seat, 19C.
Stewardess: *checks log* Okay. *to cheerleader* What is your seat assignment?
Cheerleader: *chewing gum, giving blank look preteens are so good at* 19B.
Stewardess: Okay. And *to girl in 19B* what is your seat assignment?
Cheerleader 2: *gives same blank look* 19A.
A look passes over the stewardesses face like, what if every cheerleader is sitting in one seat wrong from their assignment? She looks over at 19F. "That looks like the seat that is open. Would you like that seat?"
Me: "I would LOVE that seat."

The cheerleaders mostly occupied the entire back of the plane. When it stopped, the man in the aisle seat behind my row jumped up and said, "I'll hold 'em back for you!" to those of us ahead of him. And he did.

I had made it home.


  1. I don't even know what to say to you, Jackie - you poor thing! That's just the worst luck ever. It's like fate conspired to make everything suck as hard as it possibly could for you. On the upside, surely now you are entitled to some extra good luck in the future (this is what I always tell myself when things got horribly wrong, and surprisingly often it turns out to be true). Anyway...((HUG))

  2. OH MY GOODNESS that was quite a story!!! I'm with Zoe - you are definitely entitled to some good luck!

    I had a similarly disastrous experience in Italy for 8 days a few years back. NOTHING went right, everything was horrible. It took some time getting over that but now, when my friend and I get together, all we can do is laugh over the disaster that was our trip. :)

  3. Oh, Jackie! I am cracking up reading this. Um, but in sympathy, of course! Wow. I'm glad you made it home in one piece. And I hope the universe balances out for you SOON with some great luck!

  4. Zoe, Marisa and Rose: Yeeees, I am definitely ready for my good luck now.

  5. I agree with the others: you are entitled to some really amazing super-fantastic good luck now. :)