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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Because I'm Happy...

Happy Feet...

"If something can't satisfy your heart's longings, deep down and long range, after you test that thing by time and experience, then that thing is not real happiness."

-- Peter Kreeft, Jacob's Ladder.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Cars, Planes and Prayers on Way to My Brother's Wedding...

"When things go wrong, you'll find they usually go on getting worse for some time; but when things start going right, they often go on getting better and better." -- CS Lewis

"Carlos, it says you leave at 3:40," my wife sounded the alarm, as she looked at a printout of our flight itinerary, while the kids and I sat down at a table in a cafe near our house.

"What?" I asked incredulously.  "We're supposed to leave at 4:55!"  She was obviously misreading it. She checked the night before and saw we were on the later flight.

"Yes.  It says 3:40!  You need to call."  Three-forty?  That was an hour away!  We had just ordered lunch and were about to grab a quick meal before heading to the airport in what, we thought, was plenty of time!

I felt a knot in my chest and a tingly sensation all over my body, as anxiety and panic began to set in.

"What's the number?" I asked hysterically, "Let's get the food to go!"  I added, as I went outside to make the call.

"Listen," I said frantically, when I finally got a live agent, "I was scheduled to leave with my three young children (I made a point of stressing the young part hoping for some sympathy) from Miami to Los Angeles at 4:55 pm and when I checked our itinerary today it said we were on a 3:40 pm flight. What's going on?"

"Let me check.  Do you have your reservation number?" the agent asked.  After giving him the information he needed, I heard a lot of typing on a computer pad and then silence. A few minutes later, I heard some more typing and more silence.

By then, my I was really tense.  "Hello.  Are you still there?"

"Yes.  It seems you may have been bumped up to an earlier flight."

The rest of the conversation was a blur.  To me, it sounded like I was talking to the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons.  I grabbed the lunch bags and led my family into our SUV to get to the airport as soon as we could.

The adventure begins...
And thus began a whirlwind of a day that started that Saturday morning at the crack of dawn (Ok., maybe more like 7) in Sanibel Beach to pack our car in the pouring rain (since we wanted to get home for our flight!) from our yearly family vacation.

We had driven two hours, picking up breakfast and our dog from the kennel on the way.  We unloaded the car and the kids and I repacked our bags to ensure we weren't forgetting anything, before loading it back into the car and heading to a nearby eatery for a bite on the way to catch our flight to Los Angeles.

We had a long day and night ahead, since we   were scheduled for a five-hour flight to L.A., an hour and a half layover and another two-plus-hours flight to Medford, Oregon and then had to drive a 1/2 or so to Ashland for my brother's wedding.  We were set to arrive at 11:00 PM, Pacific Coast time, or what was equivalent to 2:00 AM for us!  Little did we know that our day and night was about to get longer!

After a quick stop at our house, we rushed to the airport, which is about 10 minutes north of us.

When we arrived at the curb of American departures, it looked like a Chinese fire drill. Every door flung open at the same time and people started coming out in every direction, several bumping into each other in the process, as we scrambled to the back of the vehicle to get our carry-on bags.

My wife, who couldn't make the trip and was dropping us off, also got out, helping with the bags and kissing everyone goodbye, as we ran towards the ticket counter, where everything came to a sudden halt. There was a line about four or five persons deep in every direction!  I looked at my watch.  It was 3:00 o'clock and I was still hoping we could make the 3:40 PM flight.

Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be.  It took another twenty minutes to finally get to the counter and, by then, I was hoping they put us in the 4:55 PM flight.

As soon as we got to the agent, I told him our predicament.  I was heading to Ashland for a wedding with my three young kids.  I booked a flight on the 4:55 PM flight to Los Angeles but was apparently moved to the 3:40 PM flight without notice.  The agent started looking through the computer.  "You should have been notified," he said.  Really?  Brilliant!  It's too late now! 

"Listen, I was on a family vacation last week and never got a notification. Can you get us on the 4:55 flight?"  I was praying internally since getting in the car on the way to the airport and, as the agent went back to the computer, I asked my daughters to pray for the Blessed Mother's intercession as well.

"Unfortunately, it's overbooked.  Your best bet is to come back tomorrow and take the same flights."   I felt the Mr. Bill within me yell out, "Oh, noooo!"  But, before a sound came out of my mouth, the agent said, "Let me get the manager to see what we can do."  Yes, please, get the manager.  Get the pilot. Get the janitors that clean the plane.  Get anyone but get me to Ashland in time!  

Soon, it was the manager that was looking through the computer, as we told her what happened and time kept ticking.

She said, "We can get you on the 6:00 PM flight but you wouldn't make the connection to Medford and we have only one flight to Medford from Los Angeles.  You would be stuck there until our next flight tomorrow night!"

Are you kidding? My heart sank even further.  Mother Mary please!  I need your help here with the Big Guy.  Help us get to Ashland by tomorrow!  

"Is there any other way?  The wedding is tomorrow!" I pleaded.  (OK., so I fibbed a little.  It was actually the day after but we would miss the rehearsal dinner, not to mention Sunday Mass!  I had to get there by morning).

As the manager continued to search, I called my Dad, who was already in Ashland to give him the bad news.  We were not going to make it there by 11:00 as planned.  At this point, we didn't know what time we would be there.

I also called my wife to tell her what was happening.  "See if you can get somewhere else with a connection to Medford," she suggested.

"Is there any other city we can make a connection to Medford?  Portland, maybe?"  I remembered my parents having flown through Portland before.

Fun times...
After searching for a while she said, "This wouldn't be ideal with three kids but the best we can do to get you there by tomorrow is to have you fly to Phoenix on an 8 o'clock.  You would have an hour layover and then take a US Air flight to Portland, getting there by 1:30 AM local time, then you would take a 6:00 AM flight on Alaska Airlines to Medford, which would arrive at 7:00 AM tomorrow."

Three flights on three different airlines with three kids in tow?  What could possibly go wrong?  "We'll take it!" I happily exclaimed. Thank you, Jesus!  Thank you, Blessed Mother! I almost went into my dog's happy dance but managed to keep my composure.       

We walked through the TSA security check point and to our gate, which was about a mile away, or at least felt that way with our eight carry-on bags, two for each of us, although, I was carrying the brunt, mine and my son's, as my girls rolled their carry-on bags and the lunch bags, which we had yet to eat.

We had about three and a half hours to kill before boarding time, so when we got to the terminal, we finally ate.

One hour went by, two hours went by and then three.  We kept checking the departure time every so often.  Still on time.

However, we were approaching our boarding time and the flight ahead of us at the same gate was still there.  It was parked where our plane should have been a while ago to prep it for our flight.

More anxiety.  I knew we had a 58-minute layover in Phoenix for our connection to Portland, so time was limited.  We were told by the manager at the American ticket counter that if we missed the connection, we would have to wait for a morning flight from Phoenix to Portland and then take a later flight from Portland to Medford.

It would have thrown off the entire schedule!  We had Mass at 9:00 AM, since the next Mass in English was at 5:00 PM and the rehearsal was at 5:30 PM, followed by the rehearsal dinner.  My sister-in-law-to-be had already shot down my idea of attending the later Mass so my nerves were on edge.  Please, Lord, if it is in Your Will, let us make our flight." (I didn't want to force His Hand through prayers and have the flight crash!)    

We approached the counter and I asked what was happening.  "Our plane is ready to come to the gate but this flight is delayed.  We have to wait for the plane to move."

Boarding was supposed to be at 7:30 PM.  It was 7:20 PM and the other plane was still at our gate.  It finally moved about five minutes later but then it was our plane that was nowhere in sight! What's going on?  Time kept ticking.  It felt like forever and I kept looking at the departure time.  I knew it would take some time to get our plane ready before boarding.

When our plane finally arrived, I check the departure time and it had changed to 8:15 PM. Now, we had 49 minutes to make our connection but still nothing to be too concerned about.

I asked the male flight attendant who started walking around as we waited, "We have a connecting flight to Portland about 50 minutes after we arrive in Phoenix.  Can the 15 minutes be made up in flight?"

He looked at me and said, "Realistically, we will probably be leaving by 8:20 or 8:25 at the earliest. We can make up about 2 minutes per hour, so the most we can make up on a flight to Phoenix is about 8 minutes.  Then you have to calculate the distance it will take you to get to the connecting gate.  The airport in Phoenix is huge.  The terminals are far apart."  Gee, thanks for killing any false hope we had of making it!  Lord forgive me but his wife probably ran off with a pilot or something. 

I started recalculating.  If we left by 8:25 PM, that would give us 33 minutes to make our connection, which would be about the time the plane started boarding and, although the manager back at the American counter said US Air was nearby, after that uplifting conversation with the love-scorned flight attendant, who knew how far our gate was?  Concern was knocking at my door and I kept answering but no one was there!  Mother Mary, please help us get there in time!  Unbeknownst to me, my girls were praying too!

Must be in the front row...
Our plane finally made it to the gate and after some more waiting we started boarding.  We were assigned to row 31; the last one on the plane!  Well, at least, we were close to the bathroom!

By then, the kids were bouncing off the walls with excitement.  My 10-year-old daughter called the window seat.  My son sat next to her in the middle and my 14-year-old took the aisle seat.  I sat on the other side of the aisle.

We took off at about 8:30 PM, leaving us 28 minutes to make our connection.  It was time for more prayers.

Despite their enthusiasm, about 20 minutes into the flight, the kids were down for the count.  It had already been a long and stressful day and we still had a long night ahead so I tried to doze off as well.

The flight was smooth and I overheard another concerned passenger asking the flight attendant about making her connection to San Francisco.  "I have a connection to Portland at 10:55," I offered.  She said, "My connection is at 10:45."  Oh man, she's doomed!

As we started to descend and the pilot made an announcement that we were going to be landing shortly, I told the kids to get ready because we had to gather our bags in the overhead compartments and move as fast as we could.  The fact that we were in the last row was going to make it that much more challenging but we had to give it a shot.  Maybe, the Portland flight was delayed!

It was 10:30 Phoenix time.  The pilot asked to please allow the passengers making a connecting flight to exit first and, even though we were at the end of the plane, a lot of the passengers acquiesced to his request and allowed us by.

We walked out of the gate and quickly looked for our US Air information on the flight board.  My 14-year-old quickly saw it and we were off.

We had about 25 minutes left and we started booking as fast as we could.  The little ones were running ahead as we caught our first moving walkway (The kind that if you are not careful when it ends, you end up going head first into the ground or the rear end of the person in front of you!), then our second, then our third.  We kept seeing the sign for our gate but still had more walking to do.  We hit our fourth moving walkway and as we got off, we turned a corner and the gate was within sight.

The passengers were already boarding and it looked like the last section was in line.  I dropped the bags near a seat with the kids and rushed to the counter.  There was a guy in front of me that was having some sort of "issue" with his ticket and the elderly attendant was in a frenzy on her computer.

The line kept dwindling down, as the passengers went into the plane, while the elderly woman tried to solve whatever problem the guy was having.

Suddenly the plane was fully boarded and the attendant at the gate told the elderly woman, "I have to close the door.  The pilot wants to leave on time!"  I was sweating bullets.  Could we have come this close for not?  Finally, she gave him his boarding pass and he went in.

I handed her my tickets and told her we were traveling to a wedding in Ashland, Oregon and needed to get on that flight!  She said, "Don't worry.  We'll get you on."  I breathe a sigh of relief.  Yet, after more typing on the computer (I started hating those airport computers), she said, "I can't seem to find your older daughter in the system."  Say what?  What are you saying; she has to stay in Portland? Blessed Mother, are you still awake? 

"She is a minor correct?"  "Yes," I answered, "And she came with us from Miami!"  More typing. "Oh, here we go.  I don't know why they did it that way but here she is."

She started printing our boarding passes.  "The only problem is that we don't have four seats together so the best we can do put two of you together and then one and one right in back of each other.  But the single seats are both aisle seats, which are gold and you may be able to exchange one with whoever is in a middle seat next to either of you."

It was exactly what we did.  My son sat with my older daughter and about five rows behind them, I sat with my 10-year-old daughter.  Another two hour flight in stored but the pressure was off.  Our next flight was Sunday at 6:00.

Shortly after take off, my daughter cuddled up with my arm and fell asleep.  She was out for the entire flight.

When we got to Portland, it was 1:30 AM and the airport was practically deserted.  Most of the shops and restaurants were closed and cleaning crews were busy buffing the floors and clearing garbage cans.

We were starving and, to top it off, my feet were killing me.  I made the mistake of wearing flip-flops and all the air travel dried my feet.  Every step felt as if knives were going into my heels.

The straightest route to our terminal was closed, as all passengers were re-routed (probably) for security reasons.  Great!  More walking.  We had to go around the whole airport to find our way back to Alaska Airlines.

Fortunately, on the way, we found a convenience store open, where we bought some chips and soda and I got some moisturizing cream for my feet.  Hey, a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do!

The kids were exhausted...
We had about four hours to kill so we found a group of empty seats and made ourselves comfortable.  The kids fell asleep right away. I, on the other hand, was still antsy.  Knowing there was "an issue" with my older daughter's ticket, I couldn't be comfortable until I had our boarding passes in hand.

As time ticked by, and the desolate airport was becoming more and more eerie,  my mind started getting the best of me.  Just how safe is this Portland Airport?  And, where the heck were the security guards, having chips and soda at the only open convenience store in the place?  In Miami, the airport is open all night and there are security guards and police everywhere.  Here, it was like a ghost town with the exception of a few scattered passengers sleeping in various corners.  What would keep a maniac from coming through the doors with a gun and robbing me, knowing I wouldn't resist with the kids asleep?  Not that I would resist if they were awake but... I got up and started pacing and looking for the possible maniac. No sight of him!

I finally called the airline hotline to see if there was a way to get the boarding passes by phone.  They found my reservation number but told me that I would have to see a ticket agent at the counter since they found the same "irregularity" with my daughter's ticket. God was definitely testing my trust in Him!
By 5:00 AM, people started arriving and lining up the Alaska Airlines counter and the computers for passengers to get their boarding passes finally turned on.  I started panicking since boarding was a half hour away and I still didn't have my boarding passes.  Yes, panic and prayer kept me company and awake all night!  I went up to an employee in the front of the two lines formed and said I had talked to the airline and they told me to see an agent at the counter.  He directed me towards the shorter line and I waited for my turn.

When it was finally my turn, the agent took my tickets and I told her what they had told me on the phone.  She asked herself out loud, "What did they do?" After searching for a little while, she finally found my daughter's information and cleared it up with a few more types on her computer pad.  My daughter was still sleeping with her siblings nearby.

Then she told me, "I see you are confirmed on the flight from Los Angeles to Miami but I don't have anything on you for the flight from Medford to L.A."  Gulp...  This is getting ridiculous. "You'll have to call American about your flight back."  Will this night ever end, please?

Our last flight of the day...
She handed me the four boarding passes and I went to wake up the kids.  We picked up our bags and went through the TSA checkpoint.  Luckily, the terminal was not that far away and soon we were having coffee at Starbucks, as we waited to board our propeller plane to Medford.

We boarded and departed on time.  It was actually the nicest plane we took; with plenty of leg room, leather chairs and free Starbucks coffee!

A driver was waiting for us in Medford and after a half-hour drive, we finally arrived at my brother's apartment building in Ashland, 24-hours, a two-hour car ride and 16-hours at airports across the country later, where my parents, my brother and his bride-to-be were waiting for us.

After having some coffee at the coffeehouse down the block, we drove to Mass.  We may have nodded off a few times during the liturgy but we were there.  Thank you Lord for getting us here safe and sound, despite the many challenges and for my private lesson on faith, love, hope and perseverance.

I'll save the return home story, where, among other things, we had to wait for an hour at the runway after arriving in Miami and were on the same flight as Christian Bale, and the entire Batman family, nanny and all, for another day...


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Get in the Fight!...

"Better fight against the light, if you won't fight against the darkness, but at least fight.  Care.  Fight for the wrong side if you can't fight for the right side, but don't stand on the sidelines and sneer at the game.  Have blood in your veins, not tepid water."

-- Peter Kreeft, from Jacob's Ladder.  Kreeft is a philosophy professor at Boston College and The King's College in New York.  He has authored over 75 books, is a husband (one wife), father of four, grandfather of five, and public speaker.  He was a Calvinist, who regarded the Catholic Church "with the upmost suspicion" but when asked by a professor to investigate the claims of the Church to be the one founded by Jesus Christ, he was persuaded by the writings of the early Christians.  He applied to the Church the C.S. Lewis trilemma on Jesus, either He was a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord (either the Church was "the most arrogant, blasphemous and wicked claim imaginable, if it is not true, or else that she is just what she claims to be.") and was convinced by the latter.  He converted in the late '90's, well after being established as one of the most respected Christian writers of modern times.

Check out his conversion story here.