A year ago, before Memoir of a Meanderer came into existence when I was still mulling over what to call my collection of writings that had yet to be written, on a day much like today when the dark skies opened up with downpours and humidity hung in the hair, I nearly settled on the title “Walking in the Rain.” The name, symbolic of my ability to find myself in soul-drenching situations and yet keep walking, would have been taken from one of my favorite quotations in high school: “Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.” I wanted my collection of stories to exist as evidence that one can survive a downpour and live to dance in the sunlight.
In high school, I loved to walk in the rain. Let myself get soaked down to my underwear and listen to the squish-slop of shoes on pavement and socks sliding over innersoles. Once home I’d strip away my soaked clothes, pull on my warmest pants and largest sweatshirt, and lay my wet clothes to dry on the heater. What made the walk most appealing perhaps was knowing that on the other side of it there would be warmth.
This April, after shoveling through the snowiest winter on record in Boston and going days without heat after my furnace shut down I had only one thing on my mind: warmth. I pulled up a map, saw that Florida was the warmest place in the United States, and booked a trip to Fort Lauderdale for school vacation week. As the departure day drew near, the forecast warned rain and thunderstorms for my entire stay. I was determined to go and make the most of it, even if it meant walking in the rain.
The morning of my departure I received a text message warning me that my flight had been delayed several hours. I called my brother and let him know not to pick me up as planned and instead walked to the train station and took the T to Logan. I would fly first to New York, then on to Florida. The first flight was delayed and rescheduled half a dozen times due to the weather which had closed all except one runway at LaGuardia airport. Waiting in the Boston terminal with hundreds of other stranded school vacationers, I started to wonder whether or not I was going to make it out of the city. Five hours later at a time when I should have been landing in Fort Lauderdale I had only made it to New York. Once off the plane I found a convenience store with organic granola bars and juice that I shoved into the side pockets of my carry on as I rushed to make my connecting flight.
When I approached the terminal I could barely see the flight update screen over the sea of people. The flight to Florida was delayed countless times in half hour increments from 4:30 to 11:30 PM when the departure time was listed as 7:30 AM. I looked up at it in disbelief hoping it was a mistake. People began flooding the customer service desk and switching their tickets in an attempt to get on a flight to nearby Miami. I joined the lines of tired travelers hoping that I’d find a car rental place open overnight so I could make it the rest of the way to my motel room in Fort Lauderdale.
The Miami flight was much the same. It was delayed every half hour until 2:00 AM when hundreds of us were hoarded over to another terminal that promised to be boarding. 30 minutes later it was announced that even though there was a plane ready to go, they couldn’t find a flight crew to take us out. At 2:30 it was clear to me that I was going to be sleeping overnight in the airport and hoping to get on the 7:30 flight to Fort Lauderdale.
And here is where the real walking in the rain began.
When you find yourself in a difficult situation, sometimes the best thing to do is to shift your focus off of what you want and on to what you have. I began listing all of the things I was grateful for, beginning with the fact that I was able to take a flight to Florida in the first place. Even though I hadn’t managed to make it beyond the too-cold North after hours in airports, I had made the most of my time in confinement.
First there was the pleasure of people watching. Airports may well be the best place to park yourself and stare unnoticed at passersby. Long waits lend themselves to something even better than people watching: talking to strangers. One thing I’ve found about traveling alone: everyone wants to talk to me. There’s something about a young, hippie-haired female with wide eyes and a welcoming smile that says, “Please come tell me your story.”
There was the man who I secretly nicknamed Snake Blood wearing a woven cloth poncho, cowboy hat, and pointed toe boots, with a full beard and gray eyes that sliced through me like knives who I kept passing and feeling inexplicably drawn to in our hours of waiting. When the flight to Fort Lauderdale was changed to 7:30 I asked anyone within ear shot if they thought we could spend the whole night sleeping in the airport without being kicked out on the streets at closing time. “That ramp over there looks like a good spot to set up for the night,” he said.
And then the older woman in her 70s or 80s, walking around in five inch, leopard print heels, fishnet tights, and a black cocktail dress, a shawl casually draped over her too-tanned skin, a small purse slung on her forearm. I had to contain my excitement when, around hour eight, she came over to me to ask if I knew when the flight for Fort Lauderdale was leaving. I pointed toward the screen above the help desk and read aloud the current departure time, unsure of whether or not she could see it. “Oh, I’ve been watching that all night,” she said. Then she proceeded to detail to me how she’d noted there was never plane and flight crew simultaneously and that the presence of one surely signaled the absence of another and that we’d never get on a flight at this rate.
And another woman who lived much of her life in Massachusetts until moving to North Carolina. She had flown to Boston to visit a friend who was battling cancer. “This wait is nothing,” she said, “compared to what she’s going through.”
And between the conversations with strangers I passed the time with one of the best books I’ve read in a long while: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. I teared up as I sat crossed legged on the floor, lost completely in the advice column compilation that reads more like a memoir than a self-help book.
At 2:30 when the flight to Miami was cancelled I found an open patch of blue carpet along the ramp that Snake Blood had pointed out hours earlier (he had passed out in the spot we’d been sharing half the night, a pink handkerchief draped over his face). An hour in, my still-awake half-sleep delirium was interrupted by the sound of an annoyed TSA worker announcing the airport was closing and we needed to relocate to the baggage claim area so they could do a security sweep before the airport reopened in the morning.
I stumbled half-asleep into the baggage claim and immediately felt as if I’d wandered on to a set of a Stephen King novel. Hundreds of passengers sprawled across the floor, wrapped up in blankets, sleeping bags, and clothes. I found an uninhabited corner to curl into and pulled my thin jacket over my body as a blanket against the heat-less air. The ground was cold, hard, dirty, and the voices of the nearby twenty-something year olds echoed against the motionless metal baggage claim machines.
At five, sleepless passengers floated toward the mile-long airport security line. The 7:30 flight was delayed further and in a final fit of effort at the ticket counter I managed to get a boarding pass to a flight that was just about to shut the doors and, ironically, after almost 24 hours in an airport, I had to go sprinting through the terminal to make it to the gate before the door closed. I arrived breathless just as they were about to seal off the walkway. There couldn’t have been more than 15 people on the flight that could have fit hundreds that morning.
Within moments of landing in Florida, while waiting outside for a shuttle to take me to the rental car center, the sky opened up and sheets of water came pouring down, soaking everything. I watched the water fall fast from the inside of the shuttle and nearly cried at the sight of green grass everywhere–it’d been so long since I’d seen plants living in such abundance– the ground back home was still blanketed in snow and mud.
Just before the sun set the rain stopped long enough for me to venture out onto the beach. Dark clouds loomed overhead and the wind whipped the warm air through my hair as I walked down the deserted beach. In ten minutes time I passed a man who immediately recognized me from the airport the day prior and we discovered that we had grown up in neighboring cities. Lightening struck in the distance as we stood there in the sand and I followed his lead as he ran off the beach and toward the safety of our cars. Again the rain poured down with the force of boot-clad feet marching in unison. With arms spread wide and head upturned I thought how grateful I was to have made it, to have the opportunity to be there, even if it meant walking in the rain.
Though the skies remained dark and rain came and went for most of my stay, my final day in Florida the sun came out long enough for me to walk along Sanibel Island, collect shells in the sand, wade into the warm waters, and bask on the beach.
I realize that getting trapped over night in an airport and less than ideal vacation weather are just minor inconveniences, mere sun showers on a summer’s day. It’s the minor things of every day life that chip away at our patience though and if we can learn to walk in the rain with ease so too will we be able to dance in the downpours, knowing that no matter how hard the rain pours down at times, soon enough the sun will go on shining.