What I did last Thursday was not supposed to be an impossible mission. All I had to do was drive to O’Hare Airport to pick up my daughter who took a bus there from Bradley University for Rosh Hashanah. She decided to come home to celebrate the holiday with her family and surprise her grandparents, aunt and uncles.
But, what should have been an easy drive to the airport in light traffic, turned into two hours of circling the airport like an airplane waiting for a runway to open up.
I know where O’Hare Airport is. I have been there millions of times. Well, maybe not millions of times, but let’s say, a lot of times. I have just never actually driven there. I think when you aren’t the driver, you are more likely looking at the planes taking off about 3 inches over your car than looking for the exact exit you need to take to get where you’re going.
So, to make absolutely sure I wouldn’t screw up my mission, the night before Richard put an IPass in my car so I could sail through the toll booths, and then went with me to get a GPS. I had done my homework and decided upon the least expensive Garmin that talked. And it was on sale at Best Buy. Score! I had wanted a GPS anyway because I am really good at losing my way. If I don’t know where Lake Michigan is, which in this part of Illinois is east, I can get and have gotten hopelessly lost.
From driving with friends who have GPS’s in their cars I know one of the best features of a GPS is that if you ever veer off course, the GPS says, “recalculating”, and finds a way to get you back on course. Let’s say you take an uncalculated ramp and stop at Burger King to pee. By golly the GPS will wait for you to finish your business and then get you back on your way to your destination.
When we were in Florida last year, we rented a car that had a GPS. It worked really well until we got to our destination. We had never been to our friends’ condo, but we saw the name and address of it as the GPS told us to drive right past it. We were a little confused until the GPS said, “Recalculating. Recalculating. Make a u-turn. MAKE A U-TURN NOW!” I guess it had miscalculated, but it seemed to be telling us that we were the ones who had driven the wrong way. We didn’t want to bruise its ego by telling it that it had been wrong, but then again, it’s an inanimate object so it wouldn’t have mattered. (Although I talk to inanimate objects all the time. No, they don’t talk back to me.)
Just before I left for the airport I also printed out the directions from Google Maps, for good measure, and I had my Bluetooth around my ear. Most important, I was wearing a very cute outfit. I looked like a chic geek.
Failure was not an option. I hadn’t seen my daughter in about a month, which is the longest we have ever gone without seeing each other, and I was so excited to pick her up that I didn’t want anything to go wrong.
I set up the GPS, who I named “The Bitch” for reasons that will become apparent later, and began my trek. I got to the toll road and things were progressing along fine, until I missed the ramp that would take me to the airport. There was a lot of construction and, at the exact moment I needed to take that ramp, I was checking my lip gloss in the rear-view mirror. Even though The Bitch was telling me to turn off at the ramp, I thought to myself, “What does she know? I’ve been here millions of times”.
Meanwhile, Veronica called me and I answered the call on my Bluetooth. She told me her bus had just arrived at O’Hare. It was at about that time that I found myself at Terminal number Five. I needed to be at Terminal One. I told Veronica I was close-by and would be there soon. In reality, I had no idea how I was going to get back to Terminal One.
“No problem,” I thought to myself. “I’ll just keep going along and The Bitch will re-calculate.” Well, the Bitch didn’t say anything, except, “You have arrived at O’Hare Airport”.
“Really?” I thought to myself. I may technically be on the airport’s acreage, but there were no other terminals in sight. So, I kept going.
Veronica called me several times to check on my progress. I felt bad that she was waiting for me after a three hour bus ride, but there was nothing I could do but hope The Bitch would get me back to the pick-up destination.
I spent the next hour trying to get back to Terminal One. I asked nice people along the way and even tried to see if The Bitch had any idea of where we were. She decided to shut down and nap instead. She just gave up on me and basically said, “You are hopeless, lady. I’m grabbing some z’s”.
I finally arrived near the airport. I knew I was really close when I saw planes taking off and landing fairly close to my car. That’s the best part about trying to find an airport. The planes are dead giveaways that you are in the vicinity.
I made a turn that I thought would take me to the terminals, but instead took me to a restricted area. A restricted area? How did I even get there? It was RESTRICTED! I drove toward the endless line of tollbooth-looking things and decided to go up to one and plead my case, hoping the whole time that I wouldn’t be mistaken for a terrorist and shot on sight. I know I don’t fit the profile of a terrorist, but those are the ones you really have to look out for.
I asked this nice armed Asian man in his booth how to get back to the terminals. I apologized for entering the forbidden zone, and hoped that my matchy-matchy blue and white polka dot sweater and powder blue t-shirt ensem, and the tears welling up in my eyes would signal that I was not a terrorist. I was just a directionally-challenged mom trying to pick up her daughter.
I couldn’t understand a single thing the guy said to me in his broken English with a thick accent. I really tried, but I just couldn’t. That was not doing anything to ease my fear of being shot. Plus, at that moment I remembered a fortune cookie I had received a few days earlier that read, “Enjoy today. There may be no tomorrow.” I am not making this up. Ask my friend, Rosa.
The man got on his radio and at that point I thought I was a goner. I thought they’d drag me out of my car, tie me to the electric fence and then take turns using me as target practice. But, instead, he told me he had called for help. I must say, at this point, that every single person I encountered that day was so helpful and polite. It must have been the matchy-matchy polka dot sweater and t-shirt, and the look of sheer terror frozen on my face.
As a Police Officer drove over toward me in his SUV with the cherries on, I realized that the “help” that had been summoned was armed and had been sent to remove me from the area. After he pulled up nose to nose with my car, he turned his around and motioned for me to follow him. All I could think was that my daughter was waiting for me and I’d be really late now because I was going to be “processed” and put in solitary, or thrown into the slammer; the clink. And to make matters worse, with my luck that day, I’d end up bunking with Big Bertha who would really like my kicky little outfit.
The Police Officer kindly escorted me out of the restricted area that I think was reserved for employee parking, Secret Agents, and UFOs, and gave me directions to get to the terminals. I followed his directions, but eventually took a wrong turn again because everyone else was doing it, so I thought I’d try it, too. I know that’s not an excuse. I know that if all of those cars had driven off a bridge, I would have followed them off the bridge. But, in a situation like that, I wasn’t about to suddenly grow balls and become a leader. I have been a follower most of my life. Why change now? Plus, if most of the cars were taking a right turn, I figured they must be going to the same place I was going. Logical, right?
Wrong. Everyone I followed wasn’t turning onto the street I had been told to turn on, so now I was definitely heading away from the airport AGAIN. Veronica called and I didn’t want to let on that there were no longer planes flying overhead in a ten mile radius around me, so I told her I was close by.
I finally found the ramp I had missed in the first place and then things became really familiar, construction and all. I found Terminal One and breathed a sigh of relief as I searched the curb for my little girl. Well, she’s almost 20 years old and is taller than I by several inches, but she’s still my little girl.
Two traffic officers started walking toward my car and I knew they were going to tell me I couldn’t stay parked where I was. And they did. Man, The Heat was really after me that day. The Po-po; the bacon; the pigs. That had it in for me, but I was ready for them, now, man. I had just talked myself out of getting tossed into the slammer for entering a restricted area. I was invincible.
In reality, I was a crybaby. I hyperventilated to the two traffic officers that I knew my daughter was there because she had called me from Terminal One, but I couldn’t find her. They suggested I just “go around again”. They said if I followed the signs that read Terminals 1,2,3 and 4 I would eventually wind up right back where I was. But, they warned me not to take the dreaded Terminal 5 off-ramp because that would take me out of the airport altogether.
I told them I couldn’t leave and circle around because I’d never find my way back again. I told them I had already driven to Terminal Five and ended up driving away from the airport. I told them I’d been circling for hours and that my GPS had died out on me. I was beginning to feel the tears well up in my eyes again.
I think it was the polka dot sweater combined with the look of frustration, weariness, and defeat on my face that changed their minds. They said I could stay parked for a few minutes while I tried to call Veronica to see where she was. She said she was at Terminal One, too. I told the traffic officers that she said she was there. And then, a miracle happened. They actually decided to help me. They even asked me what she looked like and what her name was so they could help me find her.
One of the security guards thought that maybe she had gone to the upper terminal instead of the lower level, which were the instructions I had been given. He even offered to go to the upper level to find her.
But, just as he began to go into the building, she walked out. He must have recognized her from my description because he asked her if she was Veronica. She said she was and he pointed to where my car was. She ran to the car. I wanted to get out and hug her for about 20 minutes, but we had to leave. We had totally overstayed our welcome.
I thanked the officers profusely and waved good-bye as we began to drive away from the curb. During the time it took me to pick her up, Veronica had gone back into the building to go to the bathroom, gone back another time to buy some muffins for the ride home, and had called Richard a few times.
I was so happy that I finally had Veronica in the car and that I knew how to get home. Everything would have gone smoothly– if I hadn’t missed the ramp that would take me to the toll road.
I ended up in a parking lot full of Cabbies who kept looking at me, but didn’t come over to see what I was doing there.
Finally, after trying to figure out how to get out of where I was and back to where I wanted to be, I drove up toward a gaggle of Cabbies who gave me some directions to get me on my way. I had to go all the way south to go back all the way north, but finally, finally, finally, I was on the right road. I knew where I was! I was going to make it! I stuffed part of a muffin Veronica had brought me into my mouth.
Then I shoved The Bitch into the console between the two front seats of my car and drove home.
Veronica had been sick while she was at school so I took her to the Dr. the next day. No, I didn’t need the GPS. She went on an antibiotic and slept for most of Friday and Saturday. Richard tested the GPS in his car and proclaimed it defective. He took it back and got a new one that works like it’s supposed to. It wasn’t my fault! It wasn’t my fault! It’s almost ALWAYS my fault!
On Saturday night she hid in our room until everyone arrived for dinner. Then Richard texted her and told her to come down to surprise everyone. She very nonchalantly entered the kitchen and said “hi”. My parents were completely surprised and extremely happy to see her.
We ate the delicious holiday meal my Mother had prepared and brought over, and then played Apples to Apples for hours. It was a perfect Rosh Hashanah. I wouldn’t have traded a thing; except for the defective Bitch.