Trouble on the Way to Denver

Though I hadn’t seen my Colorado kids and grandkids in months, I was kind of dreading my upcoming trip to Denver. Election work and tight writing deadlines had worn me out. But early May was open on the kids’ calendar and mine, so off to the Nashville airport I went.

There’s almost nothing I’d less rather do than drive on I-40 any time, but especially at night. But an early flight meant leaving home at 4:00 a.m. The upside? Travelling before sunup would almost certainly mean less traffic, including 18-wheelers. And it did, sort of. Though I saw hundreds of tractor-trailer trucks on my journey, most of them were settled in at rest areas or on the shoulder of the highway, parking lights glowing merrily in the dark. It was lovely.

I arrived at the airport just as the sky was turning pink. Except for a pat-down at security after the body scanner showed a mysterious item in my pocket that turned out to be not a weapon but an atomic fireball, I made it to my gate and onto the plane without incident. I scored an aisle seat in Row 10. The man who took the middle seat was large enough that he spilled onto both me and the woman next to the window. Such is life on an economy flight.

Passengers were buckled in with seat backs in the upright position, belongings stowed securely under seats and some of us halfway listening to instructions on how to use oxygen masks and flotation devices, when the pilot’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said in a voice that reeked of false confidence, “big storms are causing trouble over the mid-west. We’ll likely have to detour. Take-off will be delayed while we figure out what to do.”

Some of the passengers sighed but continued scrolling on their phones. Many, including me, began fidgeting and looking nervously around. Figure out what to do? Not exactly a phrase that inspires confidence. It turned out that a possible southern detour, which would take us all the way down to Houston, would require more aviation fuel than was in our tank. Air traffic controllers were searching for a northern route to get us to Denver with the gas we had.

So we sat. We sat and sat and sat. I solved the wordle puzzle of the day, starting with DELAY and arriving at HOMER, in just three tries. I read a John Grisham short story entitled “Blood Drive,” which definitely isn’t outstanding literary fiction but which was sufficiently entertaining. I deleted dozens of notes and photos from my phone. A handful of passengers, including the woman in the window seat on my row, opted to cut and run. The large man in the middle seat moved over, a happy thing for both of us.

As we waited, I pondered what was happening. I’d always assumed every plane took off with a full tank of fuel, meaning that if our detour was lengthy, we’d have to land somewhere and get more, right? No, as it turns out. Planes fly with just enough but not too much fuel because fuel is heavy and a heavy plane costs more to fly. We could get the extra gas we needed right here in Nashville, but we’d have to wait in line to “upload” it, a term I was surprised to learn didn’t apply only to computers. So that’s what we did.

Almost an hour after our scheduled departure, we were airborne, heading north toward Iowa and Nebraska. Green Tennessee quickly gave way to fluffy white clouds that eventually gave way to brown Colorado, where I spent six wonderful days–including Cinco de Mayo, Derby Day and Mother’s Day–with my sweeties.

All’s well that ends well. Even when you’re low on gas.

(May 14, 2022)