How Lucky Can I Get?
By Elaine Viets
Sunday, January 18, was my lucky day. I was in New York that weekend for the Mystery Writers of America’s board orientation, and elected MWA’s Secretary. (The board is Femme-rich: Donna Andrews is Executive Vice President and Dean/Miranda James is a director at large.) After a weekend of good food, good conversation and long meetings, I was ready to return to Fort Lauderdale.
The La Guardia airport shuttle picked me up at the ungodly hour of 6:50 a.m. I skipped breakfast – I’d eat at the airport.
The shuttle van had no seatbelts in the middle seat, so I hung onto the bench arm. It was raining, but all went well until the van got to La Guardia about 7:30. On the overpass heading to the Departure ramp, Edward, our driver, saw five or six cars piled up. He slowed and our van slid until it was some two feet from the guard rail. Everyone screamed. Fortunately, the van didn't hit anything or anyone.
"It's not snowing," our Latino driver said. "Why is it slippery?"
"Freezing rain," we all screamed. "Overpasses freeze first."
Now we could see at least eight cars and taxis had hit one another. One car’s tire was torn off the wheel. A driver carried his dislocated bumper up the overpass near our van and tried to stop more traffic from piling up.
As an out-of-control car slid toward him, the woman next to me screamed, "He's gonna get run over."
The car missed him, barely. Three more cars slammed into one another. We were still unhit and unhurt. People were wandering around, checking the damage to their vehicles.
Our driver, Edward, got out and fell hard, then climbed back inside. Two police officers asked if anyone in our van was hurt. "We’re okay," we said. "What should we do?"
"If you want to make your flights, you might try walking up the hill," one cop said. "This will be closed for a while. We have to see if anyone is injured."
Now we saw emergency vehicles on other overpasses and flashing ambulances up and down the highway. I don’t know how many cars were in our pile up -- maybe 15 or 20. Police closed our exit and rerouted the airport traffic.
Three people in our van decided to walk uphill to the terminal. I slipped on the van’s step – my new boots had slick leather soles. Since my flight wasn't until 10:46, I stayed in the van, hoping the weather would improve.
All around me, people were gingerly walking, slipping, and sliding with their luggage. One man was wheeling a baby in a stroller and they were both sliding.
A Latino cab driver who couldn't start his battered cab knocked on our van window and climbed in to get warm. Both drivers said they didn’t get paid when they couldn’t drive. The cab driver showed me his baby’s pictures.
I called Don on my cell. "What’s wrong?" my husband said. "I can tell by your voice something’s happened."
"I’m fine," I said, "but I was in a multi-car pile up. I’m not hurt, but I may miss my flight."
It was now 8:30 and pouring rain. The road looked a little less slippery. I said to the two drivers, "I’ll give you $20 if you walk me and my luggage up to the terminal." The taxi driver had to stay with his disabled cab.
"I’ll take you," the van driver said. "I have better shoes in the back." He changed shoes and took my luggage. I walked behind him, holding onto his shoulder and the overpass rail. I winced when I looked over its ice-coated side: The highway was a long way down. We made it up the slippery hill after half an hour, taking tiny steps.
Two terminal workers cheered when we made to the dry sidewalk. I wished Edward luck, trundled into the terminal and saw my airline had a flight leaving for Fort Lauderdale in half an hour. I made it through TSA in record time and ran for the 9:36 a.m. gate. The airline didn’t charge me to change planes
Sort of. With no food, but I didn't care.
I was stuck in the tail with two families who had a total of eight kids under the age of five, including twins and a two-year-old with an ear-piercing screech. The parents were of the "now, honey" school of parenting. Honey ignored them. Most of the other kids cried.
Our plane was parked for an hour. First, there was a mechanical problem, then the wings had to be de-iced.
Finally, we took off into three hours of turbulence and screaming kids. I was thrilled when we landed in Fort Lauderdale. I checked the monitor. My 10:46 a.m. flight looked like it was delayed until 6:30 p.m.
I’m not sure how much more good luck I can take.
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