For Christmas this year we flew down to Texas, where both of our families live. After moving to Oregon we started alternating Christmas in Texas with Christmas in Oregon. Although it makes more sense for us to just fly to Texas (where everyone else is) than to have everyone fly up here, we kinda like decorating for Christmas and we can only do that if we are the hosts. It helps that our house has such prime decorating potential, including a vaulted living room ceiling that can house a GIANT tree. Also, Oregon has the best Christmas trees around. Seriously, if you bought one of those fancy imported Fir trees this year it probably came from Oregon (or maybe Washington). But here in Oregon, you can just go cut one of those amazing trees down yourself and probably for under $30.
A few years ago we decided to go all out. We cut down a 13 foot Noble Fir. Decorating it required an extension ladder, 1400 lights, 120 feet of garland, and nearly 400 ornaments. Removing it from our house after Christmas required using an electric saw to cut it into more manageable pieces, just to get it out the front door. Totally worth it.
This year we went to Texas. It was almost 80 degrees, which was not very Christmas-like but we had a wonderful time visiting with friends and family.
Our trip home was a whole different story.
We had a short 38 minute flight from Austin to Dallas and then a 4 hour layover before flying home to Portland. We decided to treat ourselves and upgraded to first class for the second leg of our journey. We’ve learned that the extra money is totally worth it if you are flying with extra baggage (as we always are after Christmas). Your bags are free up to 100 lbs. Plus, they feed you, give you free drinks, a cozy blanket for your oversized seat, treat you like a real human being, and give you a complementary hot towel! And if you upgrade at the gate it’s honestly not that much extra money. We’ve upgraded for as little as $75 a person.
Our flight to Dallas was a bit delayed but nothing out of the ordinary. We landed at the DFW airport at 3pm and settled in for our 4 hour layover. We were scheduled to leave DFW at 7pm and needed to find a way to pass the time. Our first idea was food, of course. We grabbed a table at Pappadeux (a cajun restaurant) and told them we intended to hang out for a bit. After devouring some fried alligator and crawfish fondue we realized we had only killed about an hour and a half.
After leaving the restaurant we stumbled upon the spa next door. Brandon casually mentioned how awesome those massage chairs are. I didn’t take much convincing. I felt like I deserved some pampering and signed up for a back and neck massage and a facial. As a bonus, they let Brandon hang out in the massage chair for free the whole time. We left feeling totally relaxed and spectacular. We also only had about an hour left before our flight so we made our way to the gate. This is where everything began to go wrong.
At this point we had no idea that a massive storm was brewing in Texas. By the end of the night there would be tornados touching down all over the Dallas area, a blizzard in El Paso, and flooding in East Texas.
We get to our gate and hear that our flight has been delayed. Pretty typical stuff for the holidays. After an hour and 40 minutes we finally get to board. We settle into our first class seats feeling pretty good about ourselves again. But the plane never takes off. We just sat there on the runway. Because we were in the very first row we could hear the flight attendants taking to the pilots. Flight after flight was getting canceled. We also started to see the torrential rain and wind outside the windows. The pilots made periodic announcements to try and appease and comfort the passengers. Obviously, they did not tell us that tornados were tearing through Dallas. This information might have freaked everyone out as we were just sitting there, a plane stuck on the tarmac. We ended up sitting in the plane, stuck on the tarmac, for three hours. The airport had canceled every single flight out, twelve all at the same time, and we had to wait for an available gate to de-plane.
When we finally got off the plane it was utter chaos. We were told to go to one of four gates to rebook our flight. We had been one of the very last planes to get a gate so there were already over a thousand people waiting in line to rebook their flights. It was almost midnight. The rental cars were gone and the hotel was full. We were exhausted, frustrated, and really didn’t know what to do next. So we got in line.
For reference, we were in line for gate 27. If you zoom in real close you can see it. Also, we had been in line for about an hour when this was taken. We couldn’t even see the gate when we got in line. Brandon, being a total gentleman, held our place in line while I went to take a nap. To the right of the photo you can see a Cafe sign. All the restaurants were closed for the night so I just crawled into an empty booth.
When I woke up an hour later Brandon had made progress, but not much. He had at least made friends with his line-mates, a guy named Mike and an oceanographer from A&M University. We all stood in this line for another hour before I decided to investigate the other lines, hoping they were shorter.
Further down the concourse I did find a shorter line. I started waiting in the new line while Brandon stuck with the old line, hedging our bets. At this point we were desperate and delirious. It was about 3am. People tend to feed off the emotions of other people and this was an entire airport full of tired, frustrated, pissed-off people, and none of us were going anywhere soon.
After another half hour or so I finally made it to the ticket counter and texted Brandon to come to gate 33. We were hoping that waiting in this line would get us on the next flight to Portland. Our hearts sank when the ticket agent told us the next available flight to Portland would be Wednesday evening, four days later. Our only other option were standby tickets for a flight the next morning, but we were numbers 39 and 40 on the standby list. Fat chance.
We left the line feeling defeated and started searching for a good spot to lay down for a few hours. We settled on a quiet patch of carpet towards the end of the concourse. On the plus side, we had the foresight to keep our complementary first class blankets. These became unbelievably necessary as the journey wore on because we so optimistically put our coats in our checked luggage.
After about an hour on the floor, Brandon gave up and started watching the news that was playing on repeat on the big screen TVs. Apparently eight tornados had touched down in the Dallas area, ripping through neighborhoods and tossing cars off the road. At least 11 people had died. Our day may have been terrible, but this storm was much worse for the people outside of the airport. I had put in earplugs and remained completely oblivious.
At some point, Brandon woke me up because he had found me a cot. The airport set out a number of these when the flights were all canceled but they were all snatched up immediately. When Brandon saw someone give up their cot he grabbed it for me. Always the gentleman. I got a few more hours sleep while he continued watching the news on repeat.
Around 8:30am we got up and gathered our things to go wait on our standby flight. In all honesty, we knew we would never make it onto that plane. We were numbers 39 and 40 and there was an entire airport of people waiting on standby flights, but we didn’t have a better option at that point.
Almost as soon as we arrived at our gate we heard an announcement that the gate had been changed. We gathered our bags and made our way to the new gate. This would become our activity for the next four hours. No joke, we changed gates at least eight times. Flights were still getting delayed and canceled and if the plane currently at the gate can’t leave, the next plane can’t arrive for boarding. So the airport just changes the gate, makes an announcement over the speakers, and we all get up and move. In retrospect, it’s almost comical. But at the time, it was not. However, I can assure you that we were not the most pissed-off people at the airport that night. While waiting at one of the numerous different gates I got up to go to the ladies room. What I saw was incredible. Someone had gone into each stall and pulled the toilet paper off the roll and thrown it around the stall. And to really drive their point home, they had smeared what looked like feces onto the wall. Seriously.
The turning point in our journey came while we were waiting for that standby flight. My phone finally rang. While we were in the massive four hour line to rebook our flights someone had suggesting calling the American Airlines customer service number, maybe that was faster. I tried the number and received a message that I was in line for the next representative and they would call me when it was my turn, in approximately 3 hours. I hung up and forgot about it. The call finally came 9 hours later.
The customer service person was amazingly helpful, checking every possible route and every possible airline to get us home to Portland. She eventually found a flight to Seattle leaving at noon, two hours later and asked if we could rent a car and drive home. We said yes. Actually, Brandon yelled “I love you” into the phone. He was really tired and we really wanted to get home. She got a good laugh out of that one.
So once again we changed gates and not for the last time. Like every other outgoing flight this one was also delayed, but we had real boarding passes that were not standby so we were happy. We had also successfully arranged for a rental car in Seattle. We could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Now that we could see our path home, we started to realize how crazy we looked (along with lots of other people that had been stuck in the airport overnight). Brandon’s left eye looked like he had pink eye. It was totally bloodshot from lack of sleep and getting an eyelash stuck in there earlier in the day. We both really needed a shower. And we had taken to wearing our swiped First Class American Airlines throw blankets like capes. The temperature had dropped dramatically and we had left our coats in our luggage. All we had were these two blankets. We had very quickly become homeless airport zombies. It was a stark contrast to all of the people just arriving at the airport for the day, fresh and ready for a day of travel.
We finally boarded our flight to Seattle at 2:30pm, almost exactly 24 hours after we had arrived at the DFW airport the day before. When the plane actually took off I almost cried because we were finally leaving but then I promptly fell asleep. Sleeping was literally all I could do anyway. I was wedged in a middle seat between two gigantic men, a father and son. They were both well over six feet tall and of substantial girth. Trying to squeeze myself out of my seat to get my iPad for a movie was just too much work.
We landed in Seattle and quickly made our way to the rental car counter (still wearing our blanket capes because it was freezing). The check-in for our rental car was super fast and we even got to upgrade our economy car to a Mustang for only five bucks! Things were finally looking up.
Our drive to Portland was fairly uneventful. We drove through a few intense snow flurries but the road conditions were not effected because it was too warm for the snow to stick. It was really pretty to look at though. The snowflakes were so huge they looked like cotton balls falling from the sky.
When we finally arrived at the Portland airport we were pleasantly surprised to find that our bags were there waiting for us. The airline had put our bags on the standby flight earlier that morning. We gathered our bags and made our way to the parking lot. When we finally saw Gunner, our Jeep, we both jumped up and down and clapped. It wasn’t that we were surprised it was still there (we parked in the very secure airport parking garage) but that we knew we were almost home. We loaded our bags and Gunner started on the first try even after sitting for a week in the freezing cold. We thought our troubles were finally over.
We parked the Jeep in the driveway and unlocked the door, expecting to walk into our cozy warm house, greeted by our two snuggly cats. Instead we walked into a freezing house (the thermostat read 43 degrees) and found two really upset kitties. We immediately realized that a number of our lightbulbs were burnt out (but had not been left on) and our furnace was clearly not working. When we went to the garage to check on the furnace we found that it was frozen into a solid block of ice.
Brandon immediately got back in the car to get a couple of space heaters from the store, knowing that we wouldn’t fix this overnight. We warmed the living room and bedroom as best we could and I went to sleep.
Brandon continued the battle of the frozen coils. It first consisted of scraping the outside ice and snow that had accumulated to the sides of the ducting. After detaching the condensation pump and putting a five gallon bucket under it he proceeded to prop up space heaters to one side of the box. He removed some of the sealing material to gain access to the coil and began melting the visible ice with a hair dryer. Once it began to drain he turned on the fan-only portion of the heater. Slowly the melting picked up speed. After several hours of fan time the dripping stopped, but not before accumulating almost 4.5 gallons. He shut it down for the night.
The next morning I called in sick to work. I was exhausted, we still had to solve the furnace issue, and I needed to pick Rudy up from the dog sitter.
That morning Brandon decided the igniter for the furnace must have gone out. The furnace was covered in warnings saying not to try to manually light the furnace. Not being one to listen to such negativity, he did so anyway. We had heat! He had also called the HVAC company we’ve used in the past. It was determined that the igniter failed and the fan kept running, but air conditioning was on for some reason and the thermostat failed to cycle. Hence, the frozen unit. Upon further investigation it was found that the A/C had always been tied to the furnace. We had been warming and cooling our house at the same time. The furnace just far out-powered the A/C so we had never realized it. Yes, we felt a bit dumb. It was a terrible thing to hear. Now it’s all fixed up and working properly. Amazing how fast the furnace cycles now that it isn’t fighting the A/C at the same time.
If you thought our troubles must be over by now you would be wrong. While Brandon was working on the furnace issue I went to the kitchen to see what we had in the refrigerator. What I found was warm beer in the fridge and defrosted chicken in the freezer. The electrical surge that killed our furnace ignition and burned out our lightbulbs had also fried our fridge.
When I was little and we had those moments where everything was going wrong my Mom would tell me “laugh or cry” and just start laughing hysterically. Although there are times when you can’t help but cry, my mom really had a point. Crying usually doesn’t help and sometimes makes you feel worse. But laughter, on the other hand, forces you to smile and might even help you see the humor in the situation. So me and Brandon just laughed at the completely ridiculous and implausible sequence of events that had been the past 72 hours. And if this is some sort of karmic retribution, at least we’re probably done for a good long while.
We got back in the Jeep and drove to Lowes. Our house was built in the 1970’s, before refrigerators became such ginormous monstrosities, and we knew that our kitchen could only fit a smaller old-style fridge. We found that Lowes only stocked a handful of these smaller refrigerators so we just picked the one that came in black (the color of our other appliances) and called it a success. Christmas is apparently a popular time to replace appliances so we would have to wait until Friday for delivery. Thankfully, it was so cold outside that we were able to use our back porch as a refrigerator! Because honestly, we won’t make it very long without cold beer and fresh milk for our morning coffee and tea.
Our brand new refrigerator is actually being delivered right now as I type. Brandon is working on hooking up the water line for the ice maker and all is well in our world again.
We enjoyed a lovely quiet New Years Eve at home. Brandon played video games and I worked on the blog and drank champagne. It was everything we wanted.
We also have a surprise in store for 2016. We’re moving back to Texas! Yes, that’s right. We’re coming home. As much as we’ve loved living in Oregon, it will never be home because Texas is where our people are. All of our friends and family that mean so much to us. So before we take off for our adventure we will be packing up all of our furniture and moving it to a storage unit in Texas, where it will all be waiting for us when we finally get tired of this whole traveling thing.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a warm welcome to 2016!