Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Secret Trip to Texas (pt. 1)

The fam, outside my paren'ts house in Houston.
R-L: Me, my mom, my sister Michelle, my niece Brittany, my dad, and my twin Megan

I snuck down to Texas for a surprise visit to my family this past weekend. It was quite a trip - and it got off to a pretty rocky start - which involved the unfortunate loss of a life and a chance encounter with a former Branch Davidian.

It's all kind of complicated, so I'll start at the beginning. Several months ago, Chad and I made plans to visit his parents in Louisiana for one week in August. Tickets were purchased, plans were made, and dates were set. Since my parents, older sister and niece only live about 4 hours away from Chad's parents, the plan was for them to drive over to Louisiana and spend the first weekend in August with us. I hoped that my twin sister Megan, who lives in Dallas, would be able to come visit us as well. Fast forward to about two months ago. I received a call from my mom and she said that Megan would be moving to L.A. on July 31st (the day we arrive in Louisiana) and that they were going to be helping her move...so they wouldn't be able to come see us in Louisiana. I was pretty upset...we only get to see our families a few times each year, and I hated the fact that I was going to be missing them by one day - the day we are going to arrive is the day they are going to leave.

So...my mom and I hatched a plan for me to secretly fly down to Houston the weekend before we we would arrive in Alexandria to surprise Megan. Megan was planning on being home that weekend to drop off her belongings that she didn't want to move with and to celebrate my niece's 10th birthday. We were able to keep this trip a surprise up until the 11th hour - even though there were several times throughout the past few months where my mom and I thought for sure that our cover was blown.

So on Thursday evening I set my alarm for 3:30am, got packed, and went to bed early. I woke up at 3:28 on Friday, turned off my alarm, got ready, gave sleeping Chad and snoozing Emma kisses and hit the road at 4:30am to Louisville. The Louisville airport is about an hour and a half from Lexington and I planned to arrive at the airport at 6:00am for my 7:10am flight. I made pretty good time on the road and was poised to arrive at my scheduled time. I followed my directions and exited onto the Watterson Expressway...and this is where things took a turn for the worse.

Almost immediately after getting on the Watterson Expressway, traffic came to a grinding halt...across all 6 lanes. I was the third car back in a row of vehicles that had come to a dead stop. A few cars were parked across a couple of lanes, blocking traffic. I could see people getting out of their cars and pointing to something. A minute later, cop cars and ambulances were zooming past me and making their way onto the scene. A cop walked by my car and I asked him if they were going to be opening up any of the lanes any time soon and he said, "No - you're going to be here for a while." And then he said, "Don't get out of your car - I don't want you stepping in any of this." It was about 6:20am at this point and I knew that I wasn't going to make my flight. I called my mom and I was like "I knew it! I knew something was going to happen at the last minute!"

I still wasn't really sure what was going on up ahead. There was a large 18-wheeler stopped in front of me and the police didn't want me getting out of my car...so I just assumed there was a chemical spill. My mom looked on the American Airlines website for other flights leaving that morning to Dallas. There was a flight leaving at 10:50am, so I called AA and was put on standby for that flight. I wouldn't be able to land in Houston until 4:00...so we decided that the plan now would be for me to call Megan that morning and (surprise!) ask her to pick me up from DFW airport in Dallas and then we could ride home to Houston together.

About 6:40am another cop walked by and was spray painting around a large dark streak of something next to my car. I asked him if it was a chemical spill and he looked at me and said slowly..."Um, no. Ma'm...this is blood." Ahh - so that's what it was. I looked at the car in front of me and noticed a cop spray painting a large circle around a lone tennis shoe next to the car's driver side door. I put two and two together and realized that there must be a pretty gruesome accident up ahead.

I had been sitting in my car the whole time thinking - "If I had left one minute earlier I would have missed this whole mess" or "If I hadn't stopped to go to the bathroom back in Shelbyville..." or "If had taken a different route to get to 64..." and on and on. But I began to realize that even though I was going to miss my flight, I had been spared from seeing and/or being involved in a terrible accident. I looked at the Louisville newspaper's website on Friday evening and learned that a 24 year old guy had been riding his motorcycle, without a helmet, at a high rate of speed when he struck the back of a Ford Taurus and was thrown from his bike onto the freeway. Horrific.

At about 6:50am they opened the shoulder on the left side of the Expressway to get traffic moving. I made my way over to the lane and then started booking it to the airport - with a tiny glimmer of hope that I might still be able to make my flight. I got to the airport, parked, grabbed my bag and started sprinting - up two flights of stairs, back down one to ask where the AA counter was, and then back up again and arrived at the AA desk panting and begging to be let on the flight, only to be greeted by two women who where both shaking their head 'no'. Son of a gun, I had missed the flight by two minutes! They changed my tickets and put me on standby for the 10:50am flight to Dallas. I told the women at the counter that at this point, I wouldn't need to get on the connecting flight to Houston. They gave me a boarding pass for the flight to Dallas, assured me that everything would remain the same for my return flight on Sunday, and sent me on my way.

...whew! This is longer than I thought it would be...and I haven't even gotten to the actual trip yet! Part 2 and pictures to follow soon.


Mir said...

YIKES. Yeah, puts it all in perspective, doesn't it? The Watterson is insane. I hate driving on it.

I have to say, though, and I know this is insensitive...but no helmet? On the highway? What was he thinking?

Looking forward to part 2...

jen said...

Scary! It is amazing how a few minor choices can make a big difference. You could have missed the acciedent or you could have been involved, like you said. So glad you are ok, but sad for the young man who died.

I love the idea of a secret trip, can't wait to hear how it turned out. :)