Sunday, February 10, 2008
One Year is a Fluke, Two Years a Tradition
Last year, it was a trial by fire. The Sunday students were supposed to all fly home also coincided with a Midwest ice storm. Flights were canceled right and left, and I started relaying frantic phone calls at 4 AM, steady until the afternoon. In the end, about six students had to stay until Monday, and two all the way until Tuesday.
I was hoping that I would get off easy this year. The weather reports looked good -- potentially light snow, and possibly strong winds. The wind concerned me, but there wasn't much I could do about that.
There were minor issues with travel Thursday, but those were dealt with. Friday, I met the students at lunch while they listened to an overview of our program. Afterwards, as I was cleaning up and preparing to return to my building, I wheeled my cart, now bereft of folders, to the third-floor elevator. I was escorted by a co-worker and a wayward prospective student. We entered and pushed the main floor button. Motion began, but after a few seconds elapsed, the elevator made a huge bang and shook. We were stuck.
My co-worker pushed the call button, which put us in touch with the local 911. They alerted the fire department.
I had my cell phone and alerted a colleague in the main office to our situation. She laughed, and took notes for what I needed covered in my absence. There were volunteers scheduled to meet me any moment to help with set-up for the next day, and some could be done without my assistance.
Almost as soon as I hung up my phone, it rang again. It was one of our last students that had a late arrival due to a prestigious meeting -- she had arrived at the airport for her flight, only to realize the ticket had been issued for the previous day. Even though I had told our travel agent the day she needed to travel, the agent accidentally switched the days, and the student didn't spot the error when she was asked to okay the itinerary a month earlier. Long story short, we purchased a one-way ticket less than an hour before departure.
By now, the fire department had arrived, and we discovered that we were between floors. One fireman stayed with us, propping the doors open, while the other one attempted to turn off electricity to the shaft. With the electricity off, the car will be kept from moving. If it's left on, at any moment the elevator could try to correct itself, not very comforting if you were crawling out at that moment. Certainly I and my co-worker may have been expendable, but once there's a recruit in there with us, things change; after all, it's bad PR when a recruit is split in two.
So time passed, and eventually we were able to feed the cart through the doors, and then the three of us managed to crawl out with varying degrees of assistance. I wore a skirt, not intending to have to crawl out of an elevator, but it all worked out. From beginning to end, we were probably only in there for about half an hour. We still had a cart with us, so the prospective student, amused by the whole thing, led the charge to another elevator (which worked just fine).
I spent my afternoon catching up from my lost time, grabbing unsuspecting volunteers who happened to be in the halls to help me with remaining tasks. Pretty intense start to my weekend, so I hoped that balanced out last year's craziness, and I would be spared.
Fast forward to this morning. I woke up around 7 AM, earlier than I would need to for Sunday morning services, to see if the first couple flights of students would get out. Everything looked good, flights were boarding and leaving the gate...and then they were sent back. At least two flights (one from Chicago, one from Detroit) attempted to land, circled for ten minutes, and then had to return to their original destinations.
Our students were on eleven different flights, ten of which were canceled. I fielded dozens of calls today, playing both travel agent and therapist. Many were able to take alternative transportation to their transfer location, where they should have had no problem making their connection. When the winds stalled this afternoon, the pilots, crew, and planes were readied, and then it was discovered that the deicer was broken.
All students were gracious, although some were understandably frustrated with the long lines and uncertainty.
So finally, I think I only have 8 stowaways for another night, and all should depart at a reasonable time tomorrow.
Honestly, though, I really don't want to go through this again next year.