If you follow me on any form of social media, you know that last week I had the privilege of traveling to Austin, TX for an incredible SXSW experience. It's been about a week since I've returned home from Austin and I have so much to share about my time there. I'm planning to do a series of recap posts from the week here on my blog, and I can't wait to get it all down in writing.
But before I can even begin to dive into everything I did and tell you about all the fascinating people I met, I have to share another story -- one of travel improvisation. I didn't get to Austin the way I originally planned. And in hindsight, I'm so glad I didn't. Because in my opinion, it makes the whole experience that much more interesting.
Part 1: Waking up to 12 Missed Calls Doesn't Feel Good.
My flight for Austin was scheduled to leave Indy early Thursday morning -- early as in 5:55 A.M. I woke up at approximately 6:00 A.M. Not good.
The hysteria that ensued during the next few moments is hard to describe. I've never missed a flight before, let alone slept through one. When it comes to traveling (anywhere, let alone an event I've been dying to go to for as long as I can remember ... SXSW, if you're following along) I'm usually so excited to hit the road that I'm the one making sure everyone else is ready to get moving, not the other way around. It was bad. My travel partner, Kendall, had tried calling and texting me dozens of times. It was actually pretty embarrassing to wake up and take in just how badly I had not answered her.
I flew out of bed not really sure what to do first, paralyzed by my panic. Once I came to my senses and realized that calling my mother was not going to solve this problem, I called Southwest Airlines, instead.
I knew that pretty much every flight to Austin across the country would probably be sold out due to SXSW. I was mostly right. There was one flight out of Indy scheduled to leave the next day that I could get on -- only three seats left. I bit the bullet and paid the change fee right then and there over the phone, just to ensure I had a secure way to Austin.
After my new seat was confirmed, I managed to calm down a little bit. At least now I knew I would get to SXSW eventually, but I was still determined to get there that same day. It was pretty necessary that I do. Kendall would arrive in Austin in just a few hours to meet up with my friend Julie, who we had arranged to stay with the entire week. The two of them had never met and I felt horrible that Kendall had to travel by herself and make that introduction on her own. Not to mention, if I got there late Friday afternoon, I would miss an entire day of Interactive sessions. Not exactly ideal.
So, I got dressed and threw the rest of my stuff into a backpack (I hadn't even finished packing yet -- I really, really, really had not planned to close my eyes for more than an hour or two, but I guess that's how these things go down) knowing that I probably had a long day at the airport ahead of me if I wanted to play the standby game. I called a Lyft to pick me up and tried to channel my inner yogi -- it would all be okay, I just needed to breathe.
Part 2: A Spiritual Lyft Driver Drops Some Knowledge.
Normally in a Lyft, I'll sit up front with the driver. I love taking Lyfts for this very reason -- I love striking up conversations with someone I've never met . But that morning, I let myself into the back of the car -- I was stressed, tired, and was foolishly trying to craft my own route to Austin via my Southwest app.
The driver noticed pretty quickly how frazzled I was, so he asked what was going on. I told him the story -- that I had overslept and missed my flight, that I needed to get to Austin, and that literally everything going that way was sold out for days.
"You know what," he said. "I believe that when things like this happen, they happen for a reason."
It took me a minute to take in that statement. I really wanted to shrug it off and keep looking at potential flights I could piece together over the next 24 hours. But then I really thought about it and decided, you know what, there's really not much I can do about this situation at the moment. So I replied, "Thank you. I'm gonna go with that today." Because, why not? I really had nothing to lose -- so I might as well look for a silver, serendipitous lining in the process.
When I arrived at the airport, I checked the boards for flights to Atlanta. That's where my connection was the next day, so I figured if I could at least get there, I wouldn't be stuck at an airport for too long -- a night at the most. There weren't any Southwest flights leaving for Atlanta for the next few hours, though, so instead, I walked over to the ticketing counter to see if someone there could give me some advice.
Part 3: My New BFF, or Anna, the Southwest Ticketing Agent.
The counter was pretty empty, so I walked up to the first person I made eye contact with and checked their name tag -- Anna.
"Can I help you?" she asked. I really hope so, I thought to myself.
I explained everything to this woman, Anna, in the nicest way possible. I told her I was wanting to get here as early as possible so I could try to get on something standby, and that I knew that everything to Austin was sold out for miles. What did she suggest I do next?
If you've ever asked a ticketing agent at an airport for help, you've experienced that moment when things could go either way -- really great, or really, really unpleasant. You've just asked for help (nicely, hopefully) and you know that the power is now in this person's nimble, fast-typing hands. I held my breath, not knowing whether or not Anna was going to use her power for good or evil.
After she had typed away for nearly ten minutes, attempting to find a route to Austin in (seriously) the most creative of ways, it was very clear she wanted to help me. Failed attempt after failed attempt, Anna kept plugging away at that computer. She would get me close, and then the last connection on a four-leg flight path would be sold out. I kept thinking she was going to stop, tell me sorry, that I should just go through security and hang out at a gate and hope for the best. Instead, out of pure kindness, she just kept trying.
After what felt like hours, Anna found an empty seat on a direct flight from Chicago to Austin. It left in about six hours. I could rent a car here in Indy, drop it off at Midway, catch the flight, and be in Austin by 4:00 P.M.
I set off to go rent a car, and Anna wrote down my cell phone number so that she could text me if she found anything better in the meantime.
Did we just become best friends? I think, yes.
Part 4: Am I Really Going to Do This? Keep reading. Find out.
I meander my way down to the rental car place and encounter another nice person, who conveniently picks up on my sense of urgency. We talk logistics, find a car, charge my card, and the plan is a go. I tell her that I'll be right back down because actually, I haven't even booked this flight yet, and I should probably go do that before driving up to Chicago.
This is when I start to question my decision making skills. Keep these things mind -- It's about 7 A.M., I have yet to eat or drink anything this morning, I have zero time to stop and go to the bathroom, let alone get stuck in traffic (which will definitely happen), and in general, am just a hot, frazzled mess. Probably not a good recipe for much of anything, let alone rushing someplace in a motor vehicle.
I get back up to the Southwest counter and mull it over with Anna, who by this point, I'm feeling pretty attached to.
I start asking her normal questions like, "If I were your daughter, would you tell me to drive to Chicago?"
Ultimately, we both decided it wasn't a good idea to attempt this feat. Stressing out even more to catch a flight in another city just wasn't necessary, especially when I already had a confirmed route to Austin the very next day.
Part 5: It's Happening.
You know the drill. I turned around to go cancel my rental car (which, by some miracle, they gave me a full refund for) and Anna assured me again that she would text me if she found anything while I was gone.
When I got back, the ticketing lobby was starting to get a little crowded. It had been pretty empty up until now, and I started to feel a little nervous -- I didn't want to miss a potential connection to Atlanta, or some other midway destination early on in the day.
Then, I caught Anna's eye, and she started motioning for me to cut the line and come up to the counter. She'd remained pretty calm up until this moment, so I knew this had to be good.
"There's a flight that's been delayed. I'm not sure if you'll be able to get on or not, but..."
The next few exchanges are hard to explain, or even recall -- it was a bit hard to tune out the Hallelujah Chorus playing in my mind. I snapped out of it and next thing I know, Anna is handing me a boarding pass and a copy of my new itinerary, which she doesn't even have time to explain.
"You have to go now," she says. "Gate B17. Jackie knows you're coming."
I thank Anna quickly and graciously, and then started running (it was really more of a scamper, running with a rolling suitcase is not only really hard, but it looks ridiculous). I reach security and immediately stop running. My newfound adrenaline comes crashing down with a thud.
From the look of all the unseasonal flip flops and cargo shorts, I should have known better. It was obvious. Spring Break was a thing that was currently happening and it was not good for my situation. I slowly wound through the turn stiles with dozens of families, all headed to Myrtle Beach or Fort Lauderdale or places like that, and nearly started crying when the security agent politely tried to make conversation with me by asking if I'd had my coffee this morning.
When I finally got through, I continued to run (read: scamper) towards my gate. You better believed I ran the shit out of those moving walkways. It was impressive.
I'm almost at B17, weaving my way in and out of more spring breakers, when I hear-- "Allison?"
Jackie. She had found me.
Part 6: Sometimes, Maintenance Issues on Planes Are a Good Thing.
What happened next felt like nothing short of a miracle. Especially to my under-caffeinated-yet-super-jacked-up-on-adrenaline self. Jackie brought me up to speed.
The flight I was about to board was scheduled to have left about an hour before I even arrived at the airport. The catch? There was a maintenance issue that prevented the plane from taking off. Sounds kind of serious, right? Meh. Everyone in uniform made it sound like no big deal. Some light had come on. So I took their word for it -- I'd been operating in panic mode for so long it really didn't even phase me.
Anyway, the plane had left the gate and headed towards the runway, but was forced to turn around and return to the gate. Somehow, Anna connected all the dots and discovered that if I stayed on this plane through all of its stops -- from Indy to D.C. to New Orleans to Dallas -- I could then hang out in Dallas for a two-hour layover and connect to get into Austin by 6:30 P.M.
I know, right?!
What's funny about this whole thing is that, objectively, I was still in a pretty awful travel situation. No one wants to sit on the same plane for six hours straight. I was on that plane for so long, I said goodbye to one crew and hello to another (which kind of made me sad, we had really bonded after three flights together). But you know what? I really did not care. At all. Not once on that flight was I frustrated or tense. I was just so happy and grateful that it all worked out and that I was getting to Austin.
Our flight from Indy to D.C. was fairly empty, but once we landed in D.C. and the next group of passengers boarded, I could already feel the buzz of SXSW. I started meeting people who were going to the conference, who were doing this or that for the week, and who couldn't believe I was from Indiana. (Midwesterners seem to be largely underrepresented at this thing, side note.)
When I finally arrived in Austin, it seriously felt too good to be true. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, and I waited in the longest cab line ever with all these people from Sweden. It was awesome.
Part 7: That Lyft Driver Was Pretty Much Right About Everything
The way I see it, there are two ways to look at this situation. On the one hand, I could dwell on the fact that I missed my alarm, missed my flight, and came *this close* to screwing up a lot of things. But on the other hand, this whole debacle made for a much more interesting story and in my opinion, a much more valuable experience.
My ego doesn't want to say it, but it all goes back to what my Lyft driver said in the car that morning. These things happen for a reason. In this case, I don't think it was a big, monumental reason, but it impacted me nonetheless. These travel blunders tested my patience, pushed me to let go of the things I can't control, and urged me to embrace new possibilities.
It's moments like these, when you look at obstacles as opportunities rather than setbacks, that you gain something special from the experience. The kindness I encountered over and over that day was humbling. And it was because of the genuine, interesting people I met and the unexpected path I took, that made my trip to Austin that much more meaningful.