One hundred and seventy days into the Trump Administration I flew to Washington DC for the annual board meeting of the national anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN.org, (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network). Lively meals with DC relatives, the board meeting and coffee afterwards with old political cronies were old-shoe comfortable and safe, though conversations periodically broke into expressions of danger. This is, after all, the nation’s company town, Trump’s ground zero.
I arrived at the Washington National Airport an hour early for the non-stop flight home to Chicago. Packed with fellow travelers, pop-up phone and sunglass vendors, fast food and maintenance workers and airline personnel, the terminal sizzled. I managed to nudge a stool into a space at a long table rigged with outlets and nose-dived into the computer-news rabbit hole: click, Trump crashed a wedding at one of his resorts, click to an old story about a sinkhole in front of Mar-a-Lago, click to a twitter storm of jokes about draining the swamp.
Annoying conversations buzzed my ears about a hazmat incident at the control tower. Click! a local TV station reports fumes from roof construction at the Leesburg, Virginia control tower has shut down all flights for 4 airports around DC. Click. Is Steve Bannon, the President’s sneaky architect of distraction, trying to terrorize awaiting airline travelers? Or did he sabotage the timetable to turn the screw on some disagreeable Administration insider?
The announcement came. “…we don’t know when flights will continue, we’ll update you as soon as we know.” It was 10:00 pm when I learned my flight was cancelled until the next morning. The United gatekeeper told us all the hotels were booked for 50 miles around and that maintenance crews would be handing out blankets for those who’d be sleeping in the airport. No problem, I’d just contact one of the five people I know in DC and ask to lay my aching bones down on a couch. Click. Click. All five were non-responsive. Travelers were staking out their spots on the floor. In front of the gatekeeper I pleaded, “I just cannot sleep on the floor. I’m old and have arthritis. Is there no other solution?”
He shook his head.
“How much would it cost to get to the nearest hotel?”
“Sixty miles away? About $100.”
“Oh no. Are you giving vouchers for cabs?”
I was dragging my carry-on away from any hope of a reprieve, doomed to slumping to the floor by Dunkin Donuts, when a young man pressed something in my hand.
“Please let me help you. Take this.”
A $100 bill. Before I could thank him, my FaceBook message lit up with a query from Dan Murphy whom I hadn’t seen in 10 years: Click. “FB is telling me you are nearby! Can I see you?”
And right then, I was no longer afraid to die.