Santa Claus visits those who believe in the magic of Christmas. If you rationalize too much, the magic is gone, and so is Mr. Claus. I do believe in the magic of Christmas. It’s a childhood belief that has grown with me. So this time, I wished that Santa Claus would gift me something different. I know about the cakes and Christmas trees and the decorations and socks hanging and the whole nine yards, but I wanted something unique, something my kind. I had booked my tickets to Seattle, traveling on Christmas eve, and thought that was my gift.
And then, my wish of getting something unexpected, something different came true.
It started when I was printing my boarding passes at the airport kiosk, and it asked me if I would prefer to take a later flight for a $200 travel voucher, because the flight was full. I said no without thinking much, although now that I think about it, this voucher could have flown me to Pennsylvania for the conference I am presenting at in a few months. Anyway, the deed was done, and I collected my boarding passes, waiting for my flight to Seattle via Denver.
The plane was delayed by 30 minutes. Add another 30 minutes, because the plane had to be anti-iced (a pretty cool thing to watch sitting inside the aircraft, something I am learning in the mid-west since temperatures are so cold here). Overall, my first flight was a little short of an hour and half late. The connecting flight to Seattle had left without me by the time I landed in Denver.
It was already a little after 8pm, and I was dreading a night spent at the airport for no fault of mine. I thought of the missed flight to Seattle, of the hot South Indian meal that G would have cooked for me, and the babies I would not be meeting tonight. I went up to an airline personnel, a tall man from the middle east, who, after fiddling with the computer for some time, offered to put me up at a hotel in Denver. “Is it for free?”, I asked, to which, he said, “yes, it is complimentary.” (note how complimentary was euphemistically used instead of free). Apparently the next flight was at 8am the following morning. I was already regretting the wisdom of not opting for the $200 voucher earlier, and taking the next flight, since that is what I was doing anyway. They even added a $14 meal coupon.
$14 was not a lot, since it was for dinner and breakfast. $14 would only let me go to McDonald’s. It was past 8:30pm by then, and most food places at the airport were closing down. A sandwich bar had only turkey or ham sandwiches, and I refused to eat either. Food procurement was the first battle, and it was turning out to be an interesting evening. I had walked a few more yards when much to my amazement, a McDonald’s materialized out of nowhere. I am not at all a fan of McDonald’s, but hey, McD food is better than no food.
The other interesting development was the one bag I had checked in, that had all my stuff. They said that since my bag was checked in all the way to Seattle, claiming it in Denver would need some paperwork and a wait of at least 90 minutes. I didn’t have to think twice when I said, “No, thank you.”
The white paper bag in hand, which was my unhealthy dinner on Christmas eve (at least they serve chicken), I stepped out of the airport to wait for the shuttle on a cold December Denver evening. I had often dreamed of visiting Denver, and adjoining places, but never ever I had thought that my first visit to Denver would be this way. The ex-city of Madhuri Dixit, the place I have been planning to visit in summer, I boarded the hotel shuttle and drove through the streets of Denver in darkness, being able to see nothing. During that 10-minute ride, I saw road signs to Boulder and Fort Collins, more places I have always wanted to visit.
I spent my Christmas eve in a room at the airline-paid Marriott, in a city I have never been to and do not know anyone from, eating a chicken sandwich and Starbucks coffee. I had no extra clothes with me, and a toothbrush but no toothpaste. After restlessly tossing and turning for a while, feeling too cold sometimes and too hot at other times, I fell asleep despite the unfamiliar droning of the heater. I had an 8 am flight to catch the next day. I was asked to be at the airport by 6 am. For which, I had to take the 5:20 am shuttle from the hotel.
I did not sleep a lot that night. I was up by 4 am, initially confused about where I was. Memories from the previous night came back, and so did the wish I’d made to Santa. I did spend the Christmas eve doing something unexpected and unplanned for after all.