As I had hinted at a few weeks ago, I’ve officially transitioned now from being Han Solo to being Yoda. OK, I’m not green. Yes, I’m not as smart as Yoda, and I have no secret, magical powers, but in many ways, my transition into my eighth decade has become a personal challenge to keep getting it done. I’m just not always sure what it is.
This week I flew to Los Angeles to serve as a new trustee on a board of directors at the Southern California University of the Health Sciences. The huge challenge that my daughter presented to me was to attend that board meeting on Thursday and still make it back to celebrate my birthday. All my plans were made. I would Uber to the airport, jump on the earliest red-eye flight home, spend one hour at the Newark Airport, fly to Pittsburgh, get a cab to my place, and drive to Johnstown for the beginning of a birthday bash.
At exactly 8:15 p.m., the gate agent said, “We’ll board in about 10 minutes.” Then in 15 minutes, another gate agent said, “They have discovered a malfunctioning joint on one of the airplane’s tires. We will let you know in 20 minutes if we can find another plane.” This was the dreaded reality of trying to get from one coast to the other. Remarkably, in 20 minutes they said, “We found another plane for the Newark trip. Go to Gate 71B.”
We stood in line at Gate 71B for about 45 more minutes. It was now well after midnight Eastern time, and we were all tired. Because I had no status with this airline, my seat was just a few rows in front of the back lavatory, and it was a tiny space. The boarding process was incredible with least 40 people not able to put their luggage in the overhead compartments.
We took off 84 minutes late, flew at 551 miles per hour across the United States, and landed 10 minutes after my flight to Pittsburgh left. I went to the service desk to find that the next flight was late.
Then it was canceled. Then the next flight had 20 people on the waiting list, and they anticipated that the next three flights would be canceled. But either way, my trip home would not take place that day.
It was then that I made an impulsive decision. I left the airport, went outside, and hit my Uber app. It was impossible to imagine that anyone would drive me five-and-a-half hours to Johnstown from the Newark airport without charging me at least $1,200, but then Ali pulled up in his 2016 Toyota Camry, looked at the distance of the trip, smiled and said, “No, it’s OK. Let’s go.”
Ali was from Yemen. He was a kind, a 32-year-old father of three who now lives in Brooklyn. Ali drove me through the fog, heavy rain, the wind, some ice, past lots of trucks, and he did it with skill.
We arrived in Johnstown at 3:30 p.m. I paid and then tipped him generously, but I wanted to high five him and thank him for helping me celebrate my big birthday. It was an incredible gift for me and my family.