On Wednesday September 22nd I flew from Boston to Atlanta, ready for M’s homecoming ceremony the next day. Call me old fashioned, but I’d not exactly envisaged our first real date to be in the wee hours of the morning, especially after a lack of sleep. But the US Army had other plans with a ceremony scheduled for 05:50, so I had to go with the flow & hope that M didn’t book himself onto the next flight back to Iraq when he first caught sight of me.
As I was en route to Boston's Logan Airport for my flight, M called me shortly after landing in Germany. I was just relieved to know that he was not only safely tucked away on "friendly" European soil, but also that he was indeed in transit, & that his return to the US was going according to plan (or at least the latest change of plan!). Everything was going to go fine now, right?
Sure! Well, at least until I landed in Atlanta that evening & found a voicemail message from my Columbus hotel. They were very sorry, but there was a server problem when I booked online 4 days previously, & they were overbooked for the duration of my stay. I seemed to be homeless in Georgia, but although I wasn’t yet in worry-mode, I was in wondering-mode - there are a gazillion hotels in the Columbus region, but the decent and semi-decent ones were filling up very quickly back when I booked (there are always various weekend ceremonies at the Army base, & these apparently keep the hotel business nicely afloat, which is all good for the local economy, but not when I can’t get a room!). And M had already warned me off a few regions, since they tend to host the type of motel that is kind enough to, shall we say, “rent its rooms by the hour”…..so I did wonder if I’d now end up with one of those by default. Luckily when I called, I discovered that they had been good enough to relocate me to a nearby Holiday Inn, so I was all set. No hourly rates for me!
I collected my rental car from the airport & made the 90 minute drive to Columbus. I remember enjoying the relative solitude of “rush hour in Atlanta” – it was quite different from trying to emerge from Boston airport at that time. Quite painless in comparison, although I was somewhat fascinated by the huge stretches of highway that had large pieces of what can only be described as "discarded truck" in the breakdown lane.
I eventually found the Holiday Inn around 9pm (after a detour to find a liquor store & some food) (and in that order too) & was looking forward to falling onto a soft bed ready for my very early start next morning. Then the nice lady at reception informed me that I was only booked in there for one night. She must’ve heard my heart fall into my boots because she hurriedly told me not to worry, she was sure they could accommodate me for my whole stay. The 2 minute wait felt like an hour, but they did indeed have a room for me for all 4 nights. OK, so if I hit the hay now, I can sleep for about 6 hours before getting up & trying to make myself look respectable for the homecoming. Because everyone can look great when they emerge from bed at about 03:30. Yes, that was my story & I was sticking to it.
So after a quick decaf & a wrestle with the ironing board, off to bed I went.
I slept like a baby until my phone began peeping at me. I was in disbelief that it was already time for 03:30 alarm call – I felt like I’d just fallen asleep. After eventually locating my phone, I discovered it was in fact only 12:09, & that a text message had awoken me: “Wheels down in USA”. M had arrived on home soil! How exciting for him. I sent a “Welcome home” reply & he immediately phoned me when he realized I was awake. “I'm in your neck of the woods - I’ve just landed in Bangor, Maine”, he told me, & then asked “Where exactly is Bangor?”. “Oh, it’s almost in Canada”, I told him. We both laughed, but we did think it was kind of funny that he had just landed “close” to where I’d left off earlier that day. And how cute to be having our first conversation in the same time zone!
I slept poorly after this though, mostly due to a slick combination of excitement & abject terror. But when my 03:30 alarm call eventually came around for real, I can tell you that I awoke with a shot of adrenaline that no amount of caffeine could even vaguely hope to compete with!