This week most of the family headed to Richmond, Virginia to see Adam graduate from AIT. The oldest boys stayed behind because they couldn’t afford to miss any more school this semester. They missed several days early on when we traveled to Fort Jackson, and attendance figures heavily in their grade.
The three youngest kids have never flown before, so our first leg was almost as exciting for me as it was for them. The wonder and awe and amazement were fun to watch. Olivia was fascinated to learn the windows had shades. Abigail was very much like her older sister and quickly settled in to a book after the initial thrill wore off. Eli was his typical inscrutable self. They all seemed impressed when I showed them our airspeed and altitude, and called out landmarks that they were familiar with. When we drive to Ohio, the kids know that St. Louis is the halfway mark. We hit it in about 7 hours or so, depending on who’s driving. But at 500+ miles per hour, we made it there just over an hour after we left Tulsa.
Diana and I were talking before we boarded, trying to figure out when she had last flown. We finally decided it had been 16 years for her. The last time we flew as a family was for my brother’s wedding in 2000. That trip saw us travel with five kids under age 10 from Columbus to St. Louis to Seattle. We got to Port Columbus too late to get seats reserved for the second leg, so we were scattered about the plane. The flight attendants asked for volunteers to move, and pointed out that there were small children involved. Hands went up everywhere.
The first recollection I have of flying is a trip I took to Washington DC. My recollection was that I’d have been around 9 or 10. But the Air and Space Museum, which was a primary reason for the trip, didn’t open until 1976, which would have made me 11 that year, or 12 if I went in ’77. My Aunt Gayle and Uncle Ross lived in DC – within sight of the Watergate – and I spent my spring break with them. Gayle worked for the Smithsonian, and so I got free entry to the museum! I know I had flown before on family trips to Austin and New Orleans, but this was the first time I’d flown by myself. Ross had been traveling for business and arranged his flight schedule to connect through Pittsburgh, where he’d meet me. That meant flying from our little regional airport to Pittsburgh all by myself.
Not really, of course. Allegheny Airlines (we called them “Agony Air” before they became “Useless Air” – US Air) knew I was an unaccompanied minor. But in my mind, I was a big kid, at least on that 90-minute or so flight. I probably ended up staring out the window for most of the trip. I’ve always been fascinated by flight, but at that age, I remember being particularly impressed with the Convair 580s that Allegheny flew. The roar of the huge props as they reversed pitch to slow us on landing never failed to set my heart racing.
Our outbound flights were trouble-free with United, even flying through Chicago. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get comfortable on an Embraer regional jet though. The -145 and -190 are just too narrow for my tastes. I get that they make money for the airlines, but they’re not even as wide as the center section of a 747. Granted, I take up more space than I used to, but still.
What Did We Forget This Time?
It’s become something of a tradition for our family to ask that question as we leave the house on any major trip. I think it probably started when I left my sunglasses in my mother-in-law’s car when she dropped us at the airport for our honeymoon.
Occasionally we remember something in the first mile or so, and can turn around. More often, we don’t realize when we forgot until we arrive at our destination. For example, a few months ago on a weekend trip to OKC, I forgot to bring extra needles for my insulin pens. That’s not something you can easily pick up at the nearest Walgreens. I’ve forgotten phone and PDA chargers on a regular basis. This trip, it was my Bluetooth headset that I had plugged in to charge the night before. And my blood sugar test strips. I realized both mistakes before we were out of Muskogee, but our schedule was too tight for me to go back. The headset issue was easy enough to fix at the airport. $20 got me a set of Skull Candy earbuds that will serve as backups now that we’re home. Diana managed to forget her glasses (she usually wears contacts). Good thing she’s not driving on this trip.
What’s the one thing you always forget?
Since we flew to Richmond, we needed wheels to get around. I reserved a minivan through Enterprise with my USAA discount. We ended up with a 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Touring-L edition. It was heavily loaded, with built-in nav, Bluetooth, remote start, and heated seats.
The kids were pretty impressed with all of the gadgets, and it was fun to see their reactions each time they discovered something new. The nav system, for instance, has a Junction View setting that shows a driver’s view image of the lane setup at major road junctions. It really leaves no question about what lanes you need to be in. I’m not sure how much of the user interface is Chrysler’s and how much is Garmin’s but they nailed it. It would have been nice of the Enterprise agent to warn me that one of the primary routes out of the airport was a toll road though.
The hotel was the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Petersburg on South Crater. They’re going through renovations right now, and our suite was post-renovation with new carpet and a bathroom upgrade. The indoor pool area needs a fresh coat of deck paint and a lighting update though.
We spent Wednesday hanging out in the hotel waiting to see if we could spend more time with Adam. There was also a glimmer of hope that he’d actually be able to travel with us. He couldn’t, and by the time we found out, it was late enough in the day that we didn’t really have much time to do anything else.
We did have just enough time and daylight to drive through the first part of the Petersburg National Battlefield tour though, and walk to The Crater. My Civil War knowledge is somewhat limited, and I had never heard much about the battles around Richmond and Petersburg. Feelings of marvel and awe and humility and confusingly enough, pride, tend to churn and eddy about me whenever I’m around a battlefield like that. I’m proud of my time as a veteran, but I’m humbled by the conditions the soldiers before me faced.
A motorcycle tour of some of the Civil War sites is on my bucket list. Then again, so is a tour of World War 2 sites. Maybe I should have taken more history courses in college. I probably should have stayed in journalism and minored in history, now that I look back at life.
All too quickly, our trip was over. We got up much too early Thursday morning to turn the car in and make a 7:00 AM flight. Flying that early is no fun, but the alternatives involved spending the entire day sitting in airports or getting home far too late.
I have to give props to both United and American airlines and their flight crews and social media teams. I posted a photo to Instagram from the tarmac in Chicago, and got a nice reply from United’s Twitter team.
@bobmueller Honored to be a part of this first experience. We hope it’s a great one. Ready for a fantastic family vacation? ^AH
— United (@united) November 14, 2016
On the return leg via American, the two younger girls were sitting by themselves, and the flight attendant offered Abigail a set of wings and a flight logbook. They even arranged to have the captain sign the book. I thought goodies like that had long gone by the wayside. She even got a “Junior Agent” badge at the Richmond TSA checkpoint. Both Richmond and Tulsa TSA checks were very smooth and professional.
All in all it was a good trip. How was your week?
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