Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Day With A Heroine

I had a hard time sleeping that night, which was a bad thing since I had to get up early. I was to report to the ticket counter no later than 07:30 and the airport was over an hour away. I wanted to leave the house by six to give myself some leeway in case I encountered the famous DC traffic. Fortunately, I did not. Unfortunately, I am a slow starter in the morning and I pulled into a parking spot in the hourly lot at precisely 07:30.

Never having been to Dulles International before, I had no real idea where to go. The ticketing counters were rather easy to find, but I saw no indication of where to find Southwest. I entered the building near the center, and elected to turn left to search for Southwest. I elected badly.

At the end of the building, I finally asked for directions. (Emily will be surprised that I caved in so quickly...) I was told to go back the way I had come, and keep going all the way to the end. It was 07:35. I started jogging.

My mad scramble to be on time at the airport this morning was neither business or pleasure. It wasn't even travel. It was a sense of duty. I was going to spend a day with a genuine American hero, but only if I could get to the Southwest ticketing counter before they decided I wasn't going to show up. Being late this morning meant more than just missing my flight. It meant missing the opportunity of a lifetime. Today was the day I would spend escorting a World War II veteran to the World War II memorial and other memorials in Washington DC as a volunteer for Honor Flight Chicago.

So I jogged.

I finally spotted the Southwest counter and a woman in a green polo shirt sitting opposite. As I walked up, she was briefing a couple of young guys on where to go through security, and handing them boarding passes. I listened to the information, and when it was my turn, gave my name and received my pass also.
"I thought I was going to miss you!" I gasped. I was a little out of breath from the jog, and I could feel the sweat popping out on my forehead.
"Oh you have plenty of time." she said cheerfully. I smiled ruefully and took my pass. I walked downstairs to the baggage claim area and found the screening area. Security screening always rattles me for some reason. I blame an over-developed sense of guilt combined with a persecution complex. I always fear that I am going to forget something in my bag, or that I will be targeted as a terrorist and detained in a damp dungeon somewhere for questioning. My rational mind is able to push these thoughts aside, but I still end up with sweaty palms and pounding heart every time I go through the screening.
I put my stuff in the gray bins and stepped up to the metal detector.
"Sir, please step over here." the woman directed me. Oh great. The body scanner. Didn't I tell you they suspected me? The procedure turned out to be quite painless actually though they did detect my driver's license which I had kept in my shirt pocket. They let me off with a wry smile. No gulag today I guess.

I rode the train out to Terminal B as directed by the lady at the ticketing counter. At terminal B I immediately spotted several people wearing the same lime-green polo shirts. I walked over, unsure as to my next step. I noticed a couple of people talking to a woman with a clipboard. Ah-hah! I thought. The universal symbol of the person in charge! I waited my turn.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"Tyler Willson" I answered. She scanned the list quickly, and placed a check next to the only Wilson on the list. Sandra Wilson. I was about to object when another lady who was watching said: "No, that is Sandra Wilson. Tyler is the last minute addition. His name is printed on the back. See?"

I shouldn't have been a last minute addition. I had sent in my forms on time, but somehow the e-mail got lost. The fact that I waited until the day before the trip to call and check was my fault however so I didn't protest. As long as I get to go.

"You will be on the white bus. Here is your name tag, and your shirt. What size do you need?" she asked.
"I need an XXL." I answered. She looked at me a bit quizzically.
"Our shirts are pretty big. If it doesn't fit, just bring it back and exchange it." I smiled.
"I am bigger than I look. I am sure it will be fine."
"Oh, and here in your badge holder is the name of your veteran and contact information for your bus captain, nurse, and me in case you have any problems."
I nodded, trying to take it all in. I couldn't wait to find out who my veteran would be.

(To be continued...)

(Updated 11 June 2011 to add hyperlinks...)

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