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Bunkin' with the Boss

This is my contribution to the Valentine's Day program. My former boss and I, still friends, wish everyone a Happy Valentine's Day.

Robert and I were on our way back to Boston from a week-long business trip. Our itinerary called for us to change planes at O'Hare in Chicago on a Friday afternoon, always a busy time. As we began our descent into O'Hare, the pilot announced that there were terrible rainstorms in Chicago, that the airport was flooded -- people could neither get in nor out -- and that we would hope to land shortly. We circled for some time and finally, luckily, were one of the last flights permitted to land.

Naturally, our leg to Boston was delayed, as was every other flight at O'Hare. I have never seen an airport so packed to the gills. It was not accessible to subways or cars. Several hotel shuttle buses which were on the one route that avoided the flooded roadways were the only means of transportation, and only within the airport perimeter. Even the flight crews could not get in or out.

Since the flight to Boston was listed as 'delayed' rather than 'canceled,' we continued to hope that we would get out that night. In the meantime, the airport was in total chaos. There were lines of people in front of every food area, even the pretzel kiosk. People were spread out on the floor trying to sleep, knowing they were going to have to spend the night. Children were hungry and crying. Every phone booth had lines of at least 50 people trying to communicate with family or book a hotel room.

Robert had begun to get sick on the flight from California to Chicago. By the time we landed, he was having stomach pains, sweating and feeling weak. I knew that the chances of getting home that night were slim and that we would want to find a hotel. However, with no access in or out of the airport, and all the phones in use, getting rooms was going to be a challenge.

I shepherded Robert to the Red Carpet Room thinking that perhaps the lines for phones would be shorter and we might be able to get some food. Unfortunately, there was no food and, although I did manage to get access to a phone, all the lines going out were busy. Printed on the phone were numbers to several hotels. I pushed the button for the direct line to the Westin Hotel at the airport and unbelievably made a connection. When the operator answered, I booked one room for the night, thinking that if our plane actually departed that evening, our company would only have to pay for one unoccupied room (ever the cheapskate, I worried about wasting company money). If the plane didn't leave, at least we would have one room and I would work on obtaining another.

As the evening wore on, our hopes for leaving that night dimmed. The airport began to settle down. There was no food left anywhere, and people were trying to sleep in any available space. Robert was getting more and more uncomfortable.

Our flight was canceled at about 8:00 p.m. I guided us downstairs to the shuttle bus area. It was still a madhouse outside with people trying to get to hotels. Finally, a shuttle for the Intercontinental Hotel pulled up. I told the driver that we were trying to get to the Westin. He replied that the roads were closed everywhere, but if we were willing to make a stop at the Intercontinental, after he dropped his load there he would drive as close to the Westin as possible and we could walk the rest of the way. We agreed and clambered on board.

The roads were practically impassable. Puddles were a foot or more deep. We drove the mile or so to the Intercontinental. I ran inside to try to book the extra room at the Westin while the driver was helping people move their luggage. The lobby of the Intercontinental was wall-to-wall people. Desk agents were shouting and gesticulating, trying to be heard over the din, that there were no more rooms available. I tried to find a pay phone but again, the lines were enormous. It occurred to me that if I went up a few floors, I might be able to find a phone in a hallway that would allow me to connect out. I climbed up 3 or 4 floors and did indeed discover a phone on a hall table.

I called the Westin and booked the extra room. Robert and I got back on the overcrowded Intercontinental shuttle. Robert slumped in his seat, battling pain and fatigue. A young couple with two small children were seated opposite us. One of the children was crying from exhaustion and hunger. We heard the husband say to the wife, "What can we do? We will never get a room and we couldn't afford it anyway." The wife looked upset and on the verge of tears.

Robert and I looked at each other. No words passed between us. "We have an extra room," I said quietly to them. "Don't worry about the charge, our company will pick it up." They looked at each other incredulously and gratefully nodded their heads.

The driver dropped us near the Westin and we walked in. The lobby was relatively quiet and the hotel was dark since they were operating on an emergency generator. We checked ourselves in and Robert and I and the young family went to our adjacent rooms. They shook our hands with thanks and he murmured "God bless you." We told them simply to charge the meals to the room and slip the bills under our door the next morning.

As we finally collapsed into our respective beds, we began to laugh.

"Are you going to tell Steve that you slept with your boss?" Robert asked.

"Are you going to tell Sarah?" I replied.

'Let's figure it out in the morning," Robert said. And we both went to sleep.



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