(Read how the adventure began.)
And now, it's an evening and morning with Rich before he leaves with Jenn for her family's New Year's celebration in Idaho, and lunch tomorrow with my journalist friend Brian Bull in Madison before I leave for my bluesy New Year's Eve in downtown Chicago.
Then it's back home to Reno for me, again through Denver, on New Year's Day. Wish me good Denver weather.
I wish you as joyous and adventurous a new year as my Christmas odyssey. I wish for you also a 2007 filled with as much love and good will as my Christmas 2006 gifts of generosity from strangers and from dear friends and from family.
The adventure (as I'm choosing to call it) is that I don't know when I'll get out of Denver. It's really bad here. I'm trying to get to Madison, Wisconsin, to visit my little brother, Richard, for Christmas. I flew from Reno to Denver, the first of three flights to Chicago O'Hare, yesterday morning. I should have known something was up when the lines to check in at United snaked so far past the entrances that I almost missed my flight, despite arriving 75 minutes ahead of departure. (In Reno, more than 60 minutes in advance is overly prudent.)
I was one of the lucky ones who landed in Denver and actually was able to deplane within an hour. Others had to wait eight hours on the plane because the pilots couldn't taxi the jet the extra hundred yards to the gate. There are rumors that the passengers will sue, although it's hard to see whose fault it is. Maybe God. After all, mechanics had to work on the door to our plane to defrost it enough so we could hook up to the accordion-style connector to the hallway into the gate. Or so passed the rumors down the aisles in our plane. (I was in the very last row, middle seat. As I said, this is an adventure!)
In the airport, after more than an hour of trying to get reliable information, I managed to hook up with three other people from the airport to go to the only hotel with rooms left we could find. It was to be at least a $40 cab ride from the airport to Englewood. The economy shuttle had stopped running.
During a two-and-a-half hour wait for a taxi in the shivering cold, we sang Christmas carols. It worked to distract us from the cold and the unnerving uncertainty. Six of us got in a van but never made it to Englewood. I truly thought we were going to die on the way here -- the cab driver kept driving off the freeway in the white-out conditions and most of us jumped out to push the van, while we all shouted instructions to him on how to rock the vehicle back and forth out of the drifts. Many other vehicles stranded in the blanketing snow. Almost no emergency vehicles were picking people up.
Now the story is that we're stuck fifteen minutes from the airport (fifteen minutes under normal driving conditions) and being gouged by a hotel whose corporate policy is to keep raising the rates every twenty minutes when there's demand like this. In my book, when there's a natural disaster and people are lucky to still be alive and warm inside a building, it's immoral to charge as much as you can get for a room, as this hotel is doing. I'm incensed, but I'm also grateful to be alive.
I just don't know when I'll get out of here. The latest word is that there are no flights for those stranded until after Christmas. After I can get on the road again, if I can't make it closer to Madison by rental car with my new airport friends, then I'll have to wait until my return flight out of Denver to Reno on Jan. 1st. I might have to find a Red Cross shelter or if there's no room there, then maybe a homeless shelter until I can leave the city. Wish me luck. But -- but -- but -- if I can make it to Lincoln, Nebraska, tomorrow, and if the storm abates as it moves eastward into Nebraska, my little brother, Richard, can pick me up and drive me the many hours north to Madison. Then we'll have Christmas Eve dinner together, after all.
Right now, I'm using the hotel business center computer. There's usually a line to use it, so I'll have to get offline soon. I just had lunch, a buffet -- and they asked us to eat sparingly so there'd be enough food for everyone. I guess they don't know when they'll be able to replenish their stock.
If you're safe and warm and home, realize how blessed you are. I now have a tiny inkling of what New Orleans residents still are enduring. Pray for them, and for those who might still be stranded somewhere on a Colorado road.
(Read the rest of the story.)
I quit my job in Hanford country (the most polluted nuclear site in the western hemisphere) and returned to my Reno roots. I moved to Richland , Washington , in January for an amazing career opportunity. I was regional correspondent based in south-central Washington for the Northwest News Network, which broadcasts to all nine NPR stations in Washington , Oregon , and Boise , Idaho. One million listeners heard my daily stories. I covered nuclear clean-up at Hanford, politics, immigration stories, environmental issues, and agricultural stories. My beat spanned central and eastern Washington and central and eastern Oregon, a geographical area covering thousands of square miles.
But, as the saying goes about all that glitters, it wasnít the job for me. But the great news is Iím back home. I missed Reno more than I could have imagined. I was truly homesick! (But I do love Seattle , where I got to spend about three weeks this June, cross-training at one of the NPR stations there. What a great city!)
The move back to Reno was the best of my life. Thatís because of all the help I received in packing and moving. Itís also because of something wonderful I discovered while packing. Iíll explain.
I had been attending a wonderful, liberal church in Richland called Shalom. Itís part of the United Church of Christ, like Reno First Congregational, which is the church I had been attending before I left town this past January. United Church of Christ is an American group of churches known for their open and affirming ways. They welcome everyone, including people with beliefs and lifestyles that others judge and exclude. ďOpen and affirmingĒ has become a phrase that means a church welcomes people of all sexual orientations.
Shalom is a small church, full of friends that I didnít know I had until I announced that I was leaving Richland . That I didnít know I had so many friends wasnít their fault. There was just so much stress for so long, that I didnít have room in my soul to look around me. Once I quit my job and took a few deep breaths, I saw friends who had been there alongside me for months.
They helped me pack, lent me a truck for a week and muscle to move boxes, and some even opened their homes to me if I chose to stay in the Tri-Cities. Friends who help you move and offer their homes to you are friends of the heart. Speaking of that, my dear friend Barbara Dieringer in Reno offered me the refuge of her home, which is where Iím staying these days. Itís a happy home, full of love and music and good food. There are even two wonderful dogs and a great cat. Iíve been discovering the joyful truth that my friends are family.
Back to the moveÖOnce I was packed, one of my best friends going back many years from Reno made the 11-hour trip north to Richland in his delivery truck and loaded all my decades of boxes onto his truck and then drove convoy with me in my little Civic back to Reno. We arrived late Monday, unloaded all the stuff into my storage unit, and finished up the easiest move of my life! Great, big thanks and warm hug to my wonderful friend Andy.
One more thing made my move full of spiritual growth and joy. I had been dreading going through my hundreds of boxes, some of which I had packed in my twenties when I moved to Reno in 1990. I knew Iíd dredge up muck of old failures, past pains, and other heartbreaks best left untouched. What I found instead were my first diary written in a seven-year-oldís hand, the first entry dated on July 20, 1969, the day of that ďsmall step for man;Ē hundreds of cards and letters from parents, past loves, and childhood friends; my first Raggedy Ann; photos of myself surrounded by people I love from throughout my four decades; far more journals and diaries than I remembered writing; dozens of mementoes from living in foreign lands and following dreams and pursuing careers from inner-city high school teacher to casino secretary to public radio journalist; and other surprises by the scores.
Unpacking those boxes during the last week of September opened a life for me that I had forgotten. Itís true that harsh lessons have hurt me during the past ten or twelve years. But itís true, too, that my life is full of love and adventure. At 44, Iíve lived an amazing life, and there are decades still to go. I am grateful and surprised and reminded of all the joy and warmth in my life.
Then there was the drive home to Reno . Each hour I drove closer to Reno the land grew lovelier and more alive. Turning right on I-80 West from Winnemucca, I saw vistas open around me with grand Ruby Mountains giving way to majestic Sierras. Even sagebrush seemed more vibrant the farther south I traveled. Wheat-colored grasses rippled with winds among the bright yellow sage flowers. And the clouds! With each mile closer to Reno , the clouds gathered white and large and then purple-gray and larger. It seemed the heavens were rejoicing in my return home, invited the landscape and sky to join the celebration. And then the purple clouds would break open from sun rays too strong to hold back. The sun shone miles ahead down onto our vibrant, crazy, warm city. I cried. It had been too long. I was finally coming home.
So here I sit, writing to you from Reno again. Iím job-hunting. I donít know yet what my long-term plans are. I do plan to stay in Reno for at least six months to a year. Once my heart has finished healing, Iím going to look at myself and look around me. Itís then Iíll make a career decision. Do I look for another reporting job? Do I remain in the public radio journalism career? Do I stay in Reno ? Do I move to my favorite U.S. city, Seattle , and look for work there? Do I pursue career job possibilities that might open for me in Houston or Detroit ? These are just some of the long-term questions Iíll answer for myself next year.