It finally happened. Andy Warhol, wherever you are, you can rest a little easier knowing that I had my 15 minutes of fame. Of course, I never expected my 15 minutes of fame to come in Wichita, Kan., but like Christmas in Whoville after the Grinch, it came nonetheless.
Have you ever had one of those experiences where you blink and you suddenly wonder, “How in the world did things get to be like this?” Well, that’s where I was on Nov. 30, talking to a television reporter in the baggage claim of Wichita’s airport. Tired and cursing Mother Nature, I lied to the entire country on CNN. Yep, I’m guilty. I lied ... but not intentionally. That counts, right? My halo is just a little crooked now, right?
OK, here’s the story. Like many of you, I left the Greater New York Dental Meeting Wednesday afternoon (before the big tree was lit at Rockefeller Center). While I was taking a taxi to the airport, a snowstorm was brewing in Oklahoma (where I live) and an ice storm was strengthening in Texas (where my American Airlines plane was coming from). A four-hour wait at LaGuardia finally ended and we took off for Chicago. Of course, we had missed our flight connection to Tulsa, so seven of us from Tulsa were stuck in Chicago for the night. These six others included a 2-month-old baby and a lady who had had back surgery four months before.
Now, me being Mr. Let’s Get Something Done decided to call and see if the Hilton at O’Hare had any rooms. After all, we had a morning flight to Tulsa so we could sleep a little bit (since it was already pushing midnight). The Hilton reservation folks said they had enough rooms for all of us at O’Hare, so off we went. Looking back, that was mistake No. 1.
We left the secured environment of O’Hare (with our luggage still in the bowels of the airport) to head to the Hilton. Once there, we discovered they had booked our rooms for the wrong night and there weren’t any rooms for us. After all, plenty of others were stuck in Chicago as well. I tried to play the new baby and lady who had had back surgery needing a room angle, but to no avail. It was nearing Christmastime and there was literally no room at the inn.
Fear not! We’ll just go back to the American Airlines gate and see what we can do about getting a cot for the night. Wrong...security was shut down for the night. Sigh. We finally found a hotel 15 miles away, pulled in at 1:45 a.m. and asked for a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call to make the flight from Chicago to Tulsa.
After a very short night and some dozing on the plane, I was awakened to, “...because of that, we are being diverted to Wichita.” Huh? Well, the Tulsa airport had been closed by the snowstorm (thanks to a record 10.5 inches and Oklahoma’s first-ever blizzard warning). So, with less than three hours sleep, no extra clothes, and an ever-growing desire to never travel again, me and 17 others landed in Wichita. Now to our readers in Wichita, let me state there’s nothing wrong with your fair city. It’s just not where I wanted to be right then.
How would we get to Tulsa? American Airlines arranged a bus to drive us there. A bus? Through the blizzard? Over the slick and hazardous roads that the Oklahoma Highway Patrol was telling people not to drive on? Yeah. Well, I’m not a big fan of driving on ice, and I’m not a big fan of driving six hours on ice either, so I played the martyr. “I’m not getting on the bus,” I declared to my colleagues. “I’ll stay in Wichita tonight and drive back tomorrow.” This is when the TV cameraman asked me why and I told him I had a bad feeling about traveling through the snow (remember Ritchie Valens?). “I’m going with my gut and staying in Wichita,” I boldly proclaimed. He said thanks and left. An hour later, I was on the bus heading to Tulsa. Why? Peer pressure. I succumbed so easily. Everyone else got on the bus. So did I. If any of you go through Wichita soon, please pick up my backbone.
Six hours later, we were in slick and snowy Tulsa - safe and sound. The next morning, friends were calling to tell me they had seen me on CNN saying I was spending the night in Wichita. Turns out the Wichita station forwarded on my bold statement to CNN. Uh oh. I still have people tell me they saw me on CNN and ask me how that night in Wichita turned out.
I think I wasted my 15 minutes of fame in Wichita. Sounds like a country song to me.
Read on, this is your magazine...
Kevin Henry, Editor