The Domino Effect, Fly Over States, & A Living Wake

It’s Sunday morning here in New York. Usually by this time of the morning, I’d be on my third cup of coffee and giving my best effort at proofreading my weekly blog so I could post and work on my novel. This morning strays from my usual routine, having slept in late after experiencing an interesting forty eight hours.  With that in mind, this post is going to be a little bit different for me, starting with title and format (and I’m borrowing from my friend Erin Sandlin here).  I’m not going to proofread this post so if you’re a friend and notice a dumb error on my part, please point it out to me and I will correct it in a few days. I was going to skip posting but I needed to write.

Dominoes falling

The Domino Effect

I had to travel to Houston for work this last week. It’s a trip I’ve made numerous times to work at a sister company there and I always look forward to the people, the Mexican food, and yes, to those that know me: Whataburger. I don’t want to list the company I work for because I would then have to start putting all the legal disclaimers (These thoughts are my own… etc.) on my site and Twitter. Suffice it to say I love my day job and the company I work for.  I had an intense three days of working there, ending with success the last hour on Thursday. Great team effort and I was ready for my trip home on Friday feeling quite good about what we accomplished.

My day Friday morning started with me getting up at 4:30 A.M. to head to the airport to catch an 8:22 flight. I arrived at my gate with an hour to spare and sat down to read. As we were about to board, I received a text on my phone stating the flight was delayed until 10:00. At the same time, the two airline employees behind the gate counter were whispering between themselves and one reached for a microphone and announced that due to a FIRE at a radar facility, all flights into or out of Chicago were “on hold” until further notice. After watching the events unfold on CNN and getting tidbits of information online from a Chicago news station, I was relieved that there were no injuries to anyone on the ground or in the air, the exception of course being the idiot who decided to attempt suicide.

Now before anyone gets upset at me for calling this individual an idiot, let me say that I am sensitive to people who have mental health issues. It’s a growing problem everywhere and subject to all sorts of debate that I am not qualified to argue about nor do I care to in this forum. We see events like this all too often, many of them ending with loss of innocent life.  What I am not sensitive to is a cowardice act by someone sane enough to post his intentions then attempt to follow through with no regard for others. He’s an idiot and his actions affected thousands of people on Friday, including me. People with plans, and I heard many: weddings, a baseball game, a conference, Atlantic City, vacations, or just getting home like I was trying to do for an event I needed to be at on Saturday.

My flight to Chicago was delayed by two and half hours which meant of course that I would miss my connecting flight to Buffalo. I was kindly informed of this again by text, about thirty minutes before boarding. No problem is what I remember thinking. My original travel plans had me landing in Buffalo around 4:00 P.M. After picking up a rental car and driving ninety minutes, I estimated my time home at 6:00 or 6:30. I figured they would schedule me for a later flight and I would just deal with it. After landing and turning my phone back on I had another text stating I had been rescheduled on a flight for 7:45 P.M.  Once again I remember thinking no problem and this would just be a long Friday travel experience but nothing I haven’t had happen before. I exited the plane, and glanced at my phone again to see the flight details and happened to notice a detail I hadn’t noticed before: the date. My rescheduled flight was for Saturday night, not Friday night. As I started walking towards customer service I was trying to be optimistic that I could get that changed.  That optimism faded quickly as I saw the line for customer service that I would honestly estimate at over a thousand people stretching beyond the beginning of the terminal.  Now panic set in and I continued walking until I was outside the building and could have a cigarette.

Outside, I called the AMEX travel group our company uses for travel arrangements. I tried to do this in Houston a few times and couldn’t get through which was the deciding factor for me to continue on with my flight to Chicago. Well, that, and the fact my luggage was on the plane sitting right in front of me (something I rarely do as I normally carry my bag on). Luckily I got through and after 10 minutes on the phone with the agent, exploring even flights to Rochester, Cleveland, Erie, and Elmira, it was determined that the earliest flight was in fact the Saturday 7:45 flight.

My thoughts then? I’m screwed (OK, I’m being mild in my choice of words here). I just needed to get home.

Fly Over States

Something prevalent for anyone in engineering work is having problem solving skills. I have them thankfully. I had a second cigarette and started thinking about how to fix this. Oh yeah, smoking… I should quit now considering I am down to only five cigarettes a day and I run.  It makes no sense but at that moment a cigarette was comforting. I still think I’ll quit before Christmas though. Back to problem solving. There was no way I was going to spend the night in Chicago, have to check out of a hotel at noon, head back to the airport and sit until 7:45 in the evening, and making matters worse: with no luggage.  I came up with a plan.

The first thing I needed to do was see if I could get my luggage.  I walked back into the terminal and glanced over at another line of people near a baggage services area. The line was only about fifty people and I joined it. Within minutes there were another fifty people behind me. I don’t know the inner workings of an airport but I did know my bag was there somewhere. While in line, I called Avis and told them I wanted to reserve a car to drive from Chicago to New York but this would be dependent on whether or not I could get my bag. The lady was nice and said she would hold the reservation until I called her and said differently.  I estimated I would need the car in an hour.  Luckily the line moved quickly, I got to the counter and explained to the man that I wanted my luggage. Normally during times like this, you see many people at their worst.  I’m not one of those people. The people I was dealing with during the day are just people trying to do their job, people whose routines were disrupted just like mine. I gave the man my baggage claim ticket, described my bag, and he took the information and told me to go to carousel two and wait for my bag. When I got to the baggage carousel, people were complaining that they had been waiting for hours. I called Avis back to inform her of my situation and she said that would not be a problem. Thirty minutes later, I had my bag and headed out the door. Once outside, I called AMEX travel services back and told them I would not need the flight on Saturday so please cancel it. By 4:00 Friday afternoon, I was sitting in a rental car plugging in my home address into my GPS. I should have been picking up a rental car in Buffalo instead of Chicago but things change right?

For any of you who have ever driven in Chicago, it is an adventure to say the least. Having lived in Wisconsin for five years, we visited and/or drove through Chicago many times. There is NO good time of day to do it. I found over the years that the best time was around 3:00 in the morning. I couldn’t wait that long. It took me two and a half hours to get through Chicago Friday. Yeah, that bad.

Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania. These should have been fly over states for me to get to New York but I was going to drive through them. There is a song by a country artist named Jason Aldean titled Fly Over States. I’m not a big country music fan but have grown to like it for no other reason than I live in the country so to speak. Normally, I love driving and especially love driving the back roads that take you through small towns and country that most people never see. The song is fitting for me. Sadly though my trip had a time limit and I would be driving a route I knew well from my many trips driving from Wisconsin to New York so I would have to stick with the freeway and turnpike. After getting through Chicago, my GPS told me I would get to NY at 5 in the morning. Realistically I knew that would not happen for two reasons. One, I can’t drive that distance during the day without stopping multiple times and two, I certainly could not drive that distance alone at night as tired as I was mentally.

My plan was to drive as far as I could safely, then stop and get a hotel, get four or five hours of sleep then continue on in the morning. I just needed to be home by 3:00. At every rest stop along the I90, I would stop, get a Red Bull or a Monster, have a cigarette, field texts from my wife and kids; all while being encouraged on Twitter by my very dear friends Dena Rogers and Emma Wicker. I even got a wave hello from another Twitter friend Kathy Palm as I passed through her state. I made it to some hotel in Ohio and stopped to get some sleep.  I was up at 5 in the morning and back on the road again by 5:45, again in communication with my wife, kids, Dena, and Emma throughout the morning and early afternoon.

A Living Wake

I made it home by 2:45 yesterday but my wife had already left along with my mother-in-law who had been staying with her and the kids all week while I was gone. I walked in the house, dropped off my bags, and headed into town so I could turn in the rental car at the plant I work at. Luckily we have Avis cars at our plant for our employees who travel. This worked out well considering where I needed to meet my wife was within walking distance to the plant. I got there just before 4.

wake n. 2. A watch over the body of a deceased person before burial, sometimes accompanied by festivity. Also called regionally viewing.   (

My wife’s aunt, on her father’s side, has been very ill, her health declining over the last few years. I’m not real close with her but have always enjoyed chatting with her, usually at parties thrown by her two sons or at funerals and subsequent family get-togethers afterwards. A few weeks ago, she went into the hospital and after a short stay was released to go home under hospice care. Never a good thing with the inevitable outcome to that being death. Sometime this week, she told family members that she wanted to have a party on Saturday, a “living wake” according to her, so that everyone could say good bye to her, and she could say good bye in return. The party was set for 3:00 and I promised my wife I would go with her.

We stayed and visited for a while then left, leaving her to be with her immediate family; her sons and daughters, all her grandchildren, and great grandchildren. My wife and mother-in-law sensed when they kissed her goodbye that they were most likely doing it for the last time.

They sensed correctly. This morning, I slept in which is really a rarity for me. I was awakened by the phone ringing. My wife’s aunt died in her sleep last night. Peacefully.

I don’t do death real well and at my age it seems to be something I have had to deal with more of lately, especially on my wife’s side of the family. This was part of why we moved to New York, so she could enjoy her family after giving me so many years with mine. She had family members pass while we didn’t live here but since we’ve moved here, she’s lost an uncle, an aunt, a cousin, her father, and now her aunt.  My father died when I was young but I didn’t really know him that well so I never dealt with it. My grandparents however suffered for a year and a half, my wife making countless trips with me to see them, all while knowing they were going to die at any time,  and every time I saw them I knew it could be the last. One time it eventually was. With my wife going through this on numerous occasions, some expected and some not, it has been important to me that I be here for her, just like she was for me and why it was so important that I got home in time to attend the party with her.

A year and a half ago, my wife’s father passed away after a tough battle with an illness. I remember at his funeral, my wife’s aunt was joking that the funeral director was “sizing her up for a casket” but that she just wasn’t ready to go yet. I guess last night she was finally ready.

* * *

When I look back at the events that started at 4:30 Friday morning, I consider myself fortunate to have made it home in time to be here for my wife and mother-in-law. I’m just one of thousands whose plans got changed and somehow it worked out for me. I would bet though that out of those thousands of people affected by one person’s irresponsible decision, some of them weren’t as fortunate as I was.





  1. woodbeez48

    Okay, so now I know what was behind your choice of that song 🙂 What a great story of how you triumphed over adversity. I’m glad you managed to work it out in the end and that you got back home in time x

    • W.C. Cunningham

      Although I listened to the only music I had on my iPhone while driving (ranging form Metallica to R.E.M), this song crossed my mind as I was driving what should have been flown over. Thanks for reading!

  2. philosophoenix

    I loved this. I think that what I refer to as the tabula rasa approach to writing could be a very fruitful tool for your creative endeavors. Even “hot off the brain” I can see the bones of your approach to explanation, exploration, and organization–I see how you think as clearly as what you think.

    • W.C. Cunningham

      Thank you so much Erin. I actually remember tabula rasa from a college class and very fitting for my rambling this week but the experience as a whole drove my thought process. I just woke up and knew I had to write about it versus what I had “planned” to write.

  3. PaigeRandall

    I’m taking a Xanax because this was such a stressful week for you. Terribly sorry for your loss. You handled a tough situation like a trooper!

    • W.C. Cunningham

      Thanks Paige! Looking forward to spending some time in the woods this weekend and getting some writing done.

  4. Carrie Lynn Lewis


    Great post. Those long and oft-diverted flights can be an adventure, that’s for sure.

    Love the song, too. That really choked me up. Trains and everything.

    By the way, if Heaven’s door is half open in the Oklahoma plains, it’s 3/4 of the way open in the Flint Hills of Kansas. If I could move the Flint Hills to central Michigan, where I grew up, it would be perfect!

    I’m sorry for your loss. Please pass my sympathies on to your wife and her family, too.

  5. TuiSnider

    Quite an interesting 48 hours! I had never heard of a “living wake” before… that is quite a concept. Like you, I find that I am having to deal with death more lately. I don’t particularly like it! I know, funny coming from someone who loves visiting historical cemeteries… but that’s different. History… death… sigh… Now, you’ve got my head spinning off on philosophical tangents!

    I’m popping by from the #StoryDam chat linky. Hope you can make it tonight at 8pmET. We’re talking about using #StumbleUpon & how it can boost traffic to your blog! 🙂

    • W.C. Cunningham

      Thanks Tui. I was sick most of last week so missed #StoryDam. Will have to go back and read through the chat. I have no clue what #stumbleupon is so it should be interesting.

  6. S.S. Lange

    I love this post. I certainly don’t love that you had to go through all that, but you told it well. And handled it way better than I would have (hence why I just don’t fly). What a wonderful husband you are for pushing through to be home for your family.

    And I’ve done that drive several times – with some extra on both ends. Even at 3am, Chicago is a scary place to drive (especially in a full size pick up) for this small town girl. And I’m sure you already knew this, but the rest areas in Ohio on I90 are BY FAR the best ever.

  7. Georgia Rose

    Terrific story Bill though I’m sorry you had to go through that and with all that you had to face on your return. Coming from England it’s difficult to imagine the sheer scale of the distances you have to travel over there, it’s no wonder you fly over so much of it.

  8. Terry Tyler

    Kerrrrr-ikey!!!! I do not blame you at all for your anger at that person’s selfish action – attention seeking at its very, very worst. And not surprised you just needed to get it all down!!!

    • W.C. Cunningham

      Thanks for reading Terry. I did have some choice words for that person my first couple hours after landing in Chicago that day.

  9. Shareen Mansfield

    The ease at which you write comforts me

    • W.C. Cunningham

      Thank you Shareen. 🙂

  10. Shareen Mansfield

    “I’m just one of thousands whose plans got changed and somehow it worked out for me. I would bet though that out of those thousands of people affected by one person’s irresponsible decision, some of them weren’t as fortunate as I was.”

    One persons irresponsible decision trickling down is the story of my life this spring and summer.

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