Time moved at glacial velocity when I was a kid but at some point between age 20 and 22 I was ambushed by a chronological fruit-basket turnover. That endless wait from Christmas to Christmas suddenly shrunk – glance down to read the newspaper while the Super Bowl is on TV / look up and the puppets from “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” are dancing across the screen. When Lori and I first discussed marriage it seemed like we had all the time in the world but the third week of April 1977 unexpectedly nudged its way into my life while I was otherwise occupied with final exams and portfolio reviews.
My last review was scheduled just a few hours before my flight to Washington DC to get married and in an ironic twist of fate the session went overtime when heretofore disinterested faculty members started asking complex questions about my work. Unfortunately as much as I appreciated the attention the session was cutting into an already late start to a drive up to Salt Lake City and the airport so I finally grabbed my portfolio and just left.
Transit from the conference room to my apartment was made at a dead sprint and I wasted no time as I scooped my clothes into my carryall. Throughout the apartment room-mates were busily scrubbing walls and cleaning carpets in the vain hope of recovering their deposits and as I folded, stuffed and packed I was assailed by a chorus of dissatisfaction at my janitorial neglect. Glancing at the pitiless clock I ran out the door, throwing a couple of fives on the table and shouting over my shoulder to “take my share out of this “as I slammed the door shut.
The trip to Salt Lake City went remarkably fast, considering my steed was a rusty, backfiring 1960 Ford F150 pick-up. The plan was for me to pick up my buddy Kent Broadhead, have him drop me off at the airport after which he’d keep the truck at his house until Lori and I flew back to retrieve the vehicle and start our trip up the ALCAN Highway. It looked like the plan was all on track until he pulled out and made a right-hand turn into the Gridlock Express.
Rush hour traffic in 1977 Salt Lake City usually wasn’t the nightmare found in major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles or New York City but there had been a major pile-up on I-15 which was diverting traffic to Redwood Road where we were driving. The street began taking on the appearance of a moving parking lot, which I took as a blessing in disguise when I realized that I hadn’t changed into my traveling clothes. We were moving so slow that Kent just let the truck idle along with the creeping traffic while I cracked open my door, half-climbed/half reached around the cab and pulled my denim suit out of my carryall. Then I proceeded to bend, twist and fold myself into my pants, vest and jacket, doing my best to ignore the curious stares from the cars around us.
The tension continued to build and I found myself compulsively checking the time as traffic continued to crawl along oblivious to my plight, and when we finally reached the terminal I didn’t walk from the truck to the terminal – I shot like a bullet. I dashed to the counter and breathlessly announced my flight number and destination, only to have the counter attendant give me her best disapproving school-marm expression, and tell me that the flight had already departed the gate.
I rocked back like I’d been punched, then I quietly asked if she could pass a message on for me. She started to motion to the nearest pay phone, but when she heard those magic words “fiancée” and “D.C. temple” she sucked her breath in, grabbed her phone with one hand and started tapping at her computer with the other.. Two phone calls and twenty frantic keystrokes later she looked up at me and said: “Brother Deitrick – they’re holding the plane for you. Get down to the gate as fast as you can and go to the side door. Someone will meet you there and take you to the plane. Go quickly – and don’t just walk!”
Long before “the glove didn’t fit” O.J. Simpson was the star of the Hertz Rent-a-Car commercial that had him running through an airline terminal between his flight and a rental car. I would have left him in the dust that day as I dashed to the departure gate where I was met at the side door by another airline person who dragged/led me down a flight of stairs and out a door to the pavement. Blinking the setting sun out of my eyes I beheld my plane sitting just short of the active taxiway with an old disused mobile stairway leading up to an open door in the fuselage.
It was all sarcasm, snarls and swearing from the other passengers as I stumbled down the aisle to my seat but all that changed as the flight attendant started into her preflight briefing. As she wound up her usual spiel about seat-belts, smoking and exits she added “As usual we wish you a happy flight – especially to our late boarder who is on his way to get married in Washington DC” at which point the colorful metaphors turned into cheers. It was also the point at which I felt like I could relax so I curled up in the seat as best I could and tried to sleep.
Negotiating Chicago O’Hare Airport was almost but not quite as hectic as getting through the terminal in Salt Lake City. Again it was a matter of moving along smartly but this time that meant just walking quickly and using the Jetway like everyone else…but I still just made it, boarding the plane minutes before the door was sealed shut. Again I curled up in my seat to sleep but as the airliner leveled off at cruising altitude I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast early that morning. Unfortunately the flight was short enough and late enough in the day to warrant a meal of little more than Pepsi and peanuts so I curled up even tighter in my seat and tried to ignore my stomach’s complaints as I dozed off.
I was just waking up as the plane was turning, banking and descending towards our final destination. As I sat there, my stomach churning with a combination of hunger and mild nausea from the approach aerobatics I overheard something that sounded like “space needle” coming from a seat behind me. I went into full-blown panic and figured that in my haste I had somehow gotten on board a flight going to Washington State instead of Washington DC.
As I stared out of my window into the night I was ready to give up – on the flight, on the marriage and on life, but as the plane landed and taxied to the terminal I heard the sweetest words ever spoken: “Welcome to Dulles International Airport. We hope you enjoy your visit to the nation’s capital: Washington D.C.!”
I’d made it.
After that it was kind of a blur – I was tired and very hungry but the first thing I did was move out into the hallway to look for Lori…who was walking quickly toward my gate with her parents in tow. I’d met her father three weeks earlier so greeting him was a quick handshake. Her mother was another matter; I don’t think she was very happy meeting me a scant twelve hours before the marriage and as we walked to the baggage claim she presented a long list of shortfalls she could already detect in my speech, grooming, clothing and deportment.
I didn’t really care. Once I saw the gentle cascade of light brown hair and the water-color blue eyes with the slightly sad tilt I really didn’t notice anything else. I had my beautiful Saxon Princess with me and everything was going to be OK.
24 hours later
The conviction was still there – that everything was going to be OK. As we laid there in that snake-hug tangle that only newlyweds can achieve I thought about the future. In the short term we had an ambitious schedule ahead of us – a twelve hour road trip to Huntsville Alabama and the wedding reception, then four days later a flight back to Utah followed by much longer road trip up the ALCAN to my home and job in Alaska.
Still asleep, Lori shifted slightly and tucked her head under my chin, her breath warming my chest and neck…and my heart. I kept thinking – it wasn’t just the next couple of weeks that were going to be challenging – I had the feeling that life for us was going to be much like my convoluted journey from Provo to Washington DC – a roller-coaster ride kind of life with many challenges to overcome but well worth it in the end.
…and as long as I was with my beautiful Saxon Princess, my smokin’ hot child bride…my Lori who’d pushed the pain out of my heart, life would continue to be OK.