Gridiron tragedy puts troubles into perspective
I was an idiot. A fool. I was upset, and at the same time slightly embarrassed.
But we’ll get to that in a minute.
This was a downright miserable weekend of travel. But as I learned by the end of my trip, it could have been worse.
As Steelers beat writer for this newspaper, my assignment was to travel to Atlanta, cover the Steelers-Falcons game Friday night, then fly home Saturday.
Simple enough, right?
So at 10:30 a.m. Friday, I found myself sitting in the Pittsburgh International Airport terminal waiting for my flight an hour later.
I had my ticket in one hand, my steak and cheese hoagie in the other.
Moments after my fellow traveling journalists arrived and checked in, I noticed the marquee had changed.
Even as a novice air traveler – I’ve only flown about 20 times – I knew this wasn’t good. Instead of reading Atlanta, it read Wilkes-Barre.
Without notice, the flight to Atlanta was cancelled, and the good people of US Airways booked me on another, only it wouldn’t leave for another hour, and there was a 90-minute layover in Charlotte, N.C.
Estimating, I figured I would arrive in Atlanta around 5 p.m. Game time was 7:30. Still plenty of time to touch down, check into the hotel, change clothes and arrive at the Georgia Dome for kickoff.
After enduring two flights with restless children and plenty of kicking and crying, I landed in Atlanta at 5:15 p.m., just in time for rush hour.
Only to my surprise, I didn’t catch any traffic. That’s because US Airways temporarily misplaced a planeful of luggage, including
my traveling companion’s, which included about $10,000 worth of photography equipment.
We waited 45 minutes – most of which was spent using choice words about the airline industry – before his luggage slid onto the conveyor belt.
Ah, hello, United, sure you don’t want to reconsider that merger?
We caught a cab, doing about
75 miles per hour on what looked to be Interstate 85 – tinted windows and stickers listing cab fares blurred much of the view.
We arrived at the hotel. 6:05 p.m. I would have liked to have been at the stadium around then, but I knew there was still time to check in and change.
Upon entering the Embassy Suites hotel, we were greeted to three lines, 10 people deep, waiting to check in.
Moments like these, you think about all the people who say, ‘Oh, man, you’re lucky. You get to travel and cover the Steelers,’ and, ‘You probably meet so many different and interesting people,’ and you want to strangle them.
Standing there, I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me.
But this was no joke. Just when I was losing faith, I learned I was surrounded by faith, the Women of Faith, actually, who were holding a convention in Atlanta this weekend. And it seemed all of them, mostly 60-somethings with graying hair, were staying at my hotel.
Surely this would take at least a half-hour. I had no time to wait around. I ran to the nearest men’s room and began changing, the heck with who saw what.
I rejoined my friend in line and contemplated waiting any longer.
‘Relax,’ he said. ‘Give it another 15 minutes, then we’ll go.’
Fifteen minutes came, and we were the next in line.
Finally, at 6:30 p.m., we got our room keys – the key card types – and we dashed to our respective rooms, whereupon my key failed to work.
I was fortunate a towel boy was walking past at the time and let me in the room with his universal key. I set down my things and was off.
Sure enough, we made it to the game with about 30 minutes to spare. After the game, I sent my stories, made deadline and began packing my materials when I noticed my Steelers media guide was missing.
Someone must have heisted it while I was in the locker room.
The perfect ending to the perfect day.
Saturday morning wasn’t much better.
Of all the rooms in all the hotels, mine had a malfuncioning shower head.
I joined my traveling companion and two others for breakfast, and grabbed a cab to the airport.
The flight attendent called my row, and I took my seat.
A woman sat beside me.
I read a newspaper; she paid bills.
I noticed a small story in the back of the sports section of an Atlanta newspaper. A football player from Northwestern University died during practice Friday. He became the fourth football player – from high school to the pros – in less than a week to die, although, unlike Minnesota Vikings tackle Korey Stringer, his death was not heat related.
I had read enough and packed the newspaper away.
Shortly after, lunch was served, and the woman and I began making small talk. We joked about the condition of the grilled chicken sandwich in the lunch box. She seemed like a sweet old lady.
We touched down in Pittsburgh, and I began thinking about the previous 24 hours. About the frustration. About the aggravation.
Suddenly, the woman struck up a conversation again.
She asked if this was my destination, and I said yes, in return asking her the same question.
She nodded no.
She was headed to Warren, Ohio. She has a funeral to attend Monday.
Her grand-nephew had just died.
Then she said, ‘My name is Joan Stringer.’
I froze – I know I did – at least temporarily. At that moment, all the previous frustration and aggravation seemed so pointless.
It still does.
And I realize my weekend wasn’t so bad after all.
Rob Amen is a staff writer for the Valley News Dispatch.