A friend's recent saga reminded me of a most unusual moment in my early traveling days.
By the time I was 10, my parents were divorced and living in different states. We kids became troupers in air travel, shuttling from Tennessee to Pennsylvania without batting an eye. In the 1960s there was a cheap stand-by fare for the under 21 crowd, and we became pros at mastering the take-offs and arrivals. Getting adoring attention from the stewardesses.
One summer in the late 1960s, though, my sister and I had a most remarkable air travel experience.
I was 13, she was 17. We were flying one evening from Nashville to Philadelphia with a connection at National Airport in Washington. En route to D.C., we were in the middle of the most horrific thunderstorm I've ever experienced in the air, before or since. Huge thunderbolts striking down on all sides, and our prop plane was bouncing like a superball from one air pocket to the next. After a terrifying descent, when we finally made it to terra firma, I was happy to be alive.
Then, we were told that our flight to Philadelphia was cancelled. Due to our "youth stand-by" status, the airline wasn't required to give us lodging or any other compensation. We spent our coins in the pay phone to call our mother, who couldn't really help us much.
Yikes. Two young teen girls alone for a night at Washington National? That was almost more spooky to me than the turbulent flight. We went to the airport hotel, the Air Wayte. They were booked, of course. We pleaded with the front desk clerk. Clearly, here were two nice girls in their Villager outfits properly dressed for travel; surely they couldn't leave us unchaperoned to walk the halls of the airport -- or sleep unprotected! -- for a night. (Remember, this was before airport security or cell phones...) The manager was summoned.
He was scratching his head, trying to figure out how to help the stranded waifs. Finally, he said, "Well, okay. I guess I could put you girls up in the Towah Room." I heard "Tower Room" and naively envisioned bunking down on the sofas of a cushy top-floor lounge. Sounded good to me! My big sister accepted, so off we went. To.... the third floor linen closet. The Towel Room.
He wearily told us to make ourselves comfortable in the 4X6 foot space, and shut the door on us. Pioneers to the hilt, we padded the floor with every towel from the shelves, spread out clean cotton sheets on top, settled in; and ah, did we fall asleep?
No, we didn't.
No, because it was also the supply closet, and we found an ample repository of Air Wayte Hotel postcards and a few ball point pens, and so spent much of the night scribbling notes to our friends. "Guess where I am? I'm spending the night in the linen closet of this hotel!"
All in all, it was a heavenly evening (except for a few scurrying cockroaches) where we felt both totally safe and totally outrageous.
We left with great gratitude and an unnecessarily large amount of miniature bars of individually wrapped hotel soap.
Thanks, Mr. Air Wayte, wherever you are!
Postcard image via La Dolce Vintage.