I don't think I slept at all the night before going to the airport and actually had my mom drive me to the airport (I admit it now, early on I was probably too reliant upon my mom and my family for that matter). I don't remember the time the flight left but that is probably because of all the fear that was going through my head. I must have shown up to the airport 2 or more hours early so that I would be OK (and this was before the post 9/11 days so there wasn't as much crap you had to go through then--at least not like there is now. I say it like this because as a traveler I remember (after traveling for a good while) being at my apartment with my mom who would ask what time my flight left. "In 1 hour" I would tell her... "Son" she would say: "We better get going." I would reply, "OK... as soon as I pack." I'm not kidding by the way and this is probably not something many people will understand unless you have been there.
I checked in with plenty of time to spare and remember waiting by the gate... just about 1/2 hour before the flight they called all the pre-board (which I at this point had no clue as how cool this would later become). 20 minutes came 15 minutes came 10 minutes came and then 5 minutes came. The flight attendants asked me to board and I kept telling them that I am not getting on this flight without the person I was suppose to fly with, which would probably be the only thing that would have made me more nervous than I already was.
My heart is now pounding, my body is shaking (from nervousness) and my nervousness only began to get worse. Had Dustin already got on the plane? Did I miss him? Would he look for me before boarding himself? Would he even know who I was when he saw me? On the outside I was calm and collected and probably appeared as though I had no worry in the world, but on the inside I could feel I was ready to explode.
I think I had even called Dustin and he didn't answer, I may have also called Peter (though I don't remember now). I don' think I dared call Peter at the time because I was probably afraid he would tell me to just get on the plane and not worry about it. I couldn't handle if he wanted me to get on this plane alone--I was already a scared flyer and had a fear in the back of my head that the plane was going to crash. I knew this was a little irrational but I also had the fear and knew it would not go away.
When I was just about ready to start crying I saw a taller man coming toward the gate that appeared to have the same type of suitcase I did and was talking on his phone--in a hurry, but at the same time calm and collected as he walked toward me. I must have looked more nervous than I thought (or I was the only other person by the gate not in a Delta uniform) because he came up to me and said "Hi, I'm Dustin... are you ready to go?" and onto the plane we strode with the flight crew right on our heals closing the door after us.
I was stuck with a middle seat because Dustin wanted to make sure he had the window--he also had booked my flight for me the first time, which I was extremely grateful for. I soon realized, however, that he was happy to do it because it meant more miles on his sky miles credit card. In my seat I sat nervously clenching my jaw, doing my best not to let Dustin see my leg shaking while we taxied.
As we entered the runway I remember looking at Dustin who appeared as though he was ready to go to sleep and I looked out the window. The plane sat on the runway for what felt like an hour, but I'm sure it was less than 1 minute and then the pilot engaged both engines in the Boeing 757. I think I made an imprint in both arm rests--which is some feet considering they were solid plastic--because my hands started to squeeze harder and harder as we picked up speed.
I remember being on the verge of prayer saying over and over again in my head "don't crash" "don't crash" "don't crash." The shimmy and the shaking that happened on this fine spring day in about April 2000 is something I will never forget. And then I felt it, the plane pick up enough speed for us to get airborne and then all the shimmy was gone. My heart was still pumping much more than I think it should have but it was a feeling that I would not soon forget and one I still long for at times.
The flight was long (Salt Lake to Cincinnati is about 3 - 3 1/2 hours, depending on the day and—I suppose--many other factors I'm not too concerned about). The landing was about as scary as the takeoff except there was more time to think. We must have circled the runway outside of Cincinnati for 20 minutes--I remember looking out the window and seeing the nuclear power plants and other buildings and thinking: "holy cow! I'm further east now than I have ever been in my life!"
We had about a 2-3 hour layover so we went and ate at one of the many restaurants in the Cincinnati airport before boarding the shuttle that would take us to the commuter terminal. It may have been storms or something else but I do believe we were delayed for about 1 hour or so--I believe Dustin even had to call into "The Chop" (as the employees all fondly referred to the Chicago Chophouse).
The little plane ride was an interesting experience but by this time I felt like a seasoned veteran. It was interesting to see Dustin get a lot of attention from the airline--I didn't realize it at the time but it was because he was Gold Medallion at that point which use to mean more than it does now) and he pumped a lot of money into the flights with Delta.
Our plane was about a 50 passenger Canadair Regional Jet (which actually hadn't been in service for that long at this point). We sat on the run-way and I felt a similar feeling of adrenaline pour through my body as I again dug my fingers and hands into the arm rests trying to appear calm and collected. The flight from Cincinnati to South Bend was only about 1 or just over 1 hour. We landed and made our way to the rental car place (as a business traveler you learn that if you can avoid it you don't check any luggage so that you don't have to worry about it making it to you and you can go right to the rental car company.
Dustin was now over 25 but was still loyal to Avis (he had the same issue I did when he had first started with the company) so the people at the Avis Counter were real nice and I think we ended up with a Ford Explorer (he initially only reserved a Ford Taurus). And off to 60 West Ontario, Chicago, IL we went.