Friday “Deployment Day” (August 24) started at 4:00 a.m. in Uniontown, Pennsylvania and ended
11:00 p.m. in Clearwater, FL. The convenience of our transportation system – over 1200
miles traveled, all in a day – by car, by taxi, by plane.
On Thursday, while taking granddaughter #1 to school in western Pennsylvania, I
received the call to be in Tampa, Florida on Friday. After surveying granddaughter’s
room, shopping for supplies, dining and two trips to Walmart, I start debating with
myself when to return home. My road warrior and wise granddaughter suggested that I
stay overnight and leave at 4 AM and travel the 5 hours back to Philadelphia in the wee
hours of the morning. I was hesitant, not liking to take to the road without some daylight
driving but she talked me into it, “Gramma J you need some rest before you get on the
highway”. I smile, I stay, and I am extremely glad I took her advice. After a good
day/night with my grandbaby I arrived about 10:00 at my favorite Hampton Inn chain
to get a few hours of sleep.
At 4:20 a.m. on Friday, a little off my schedule, I start out from Uniontown to take the
journey east across Pennsylvania – a woman and my thoughts on the road in the dark with
my music. I feel rested and excited about being deployed. It takes over a half hour to
get to the Turnpike as I travel on a local road through small towns to get there. After
finally entering the turnpike I feel like I am on my way.
It’s dark and lonely driving in unfamiliar territory so early in the morning but duty calls.
I am on automatic pilot driving down the highway listing to State of Grace, my favorite
soothing world music. I realize I pass the exit for the September 11th Flight 93 Memorial
and bow my head in respect and gratitude to those who gave their lives that our nation’s
capital would be safe on that horrific day. I remember my visit to the memorial but that
is a story that I may tell on September 11th.
This trip started out with me and a couple of cars on the highway but that didn’t last for
long as I begin to realize “tractor trailers” rule the road in the wee hours of the morning.
I see trucks with unknown names and some very familiar to me in my life. With nothing
to do but drive and think I marveled at how goods are transported across our nation and
acknowledge how grateful I am to these drivers for taking over the roads, sleeping in
herds on the side of the highway and contributing to our state economy at the “The
Travelers Oasis” – the Breezewood exit.
My ears are popping as I travel the steep up and down hills on the turnpike. I drive
through four mountains along the way. As I enter the “Mighty Alleghenies” I remember
Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and his soaring reference to this
mountain range. Passing through the Tuscarora, Kittatinny and Blue Mountains, all a
part of the Appalachians, I ponder how rural the land is in the middle of the state in
contrast to my urban Philadelphia.
Around Chambersburg I start to see the sun peaking through the clouds. As I travel
farther east the sun is getting higher and higher and I know I am getting closer to home. I
am mesmerized by the sun rising straight before me for miles and miles along the
highway. I wonder how many times in my lifetime I will get to watch the sun rise over
this much time. I am grateful for the experience and thanking granddaughter #1 for this
unexpected gift. It is a beautiful sight to behold.
As I look at the time the clock starts ticking louder in my head as I remember all the
things I have to accomplish to be at Chapter by 4:00 and airport for 6:05 flight. Panic is
starting to set in and I am not home yet. I decide to make a “quick” stop and move on.
Unfortunately, I know the plane won’t wait for me even if I am traveling on behalf of the
Red Cross. In my mind I start counting SEPA shirts, pants, shoes and whatever is in
going in the suitcase. Now I know I have to wash two loads of clothes, put out the trash
and recycle, visit my friend’s mom in the nursing home in Darby (now a tradition before
I travel), run errands at the bank, cash in lottery (tickets expire the end of August),
Walmart, post office, hair salon…and I have to get the family set up and pack my
suitcase and carryon bag. Finally, I am off the turnpike and safely home in 4 hours and 40
minutes. Good timing so far.
It is time to get “kitty kat” Tiger Rose prepared for my leaving. This is when I tell her I
am going to Tampa, FL today to help the people affected by the coming storm. She
suspects something may be happening when I run in the house and go straight to the
laundry room. She looks at me with those wide eyes and says “AGAIN MOM”. “You
just came home from West Virginia, went to DC and North Carolina, took my niece to
school and your leaving today? I have to talk to SEPA staff and Aunt Carol’s Mickey
and Minnie (her kitty kat SEPA cousins) and anyone who will listen about this.” I
remind Miss Tiger Rose that we talked about my volunteer duties and she is a Red Cross
brat. Tiger snuggles up and tells me to be safe and send kat meows to her. Whew!!! That
went better than I thought.
It’s now 3:00 and I call the cab per Elizabeth’s (RDCC) expert advice and expect the cab
to arrive around 3:20… timing still good. At 3:20 I get the call my cab is on the
way…3:30 no cab…panic is setting in again. After two calls to the cab company and a
short interesting conversation with the dispatcher and manager my cab arrives at 3:40.
Driver Mourad kindly apologizes for the delay (not his or my fault). We discuss my
timetable; he says East River Drive, I say Expressway. I am the customer, get my choice
and I am in trouble – gridlock on the Schuylkill. Mourad nicely reminds me who is the
expert and takes the exit onto the West River Drive as I sit humbled by his knowledge or
my lack of as the minutes tick away to my 6:05 flight.
My excellent cabbie gets me to chapter by 4:15 and I am relieved knowing that Elizabeth
has my voucher waiting at the door and Pete has checked me in and printed a boarding
pass. All I have to do is sign my papers and off I go to airport to arrive by 5:00 or so I
thought. Enter my expert PR team, Dave and Sara, who tell me that our local CBS news
station would like to do an interview. The clock is still ticking in my head but this is
Dave and Sara I like to say yes to my PR teammates.
Sign my papers but no CBS team. We start to the van were Bryan is waiting. Bryan
always helps me out at the Chapter with anything I need so I know he will get me there
on time. We wait, Sara calls, and Dave deserts as he has more stuff for the day. We are
looking at the time and now we are all in full panic mode. Should I stay or should I go?
Lucky for me Sara gets an update that the news van is close. We wait and we watch.
Finally, the van pulls up and Sara gives the cameraman the sense of urgency in getting a
quick interview. With one take and plenty of apprehension I am filmed and on my way.
As Bryan waves goodbye to the cameraman I laugh and ask him “who is really leaving
town”. Bryan and I decide that it will be close but I will have enough time to get to the
airport and if not there will an “OH NO” moment. This time there is a consensus to use
the Expressway and traffic is kind to me and flowing smoothly. Even the one lane Platt
Bridge traffic is cooperating.
I reach the airport with time to spare and I am on my way…maybe. I talk to airport
customer service gentleman who tells me to be at my gate at 5:45. I get directions and go
over to Terminal D to replace earphones I bought when I deployed to West Virginia. On
the way back to Terminal B I look at my watch, calculate I have more time than I really
do and decide to stop for my first meal of the day and take it on the plane. It is 5:40 and I
am regretting the decision. I get to the gate and no one is in the seating area but the
gatekeepers smile, look at the manifest, take my ticket, and let me on the plane.
I am on my way on US Airways 575 leaving at 6:05. The steward takes my bag and puts
it in the overhead bin above row 13. I am in row 11 with an empty bin above me.
Hmmm! Buckled up, ready and waiting and waiting and waiting. So many planes taking
off we leave at 6:50. I eat my very tasty crabcake and lament that I cannot stomach the
stinky broccoli and sticky rice. I listen to State of Grace again. My seatmate asks the
steward if there are any free crackers. Unlucky for us, he refers her to the food for sale
menu. I am still hungry so I purchase an enticing box of chocolate cookies for 3.00.
Imagine my surprise when I open the box and count 6 small cookies. My smart seatmate,
after seeing my meager amount of cookies, passed on the 5.00 crackers she expressed an
interest in when I bought my cookies. The steward is disappointed he doesn’t get
additional sale – he knows why. I can tell my seatmate is hungry so I share my cookies
with her and chat to pass the time.
As we starting our descent to the runway, I am thinking – is it my imagination or is this
plane really flying this fast coming onto the runway. Not my imagination – we are
speeding down the runway, the plane is shaking, the wind is roaring and I am holding on
wondering if this plane is ever going to slow down. It does, I exhale and we taxi
normally to the runway.
I arrive in Tampa late but very happy to be stopped on the ground. Now that the plane
has landed I look back to plan my next move to get my luggage from row 13. Already
passengers are standing and look very eager to get off the plane. I come to the sad
conclusion that I will have to wait until everyone leaves this very large tube before I can
get my luggage. Unexpectedly, a nice guy takes my bag out of the overhead container
and says I will see you in the terminal. I am puzzled but grateful. Happily I find out he is
Ken, one of our chapter Health Services responders. So glad I traveled in my SEPA shirt
Next stop is the Avis car rental counter where I meet up with other volunteers from
across the country. I get a car with my SEPA partner and two other responders from
California and New Jersey. We start out to a hotel in Clearwater. All the navigation
technology states it is a short trip. One missed exit and we are almost an hour getting to
the hotel, arriving about 11:00.
Finally, my last stop – the hotel! When we get to the front desk, following Red Cross
policy, New Jersey responder and I become roommates. We grab some fruit and water
from the welcome desk and look for our room. I am hoping that this partnerships works
as I am tired and ready for sleep. After laughing about our trip from the airport and all
the water we crossed, we discuss what we like and don’t like, times for lights on/lights
off and find out we are compatible – what a relief! Finally I can lay my head on a pillow
and say good night.
300 miles in a car, 12 miles in a taxi, 1000 miles on the plane. 19 hours later I am on the
ground on DRO 710-13 ready to help the people of the state of Florida.
To be continued…
a veteran volunteer with SEPA Chapter is deployed south to assist with sheltering for those affected by Isaac