What happens when the worst ice storm in years is timed with a trip to the airport for a weekend getaway? And when we try hard to get there but it takes almost three hours instead of one, and it’s nothing but white knuckles and spun-out vehicles along the way?
For starters, we miss our flight.
Think National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Think Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
That was us over the weekend. The trip had been scripted and paid for since summer when our family decided that instead of our usual gift format for Christmas, we’d do a weekend to see our Colts play the Minnesota Vikings. After all, it was an easy, direct flight and there was plenty to do including the Mall of America, a vibrant downtown, and a foodie's paradise.
What could go wrong?
Maybe Sam was prophetic when on the scorching-hot day that we put the trip together, he chirped, “I hope it’s 40 below!”
Well, it wasn’t that bad. Game day was only 19 below. It just felt like minus 40.
But who could have guessed that the real weather story wasn’t in Minneapolis. It was in Indianapolis! Little did we know when we got up at 3:30 a.m. Saturday, ice had replaced the predicted rain. Central Indiana was an ice-skating rink. Our daughter-in-law Allison called with the alert.
We quickly decided to meet up at the airport to speed things along and hope that we could all still make the flight. It didn’t happen.
All later flights to the Twin Cities were full. Brian scanned his cellphone to find a single possibility via air: he plugged in 4 seats one way and the cost came in at $1,100. The airport was madness. We didn’t want to scrap the trip. The seats would probably go fast. We still had our prepaid return flights. What would you do?
Our answer came when Brian realized that the figure wasn’t a total for four but $1,100 apiece! The seats must have been on Air Force One with the Lincoln Bedroom thrown in. We’re Cronks, not Trumps or Clintons, so we passed on the extra $4,400.
Totally bummed, we sat downstairs away from the upstairs insanity as we waited on the kids to arrive. Across from us was the Avis rental-car counter. Half sarcastic and half hopeful I said, “Well, we could drive it.”
“Oh, no, we’re not doing that,” Brian said, pausing, calculating. I could see his wheels turning. “We could though.”
I went over to check out the cost. “Do you realize what the weather is like out there right now?” the clerk inquired. We had a rough idea.
While we chatted, Brian got a text from Allison: We could drive it.
Her text was the confirmation we needed. Road trip! Why yes, we are crazy.
The radar showed the farther northwest we would get, the better the road conditions – at least as far as ice goes. As the morning went on, things would surely improve, anyway as the temperature hovered at 32 degrees. We hit the road and Brian promised a breakfast stop in Lafayette. Four hours later, it was a late lunch there instead. The four of us voted whether to continue or scrap the trip.
The landslide vote was to continue, stopping for a few supplies in case we ended up stuck for hours somewhere. Allison and I gathered granola bars and water. Gee, I wonder what tips the Donner Party might offer in that moment. Never mind.
Onward we rolled into the dark, finally arriving at the Minneapolis / St. Paul airport to return the rental and hit the city rail system to our downtown digs. It was 15 hours later than we had planned but we were there! Thank you Jesus!
The Hyatt was supposed to be “not that far” from the rail stop. That's city-speak for a crisp hike, a good mile at midnight in a downtown setting where we’d never been before. Brian quickly learned something about my packing skills as he pulled our large suitcase.
“What do you have in there?” he asked later when his jaw thawed. “It has the density of a meteorite.”
Believe it or not, we ended up having a great weekend with our kids, seeing the Colts play possibly their best game of the season, and experiencing a city full of friendly, interesting Minneapolis folks, dining in restaurants of national renown, laughing at the situation, making memories.
It was indeed a weekend we’ll always treasure.
Minneapolis is a cool city. Good thing that's true in more ways than one.