At the end of the school year, I went on a school trip with myself and nine other girls from my grade to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. While we were there, we volunteered to clean trails, socialize with animals, and help out around different parts of the massive sanctuary. Although that was an awesome experience and certainly deserving of its own blog post, the story I am about to tell is not of our time there, but of getting home sweet home.
It was Monday afternoon. The time was about approximately 6 in the evening, and we had just finished having dinner in St. George, the last meal we would have together in Utah. The trip was coming to a close, and we were all a little despondent as we loaded into two vans to complete the last stretch of our trip, the drive to Las Vegas Airport, where we would board a plane at 10:30pm to take us home to the east coast. Or so we thought.
It wasn't long before we crossed over the border to Arizona. The scenery surrounding the interstate was bleak, rolling tan hills dotted with shrimpy shrubbery. Outside the evening sun was scorching on the desert, but in the comfort of the car's AC we didn't feel it. We took it for granted.
It was around 6:30 when there was a resounding BANG! from the right side of our van, followed by a drawn out hissing noise. It sounded as if someone had slammed the side of the vehicle with a baseball bat.
I pulled out my headphones. "What was that?"
In the driver's seat, Ms. L* pursed her lips. She flipped on the hazard lights and pulled into the breakdown lane. Behind us, the second van full of students did the same. Ms. L got out of the car and walked around to the side where we had heard the noise.
She looked down, sighed, and announced, "We've got a flat tire."
|Our very flat tire.|
We checked the hood, we checked the back, we checked under the back seats, but the spare tired was nowhere to be found. Finally, one of the girls lay down on the side of the road and peered under the car. And there it was, attached beneath the car, our only hope for making our flight: the spare tire.
The teachers were pacing back and forth, cell phones to ears, wading through "call holding" and various robotic menus in an attempt to get ahold of a human who could tell them what to do. Meanwhile, four or five girls were clustered around the front of the van, flipping through the car instruction manual and figuring out how to detach the tire from the bottom of the car. Claire was laid flat on the pavement, attempting to use a long metal device to pull the tire out from under the car. There were foxgloves stuck in her clothes and tangled in her hair, but that was the last of her worries at the moment.
Now we were feeling the desert heat. I and a few others sat in the expanded trunk of the car, sipping lukewarm water and using wet napkins to cool ourselves down. Mind you, we were parked in the breakdown lane on the interstate. Cars were racing by at terrifying speeds, and every 30 seconds a huge truck would zoom by terrifyingly close, screaming in our ears and blowing hot wind onto our faces.
By now it was 7:15 or so. Our flight was in a mere three hours, we weren't even halfway to Vegas, and we still hadn't managed to retrieve the tire, when a black truck pulled up onto the side of the road.
"Triple A! They're here!"
Shouts of joy rose up from the twelve of us, as the door of the truck opened and a gangly guy in his mid twenties stepped out. We greeted him with a chorus of hellos as the teachers explained our situation. He had no trouble at all retrieving the tire from under the car, rolling it around to the back with shouts of joy from the rest of us.
"Oh, thank goodness!" Ms. L gushed. "What do I have to do about the insurance?"
"Oh, I wasn't sent by Triple A," the guy, Tyler, said in a drawling South Dakota accent. Then he laughed. "I work for them, though."
He wasn't from Triple A. He was just a nice guy--the only nice guy--who pulled over to help ten kids and two teachers in distress. And he didn't leave. He stayed with us, to make sure we got onto the road safe, even using his in at Triple A to help us come to a solution.
|Tyler, our savior.|
Ms. L's face turned ashen. "I can't drive 80." She shook her head in defeat. "All right, we've gotta make it to Vegas but I'll drive 55."
The sun was setting over the hills, casting brilliant golden rays on us as we frantically tried to form a plan. We were tired. We already had a red-eye flight home. Our families were expecting us at 10am tomorrow. We called the airline and asked them to delay the plane (they wouldn't, of course). We checked available flights. We considered riding with Tyler in the back of his truck. Maybe Tyler could call his buddies at Triple A and get us to Vegas in a tow truck.
"Oh my...look!" Haley grabbed my arm. "He has a baby."
I looked to where she was pointing. Standing in the dry grass by the side of the road was a young woman, cradling an infant in her arms. This whole time, she had been seated in Tyler's truck with their child, waiting for him to do his good deed so they could continue on to the Arizona strip.
She smiled wearily at us and rocked the infant. "He does this all the time. Always stopping to help people."
Finally, with the help of Tyler getting us an in with his Triple A buddies, a plan formed. A tow truck would come from St. George. It would load up the disabled van, and then four girls and Ms. T would ride in the front of the truck with the driver. The other seven of our group would drive in the working van behind us. And maybe, just maybe, we would make it to Vegas on time for our flight.
We screamed with joy as the tow truck pulled up onto the side of the road. It was about 8:30 at this point, maybe 9. The driver hooked up our van to his tow bed, and then Claire, Haley, Olivia and I all squished into the back seat of the truck. We were smushed shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee. In fact, there were only three seats back there. Well, Olivia and I could double buckle.
|The tow truck, loading up our van.|
With the tow truck driving 80mph (yes, that giant tow truck went 80), and the fact that we went through a time change that gave us an extra hour, we saw the lights of the Las Vegas strip at about 9:45. It looked like we might, miraculously, make our flight.
We reached the airport, thanked the tow truck guy, and then booked it to check in. With our suitcases bumping along behind us, we raced through the parking garage, leapt into a shuttle bus, waited irritably as the shuttle trundled along at a pace we were unable to control, and then leapt out again to race through the front doors to a check in desk. It was 10pm. Our flight was in half an hour, and it looked like we had made it.
The airport employee behind the desk pursed her lips at us. "I'm sorry, cutoff time for check in is 45 minutes before the flight."
No. It couldn't be. We had baked at the side of the road, flexed our muscles trying to change a tire, enlisted the help of a stranger and his newborn baby, finagled a ride in the back of a tow truck, somehow managed to arrive in time for our flight, and yet...we couldn't board?
"Please," Ms. L begged, "find us something."
Three ladies gathered around the computer at the desk, hands on hips, eyebrow furrowed in concentration as they tried to find a flight path with twelve available seats that could get us to our destination. The three of them looked like they were trying to disable a bomb, as they furiously clicked away at the keyboard and shot ideas into the air.
"What if we put them here...?"
"No, that won't get them to the right airport."
"How about this?"
"No connecting flights."
"If we put them on standby for this flight...."
"...they might get to board and then they could take Flight 183 to..."
"Yes, that might work. That just might work."
Finally, a tentative ray of hope appeared. We would be put on standby--meaning if other passengers didn't show up we would get their seats--for a 1:15am flight to Dallas, Texas. From there, we'd once again be on standby for a flight to Philadelphia. And if we managed to make it there, we'd be able to catch a flight home.
"A lot of people miss red-eyes in Vegas," we were informed. "People come to gamble and they get drunk and confused and end up missing their flight."
So that was it. Our last hope for salvation was the possibility that twelve people would party too hard and pass out in their hotel rooms, forfeiting their tickets to us. And apparently twelve noble people did have a wild night, because we got our tickets.
Our teachers pumped their fists in celebration as they came back from the boarding gate, triumphantly waving a handful of boarding passes. We celebrated, but it was only 11pm and we still had two hours to kill until our flight left. Exhausted, we charged our phones, updated parental units, and changed into comfy clothes for the long ride home.
Sandwiched into tiny seats, I fell into a much-needed but unsatisfying sleep. Four hours later we landed in Dallas, where we stumbled to our gate, munched down on some crappy airplane food, and then waited with high hopes that we would be able to make it onto the next flight. Fortunately, our tickets came through and it was off to Philadelphia. I was smushed between two strangers (middle seat--classic), and I fell back asleep immediately.
When I woke up we were in Philly. I scarfed down some pizza and then boarded for the last flight of the day(s), the one that would take us home.
|This rainbow appeared as we descended into our local airport.|
So there you have it. The legendary story of ten girls stranded in the middle of the Arizona desert with a flat tire, rescued by a good-hearted young man from South Dakota, his girlfriend and infant child, a tow truck driver determined to get us to Vegas, a flight just barely missed, and a 28 hour journey that ultimately got us where we needed to go. Home.
PS. If you've ever had a crazy travel experience, share it below!
*names have been changed so protect me from getting sued. Ya know.