Grace under fire and serendipity were the themes of my holiday season. Christmas was spent with my daughter Laura and family in California's Sonoma wine country. As I headed out pre-dawn the eve of Christmas Eve, I received a text that my flight from Northwest Arkansas National Airport to Dallas and beyond had been cancelled. American was diverting me to San Jose instead of San Francisco. When I reached the ticket counter I cordially pled my case to the young agent.
"This old guy here used to call on Walmart.com," I explained calmly, referring to my years in sales. "So I know the way to San Jose, and I do not want to go there."
Knowledge is power. If San Francisco International was out of play, I knew two pathways, via the agent's very airline, that were available to the small Santa Rosa airport near my daughter's house.
"STS is the airport code, so book me there," I entreated.
When the connections appeared on his screen, his face exhibited the same enlightened incredulity I've seen from agents elsewhere as they were introduced to XNA.
"XNA is where I need to go," I have said. With an airport code beginning with "X" agents assume I'm heading to some exotic place in China or the South Seas. But then Northwest Arkansas has developed a sort of exotic cache, so "X" appropriately marks our spot.
The happy news was that I got to my daughter's home five hours earlier than planned through San Francisco. The bad news: My bag didn't make the connection. It was missing for eight days; I beat it home.
Considering nationwide weather and travel fiascos during these recent holidays, I fared well. No need for flustering. But then I wasn't stranded for days with kids in tow far from grandmother waiting over the river and through the woods.
Weather is well beyond the control of airlines; baggage handling not so much. Someone at American in Dallas, per the luggage tracking app, decided it was expedient to send my bag to Los Angeles where Alaska Airlines would take it up the coast to Santa Rosa. The bag languished for days at LAX. In the meantime, I filled an old suitcase from my daughter with necessities: an unwanted bounty from CVS, Walmart and Men's Wearhouse with receipts held for a claim.
Ending the visit, my Christmas gifts for the family were tickets for the final performance of San Francisco Ballet's renowned Nutcracker ballet. Afterwards, grandpa was dropped off at the Mark Hopkins Hotel for overnight in the big city while the young ones headed back across the Golden Gate to their sweet life in suburbia and vineyards.
My carry-on medications had run out with the main supply still lost in transit. The next morning I located a Walgreens near the hotel. Hazarding the steep streets surrounding Nob Hill, I found the pharmacy. The ethnically diverse middle-class urban panorama that is San Francisco bustled before me as I sat waiting for my prescription refills. It was heartening. I recalled Branson comic Yakov Smirnoff's tag line: "What a country!" No matter what you hear from Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, San Francisco is not a failing cesspool of wokeness.
Stepping outside into the sunlight I noticed a queue a half-block away. It was late breakfast or early lunch at the famous Sears Fine Food restaurant, a place highlighted on my map app when searching for Walgreens. I approached and found an amiable family waiting behind more than a dozen others. They were from out of town also and said this place is on their list each time they visit.
So the food must be worth the wait, like lining up around the block on Poydras Street in New Orleans for red beans and rice or a po-boy at Mother's.
When I asked what is famous at Sears, the simultaneous answer from the parents was "The Swedish pancakes!"
For lone travelers the line often opens up with a single index finger raised when a hostess asks "How many?" I was quickly escorted to a stool at the counter.
The pancakes at the top of the menu offered a side of link sausage and lingonberry jam at an extra charge. What the heck, you only live once, so for three extra bucks I ordered the side of jam.
The clanging Powell Street cable cars were my soundtrack for the return to the hotel. The Christmas visit had been wonderful, I surmised thankfully, in spite of flights cancelled and luggage misdirected.
When life gives you lemons, order the lingons.