Jeff hung up the phone. Well, maybe that’s what it’s called. Literally, he hit the giant red button on his smart phone to disconnect the call.
Sarah came into the den where Jeff was. “Who were you talking to?” she asked.
Jeff stood, patting his pockets which is usually a sign, when it’s a man, that he’s looking for his car keys.
“That was Phillip. He’s stranded in Jackson.”
Jeff was a little concerned (in other words…his forehead started to crinkle). “Yeah….he had round trip tickets for Atlanta to Meridian. He was visiting his ailing mom...” His voice trailed off as he looked around the coffee table for his car keys. He sort of got back on track after he found them 2 seconds later.
“Darndest thing. The city closed the Meridian Airport. Effective immediately. No planes allowed in or out.”
Sarah’s eyebrows shot up. “What? Just like that? With people stranded God know where? Wait, ummmm, the airline doesn't fly to Jackson from Atlanta”
Jeff explained. “Yeah, you’re right. They fly from Atlanta all the way to Dallas. And then to Meridian. But today…” He grabbed his coat, shoving his arms into the sleeves while finishing the sentence. “… they were diverted to Jackson, while in the air.”
“In the air? That doesn't make any sense. Was there a terrorist threat?”
“Not that I know of…. But, you never know. Maybe I’ll hear something on the radio.”
Jeff left his home. The drive to the Jackson airport is really not a bad drive. It’s roughly 90 miles; a few minutes off of I-10.
Jeff peered around the pickup point looking for Phillip. There he was, waving and smiling. Jeff pulled over and Phillip jostled the passenger side handle…it was locked. Jeff quickly hit the “unlock” button. “Sorry about that” he said as Phillip opened the car door.
“Hey! No problem! Thanks for rescuing me!” Phillip was a sort of “loudish” person. Friendly to anyone and everyone and never held back his opinion. “Effing stupid airline” he said as he slammed the door maybe a little too hard. “Oh, sorry.”
Jeff smiled a little amused, completely understanding his frustration.
As Jeff looked around to make sure all was clear he headed out to the freeway. “So what the heck is going on? There was nothing on the radio about this.”
“Jeff, I don’t have a clue. There was nothing wrong with the plane. The pilot came on and apologized for the inconvenience and said all service to Meridian was discontinued effective immediately. He said we were landing in Jackson and it was up to us to figure out how to get to Meridian.”
“Doesn't that plane also hop on over to Laurel as well?” Laurel was another small city that has a small regional airport like Meridian.
“You got it! Hey, can we stop and get some coffee? They didn't even have the wherewithal to give us the cheap-ass drink on the plane. Lousy bastards!”
Jeff winced a bit as he glanced down at his gas gauge needle as it hovered just above “E”. “Yeah…sure. I have to get some gas anyway.”
Phillip frowned a little. “Oh, I’m sorry about that. I’d be glad to help you pay for the gas.”
“Oh, that’s ok. I’m driving ‘The Sipper’ “. The phrase was something his wife came up with since it got the best mileage of their two cars.
“Holy Crap! Look at the price!” Phillip said as they coasted down to the only empty pump.
Jeff responded, “I know. Yesterday it was six bucks even. Look at that. It’s already up to seven even – uh maybe six ninety nine and nine tenths.” One of the mysteries in life, how they priced gas.
The Sipper had an eleven gallon tank. This was going to cost him almost seventy seven bucks. It was a good thing he lived just 10 minutes to work. Hard to believe just a couple years ago they were only paying three dollars a gallon. What the heck happened?
Jeff and Phillip both went in to get some coffee and saw a man berating the cashier. He was a large, round man. He was sweating profusely. He was almost as loud as Phillip. He looked concerned and maybe a little frantic.
“…no way to get to Columbus now? I can’t wait for the next available bus. That's near the end of the day!”
The cashier was obviously getting a nervous. “Mister, I’m sorry I can’t help you. I don’t control the buses or planes or taxis or anything. Either you stop what you’re doing or I’m calling the police!”
Jeff stepped up, not really trying to help but was intensely curious about all of this. “Say, did you get rerouted to Jackson, too?”
The sweaty man turned to him, showing a small amount of relief. “Yes! Danged straight! I don’t know what’s going on. I can’t get to Columbus. The airport there has been shut down! What the hell is going on?”
The cashier, who Jeff noticed was eager to join this conversation. “You guys aren't the only ones. From what others have said almost all of the regional airports have been shut down. Everyone has been routed to Jackson. There are buses but they have all filled up and the waiting list is hours and hours long.”
The sweaty man interjected “But I have to get back home. My wife is trying to take care of her 80 year old mother all by herself. I was only gone for two days. I can’t let this drag out much longer. Gracie has a tendency to wander out the door if not watched constantly.”
Jeff, always the guy to jump in to help said “Hey, I can take you. The car is a bit small but if you help with the gas, we can get you there pretty fast. We’re headed to Meridian right now. Phil, are you in hurry to get home? I think it would be faster if we headed up to Columbus first and drop off….” he looked at the sweaty man hoping to get his name.
“…Foster. You can call me Foster”.
“…Foster…first...and then we can head down to Meridian.”
Phillip shrugged. “Hey I’m willing to help, too. We can all swap notes on the drive.”
After they got their coffee, they all walked out to The Sipper.
Phillips last words before getting into the car started the long conversation all the way to Columbus. “So he was going to call the police? Fat chance anyone showing up. I read the other day Jackson slashed their patrol car budget by half. Half! How the hell are they going to ….”
The car doors shut, the large round sweaty man having stuffed his frame into the back seat...and they drove off.