Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Shelter From the Storm

What I'm feeling is something close to survivor guilt. I'm sitting on the king-sized bed in my room at the majestic Four Seasons in Westlake Village, Calif., a room with a chandelier and a mini-bar. I'm scheduled to speak here Thursday morning to offer a "patient perspective" (read: provide the morning entertainment) for Baxter Healthcare's annual national sales convention.

Baxter flew me out to LA and is putting me up at the Four Seasons for two days to give a 15-minute presentation. God bless America.

But back home on the prairie of central Illinois, weathergeddon has arrived. Sleet. Ice. Snow. All together and in various combinations. We're expecting the locusts and frogs by Friday. Chicago is anticipating at least two feet of snow, much of which will be covering my new black 2011 Camaro (love that car) when I return. That's if I can return.

The airports aren't flying. The roads are shut down. The Midwest is closed for the week, frozen into suspended animation. The University of Illinois, where The Wife works, has closed all three of its statewide campuses for the first time in 100 years. This is serious.

I feel like I should be united with my family, battling shoulder to shoulder against the cruel elements, the sporadic power outages, the bone-chilling cold and paralyzing ice. Then I stroll down the richly appointed hallway to the elevator and down to the sushi bar at Onyx, a restaurant in the Four Seasons, where I order a "Hawaiian Volcano," possibly the best thing I've ever put into my mouth, and I break into bursts of uncontrolled giggling. Decatur, Ill., seems very far away.

The "Hawaiian Volcano" sushi roll at Onyx in the Four Seasons Westlake Village, Calif., maybe the single best thing I've ever tasted.

I came so close to not making it here at all. When the dire weather predictions began filtering through last weekend and Wednesday, the day I originally was scheduled to fly out of O'Hare, was targeted as the day all heck would break loose, my family encouraged me to get out of the house and drive to Chicago as early as I could on Monday. (They said it was because of the oncoming storm, but now that I think about it....) The people at Baxter's travel department, so incredibly helpful, understood my concern and paid the change fee to book me on an flight early Tuesday morning.

Which, of course, I missed.

I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express near the airport, but missed my shuttle ride by seconds. By the time I got to O'Hare 30 minutes later, the best United could do was put me on standby for the next flight at 10:30 a.m. I had a little breakfast, went to the gate and waited. And prayed. And hoped.

The 10:30 flight, the update screens said, was completely sold out, and I was seventh on the standby list. Passengers were rushing the gate like U.S. Embassy workers getting out of Egypt. In my mind, I was contemplating the best place to have lunch at the airport.

Then, at the very last moment, I heard, "Passenger McFarlin!" I grabbed that boarding pass like it was a winning lottery ticket and dashed to the last seat on the 747. God is good, all the time. I was meant to be here, I guess. I swear I could see the storm clouds moving in as our plane was climbing above them.

I don't necessarily feel pressure, but I'm thinking I need to be really good Thursday morning to justify Baxter bringing me here and out of the frozen tundra. I'm going to try very hard not to giggle.