By Lou Goldstein



It started off innocently enough.

Getting on an airplane in Phoenix, AZ…flying to Chicago IL…transferring planes in Chicago and ending up in New York City. Happens every day to many people and it usually turns out OK.


My wife and I were to leave Phoenix on a 7:40am flight to Chicago scheduled to arrive at Chicago’s Midway airport at 12:55pm (Chicago time.) We were to then change planes in Chicago to a flight leaving at 2:35pm arriving in New York’s  LaGuardia airport at 5:15pm (New York time.) This was on a Thursday.

We had a wonderful day planned in New York on Friday as we were going to spend the day with my brother in law who lived in nearby New Jersey. His name is Dennis (Denny). He had planned a full day including a harbor tour of New York, a drive through the city, a dinner at his favorite Italian restaurant and a Broadway show to end the evening.
On Saturday my wife and I were to leave New York for a 7 day cruise stopping at Newport, Boston, Bar Harbor, Saint John and Halifax.
We checked in our 4 suitcases and dutifully stayed to make sure that the baggage handler properly tagged each bag with the right flight to Chicago and the correct transfer information from Chicago to New York.
NOTE: The story you are about to read is ABSOLUTELY TRUE. No exaggerations, embellishments, or trickery of any kind. It is a story about BAD LUCK, GOOD LUCK, GOOD DECISIONS AND UNBELIEVABLE GOOD LUCK.

As we were waiting to board the plane I noticed that there were a number of grey haired people who seemed to be in fairly good shape lined up in the pre boarding area. They kind of walked slowly when they boarded the plane. I wondered about that.

Our flight to Chicago was fine. We took off on time, had a very smooth flight and landed on schedule.
After landing I checked the board to locate the gate and departure time for our connecting flight to New York. It was there that I saw the last thing you want to see when checking to see the status of your flight. Yes, the word CANCELLED.
Ok, I thought, just a little bump in the road. So we might have to take a later flight.
Upon checking further I saw that ALL flights were CANCELLED to New York for the remainder of the day. Something was obviously going on in New York. All kinds of thoughts were going through my mind. Terrorist attack? It’s a sad commentary about the world we live in to have that be the first thought that ran through my mind.
In other chapters in randomthoughtsofgold.com we discussed the importance of having positive thoughts thinking of how to SOLVE  a problem rather than worrying about the problem. So let’s apply that to the situation at hand.
As I looked around me I saw a group of people (fellow stranded travelers) quickly turning into a confused, frustrated, angry mob verbally attacking the two poor gate attendants. I also noticed some of those grey haired people exhibiting a lot of energy jumping up and down demanding to be heard. I wondered about that also.
One person screamed “Why can’t you book me a flight on another air line?” The gate attendant who was now wondering why she came to work today replied, “Sir, all airports in New York are closed because of high winds and rain due to the tail end of a hurricane going through the state and they will be closed for the remainder of the day and night” Someone else yelled, “When will the airports be open again?” The attendant calmly replied, “We don’t know Sir, until they tell us.”
“When will they tell you?”… “Why is this happening to me?”… “ Why can’t you do something about this?” … “You don’t understand, I must get to New York today.”… “Don’t you know who I am?”

The questions kept getting more ridiculous and desperate.

I began thinking about OUR problem. It was obvious that I wasn’t going to get to New York that day by PLANE. So…I needed to find out HOW ELSE a person could travel to New York from Chicago.
I didn’t know… so the only logical thing to do was to find someone who did know. There was another gate attendant at a different gate a short distance away where a plane had just taken off. She was not involved with the attack being made against her fellow workers. I went over to talk to her. Her name was Sue.
The two of us began a calm and orderly discussion. She informed me that sometime around 11:00am (Chicago time) while our plane was in the air heading for Chicago all airports in New York were closed due to the storm and that the earliest they would be open would be the next day.

“What about flights to New York tomorrow (Friday)”, I asked. Sue checked and informed me that ALL flights scheduled for Friday were already full and I would have to go standby. The chances of competing with the hordes of people that would be also flying standby seemed rather poor that we would even make a flight on Friday.
I asked her the MAGIC question. “So Sue, what would YOU do if you were in MY shoes if you were in this situation?” I have always found out that question not only makes the person feel important it also usually gets the best information.
She said, “ I would probably see if I could get a flight to an airport as close to New York as possible that was open… and arrange for some other form of transportation into New York.”
Already a solution to the problem was in the works.
I asked her if she would help me figure it out. She said, “SURE!” Her lightening quick fingers then began striking keys on her computer. “Here is a flight leaving for Washington, DC in 45 minutes. You can PROBABLY catch a TRAIN from there to NYC. That’s about a 4 hour train ride.” She said that she wasn’t exactly sure what the options would be to get to the train station (Union Station) but that there would be an information desk at the airport.

“What about our luggage?” I asked. (Remember the 4 suitcases?) She told me that I wouldn’t have time to collect my luggage and have it transferred to the Washington DC flight.

I looked over to the mob scene across the way which was getting larger because more Chicago people were beginning to arrive to check in for THEIR flights to New York. Some people were beginning to leave and I felt that I had to make a quick decision before others discovered what I just found out.

“Can you get me and my wife on that flight to Washington DC.?” I asked.
The lightening quick fingers went back to work. “The flight is full and there are 4 people on standby”, she informed me. I immediately said, “OK add us to the standby list” (no harm no foul). Push-pull-click-click and we were now the 5th and 6th names on standby for the Washington DC flight now leaving in around 40 minutes.
I then asked her about what happens to our luggage. She told us that the luggage would be transferred to New York’s La Guardia airport as soon as possible. The way that works is after all of the people’s luggage that had tickets for the flight was loaded… the transfer bags had priority over cargo.
“So, Sue,  what are the chances that my luggage would make it to New York on Friday?”  She told me that as long as the planes were flying to New York my luggage would in all probability make it there on Friday. She just couldn’t tell me on what flight or what time.

People were now beginning to leave the battle zone and rushing off in all directions.
Some of the comments overheard were…..
“I’m going to get my bags and find a hotel room for tonight.”
(Good idea, but good luck tomorrow)

“Let’s take a train from Chicago to NYC”
(That’s another good idea…but that’s roughly a 20 hour train ride. Sue already had told me that.)

“Let’s get our bags and come back to the terminal to see what develops.”
(BAD idea...unless you enjoy sleeping in terminals)

I wasn’t even thinking about a Plan B until I found out about the plane now leaving in about 30 minutes to Washington DC that we were 5th and 6th on the standby list.
Worst case scenario for us was having to cancel our Friday day with Denny and taking the 20 hour train ride to NYC. Sue had already checked for us and told us that the direct train left at 9:30pm and would arrive in NYC at 6:35pm on Friday. This would still give us plenty of time to make our cruise (with our luggage) leaving New York on Saturday.
I thanked Sue profusely and my wife and I headed to the gate where the flight to Washington DC was leaving. Ironically, it was right next to the gate where the angry mob was slowly filtering out. There were still people arriving that were finding out that they were not going to fly on any plane to New York until the next day at best.

Human nature is a wonderful thing to observe. People react in different yet somewhat predictable ways. I would say that 90% of the people when confronted with this problem reacted in a manner that only compounded the problem instead of trying to figure out a solution.

All of a sudden it was boarding time for Flight 782 to Dulles Airport Washington DC. People boarded the plane as we watched with hope that there would be NO SHOWS. We did not wish for anyone to have been injured or taken ill but maybe a few people changed their minds… or took different flights… or changed destinations…or something!

After what seemed like an eternity there was a call for standby’s #1&2 to board the plane. That was promising. No more standby calls and then… SLAM … the door to the plane was closed. Standby’s 3&4 said something like DAMN and took off somewhere in a huff.

We decided to wait until the plane actually took off and guess who showed up?

From out of nowhere SUE appeared. I said that it looked like we were headed for the train station and Sue said that all hope is not lost until they make the final count. She talked to the agent at the door who was awaiting the results of the final count and told me that there were 2 people who had checked in for this flight on the internet but had not yet boarded the plane. The agent paged these 2 people and after no response the door was opened and Sue said “GO…and good luck.”
We walked into the plane and saw two vacant seats. Row 7 Aisle (My wife’s seat) and last row middle between two large men (My seat). Fasten seat belt and in the air to Washington DC.

Everything that had happened until now was a BLUR. Decisions were made by instinct with advice being given by someone who knew the situation. All thoughts were about solving the problem.

Now I began thinking about the next problem. What do I do when I get to Washington DC? We had a general plan to take a train to NYC but how do I actually execute that plan. Well, let’s begin by starting NOW to try and solve it.
I introduced myself to the men on my right and on my left… briefly explained my dilemma… and asked if either of them knew how to catch a train from Washington DC to NYC?
It turned out that one of them (Robert) was a federal prosecutor working on drug cartel cases now living in Chicago who used to live in New York and works out of Washington DC frequently. He knew.
We would be arriving shortly before 6pm. Robert “Not Bob” said that I should immediately get a cab and go directly to Union Station. He said not to try and find any shuttle or any other form of public transportation. He told me that it should be an approximate $55-$60 cab ride and take about one hour (Dulles airport is actually in Virginia and is a distance from the DC area.) He said to buy a ticket to Penn Station (which just happened to be a 5 minute cab ride to the hotel we had reservations for.)

I went to Row 7 and brought my wife up to date with our “adventure”.

For the rest of the trip Robert was quite a talkative person and told us many interesting stories about drug cartels and the problems we have with drug enforcement in the United States.
The plane lands at Dulles airport and the “adventure” continues.
Robert gets his cell phone out and presses some buttons. It was about 5:45pm and Robert said that there was a train leaving at 7:10pm and the next one at 8:45pm. The last train for NYC would leave at 10:00pm. He said that with luck we would make the 7:10.

We immediately find a cab and it’s off to Union Station.
There was a light rain for most of the ride with moderately heavy traffic. The minutes ticked by and the meter kept working. $30…$40…$50…THEN…lo and behold there was the Washington Monument… The Jefferson Memorial (I think) …The White House… The Capitol…and THE UNION TRAIN STATION. When we left Phoenix we had no idea we would be enjoying a quick mini-tour of Washington DC. The adventure continues.
The fare was $62 and the time was 6:50pm.
Union Station in Washington DC is BIG and beautiful. There were all kinds of shops and a food court. We ran to the ticket counter and breathlessly asked, “Could we have two tickets for the 7:10pm train to Penn Station please?” “SORRY, it is SOLD OUT” was the reply. Holding my breath I asked “When is the next available train?” (By the way it is hard to talk when you are holding your breath…try it.)

“Not until……………………......................................................................................................................…8:45.” Whew!!! “I’ll take two.”
Now we were looking forward to an approximate somewhat less than a 4 hour train ride with about an hour and 45 minute wait to board the train.

We now once again determined where we were and what we had ahead of us. First priority was food. We were hungry!
The food court was really nice. A wide variety to choose from and plenty of tables to sit down. We settled on chicken teriyaki with fried rice and a drink. Not bad. While we were eating I called the hotel in New York to tell them of our late arrival and they said, “No problem.” (If they only knew). We also called Denny. He was surprised that we were in Washington DC waiting for a train to take us to New York... but after we explained everything he was happy that we would be meeting him as planned.

ALSO, while eating, we were once again reminded that when we got to New York we would be spending at least one night and even… with good luck… most of the next day without our luggage. We were carrying with us our medications (smart move that  ALL people who travel SHOULD DO), a DVD player, a CD player, books and magazines, files of all of our travel information with confirmation numbers, extra batteries, and a bunch of other “stuff”.

What we DIDN’T have was a toothbrush, toothpaste, cell phone charger (yes I should have carried that with me. I will the next time I travel…I promise), makeup (mine), a shaver, deodorant and a few other items. SO, we went shopping while waiting to board the train. I went to Verizon and bought a charger, and my wife ended up with a bag full of some of the other stuff we needed. She knows how to do that.

I began to think of what it was going to cost to go shopping for our cruise if our luggage didn’t show up in time but quickly dismissed it from my mind. At this time that was out of my control so why waste time worrying.
We got in line to board the train and found out that not only was the 8:45pm train sold out…but the last train of the night was also sold out. Talk about timing. Thank you Robert for talking us into that expensive cab ride right away rather than trying to find a cheaper shuttle or some other alternate way.

Along the way we stopped at a number of places including Dover, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark and some others I don’t remember. At each stop people got off ...and people got on. There were those dressed in suits, those dressed casually, some hardly dressed , there were people who looked tired and some who looked overly energetic (know what I mean?) and there were those that looked scared ...and some who were very scary looking.

As we got closer to Penn Station I asked a well dressed gentleman sitting behind us if he knew where we could catch a taxi. He asked where we were going and after telling him... he told us to go out the 7th avenue exit and to NOT tell the taxi driver where we were going until we got  INTO  the cab… and to be sure and tell him you will give him a good tip for his troubles. He also said something about taxi drivers in NYC not wanting short trips and actually refusing fares if they felt like it.

“Last stop…Penn Station.”

It’s now 12:15am and we find ourselves in Penn Station New York.
Penn Station in NYC is not like Union Station in Washington DC. It’s a lot easier to get lost.

We saw a sign that said 7th Ave-Subway. We began walking where the arrow was pointing and soon discovered that we were walking down a dingy corridor… and that we were the  ONLY  ones walking. We looked at each other and decided we were going the wrong way. This was the walkway to the 7th Avenue SUBWAY.
It reminded me of a scene I once saw in a CSI NY TV show and there were dead bodies in that scene.

We went back to GO …did NOT collect $200… and saw a police station that was in the terminal. The officer directed us to a door and when we walked through it we found ourselves on a sidewalk in NYC.
If Times Square is the heart and soul of NYC then Penn Station would be the kidney and liver of NYC (about 1 ½ miles from where the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.)

There we were… and right in front of us was a taxi. We walked right towards it and the taxi driver actually opened the door for us. We got in, closed the door and when he said “Where ya goin?”… I told him the name of our hotel and mumbled something like “Don’t worry I’ll make it worth your while.”

He drove us in silence to our hotel.
Along the way we noticed NYC’s unique method of garbage disposal. It consisted of large plastic bags filled with garbage piled on top of each other along the sidewalks. Some of the piles were so high you couldn’t see the entrance to the buildings. It was my wife’s FIRST impression of New York. It reminded me of the 2002 movie “Gangs of New York” when Leonardo DiCaprio during a fight rolled over onto bags of garbage on the sidewalk (At least I think that was the movie. If not I stand corrected.)

We arrived at the hotel and I DID give the taxi driver a generous tip.

It was now around 12:30 am and as we got out of the taxi we noticed that there were people, cars, taxi’s, trucks and bike riders all over the place. NYC is a busy place.

We found our way to the “check in here” counter and soon found ourselves in our hotel room. This was a very BIG hotel that had very SMALL rooms. But it had a bed, a bathroom with a shower and a closet to hang our wrinkled clothes.

But…we were in the “BIG APPLE.”
At 7:30am we met up with Denny in the lobby, as planned.  We were wearing the same clothes as we wore the day before but we were well scrubbed and smelled good.

We walked outside into a light rain and windy day. My wife’s SECOND impression of NYC was “What happened to the garbage?” It had miraculously disappeared. We went across the street and had breakfast in the Stage Delicatessen. Life is good.

We then took a taxi to our next stop (Denny decided to park his car at the hotel) …which was a 3 hour harbor cruise around New York that circumnavigated Manhattan Island taking in - three rivers, seven major bridges, five boroughs, over 25 world renowned landmarks and a magnificent close-up of the Statue of Liberty. It was really neat. The rain even stopped when we got to the Statue of Liberty. Every city should have such a skyline.
At 9:00am I began calling the airline baggage department and was told that the airport was open and planes were landing. GOOD NEWS !!! I was also told that they would NOT know anything about our luggage until it had arrived because that is when they scan all TRANSFER suitcases. They had my cell phone number (which was now fully charged (remember Verizon at the train station) and they said they would call me when my luggage arrived.
After the harbor cruise which ended around noon we went back to the hotel, picked up the car and Denny drove us around town sightseeing.
No calls about the luggage... so around 2pm I asked if we could drive to La Guardia airport. I felt that I would like to make a “personal” contact with someone at the scene and see what the situation was. We got to La Guardia  around 2:45pm.
After deciding on a place to meet… Denny started circling the airport in his car as my wife and I found our way to the airline’s baggage carousel.

At the beginning I said that this was a story of BAD LUCK, GOOD LUCK, GOOD DECISIONS and UNBELIEVABLE GOOD LUCK.
You have already heard about the BAD LUCK and the GOOD LUCK. Here is the UNBELIEVABLE GOOD LUCK.

You might NOT believe this next part ( I’ve never lied to you before, have I?) But I swear to you it is TRUE.

As we entered the baggage carousel... suitcases were being unloaded from a flight that had just landed. I heard a voice calling out,        “IS THERE A LOUIS GOLDSTEIN HERE ?”

I saw the person calling my name and realized that it was an airline employee who was pulling “TRANSFER BAGS” off the carousel and he was looking at the  NAME TAG on one of OUR suitcases. I identified myself and immediately noticed a second bag coming on to the carousel…then a third…and yes indeed... the fourth one. WE HAD ALL OF OUR SUITCASES ! ! ! !

It turned out that this was our airline’s plane that had JUST LANDED from Chicago and our bags had been on it.
I called Denny to tell him the good news and he was JUST approaching the spot we had agreed to meet. By the time we got the bags to that spot …his trunk was open. We loaded the bags in the car and headed to the hotel. We didn’t have time to unpack or change because we still wanted to make our 5:30 dinner reservation.
We left the bags unopened in our hotel room... got back into the car and off we went to enjoy a fabulous Italian dinner at Denny’s favorite restaurant. It was located in Greenwich Village near Bleeker Street. The restaurant’s name is Piccolo Angolo. It is a family owned and run restaurant. The meal and service were terrific. When you go there ask for Renato.

After dinner it was back to Time’s Square to make the 8:00pm performance of “Mama Mia” at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway (still dressed in Thursday’s clothes.) We met up with a couple of friends from Texas who were going to join us on our cruise the next day and had a wonderful time enjoying “Mama Mia.” What a day! What an adventure!

Our vacation continued WITHOUT any more problems. We had a wonderful cruise and enjoyed the companionship of our friends for 7 days while our ship stopped at Newport Rhode Island, Boston Massachusetts, Bar Harbor Maine, Saint John’s New Brunswick , and Halifax Nova Scotia.
We didn’t even mind the occasional light rains and sometimes windy days. After all, we did everything we wanted to do…saw everything we wanted to see… and we… HAD OUR LUGGAGE.
The moral of THIS story ONCE AGAIN proves that... whenever you are faced with a problem… you need to channel your mind to immediately begin to think of how you can SOLVE your problem… rather than worrying about it. Anger and negative thinking only exacerbates the problem.
One positive thought will lead to ANOTHER positive thought and you stand a much better chance of solving your problem.

You might have to take a risk or two, as we did, but the CRITICAL thing is to make the BEST decisions you can… based on the most  INFORMED information you have.

The SAFEST thing for us to do would have been to collect our bags (as many others did) … stay in Chicago overnight on Thursday… and HOPE to fly to New York on Friday. We would have missed our day with Denny but would have still made the cruise. That would have turned out to be a very BAD decision because we would have found ourselves staying over Friday night in Chicago (unless we took the train) and barely getting to the ship on time (5pm) on Saturday.

Did we have some GOOD luck? You bet we did ! We also, by thinking about solving our problem, made some good decisions that helped put us in the position of  FINDING the good luck.

See you next time,