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Standing by Standby Flights

Wednesday, 04 Mar 2009 10:20 AM

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Whoever believes there is no God has not stood in a standby line at an airline counter hoping to board a flight.

The back story: I recently went to Santa Cruz, Calif., to attend a bat mitzvah, a religious rite of passage for a 12- or 13-year-old Jewish girl equivalent to the more well-known bar mitzvah, which marks a Jewish boy’s 13th birthday. The ceremonies are somewhat like Confirmation for Christian youths.

In my family, in which we have seven grandchildren in the line created by the union of my sister Pat Thaler and her late husband, Alvin, we celebrate such ceremonies with the whole family: my sister’s three sons, their wives, children, and me.

This time, the ceremony was in California. As we sought to fly home, a snowstorm hitting the East Coast was expected to dump 10 to 14 inches of snow on New York City and cause havoc at the city’s three major airports.

So as Pat and I left for the San Francisco airport, we hoped for the best and learned the worst. Our direct flight to New York City had been canceled. When we checked in, a young woman took charge of us and, after clicking away at her computer, said: “I can get you to Chicago and there you can connect with a plane to New York.”

We were delighted, until we learned upon arriving in Chicago that our flight to New York had been canceled. This time, a man behind the counter said, “You are in Chicago for the night. Tomorrow I can get you on a plane to New York in the afternoon, and because of the weather, I can get you a reduced price for reservations at an airport hotel and put you on standby for the 6:40 a.m. flight.”

By this time, we were numb and happy to get to a hotel to rest. When registering at the hotel, the clerk told us to get down early for the shuttle bus to the airport because a wedding party would fill it up and leave us waiting for the next shuttle. Instead of waiting to board the 5:30 a.m. shuttle, we got up at 4 a.m. and took the 4:30 a.m. shuttle.

At the airport, we were notified that the 6:40 a.m. flight to New York was canceled and we ran to the gate for the 6 a.m. to New York, which already had a line of 90 standbys. We added our names.

I said to the woman at the desk, “My name is Ed Koch. Just for identification purposes, I was once mayor of New York City.”

She nodded, not at all impressed, and we became standbys 91 and 92.

I knew it was hopeless and prayed that our afternoon confirmed seats would not be canceled. About halfway through the calling of names, I heard the name Koch called and ran to the counter, elated. The young woman said, “Sorry, Mr. Koch, we are calling for Steve Koch.”

My sister said to me, “If by a miracle, there is one ticket, you go.” I replied, “No, I’ll never leave you alone here,” as though I were thinking and talking of leaving her in Hitler’s Germany.

A short time later, the clerk called, “Ed Koch and Pat Thaler,” and we were on the plane.

Those who tell me there is no Intelligent Designer are talking through their hats. As I walked to enter the plane, I almost saw the face of God. But hopefully, that is at least five years off.

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