Before last week, the worst travel “disaster” I had experienced, was the airline losing my bags in Paris for five days, which meant wearing the same back pants and black sweater every day—actually a fashion statement in the City of Lights. I vowed then to always wear black when traveling. This paid off, when my husband and I headed to Steamboat, Colorado, for a family ski vacation March 13. We were warned when we boarded our American Airlines flight in Pittsburgh that the “tornado bomb” causing high winds and unexpectedly heavy snow might threaten our connection at Dallas-Fort Worth. We thought we had ample time, but a mechanical failure returned us to the gate at PIT for an hour and narrowed the window, as did the 12 planes waiting for gates ahead of us when we arrived at DFW. In the terminal, we jumped on a motorized cart, but despite our driver’s repeated shouts of “Make way for the cart, beep, beep” as we careened through crowds, pushing aside babies in strollers and old folks in wheelchairs, we missed our connector by five minutes. We’ll get out of here today somehow, we and hundreds of other travelers thought.
But there was no way out, as everyone who was stuck eventually found out. Respectful of our outrage, our customer service rep, Maria, calmly convinced us there were no flights into any airport in or near Colorado for the next two days. And even after seven hours at the airport, where we gulped margaritas and commiserated with a stranded couple from Canada, we still had no idea where our luggage was.
Because our trouble was mainly due to mechanical failure, American offered to put us up in a hotel for two nights—a vintage all-suites hotel with an open atrium that rose l7 stories above a center court and would never pass code today. (How many people have fallen or jumped from those balconies, I wondered, as I dizzily peered down). Oh well, free room, food vouchers, a shuttle—we decided to make the best of the situation.
Next morning, me in all-black and trying to ignore my husband’s ensemble, we called an Uber and headed for the SMU Campus to what we thought was the George H. W. Bush Library (turns out, that’s at Texas A & M). Instead, we toured the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The first presidential library to achieve LEED platinum certification, its architecture is impressive, even if the history is rather recent. High point for us was the 20-foot tall, 360 degree LED screen high above the rotunda that fades from what looks like a Grecian frieze into multimedia clips blending moving figures from art, history and entertainment.
From there, we headed to the Dealy Plaza Museum, better known to those of us who were alive in 1963 as the Texas School Book Depository, where Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John F. Kennedy from the sixth floor. Our $16 ticket included a guided audio tour, which we quickly realized we did not need. Though younger people clearly were fascinated as they took in the information for the first time, we knew every fact and had seen virtually every photograph and video before.
What took our breath away, though, was seeing the actual window where Oswald, surrounded by cardboard boxes of text books, took his deadly shots at the presidential motorcade. Oswald had an easy, direct aim at the convertible transporting Kennedy, as it slowly turned the corner in front of the book depository—a striking contrast to the high security that surely would be in place today!
We then visited the “grassy knoll” that abuts the road where the president was shot. Only a simple white X in the center of the busy highway indicates where the first shot was fired (still, people run into the road to take selfies when traffic lulls). Once again, we were shocked that the trajectory of the bullet from the window of the book depository to the highway was so straight—it seemed like a shot even an amateur (and Oswald was not one) could master.
We weren’t sad—too many years have passed since the day all who were alive remember exactly where they were when they heard the news. But we were glad to have walked the walk where a single event changed America forever. And we wondered, what our country would be like today had JFK lived.
Time was running out, so on the advice of the guides at Dealy, we finished our tour with Texas brisket—delicious—and crossed our fingers that our bags would be in Colorado when we arrived the next day. (Even with a shower, three days in the same clothes makes you feel a little ripe). Thankfully, the bags were on the belt at Steamboat, and American extended our stay for two extra days at no charge.
What started out as a big disappointment ended up being a memorable adventure. Thanks, Maria. We had a great time!