It's so great to be home ... sigh

After Caribbean cruise and canceled flights, a snowy trek to a buried van

  • The Whisler family from Lancaster, Pa. walk from one lot to another after they got on the wrong bus for long term parking at BW after returning from a cruise vacation.
The Whisler family from Lancaster, Pa. walk from one lot to another… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
February 12, 2010|By Tricia Bishop | tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

On the final night of a weeklong Western Caribbean cruise, Trent Whisler turned on CNN and saw the future. It was white, and it was cold.

Uh-oh.

He had been worried about making a quick ship-to-plane connection home on Saturday. But if the forecast storm actually arrived, there would likely be no flights at all from Fort Lauderdale to Baltimore.

"I don't think we have to rush," he told his wife, Teresa, and their teenage daughter, Mariah.

Six days and four canceled flights later, the tanned family stood outside Baltimore- Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport at noon Thursday, coatless, gloveless and shivering. They scanned the road for the long-term parking shuttle bus. It would be a long time coming.

"We have no idea what it's like," Teresa said.

She'd heard reports - a neighbor had said their mailbox in Lancaster, Pa., was snowed under - but she hadn't seen it for herself. And she couldn't even think about the state of the family car. All they had inside it was a snow scraper.

It was a predicament shared by several thousand others who parked their cars at the airport before the storm, in private off-site lots and the BWI-sponsored ones.

"It's amazing how many people park with no shovels" despite the forecast, said Jim McCleaf, manager of the two Airport Fast Park lots. His employees had helped dig out about a thousand cars since Sunday, mostly working for tips, and he'd paid members of a college baseball team $10 per hour to do some shoveling earlier in the week.

Private lots like his were doing a lot of the work for customers, but it wasn't immediately clear whether the same kind of service would be available on the BWI satellite lots, where the Whislers left their minivan.

Airport spokeswoman Lynda Warehime said shovels would be handed out, and management staff would help patrons dig out if needed. The lots "look pretty much like you would expect," she said. Lanes were plowed, but cars were covered, some with several feet of snow jammed against their back ends.

Just one cargo plane had landed by 9 a.m., according to Warehime. And by noon, the airport arrival boards were still dominated by canceled flights.

The Whislers' AirTran flight from Fort Lauderdale landed just before noon. They collected their luggage - two pulley bags apiece - and headed outside, their golden glows clashing with the cold.

The cruise, they said, was a company reward for managers. The adult Whislers work for Supercuts franchises in Pennsylvania, he as the creative director and she as director of operations. Mariah, 17, graduated early from high school in January - a good thing, she said, or she, too, would be missing days because of snow.

The Whislers were stuck in Florida - where the Super Bowl claimed many nearby hotel rooms - for nearly a week, unexpectedly and expensively doubling their vacation, which soon slid from restful into stressful. But they emerged from BWI baggage claim Thursday with high spirits. They were so much closer to home.

Problem was, they weren't sure which lot they'd parked in. The family first tried to get on the bus for the daily lot, the only bus to appear within a quarter-hour. But that wasn't the right one. Then they got on the bus for long-term Lot B.

"It's just good to be home," said Trent, settling into a seat. "It's better than we thought," said Teresa, as the bus made its way beyond the terminal. Then they realized they were actually parked in Lot A.

Sigh.

The family excused and pardoned and elbowed their way past other riders, collected their belongings and got off the bus in the wrong lot. They then trudged across Aviation Boulevard to the right one, dodging cars and trailing bags.

Their car was in Section G1, at the back, a million miles away. They slogged on, good cheer going ... going ... nearly gone.

Their car, a silvery blue minivan, was hip-deep in snow. But it was parked next to a beautiful sight: one man holding a shovel and another driving a Bobcat bulldozer. They made quick work of the digging, which Mariah captured on her camera.

Trent handed each young man a fiver and grinned as he jogged back to the car. He had a two-hour drive ahead of him and a whole lot more shoveling once he got home, but, as he and his wife had noted earlier, "It could be worse."

Said Teresa: "Our taxi driver last night was from Haiti. It puts this all in perspective."


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