Ecumenical road trip

Turns out, the long version of my folks' cancelled-flight story is worth telling -- and it has been, at least three times: Friday night, upon belated arrival at my bro and sis-in-law's house in Redding; Sunday morning to the congregation of Dad's church, and Sunday afternoon when I called home to get the goods.

The third telling took the longest, because I kept interrupting and ruining the punch line.

On the logistical end, everything worked out as best as one could hope. The airline actually gave real money refunds, not just credit toward a future flight, to our cancelled-flight victims. The refund more than covered the cost of the one-way rental car to get them from San Fran to Redding, especially once the cost was split five ways. A fair amount of standing in line to claim refunds and locate luggage was involved, and they did pull out of SFO at the height of the Bay Area's legendary rush hour (at least it's not Manila). Both the airline employee processing the cancellation and the rental car agent (but especially the airline guy) went above and beyond to take care of customers already in a tight spot. It actually gives one a flicker of hope about America's service industry.

The drive itself, once they got out of the traffic crush, was uneventful. My parents know Northern California like the back of their hands, having taken every conceivable road route between the Oregon border and greater L.A. over the last 30ish years, often as not twice or more a year. This erased any navigation anxiety from the road trip mix.

What made the trip interesting was their traveling companions.

You can imagine the basic scenario:

Stranded travelers M. and D. meet stranded travelers N. and P., who in turn have connected with stranded traveler J. These complete strangers agree to spend the next four or more hours in quite close quarters, based on extremely limited information. All they know about each other is:

  1. They're all in the same boat (er, off the same plane) and in a position to help each other out. (Rental car price divided by 5 is less than rental car price divided by 2; D. doesn't mind driving in SF rush hour and actually knows how to get to our destination.)
  2. None of them looks like an ax murderer. (And even if they were, we hope that the TSA that doesn't even let people bring water on planes anymore would have made them leave the ax at home.)
  3. Visually discernible demographic information: generation (all baby boomers, more or less), race (caucasian), gender (one man; four women), rough socioeconomic bracket (having the wherewithal to afford a plane ticket to Redding, Cal.).
So the line-waiting the road-tripping becomes a getting-to-know you experience. Who are you? Where are you from? Where are you going? Etc., etc., etc.

Stranded travelers M. and D. are on their way home from her 100-year-old grandmother's funeral. They are returning to their son and daughter-in-law's home in Redding, whence they will drive the final leg of their trip in their own car, returning to their home in Klamath Falls, Oregon. (No, it doesn't rain there all the time. Have you ever heard of Crater Lake National Park? ...) D. presided over the funeral service. Yes, he is a minister. Of an Evangelical Free Church. What's an Evangelical Free Church? Well...

Stranded travelers N. and P. started their day at 4 a.m. in Nashville. They are on their way to Redding to be prayed for at a Pentecostal church that has apparently developed a national reputation for producing miraculous answers to prayer. (P. has a growth on her thyroid. N. has two teenagers.) They are disappointed that they will be missing the Friday evening prayer meeting, but are particularly eager to get there in time for the healing service on Saturday.

Stranded traveler J. is a specialist in educating persons with disabilities. She's come all the way from South Carolina. Yes, she too is a believer and a church goer. She and her husband go to an Episcopal Church. (She's being circumspect, but she doesn't seem to be too threatened by the swirling fundamentalism around her.) Children? Yes, indeed. In fact, she's traveling to Redding to visit her daughter, her daughter's partner, and their little girl.

"Partner," eh? ... Does that mean what we think it means? Well yes, it does ... but we're not going to go there, not with a couple of Pentecostals of unknown moral strictures in the back seat.

It doesn't take long to figure out that we've pretty much got the whole spectrum of American Protestantism represented in this one car: a pair of Pentecostals on their way to a healing service; an Evangelical pastor and his wife; and an east-coast Episcopalian on her way to visit her lesbian daughter. And four hours on the road in which to avoid the mine fields that might result in emotional or physical harm to one or more passengers.

I consider it one of the great moments in modern ecumenism that they arrived in Redding with no bruised egos or burned bridges, and all on friendly terms. (Creditable, certainly, to the spirit of goodwill that attaches to fellow-sufferers of the same inconvenience, as well as Mom and Dad's deft avoidance of certain topics of conversation.) The Pentecostals even invited the Episcopalian to come to church with them. (She politely declined.)

I also consider the spectacle of that extended conversation well worth missing the flight. I think my parents agree.


Sarah said...

Very, very funny.

Sounds just like my first two Disciple groups. Heh heh.

danedy said...

What a story! What a trip....

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