Waiting Out the Airline Meltdown of 2022
New friends plus Tennessee whiskey at a handful of Nashville bars
A few of my friends were staying in Nashville for the holidays and invited me to join them for a few days. On impulse, I booked a flight, dreaming of a quick couple of nights listening to country music and eating hot chicken.
No one, including myself, planned on a bomb cyclone to hit most of the United States that weekend. When I arrived on Thursday, Nashville was 56 degrees. Two hours later, visibility was zero as a blizzard closed roads and businesses.
On Friday morning, Nashville woke up to zero-degree temperatures, as restaurants and shops remained closed through Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, the temperature thawed, the sky was blue, and I enjoyed one lovely brunch before heading to the airport at 2 p.m. for a 4:30 p.m. flight.
Nashville International Airport had an outpost of a local brewery, Little Harpeth Brewing, near my gate, and I decide to nurse a beer and open my laptop. That’s when the texts started coming: Your 4:30 flight has been delayed to 5….then 6….then 7. A quick look on the departure board saw a flurry of delays and cancellations., as I ordered a whiskey from my bartender, Akim. “Looks like I’ll be here a while,” I sighed, as the man next to me said something about missing his flight to Dublin. “Ireland or Ohio?” I asked. “Ireland. I’m going with this one,” he said, pointing to his friend.
For the next two hours or so, Tom and James had regaled me and a few others with tales of their unlikely friendship: Tom, from a small town in Tennessee, and James, born and bred in Dublin, met while working on a construction project in Nashville. The two of them threw good-natured barbs and jabs at each other that can only be traded by the closest of friends. Tom, a bourbon aficionado, loudly pronounced to me the superiority of American whiskies over Irish, while James boasted that his friend wouldn’t know a good whiskey if it bit him. When their flight to Boston (the first leg of their journey) was called, I wished them on their way.
Tom and James were replaced by Donna and Ken, a husband and wife in their 70s who were on their way to Australia after having postponed their trip two years due to COVID. Donna explained that she and her pastor husband, played hooky from Christmas Day choir duties to make their flight, only for it to be delayed, as she ordered tequila sunrises for the two of them.
Finally, my flight was called. As I paid my check, Akim handed me a small box of chocolate-covered pretzels. “It’s a snack. I heard you say you would miss Christmas dinner,” he said. My flight was inevitably canceled that night, and I checked into a Nashville hotel.
I ventured out into the night and found the only bar open in town. I ordered a shot of Tennessee whiskey as I watched friends and lovers toast each other. A man to my left, wearing a reindeer Christmas sweater held his glass up to mine. He, too, was stranded in Nashville.
The act of traveling really means you’re stuck in limbo — somewhere between here and there. Many times you’re alone. But you needn’t be lonely as long as there’s an open bar with friendly people.