So, we were scheduled to return from our trip to Dallas (photos here) Sunday evening, on a flight due in around 6 o'clock or so. As anyone who lives in Milwaukee knows, all flights to and from the city Sunday were canceled due to extremely dense fog.
We didn't find that out till we were in the line to check out bags at DFW, of course. What to do? Well, we had several options (one was not to fly into Chicago: no seats available). We could rent another car for another day and go back to Tonia and Cason's house...but that was risky, in that the forecast for Monday here was very similar to Sunday's (as it turned out, fog didn't come early...but it looks like it's coming now). It would also have been a pain in the butt for Tonia and Cason, who probably were glad not to have to entertain us as well as deal with a six-month-old child. (I know they were pleased we visited...but as we well know, it's also good to get back to the normal routine.)
We did a little thinking, and decided to fly into Minneapolis instead. (Note for the geographically clueless: first, Milwaukee and Minneapolis are not the same city. Second, they're about five or six hours apart by car.) We figured either we could rent a car one way that evening and drive back - or, if we were too tired or a car unavailable, stay overnight at my sister's place and then deal with renting a car.
So it was that we ended up on a flight leaving nearly an hour and a half earlier than our original one...which meant we had to OJ it (pre-'94) to the Northwest terminal (we'd been on Midwest) and barely had time to scarf down some not-all-that great food before the plane took off. (At this point, curiously, Rose actually became a bit nervous and flustered. That rarely happens: usually it's me who turns into a puddle of panic when stupid bureaucracy makes things unpredictable. She got better.)
One uneventful flight later (although we were worried: there were five or six under-six kids within three rows of our seats - which were, miraculously, together), we touched down in Minneapolis, took the amusingly short tram ride to the rental car area (amusingly short because unlike DFW, MSP was not built for fifty-foot-tall giants), and tried to rent a car. Struck out at the first place we tried (and at this point, can I express my displeasure with airports that charge for wireless access? I mean, c'mon: we've just paid hundreds of dollars for the privilege of taking off our shoes in public and walking through a metal detector: the least you can do is be as generous as your average coffee shop and give us free WiFi), but found one at Alamo. Of course, we paid a premium for a single-day, one-way, right-now rental...but we realized that no matter what we would have done, it would have cost money.
Apparently Alamo doesn't much care what car you use: we got to their area of the parking garage, some guy pointed at four cars in a row and said, pick whichever one you want. I decided that the black Avenger was a no-go - since it was probably designed and engineered to appeal to the kind of guy who wants to drive a car named "Avenger" (which meant we'd probably use another hundred bucks' worth of gas) - and the rest looked functionally identical. In fact, it wasn't until we stopped for dinner on the road home that I even knew what kind of vehicle it was, other than being a Chevy (obvious from the bowtie on the steering wheel). The key said "Intermediate" on it...so we were contrasting what kind of person buys an "Avenger" with the person who'd buy a "Chevy Intermediate." Turned out to be a Malibu. So that explained the stupid oblique angles of the numerals on the speedometer display: it's sporty!
After briefly getting slightly lost near the Mall of America, we were soon on our way. The fog didn't make itself known until about Black River Falls or so (I remember the Orange Moose being difficult to see) and really wasn't that bad except in patches...until we got to Madison. At first, it was just a little bit surreal: there was a truck about half a mile ahead of us whose taillights formed a perfect square, and because the fog obscured much else in the surroundings, if you focused on the square of lights, it was as if you weren't moving at all. (This is not something you actually want to do for more than a second or so, of course: I found that moving my eyes around and not focusing on any one thing for very long helped me stay unhypnotized by the lack of visible landscape.) When the fog got thicker, though, it was kind of weird, as if in some science fiction film where the sensation of motion was present, but very little was visibly moving. Fortunately, since this was kinda freaky, we found a friendly truck to follow for the worst of the fog. We were concerned to keep a good distance (far enough back, but close enough so our headlights actually reflected off the back of the truck to provide a bit more ambient illumination) - and as it turned out, that was a good thing. Around the point where 90 and 39 break off from 94 near Madison, there were a bunch of cop cars with their lights flashing, apparently blocking off some entrances and exits (fortunately, not ours). It wasn't until I got home and read the news online earlier today that I found out that earlier Sunday, about mid-afternoon, there'd been a huge pileup in the fog in which two people had been killed and several injured. Probably good I wasn't aware of that at that point.
We finally got back to Milwaukee a little after midnight (by which time, amusingly, the fog had almost completely cleared), parked the rental next to the garage, brought our luggage into the house and left it just inside the back door, fed and petted the cats - and immediately went to bed, exhausted.
Now we get to see if Midwest will reimburse us for any of our extra expenses. The last time one of our flights was canceled, they did...but that flight was canceled because of a mechanical problem with one of their planes. That is, it was their fault. The fog was not.
As I put it in an e-mail to Tonia, if Midwest fails to reimburse us because the fog was an "act of God," maybe a letter to the Pope would help.