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Sue's Muse

By Sue Ommen

Fri, Nov 2nd, 2012
Posted in All Features

Airlines and Disasters

The airlines have been in the news a great deal recently. Safety concerns from seats coming loose from their base made headlines a couple of weeks ago. Cancellations of flights along the East Coast from the disaster of Hurricane Sandy have been broadcast. Even though only on a much smaller personal scale, airlines and disastrous weather bring to mind the trip I took with two friends to Chicago a long time ago.

The trip started as a lark, the highlight of our summer working together at Donaldson’s in downtown Minneapolis. Though strangers when hired, we became friends while working in the Buyer-Trainee Program. After many discussions over lunch about where to get the best deal through the travel agency, we settled on a trip to Chicago.

We arrived at the airport on Friday night, wearing the trends of the times and an air of anticipation. Boyfriends had supplied transit, and stayed for a celebratory sendoff meal in the rather nice airport dining room. It was certainly a more carefree time to travel, before 9/11, with less regulations and cheap seats on standby status, though we had booked seats ahead for this flight. Then the cancellations started to roll in, as storm warnings became more serious. After several hours of waiting, our flight was canceled as well, and we could see all our youthful hopes for a fun-filled weekend being dashed. However, at 10 PM, another airline announced they would pick up the canceled flight. We assured ourselves the other airlines were being overly cautious, and it was safe to travel. So we boarded the plane and settled in for a tumultuous ride.

Later, when I ventured to the bathroom, I overheard one of the three stewardesses, tightly buckled into their seats, tell the others in an alarmed whisper, that the storm had been upgraded to tornado warnings. Sleep was impossible as our plane bucked as though riding a bronco, hitting uncooperative air currents all around us.

At 1 AM we arrived, but unfortunately it was in Milwaukee. My eyes widened, as they rolled a portable staircase up to the plane to disembark. After an hour on the ground, they deemed it safe enough to fly, and after another very turbulent flight, we arrived in Chicago at 4 AM.

We claimed our baggage and hurried outside to find that the cab drivers had chosen that morning to make good on their threat to strike. A few independents were frantically picking up fares and finally we jumped into the back seat of a cab as two strange men climbed into the front, and then we all took off for downtown. Once on the freeway, the cab slowed down until the driver pulled over to the side and apologetically informed us he was out of gas. He fished the gas can out of the trunk and ran off, leaving us to wonder if we’d ever see him again. We eyed the men in front, wondering if they had a criminal record. But soon he was back, and we took off once more, yearning for a bed to get some much-needed sleep.

At the hotel, we checked in with the clerk at the desk, and were informed that if we waited an hour longer, we’d only be required to pay for one night instead of two. After sitting dejectedly in the hobby, eyes drooping shut, the clerk took pity on us and showed us to our rooms early. We surveyed the shabby space in disbelief, as it looked like the maid quarters in “Upstairs, Downstairs.” Back at the desk in the lobby, we vented our indignation, only to discover the nice suite of rooms we’d splurged on had been given away when we didn’t show. A little more savvy, we called hotels within walking distance until lodging was found nearby. After retrieving our luggage, now much heavier, we made our way to a very nice group of rooms, threw ourselves on our beds and passed out. An hour later one of my friends woke us up shouting, “We are in Chicago, let’s go out and party!”

Being young and resilient, we quickly washed the dirt of travel away and went sightseeing, visiting Old Town and the Chicago Institute of Art, at my insistence. That night we dressed in all of our finery to see a play. The next night held even more excitement as one of the girls had borrowed a key to the Playboy Club. We were all pretty naïve, but very curious about this famous place. It didn’t live up to our expectations, but we still enjoyed gaping at the bunny tails winding their way around the tables. All in all, what started out as a disaster turned into a trip that was unforgettable.

Sunday morning, we were relieved to hear the taxicab strike was settled, and the weather sunny. We arrived home without further incident.

Sunday night I was surprised to see a large, unruly crowd on the news, picketing in front of the hotel we had vacated just a short time earlier. It was 1968, the week of the Democratic convention, and history was being made. Riots escalated during the week, the unrest due to the unpopular Vietnam War, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., three months earlier and the recent shooting of Bobby Kennedy, one of the hopefuls for president. Eventually, the National Guard was called to quell the angry mobs, leading me to wonder which force of nature was more disturbing, the storm we had flown through, or the climate of the nation.

Conventional Round

Steak with onions and mushrooms

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup all-purpose flour, divided

6 4-ounce cube steaks.

1 large onion, sliced into strips

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups beef stock.

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Preheat the oven to 350°. Heat the oil in a skillet. Dredge steaks in some of the flour, reserving the rest of the flour. Brown steaks in the oil. Place a layer of sliced onions, mushrooms and garlic into an oven-proof dish, and alternate the layers of steak and onion mixture. Pour in beef stock and Worcestershire sauce. Cover and bake for two hours in a preheated oven. Remove steaks and onion mixture from the dish, and whisk in 2 tablespoons of the remaining flour. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and cook, stirring until thickened. Serve steaks and onions with gravy over rice or noodles. We like a mixture of wild rice, brown rice and. Arborio rice.

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