That One Time I Hitchhiked to Philadelphia

It started out as such a simple plan. My friend, Barb, and I were going to fly to Boston for the Brewers/Red Sox series at Fenway Park. She had never been there, and I had only been to the park once when I was 7. We sat 3 hours in the rain, the game was cancelled, and we were leaving the next day so we couldn’t use the rain-out vouchers. The flight Friday night looked good. We would arrive 2 hours before the first pitch. We were waiting at the gate for our names to be called when the non-rev’s worst nightmare happened. The flight before ours cancelled. For most people, this is a minor inconvenience. For a non-rev, it’s the same empty, desperate feeling as missing the annual Manolo Blahnik sale. Instantly, the 20 open seats on our plane disappeared. We waited it out, sat the gate in a numb despair until the plane took off without us. We were new to the non-rev game. We didn’t have a backup plan, but we were enthusiastic enough to scramble for one.

We were going to miss the game that night, but there were still 2 games to be played that weekend. So all we had to do was get to Boston by 1pm on Saturday to make the next game. We scanned the departures screen for any flights going east. The closest one to Boston was a Philadelphia departure leaving in 20 minutes. We ran to the gate to see if there were any seats. Miraculously, there were. We didn’t have a plan beyond getting off the plane in Philly, but we would figure it out when we got there. The plane taxiied out to the runway. Nothing could go wrong. Except wait…what’s going on…why are we going back to the gate? I still to this day can’t believe that this actually happened, but the plane returned to the gate, and the gate agent came on the PA. They paged Barb & I to take our carryons and get off the plane. Um what? We were 2 seconds from taking off, and now we have to get off the plane?! This must be some kind of twisted joke. We gathered our things, and walked off the plane, trying not to make eye contact with any of the other passengers, for some reason ashamed despite having no clue what was going on. We stepped into the jetbridge, the gate agent closed the plane door, and it left. This time it took off.

She explained that it had started raining in Philadelphia between the time the plane left the gate and reached the runway, and that it was now weight-restricted by 2. Since we were the only 2 non-revs, they had to pull us off. Seriously. Seriously, this happened. I have never heard of anything so ludicrous in my airline career. At this point, we should have just accepted that the non-rev gods were against us and gone home. We did not. We checked the departure screens again. We needed something going east, anything going east. There was nothing. Wait, one flight left to Cleveland! That’s east! We’ll go to Cleveland! We’ll show you, non-rev gods! We ran to the gate. Of course there were seats open because, well, who wants to go to Cleveland? This time, we did not weigh enough to screw up the plane’s weight & balance (again, what?!), and it took off just fine.

About halfway through the short flight, we realized that Cleveland is not so much east as central Ohio. And Ohio is not so much east unless you’re comparing it to Nevada. Were American schools better at teaching geography, we probably would have figured that out before we impulsively jumped on the plane. We had no plan, not the slightest idea how to get from Cleveland to Boston, and no Siri (this was a couple of years before smart phones were the norm). We had a half-formed idea that we would be able to find a bus, train, or flight from Cleveland to the east coast. We would just ask the information desk at the airport when we landed. Or so we thought.

I’m not certain if this is still the case as I have never been back there, but in 2007 the Cleveland Airport Information Desk was manned by 2 blue-haired ladies in their late 70s with a rolodex as their sole informational resource. We had high hopes that they would be able to pull up the Greyhound and Amtrak schedules for us, there would be a train leaving within the hour, and we would be on our way to Fenway Park. In actuality, they didn’t even have a computer. We asked what our options were for getting to Boston that night. They were befuddled. Boston, Massachusetts? Why did we want to go there? We explained that we had tickets to the game the next day. Well then, what were we doing in Cleveland? That was a very good question. In retrospect, they had it together way more than we did. We asked if there was a train going east that night. The very nice ladies in the business of information told us that there were no trains or buses that stopped in Cleveland. Yes, they said that. Barb and I looked at each other. Do not laugh. Do NOT laugh. We explained very politely that the Amtrak did in fact stop in Cleveland. Would they happen to have an address for the station? They consulted their rolodex. They did not. Of course not.

We called our friend Adam back in Milwaukee to look up the train and bus schedules on the internet. There was nothing running that late. He would be happy to book us a hotel near the airport. We told him we’d call him back. Our only other option was a one-way rental car that would cost us about the same as just buying the car outright. We had royally messed up. We were stuck in Cleveland. We had angered the non-rev gods, and our punishment was spending the night in a city with no train or bus stops. We were about to call Adam back to book us a hotel room when we passed some businessmen walking toward baggage claim, complaining about their flight that had been cancelled to Philadelphia. We had nothing better to do, so we followed them and eavesdropped. After all, we were all trying to get out of Cleveland that night, so at least we had one thing in common!

It took us a couple of seconds to figure out that the men did not know each other. They had all been traveling to Philly on business on the same flight, but had never seen each other before then. They all needed to be in Philly by the next morning, but there were no more flights. One of the men decided that he was just going to rent a car and drive. The others said that was what they would have to do, too. After a few more minutes, they had agreed to rent one car and drive together. The first man’s company would pay for the rental, and they would all chip in for gas. Barb and I locked eyes. We hadn’t said a word to each other the whole time while we were listening to them navigate their way to this point in the conversation. We had both been thinking the same thing. The men were now at the rental car counter. We had a few seconds to act. “Do we do it?” She asked. But she already knew the answer. “Let’s go,” I said. We went up to them, trying to walk the fine line between friendly and Fatal Attraction with our smiles. We asked if we could hitch a ride.

So that’s how Barb and I ended up in the back seat of a mini-van with 3 complete strangers driving through the night to Philadelphia when we really wanted to go to Boston. We made it to Philly at 4am. We never made it to Boston. We spent the next day exploring Philly then took the bus to New York to fly home from La Guardia. About a year later, we told our parents the story. At some point, they’ll stop telling us how foolish we were.


About planecrush

I am a freelance theatre director and world traveler based in Milwaukee, USA. I am passionate and slightly irrational about the following: classic literature, film, and theatre; travel, aviation, wine, shoes, fascinating people and places, beauty, art, my dogs, and peanut butter.
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2 Responses to That One Time I Hitchhiked to Philadelphia

  1. parmanifesto says:

    From Greek tragedy to On The Road. You are savagely civilized.

    Also last night I ate a pound of peanut butter in one sitting. I had to tell someone rational.

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