Tim Chitwood

Dare to dream you’ll fly to Atlanta in time to catch the last shuttle to Columbus

“Yo! Yo! Yo! Yo!” someone shouted in whatever fitful dream I was having.

You know how your mind can fit a real noise into a dream, right before you wake up. Like you’re dreaming of kissing your college sweetheart in a sunlit field and suddenly, “BLARRRRRRRRRRE!” goes a train horn, and it’s look out! A train’s coming! You’re lying on the tracks!

Then you wake in a panic and realize a freight train’s passing two blocks away.

Or you dream you’re out drinking with your buddies in high school and “WooOOOOoooo!” goes a siren, and it’s look out! The Five-O’s coming! Run! But your legs won’t move until you kick your spouse waking up and realize an ambulance is going by.

“Yo! Yo! Yo!” the voice repeated.

I opened my eyes, and saw a carpeted surface. Sideways.

If you majored in partying at a hard-partying area college, you know this can trigger flashbacks: “Oh @#$%! We passed out on the floor again.”

Then I looked across a road to taxis in the distance and it was look out! You slept outside the Atlanta airport! And it’s the Five-O!

And it was: An officer was going around rousting all the homeless people who’d slept on the benches by the shuttle pickup, and having found the benches uncomfortable, I had moved to a round dais with a layer of fabric atop it.

I had waited hours for the next shuttle to Columbus, but I looked homeless, having not shaved, showered or changed clothes in … two days? Three? What day was it?

This happens, when you’ve been traveling so long you forget how long you’ve been traveling. It’s worse when you’re flying from Mountain Time to Eastern Time and stop in Central Time and lose track of time.

I stood up and checked the shuttle parking, and it was look out! The shuttle’s already here! You overslept! You’re going to miss it! Wait, where’s that one going? And why can’t you read the destination on the side of it? Oh no! You’re so burned out your eyesight’s SHOT! YOU CAN’T READ!

No wait, I stowed my glasses in my jacket pocket: It was the Chattanooga shuttle.

What’s going on?

“What you got going on?” The officer rousting the homeless had circled back.

“I have absolutely nothing going on,” I wanted to say. “I haven’t had anything going on since….” I would trail off, unable to calculate how many hours I’ve been on a “Gilligan’s Island” tour from Missoula, Mt., to Atlanta, Ga., before the four hours I lay outside the airport because my last connection through Detroit was delayed six hours until I missed the 1:15 a.m. Groome shuttle and had to wait for the 5:45.

“I’m just waiting for the shuttle,” I said.

He was shocked to learn I was just another airline refugee who decided not to sleep in the atrium where there’s nowhere to sleep.

“Oh! You have a nice day, sir,” he said.

Too late for that.

“Yo! Yo! Yo!” should fit a dream. It should be an airline marketing slogan: “Yo! Yo! Yo! Yo flight has been delayed another hour! Yo going to miss the last shuttle to Columbus! Yo going to sleep outside the Atlanta airport!”

It could always be worse, of course: I could have fit among the passengers who missed a connection in Atlanta and faced another day’s travel, with little kids to entertain.

Or I could have fit among the homeless.

I felt lucky, by comparison, as I rode home in the gray morning light to the shuttle station in Columbus.

Where the transmission locked up on the car I left in the parking lot.