Milwaukee is a Special Place
“They’re calling it ‘the storm of the century’”, said the Clarion Hotel van driver as I boarded the vehicle at 5:15 this morning heading back to Milwaukee’s General Mitchell airport, “but funny thing is, it’s the third one in twelve years.” He chuckled.Being stranded in ‘the storm of the century’ in Milwaukee was a novel experience for me, but not because I had never experienced such a storm or been stranded before. It was that I had just never been in Milwaukee for such an experience. And what a far cry from all my other ‘strandings’. So as not to disparage any person, airline or city, let me simply say that if you ever have to go through the hassle and frustration of a combination tornado watch/thunderstorm/flood which culminates in shutting down the airport twice in the course of two hours, make sure you are in Milwaukee.Over my decades of travel, I have had some wild and woolly ‘airport’ experiences, but never have they been as “pleasant” as the one I am maneuvering at the moment.From the attendant who came aboard the airplane last night to tell us in her charmingly mellifluous voice (I paraphrase) “Ladies and gentlemen, we need to evacuate the plane because there is a tornado watch. Please don’t panic and don’t run. I don’t want anyone to get hurt”, to the flight attendants on AirTran 514 who offered a continuous update on the status of the flight, the runway and the airport, they were the most pleasant, empathetic and stress-relieving travel professionals I have ever dealt with. When I was tempted to ‘abandon ship’, the flight attendant told me to hold off, because there was “one small window to get out”, and when that window was closed by a deluge of rain and a non-stop barrage of lightning, he told me we had lost “our window” and he helped me to get off the plane because I had rebooked for the morning.As I write, the airport floor is lined with sleeping bodies, each with a pillow and a blanket in various shades of grey, blue or burgundy. The atmosphere is calm; those not sleeping are smiling, some standing in line to get breakfast, others sitting on the floor with their laptops. Wall plugs are few and far between, but there is no one complaining.A loudspeaker has just announced, “All flights are cancelled until noon, because the airport is still officially closed. The runways are flooded no planes can land or take off.” The response from the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people here has been silence. I am imagining what the response would be were this announcement to have been made in a New York airport. I am so pleased to be getting this dreadful news sitting in the Milwaukee Airport.“Midwestern friendliness” has often seemed to me to be a platitude that was meant to contrast Midwesterners from New Yorkers and other East Coast “type A” personalities. But to witness the ease with which both professionals and passengers dealt with the stresses of the last 16 hours is to gain a new appreciation for what it means to be “Midwestern”. It is the opposite of the “ugly American”.