We had been hearing about the tropical-storm weather that was happening back at home in Wisconsin and the rest of the Midwest states all week while we were in Colorado, and found ourselves consistently dreading our return to Brodhead – not only because of the “don’t want to see the wind and water damage to the house” but more immediately because of what we figured would be fairly ghastly travel conditions.

We were definitely not unfounded in that thought, because although our flight was supposed to get out of the Denver airport at about 5:50PM, it was consistently delayed for about an hour and a half before finally taxiing like a bedraggled goose into the terminal. Dozens of equally bedraggled passengers from the previous flight staggered off the plane, and we were finally allowed to board at around 7.

Once in the air, the pilot informed us that because of the Midwest storms, we were going to be taking a rather unorthodox approach to Chicago O’Hare – flying all the way down south, through Oklahoma, then angling up to the northeast in order to avoid the huge storms that were stretching from Kansas all the way through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Midway through the flight, the pilot directed us to look out towards our left at a storm pulsating over Wichita, Kansas, something that he and his copilot told us was “the largest storm we’d ever seen in the air.” (I was on the wrong side of the plane, so my dad took over the filming responsibilities.)

The main problem for us was that the last bus out of O’Hare was at 11:00PM, and because of the one-hour time difference, that meant that our arrival time was approximately 10:55PM. I was told to sprint from the gate down to the bus depot to see if the last Van Galder had left yet. My dad told me to do whatever I had to do try to keep the bus from leaving. “Lay down in front of the bus,” he suggested. Keeping that in mind, I was amazed to see that the bus was still there at 11:15, but I was told with no uncertain words that even though I would be more than accepted by the driver, the other four members of my family currently upstairs picking up our baggage would be SOL. Moments later, the bus vanished into the night, and with it our hopes of returning to Rockford to pick up our car.

Back upstairs, I found my family morosely watching a few bags wheel about in baggage return surrounded by other people from our flight. We waited about ten minutes there, the entire assembled throng beginning to grumble, until some guy ran up and said that the pilot had read the wrong baggage claim; our things were actually on a conveyor on the opposite side! I was pretty sure I could actually hear people’s teeth grinding together as we all stumbled over to find our baggage waiting for us.

When we found my father, he was trying to politely discourage a confrontational Indian man from hawking a taxi to Rockford. “Only Three Hundred dollars,” he proclaimed emphatically, “You want to go to Rockford? I take you there. I have a Town Car.” When he saw that we were all together, he tried this speech on each one of us in turn, as if my little brother and I would be the type to have a few hundred in cash floating around on us. When he found that we were all politely declining, he rushed off deeper into the airport, head swiveling about in search of other prospective clients. I noticed that unlike other taxi drivers, our friend had no ID tags or anything that would make him a professional. The poor guy was probably just looking for an excuse to drive out of Chicago and be able to make a buck and pay for the gas.

As the night wore on, we found ourselves without options. It was already 12:30AM, and the hotels were $200 a night, the car rental shops were closed down, and the first bus wouldn’t be coming until 6:30AM. The sympathetic information clerk offered us a suggestion – Terminal 5, the international terminal for O’Hare, was open 24 hours and was already acting as a host for several groups whose planes had been delayed. Feeling the effects of my aunt’s coffee wearing off (or several hours ago, in my mother’s case), we finally navigated the corridors and tramways of O’Hare to make it the designated terminal.

Now, after sleeping on the hard floors of Senator Kohl’s office, this sort of sleeping situation was almost routine for me, but I felt terrible for my poor sister, only days away from leaving America, being subjected to this fun. We huddled together in a cafeteria for the next six hours, nodding off occasionally, only to be jerked upright by the pleasant Homeland Security Man on the PA system announcing that the threat level had been raised to Orange and something about 411 and bottles being filled with 3 ounces of gel. I can’t quite remember, I was pretty sleepy by this point and I folded all six feet of me into pile of chairs while my dad fiddled with my iPod.

The next few hours after awaking are kind of a dull blur, involving us finally getting a bus with a driver who was WAY too happy – (“slept in the airport all night folks? I can tell, you all look so bright-eyed and bushy tailed! Ha! Ha!”) while we boarded his bus in a zombie-like fashion. After finally making it back home at around 8:30 in the morning, I believe I collapsed onto a couch and slept til 4 in the afternoon, thanking God that our house was still in one piece and not a rain-soaked pile of rubble.

So ends another successful vacation! I can barely remember the last time I went a week without taking apart a computer, but at least I was able satisify my twitchy tech fingers by setting up and configuring my uncle’s wireless router.