This is a story about a terrorist.
Rather, a suspected terrorist.
Let’s start from the beginning.
My family and I were in Wyoming for a national softball tournament my sister was participating in. We had driven our Honda Odyssey all the way to beautiful Cheyenne, but not before making a few key stops:
The Bottle Forest. Home to Elmer, his beard, and his collection of glass bottle sculptures.
Zion National Park. Home to red dirt and breathtaking landscapes.
The Cedar City Holiday Inn’s breakfast buffet. Home to a lot of waffles and my happy belly.
And Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. Home to the Iron Mountain Burger, the mechanical bull ride made to embarrass you, the Alpine Rush rollercoaster that will make you question how long your little brother can scream, the corn maze that gives you 6 minutes to escape for a full refund but fails to mention the masked humans hiding in the wings to scare the mountain burger out of you, and the caverns, which consist of cavey things, like stalagmites and stalactites that look like bacon and Santa Claus.
Once in Cheyenne, happily unpacked and sitting on our side by side queen sized beds, my family began to wonder what one does in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Once the tournament started, we had an unbelievably busy schedule, however most of the next day was unplanned.
My dad and sister met up with some members of her team and visited a state park while my mom, brother and I decided to do a similar study of this new city by spending all of the morning hours in our pajamas, exploring every comfortable area of our Wyoming hotel room.
That afternoon at 2 o’clock marked the start of Opening Ceremonies and after a parade, some smoke machines, and some disco music, we were sent home to get some sleep and prepare for the week ahead.
The next six days remain a blur of softball and sunflower seeds. I don’t remember a lot, but I remember the day we lost. It was rough. We were in contention to play for the title but instead wound up in 3rd. The depression however, was soon replaced by celebration, after the accomplishment had time to set in. The celebration was then replaced by sadness, as we all realized our break from reality was coming to a close. We had been away from home for a solid 9 days and aside from the drive home, our vacation was essentially over.
Or so we thought.
The morning after we lost, my family got an early start to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse. After a self-guided tour of the premises, we listened to a woman tell us that Crazy Horse would not be finished in the lifetime of my great grandchildren’s great grandchildren, which both infuriated me and impressed me. Can you imagine the intricacy of every movement? The number of workers who never got to see Mt. Rushmore finished? I was just in awe of their perseverance. I hate leaving projects unfinished, but when I do, it’s because of a lack of time or motivation, not death. I can’t imagine starting a project knowing that I would see the inside of a coffin before I saw the final product. Let’s all take a moment to send some major kudos their way.
Okay, moving on.
As we pulled out of the parking lot of Mount Rushmore National Park, I immediately went into road trip mode. Pillow in hand, headphones in and ready to provide an array of songs I can emotionally look out the window to, and a nap constantly in the works. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I noticed my parents start to talk a little sharper, a little more panicked. Long story short, we had spent more time than we intended hanging out with our stoney forefathers and we were not going to be able to make it to our planned hotel destination. With no streetlights, and the threat of a gallivanting deer seeking a game of chicken, my parents wanted to get off the road and began calling every hotel in the surrounding area to find a vacant room. In conclusion, we slept in a barn and witnessed the rebirth of the Messiah and are now writing to you within the gates of Heaven.
No, we ended up finding a room in Caspar, Wyoming at a hotel that will not be named because it scared the friendly ghost out of me and I still feel dirty for sleeping there. There was an overabundance of color and childish décor that was trying too hard to be kid friendly. My sister and I slept on a red, blue, green, and yellow bunk bed that had a light up telephone and a creeky floor. I was 99% sure the room was haunted. To make matters worse, our room was directly next door to the sexed out honeymoon suite my parents and brother stayed in that came complete with a hot tub in the middle of the kitchen. How these two rooms were built right next to each other, I’ll never know. How these two rooms were constantly vacant for tourists seeking shelter, I’ll never have trouble figuring out.
The next morning at breakfast we were greeted by a waitress with one giant front tooth and self-cut bangs. She had as much kindness as she did teeth, and we were happy to eat quickly, grab the check and get out of there.
From the hotel, we made 2 successful right turns. Toothy had given us directions to the freeway and after turning out of the parking lot and on to the main street, we found ourselves at a red light, blinking our blinker, waiting to make our final turn en route to our onramp. My dad looked left and saw a red car approaching the intersection in the middle lane, he looked right and saw no pedestrians waiting to cross, he then looked left again and he started his right turn.
At the last moment, the red car moved to the right lane, and three events occurred in the following order. A Scowl. A Stop. And a Smash. The scowl was given to my dad by the blonde driving the little red car. The stop was made by our Honda Odyssey, filled to the brim with our luggage. And the smash was noticeably caused by the Suburban obliterating our trunk door and back window.
The woman that hit us was surprisingly pleasant. She was well aware of the fact that the accident was entirely her fault. She had looked down, assumed we started our turn, only to find that we had not in fact went, and then introduced the hood of her car to our trunk. She spent a solid half hour with us, chattering apologies and grief. She was as worried about how we would get home as we were.
We spent a solid 2 hours at the mechanic before we were led to an insurance agency. An hour after that we were given keys to our rental car, a sexy Suburu Outback, and directions to our hotel for the night. After the previous night’s lodging, our expectations were very low. Much to our delight however, the room the insurance agency put us up in was located in what could only be described as a haven. When I think of it now I remember a lot of wooden accents, and fountains of positivity.
The next morning was an early one. It had to be. Some might later refer to this day as a local leg of the Amazing Race, others may see it as a 19 hour episode of Punk’d, either way it started with a waffle.
The plan was this: we would pack our rental car to the brim with as much of our stuff as we could. We would drive it all the way back to Cheyenne. We would then board a plane and fly to Denver, switch planes and fly home. Seems relatively simple, right?
After the waffles, we packed up the car. With some strategy and the forfeit of all personal space, we were able fit almost all of our belongings. I won’t say the 3 hour drive was miserable, but I don’t think I’ll sign up to have a rolling suitcase cut off the circulation in my legs again anytime soon.
We arrived at the airport about 2 hours before our 5:10 flight and after taking a quick glance around the place, we realized that our family of 5, plug our luggage, out populated the entire place.
We pushed, kicked, nudged, and shuffled our bags up to the counter and told the attendant we were ready to check in. He started with my dad, asked for his name and ID, then moved to my mom, myself, my sister and my bro—this is where he stopped.
“Repeat your name please”
My mom answered, “His name is Troy Koehn.”
“I need to hear it from him ma’am”
After exchanging a few looks back and forth, the man informed us that my brother was on the no fly list. In other words, someone somewhere named Troy Koehn was a terrorist and was no longer qualified to board a plane and now my 10 year old brother was paying for it.
“Please state your name and birthdate”
You would have thought the man was asking my brother to solve a trigonometric equation.
Let me jump back to the fact that my brother was 10. He was 4 feet tall, 10 years old, with big blue eyes and an innocence that radiated from every pore of his body.
The attendant felt bad. He knew my brother was not the Troy Koehn they were meant to be wary of, but he had a protocol to follow, and it’s not the kind of protocol you overlook.
After my brother was finally able to spit out the right combination of numbers, the man typed a few notes on his computer and gave the now green faced 10 year old his boarding pass.
We were a significantly smaller group without our luggage, so the walk up to TSA was much less of a struggle than it was to the check in counter. There were only 2 officers working security, a male guard and a female guard. They smiled, mostly, I think, because we were giving them something to do in this little hut the Wyomingans called an airport. The man’s smile faded when he saw me. At first I thought I was giving off some musty luggage Cheyenne sweat sort of odor, but it turned out he just felt bad because, being 18, I was required to be searched on my way through security. The guy was visibly sorry before I even handed the woman my backpack. I tried to look unphased and sympathetic for as long as I could, but when he accidentally touched my belly button I almost threw up.
When we got through security we were in a room about the size of a household kitchen, and took a seat at 5 of the 20 chairs that were available. There were 2 other people in the terminal, both were asleep.
Once we got settled, I realized 3 things.
- I had to pee.
- The bathroom was on the other side of security.
- I would have to go back through security.
This was unfortunate for all parties involved.
I took my seat after being patted down again, this time with a more “sorry your dog died” type of vibe and vowed I wouldn’t get up again.
We were stuck in that terminal for 4 hours due to weather. In that time I had to pee two more times and my family ate dinner at the airport restaurant which, you guessed it, was on the other side of security.
When the time came to finally board the plane, the sky was a deep, ominous grey, and our plane looked like a hot wheel. The plane ride will forever go down as an hour of my life I thought would be my last. As the turbulence used our plane as a tambourine for its jam session in the sky, my dad cried, assuming he’d boarded us all on a plane to our death, I curled over a barf bag, and my brother slept as soundly as one would in a meadow of pillowy happiness.
Once in Denver, the pilot told us we had 15 minutes until our flight to LA was set to take off. He also informed us that the gate for said plane was approximately 12 minutes away from us.
If you’ve ever watched the Amazing Race, you’ve seen the teams, armed with their backpacks, barreling through airports and side streets alike to get to their next clue. For us, there was no clue waiting for us at Gate 12, just a chance to go home.
By this time it was 10’clock in Denver and most of the flights were grounded due to weather. As a result, there were mounds of people leaned up against the walls, sleeping their layovers off until morning. That is, until our group of five came charging down the halls, carry-on bags in tow, panting.
My sister took it upon herself to run ahead. She was by the far the fastest, least airsick, and most energetic of the bunch and she was our best hope at announcing our last minute arrival to the gate attendant. My mom, dad, brother and I all followed with some sort of miscellaneous, seemed necessary at the time, carry-on item. (I was carrying a Jansport backpack with some gum and the souvenir coffee mugs my parents had picked up in Cheyenne, pre-van obliteration.)
When we caught up to Natalee, a flight attendant stood next to her with a jaw that was as close to touching the floor as I’d ever seen. She stuttered as she asked for our boarding passes, taking in the rain soaked, sweat smelling bunch that we were. We thanked her, barely noticing the awed look in her eyes and made our way through the tunnel to the plane.
At the entrance of the aircraft, another flight attendant, jaw dropped look intact, pointed us to our seats and a man in first class stood up to shake my dad’s hand.
“Are you the group from Wyoming? I can’t believe you guys made it!”
We sat down in our seats, exhausted, relieved, and undeniably accomplished.
I looked at my brother, who smiled sweetly at me and said, “I wonder what Troy the terrorist is doing right now.”