Two weeks ago, I was the keynote speaker for a wonderful conference for educators run by AdvanceED Illinois. You can read about it here.

The conference was in Champaign, Illinois. The day before the speech, I had a super easy, smooth, on-time flight into Chicago’s O’Hare airport from Newark (New Jersey). Once in O’Hare, I proceeded to a nearby gate for my 12:20pm flight to Champaign.

Within minutes of arriving at the gate, I heard an announcement that my flight was canceled due to weather. That made no sense. It was a beautiful day in Chicago, and Champaign, and in between, and I was a bit suspicious because while en route to O’Hare I had read an article in the newspaper about my airline having delays due to a labor dispute.

As is the always the case with air travel, being upset about delays and cancellations—and hatching conspiracy theories—doesn’t help matters. That said, it was hard to be happy when I was told that the next available flight was at 6:30pm. That would mean seven hours in O’Hare. I began to have visions of Tom Hanks in Terminal.

I considered my options. Champaign is less than a three hour drive from Chicago, so I could have rented a car or taken a bus. I wasn’t thrilled with either idea for a variety of reasons, but I was less thrilled with the idea of staying in O’Hare until a 6:30pm flight for all of the obvious reasons, and also because I worried that if that flight ended up being canceled I would be in an even bigger bind.

As I pondered, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of four people talking about driving together to Champaign. I asked them if I could hitch a ride with them. The woman who was spearheading the effort told me that I could join them if they could get a large enough vehicle.

Making our way to the rental car center, I learned that none of my four new acquaintances knew each other. We were five strangers. And then, on the shuttle bus to get the rental car, a sixth joined our group.

We were able to rent a minivan, which comfortably seated us all.

The woman at the rental counter said that we reminded her of the camaraderie that followed the events of 9/11, which she had just been thinking about because the prior week was the 9/11 anniversary. She told us that there had been hundreds of people stranded at O’Hare on September 11, 2001, and that the rental car agencies grouped them into regional car pools to maximize the use of the available cars.

The ride to Champaign was extremely enjoyable. We arrived at the airport at 3:30pm, just over two hours later than my flight would have arrived. That was pretty awesome.

During the ride, I got to know the super-nice group of people I was with. We learned a bit about each others’ backgrounds, and I got to see (and learn about) the beautiful corn and soy bean fields that span nearly the entire route.

I had called ahead to my hotel to tell them that I would be late so that they wouldn’t send the hotel shuttle until my delayed arrival time. When I got into the car, the driver asked, “Did you all just return from a cross-country trip together?” It was a funny conclusion to hear, one that he had based on the warm way we had said goodbye to each other, and that one of our group had asked him to take a picture of us (see today’s featured image.)

I explained the story to the driver and he told me his story of an “Eight Hour Trip to Nowhere” that he and his college buddies will never forget (it involved a car that broke down and a series of mishaps over the course of a day.) He said that he and his friends had laughed as the day kept getting worse. I admired that they had been able to see that their big misadventure was really a minor inconvenience in the big picture—a funny story that they would tell later—and one that they might as well laugh about as it was happening.

Back to my story:

The woman who drove us in the minivan, who insisted on paying for the rental, is a regional manager for Harry and David stores (you know, the people who make those amazing fruit baskets). At the end of the ride, I asked for her business card so that I could send her a copy of my book. When I got to my hotel room, I looked at her card and noticed that Harry and David‘s slogan is “Happiness Delivered.” I felt like I was in a movie, one of those ones where you have an experience with a mystical stranger—indeed, this friendly stranger had delivered happiness as she delivered me and four others that day.

If you asked me in advance if I was hoping for my flights to go as scheduled, I would have said yes. But if you asked me what I would do if I could do it over again, I would tell you that I would do the same thing that I ended up doing. If the flights had worked out as originally scheduled, the day would have blended in with every other day. Instead, I had an unforgettable day—one of those “priceless” experiences they talk about on those TV commercials.

It’s interesting how a day with a wrecked schedule can turn into a day of unexpected pleasures—as long as you don’t let yourself get too upset and worked up about your “bad luck” when it happens.

What’s something that you experienced that started out as botched plans, and ended as a memorable experience? Join the conversation with your comments…

Best regards,