(CNN) – Somewhere on this 7 am Greyhound bus trip between the port authority and Albany, I started to cry.
Getting stuck in a New York snowstorm was fun at first: crossing the stacked sidewalks was a Christmas movie come true.
I had less than a kick to spend hours waiting in my shoebox hotel room, scrambling to postpone the trip to one of the busiest times of the year.
I was alone, having extended a work trip, and I had a partner in London to return, followed by a trip to see the family in Ireland and a new niece baby.
I finally worked out a patchwork route that would take me home. Since there were no flights from New York to London, I got a seat on a flight from Albany to Detroit on December 22, then another on a red-eye flight to London. I would return to my apartment for an hour or two, then take a flight to Belfast the evening of the 23rd.
One way ticket to Albany
I had barely slept the night before, which was lucky because the alarm clock in my hotel room never went out. Waking up by chance, I threw my things together and ran across the city in a blind panic.
The dirty gray concrete of the Port Authority bus station is not prettier in the early morning.
I was on the first possible bus, but the schedule was 40 minutes later than planned and, as the trip started, it was further delayed.
Realizing that I was on a useless trip in the north of Albany, a place that I had never even heard of until 24 hours earlier, and that I would not be at home with my family on December 25, gave in and started to cry.
The December 2009 North American blizzard caused record snowfall on the east coast of the United States.
Maureen O’Hare / CNN
Planes, trains and cars
“Are you OK?” asked the woman on the window seat next to me. It was soothing to see a benevolent face after the sterile sterility of port authority officials and we fell into conversation.
Susan Lee was a Brooklyn real estate agent, on her mother’s way to vacation, and while we were talking, I started to relax and accept my situation. Then Susan came up with a plan.
Instead of staying on the airport bus, my new friend and I quickly hopped together at the Albany bus station, where Susan’s mother, Judy, was waiting in the car to pick up her daughter.
Susan got behind the wheel and the three of us made a 12-mile turn toward the airport, with the Lees plan for the morning set aside.
I jumped out of the car, ran across the airport, and successfully completed the first of three flights. I arrived in London the next day, sent a thank you email to Susan, and in the evening I was back home, ready to spend Christmas Eve in the Northern Irish countryside.
And that was it, until April 2020.
“We need it now”
“I’m so excited that you contacted me,” beams Susan, joining me via Zoom from the Sullivan County cottage in New York, where she and her partner went to sit to block the coronavirus lock.
She has a fresh, smiling face, and it is hard to believe that more than ten years have passed since this fateful journey.
I’m in my room in north London, in the house I bought a few years ago. I have been working at CNN for almost five years, after being laid off in the online video start-up that brought me to New York in 2009. My Irish family is a bit larger, with a nephew who joined us in 2010.
The pandemic restrictions have given me much more time to reconnect with people online, which is why I pulled Susan’s business card from a drawer and searched it on Google.
She choked, she said, when she had this surprise communication telling him that, once upon a time, she had done a little thing that mattered a lot. “We need it now,” she adds.
“I also traveled a lot when I was younger, so I received a lot of kindness from people,” recalls Susan. “It was a moment of well-being, you know. It was rewarding to receive your email and find out what had happened.”
Susan Lee (left) and Maureen O’Hare (right) meet by video call from their home in New York State and north London.
Maureen O’Hare / CNN
Susan helped me find my family that year, but now, like billions of people around the world, we don’t know when we can kiss our loved ones again. It is a reminder to cherish the moments we have.
In 2009, “I was just going to spend Christmas with my mom,” she says. “My father died a year before that. It was a bit empty with the disappearance of my father.”
The Lees emigrated to the United States from Seoul, South Korea, in 1976. His father was a dental technician and “he wanted to live the American dream”.
Said Susan, “It’s a horrible thing to lose a loved one, especially someone I loved very much. But looking back on it now, it’s pretty amazing how I got to move on, when I thought I couldn’t live without him. “
Susan has a sister in Hawaii and a brother in California, while Judy is still in Albany, a few hours’ drive from Susan’s cottage.
“She is an incredible woman. A cancer survivor, she has had such health problems for much of her life,” says Susan. “When Covid-19 came out, I was very worried because she had to go to the dialysis center three times a week.”
“Make lemonades with lemons”
Susan paid a socially distant visit to Judy about 10 days ago to bring supplies, and although “it was weird not being able to hug her”, she is happy that her mother is safe and in good health.
In 2009, I used Google Hangouts to ring my house when I was stuck, and video calls bring us closer to family and friends once again – and WiFi speed is much better too.
For now, in London and New York, Susan and I are using our slower lives to cook more, garden and catch up on the phone or online with friends and family. As a real estate agent, Susan is not working at the moment, but she “is enjoying the less stressful life” and “really trying to make lemonade with lemons here.”
We end our call with the hope of having a drink in person one day, when we can leave our homes and the Atlantic will no longer be between us. Said Susan, “It will take a little while, but life will go on.”