Flying to South Carolina

The 1996 National Youth Event of the United Church of Christ was a record setting event in many ways. Although the pattern of Regional and National Youth events had been well established, prior National Youth Events hadn’t been truly “national” because there had been a youth gathering of United Black Christians that meant that many youth attended that event rather than the National Youth Event. In 1996, the United Black Christian youth event and the National Youth Event came to gather to make the gathering the largest gathering of the United Church of Christ in several decades. In order to make the combined event work for all participants, the planning team intentionally chose a venue in a southern state to make travel easier for the UBC participants.

As had been the case in prior National Youth Events members of the planning team were selected at the Regional Youth Events two years prior. One adult and one youth was selected to represent each of the UCC’s regions. I had been very active in the Western Regional Youth Events, serving on the planning teams for the 1992 and 1994 events. The 1994 Western Regional Youth Event was also a record setting event, hosted by the Hawaii Conference. That meant that we had to arrange for the 38 youth and their adult advisors from our Conference to fly to Hawaii. We negotiated a group travel purchase that included rental vans for the event. My only trip to Hawaii (so far) was made without the other members of our family. Susan and my 21st wedding anniversary occurred during the event. I took a bit of razzing about going to Hawaii for our 21st wedding anniversary and not bringing my wife with me. At that event I was selected to serve on the planning team for the 1996 National Youth Event.

The planning team met face-to-face several times. We chose the theme, created the logo, planned the workshops and break out events, selected keynote speakers and planned worship. I served on the worship planning team as well as participating in other aspects of general planning. To make matters more complex, I moved from the Western Region to the West Central Region midway through the planning process, so I assumed responsibilities for representing two regions.

The venue selected for that National Youth Event was the campus of the University of South Carolina at Columbia. We made a site visit, toured all of the facilities and held one of our planning sessions on the campus about six months before the event. By then I was living in Rapid City, South Dakota, so I flew from Rapid City to Denver, where I met the youth representative from the Western Region and we traveled together to Atlanta and then on to Columbia. During the process of planning and conducting the event, I also made a trip to Columbia through Salt Lake City, connecting to a flight to Atlanta.

These trips were before TSA. Cell phones existed, but I didn’t have one. I remember using my credit card so that the youth delegate could use a pay phone to telephone parents to tell them of a safe arrival at Columbia. The actual National Youth Event occurred at the same time as the 1994 Summer Olympics, hosted in Atlanta, so the Atlanta airport was very busy. In place of the usual airplanes, the major airlines were all operating wide body jumbo jets to carry the traffic into the city. The olympic park terrorist bombing took place during the National Youth Event and so we experienced heightened airport security, but nothing like what we have become accustomed to in our post-911 world. In those days anyone could go to any gate at the airport without having to pass through any security screening or even show proof of identity. IDs were needed only to board the airplanes.

Yesterday was a day to remember those earlier trips to Columbia, South Carolina. We got up in the wee hours of the morning and drove to Bellingham International Airport, where we caught a short shuttle flight to Seattle-Tacoma International. From there we flew to Atlanta, a trip that took nearly 5 hours, and then we caught a commuter flight to Columbia, arriving at the airport that looked much the same as it did over a quarter of a century ago.

Instead of flying on one of Delta’s L-1011 wide bodies, which were fairly old at the time, or one of United’s newer 757 aircraft, we flew from Seattle to Atlanta on a brand new 737-Max 9 plane, filled with technology, including onboard wifi. The trip from Atlanta to Columbia was on an older CRJ. I think that in 1996, we flew on Dash 8 aircraft between Columbia and Atlanta, but I don’t remember for sure.

A lot has happened in the world since 1996. We have become elders. Our children have become adults. Our grandchildren can remember no travel before there were TSA screenings at every airport. There are a lot of other things that haven’t changed. I still enjoy the rich southern accent of the airport employees when I visit Georgia and South Carolina. I even notice a regular “y’all” in our daughter’s speaking. A couple of years in South Carolina has reinforced the bits of southern speech she picked up from living for 5 years in Missouri.

Most importantly, this trip was not a trip in which I traveled away from my family for work. Rather it is a trip away from my work for my family. Our daughter and her family live about 45 minutes from Columbia, South Carolina. There is no feeling better than having your grandson run full bore to you with a great big hug when you arrive at the baggage claim.

Of course, we didn’t really need to stop at the baggage claim. Our suitcases have yet to catch up with us. They arrived from Atlanta on a later flight and should be delivered to our daughter’s home sometime this morning. No worries. These things happen when you travel. We are safe. We arrived on time. We are with family. It is even more exciting than the first trip I made to this area years ago.

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