It's amazing how everything works out sometimes, despite any and all opposing circumstances.
...so after the jam cleared up & traffic started moving again, I rushed the car to the rental car return. They were extraordinarily nice (in contrast to when I picked the car up -- the lady who worked with me then was quite curt) and didn't charge me anything extra, despite my not having stopped to fill the tank within 10 miles of the return as required by the rental agreement.
I dashed to the airport shuttle (as much as dashing applies, given the mass of papers and maps and suitcases I was lugging with me) and packed all the miscellaneous items I had grabbed from the car into my luggage as we headed toward the airport. Once there, after I oriented myself, I hustled to the NWA ticket counter. It was 11:20 and my flight was due to take off at 11:35, so I fully expected to be turned away.
Happiness! They officially booked me as standby for the next flight, but gave me a ticket to get through security quickly and told me that I could possibly still make my flight if I booked it to the gate & took everything as carry on.
While I was moving through security, they gave a final boarding call for my flight. I was afraid security would decide to search my bags, especially since one held some new tango shoes which have long, spiky metal heels, but providence was with me and they let me through. I rushed to the gate, out of breath, and asked if they would still let me board. Eying my load critically, the stewardess said that my bag wouldn't fit in the bins with as much as I had packed into it, but if I could slim it down they'd let me on. Otherwise, I would have to go back out and check my main bag, and that would mean waiting until the next flight.
I opened the front pocket of my suitcase and removed a mass of papers, maps, and books, cramming them into a plastic bag I carried, alongside the granola, nuts, and mango it already contained. Satisfied, they let me board.
On the plane everyone was already seated and the bins were closed, but the lovely man sitting in the seat next to mine helped me to find a bin that would hold my suitcase and another with space enough for my backpack. As I sat down and leaned over to put my purse and the plastic bag under the seat in front of mine the bag broke. Feeling frazzled, I gathered everything up. Luckily, I was able to squeeze all but one book into another smaller plastic bag I had been carrying with me. (Thank goodness I hoard plastic bags these days, collecting them with future dog walks & cleanup in mind.)
So now here I am, on my scheduled flight, en route to Minneapolis and then Seattle as planned. (I am, of course, actually transcribing the post to this page a week later. The time stamp is approximate to when I first penned it.) What an adventure the morning was, and pleasant that it all worked out so well. It's as if I were living a charmed existance! I have so many days where everything goes wrong that it feels almost surreal when I have one like this, where everything goes right.