Wednesday, December 20, 2006

'The Year of Living' – Part 3

I sit here, marveling at my first bona fide blizzard, when suddenly I am pinged by a bored colleague. "Post something," she commanded. I gave her a list of subject choices and she opted for another installment of 'The Year of Living' where I pull an entry out of my travel journal, a dog-eared page from my globetrotting days:

… STILL! 4 November 2005, 12:42 p.m.

Amazing, the things my new 'family' and I have been through with Northwest Airlines. I'm trying to document the situation before it becomes clouded by other incredible experiences.

The Saga of Flight 56

Los Angeles, 2:35 p.m. 11/3/95

We board the plane, destined for the Midwest and sit on the tarmac for 45 minutes. Finally, we become airborne. Upon landing in Minneapolis, I make it over to Gate 2 to catch Flight 56 to Amsterdam, where I intend to catch a flight to Nairobi.

Initially, I was in the wrong seat which pissed off a German couple. Then, the German woman became enraged at me and my sleeping bag for reasons unclear. We managed to fly for about 45 minutes before the captain announced a problem with the wing flaps. We made a U-turn and flew back to Minneapolis.

We sat there, in a faulty tube, for nearly two hours while mechanics tried in vain to adjust the problem. They had us deplane and we stood around for another hour or so before they found us another plane. (People were openly smoking in a posted 'Smoke-Free' environment – a German woman was crying.)

We boarded another plane around 1:00 a.m., confident that it was fixed. Because it was a different plane, the seating arrangements were jumbled and people were busy arguing and wouldn't sit down. I noticed that the flight attendants became quite panicky.

This made more sense an hour later when Mary, the lead stewardess, announced that the flight crew had now exceeded their regulated air time and the flight would have to be rescheduled. The level of anger amongst the travelers was so high that the Airport Police were called in to nip any rioting plans in the bud. (Though we did storm the galley and manage to relieve the aircraft of its soda and nuts.)

After we 'deplaned' – a verb I am really getting used to – we then had to wait in hideously long lines to receive our hotel vouchers. At this point, faces became familiar and waiting in line allowed for exchanges of sympathy and interesting conversation.

I was fortunate enough to find two women to connect with. Carol Hanson – a 49-year-old Gloria Steinem look-a-like from Iowa – is trying to meet up with her husband in Moscow, where he doing agricultural research. Robin – a 40-year-old Army brat who looks like a brunette Cybill Shepherd – is desperately anxious about reuniting with her French husband at their home in Mulhouse, France. She, unlike Carol and myself, is at the end of her trip after spending a week in Tuscon, cleaning up the details of her previous life.

I couldn't have hand-picked two lovelier women to be in Hell with. All three of us are writers; Carol is also a psychologist and Robin teaches English as well. They are both happily married, happily child-free and both are well-traveled. They are living with their minds open, their hearts taken and their passports full. They are an inspiration to me and I have told them as such.

After a very comforting rest at the Thunderbird Motel (heavy on the stuffed wild animals and Native American motif), I'm now writing from a very luxurious business class seat on my way (?) to Amsterdam. Once again, there was another last-minute panic in boarding this morning's aircraft. When I heard Mary scream, "Everybody, just find a seat anywhere you can!" a scruffy young Frenchman and I instinctively ran to the front of the plane. (Despite our language barrier, we are now having a blast, toasting every five minutes with our selection of wines and champagnes.) Additional elements to this story are simply more of the same – a grumpy pre-dawn shuttle bus, other confounded problems, angry Europeans nearly dead from homesickness, etc.

But there has been much laughter and I've never been so acquainted with so many fellow passengers on one flight. (At breakfast, we talked of getting t-shirts: "I survived Flight 56, over and over again.") And, because of the destination - catching connecting flights in Amsterdam – everyone is off to exotic locales.

Take Rob, who moved to Fargo, North Dakota from his home in Jerusalem in 1984 and is trying to get to Spain. Then there's Elizabeth, who is going to Vienna with her daughter for a three-week shopping spree to look for a wedding dress in Paris and Milan. One good-humored woman was trying to get to Berlin while another man – a talkative chap who loved to tell jokes – was returning to his home in Switzerland.

It's odd but in cases of Major Bummer, people really do reach out to one another and form bonds. No matter how brief, they still matter and serve their purpose well. I do, however, look forward to brushing my teeth …

"You're not actually writing about this nightmare, are you?" –Debbie, stewardess, Flight 56


hotdrwife said...

I love your traveling stories!!

Tamburlaine said...

So how have you fared your first blizzard?

ClizBiz said...

Funny you should ask ... see latest post. You are a pro at this stuff, maybe you can pass along some Iowa winter tips?