Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Jiggety-jog

A week ago today, I awoke at 5AM in Dublin and trudged down to the communal bathroom of the Avalon House for my shower. Once I had been refreshed and slightly awakened, I finished packing my bags and dragged them out into the dark and relative cold (it was 55º F in August) to the nearest bus stop about half a mile away. I had a ticket for an Air Trans Bus, but discovered that I had been directed to an Air Coach bus stop instead. I had to pay for a new bus ticket to get to the airport, but it was well worth it. I found my way aboard and soon was standing in line at the Dublin Airport to check in for my flight to Manchester, UK, on LuxAir, the national airline of Luxembourg.

After checking in, I went for an Irish breakfast, keeping an eye on expenses to run out of Euros at the last possible minute so that I would not have to carry home a lot of change that can not be used except if I return to Europe. Eventually, we were called to board the flight and I went out onto the tarmac to find that we would be flying in a small jet, one with 2 seats on one side and one seat on the other. I could barely walk down the aisle without tilting my head to one side and then reached my seat to find that my carry-on bag didn’t fit in the overhead compartment or under my seat. No one seemed concerned, so I just took it in stride and settled in for a brief flight to Manchester.

After leaving the coast of Ireland behind and then crossing the Irish Sea, the Midlands of England came into view. We soon landed in Manchester and had to go through a security check and an immigration check into the UK to board the next flight to Philadelphia. We were located in a duty free area and I was able to spend the last of my Euros and Sterling on a pair of cheap cubic zirconium earrings for myself to remind me of the labor of love that I have put into my film project since the beginning of July.

The flight to Philadelphia was interminably long, not because it was on USAir, but because it was a long flight. We had been diverted extremely north for some reason and soon we could see the southern coast of Greenland off the right side of the plane. A few small mountains were embedded in glaciers that had dumped icebergs into small bays. It was a stunning view, but I could not get to my camera to take a photo of the panorama.

A few hours later, we landed in Philadelphia and the interesting part of the journey began. It seemed as if all the international arrivals for USAir had been dumped into a single terminal and that it was under construction. There was little indication of what to do except from the security agents who were all right out of a Tracey Ullman episode. They were almost all African American and spoke a dialect that I am accustomed to hearing as a southerner. However, I thought of all the foreigners in our herd of arrivals who would be using English as a second language and imagined myself trying to understand the Italians in Naples who didn’t seem too keen to see me in the first place. I had a very Zen moment where I felt deep compassion for the foreigners coming into my country just as we turned the corner and found the place where we rechecked our bags for our connecting flights.

At that point, all chaos broke loose. There were baggage handlers ordering passengers into single file while at the desk for the airline, a representative of Asian descent behind the counter was screaming loudly and obscenely at a passenger who was screaming obscenities back to her. I heard him say "Your f*cking airline lost my f*cking luggage!" to which she screamed back something equally as insulting. At that point, I was getting checked for my next flight to Raleigh-Durham International and I noticed that my reservation agent was paying more attention to the fight than to my check-in. I was watching it too, to be honest, because the supervisor from the airline had arrived and was now screaming at the Asian lady to take a break, to get lost, to get somewhere, anywhere and to take a breather. The Asian lady was then screaming at both the passenger and her supervisor when my agent said that my flight was leaving from gate 12 D in 50 minutes.

I walked around the corner to discover another long queue of people snaking around in a lobby and that we were all being herded into it. At one point, I was looking around for some indication of where the different terminals were located and saw no indication of any terminal designations at all. I turned to a matronly African-American lady wearing a badge and asked her, "Are all the terminals down this hallway?" She cocked her head to one side and said, "Yes, baby, they are all down there, but you got to get through this first. Now step back and let these people here through."

It was a few minutes before I realized that this was yet another security check, complete with x-ray machines. People were stripping down and taking off their shoes in front of me. I pulled out my watch and realized that I had 40 minutes to reach my gate after I cleared this hurdle and that was based on the assumption that I would get through without any kind of strip search. Eventually, I reached the machines and made my way through, but not until after having had the time to commiserate with a couple French speaking travelers who were astonished at the chaos in front of us. We bid each other adieu as we quickly replaced our shoes, belts and rearranged our bags before getting on our way.

I took a look at the terminal diagram and realized that gate 12 D was as far from where I was as it could possibly be. I set out walking very quickly, pulling my bag behind me and made the trip in about 10-15 minutes to find that there is no gate 12 D. There is a gate D 12, but not 12 D. I found an airline employee who pointed out that 12 D was my seat number and that my gate was actually C 21 and that my flight was no longer on the board and had probably already left the gate. I hoofed it back to the end of terminal D and down the connector to terminal C, arriving at gate 21 just in time to hand my ticket to the checker and barely in time to make my flight.

Thus ended the last significant hurdle to my arrival home. I had been on the road since 13 July and on 22 August, I was aboard my flight from Philadelphia down along the Eastern Shore and Chesapeake Bay of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Below us, the intense late afternoon sun glanced at an angle across the myriad of creeks, rivers, bays, swamps and spits of land that lay before us. It reminded me of having gone fishing with my friend Donald two Augusts ago from Onancock into the Chesapeake Bay. At that moment, I looked up and saw a passenger ahead of me who was wearing a cap as Donald always did, and he turned his head slightly to reveal a profile that could have easily have been my dear old friend. I thought it appropriate that Donald would be there to accompany me home and since I had thought of him doing it, it was happening in my mind, if not in reality.

A short time later, we arrived at RDU, I retrieved my bag and then waited outside in the 90º F weather for my friend David to pick me up. He soon arrived and we decided to go for dinner to a local fried seafood restaurant that is quite popular for the quality and quantity of its food. As soon as I spoke, David pointed out that I was hoarse. I thought of the hacking man from Viet Nam whom I had passed in the terminal in Philadelphia and wondered, typically the "vigilant consumer" of health care that I am, if I now had avian flu.

º º º

I have been home for a week now. My family insisted that I come to Wilmington on Wednesday to take Mom to the cardiology appointment that had been scheduled for her. While I had been in Europe, she had a few ill health episodes and we are trying to sort out what is going on with her. Because I could tell that I was coming down with something that started out as a symptom of sinusitis, I was concerned about passing something on to her. Now I have a deep sexy voice and an irritated chest that feels to me like this mess is trying to settle into my bronchial tubes. I just hope that mom doesn’t get sick to worsen her own problems.

Because I was feeling sick, I was not in a very good mood all weekend. I slept for hours on Friday and Saturday, and when I found out that my mom had stubbornly fed the dogs canned food despite my specific request and insistence to the contrary, I became angry and expressed it…something that we are not allowed to do in the South. By the time I got my dogs back and had dealt with the physical, emotional and practical needs of the weekend, I was feeling even worse. I especially felt badly that I had argued with my mom and then I felt guilty that I took my dog back despite my sister’s attachment to the puppy after my month and a half of travels. I headed back home to Durham yesterday afternoon.

It is a good feeling to be back at home. I just have to document the parts of my story I have left out till now…and prepare to complete the work that needs to be done to get my home back in shape (weeding, mainly, and some house cleaning, not to mention haircuts for my dogs). I guess that is what Labor Day will be for me this year.

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