Home and Back – The Flight Out

Today is the first day of August 2008. If you’re a Pagan, it’s Lughnassah; if you’re not it means there are only four more months until Christmas and Hannukah arrive.

I plan to spend Christmas at home again this year, as I did last year. My Christmas fever is due in part to the fact I spent 18 days in July at home. I loved looking out the windows of the house and seeing green forest in every direction. What a stark contrast the green of Oregon is to the tan of the Arabian desert.

My plane took off from Riyadh 1/2-hour late. This delay was critical as I had only 1/2-hour between my scheduled landing and the time my plane from Frankfurt to Portland was scheduled to take off. Any delay was dangerous to my schedule. So, I found myself quite perturbed when the pilot announced we were waiting on Saudi Immigration to clear the plane; something about the manifest bothered them. From a safety stance, I should have been glad for their care; however, from an impatient traveler standpoint, I cursed those who endangered even one day of my scheduled time at home.

Sure enough, we bumped the tarmac 20 minutes late. I knew from experience that at least 10 minutes would be eaten up as we taxied to our parking place. If you’ve never been to Frankfurt, it is one of the busiest airports in the world. Many planes never make it to the gates at the actual terminals. Instead, they are parked a significant distance from the actual entry into the airport proper. Flights from Saudi Arabia almost always end up parked out in the far reaches of the airport. That day was no exception.

As we readied to deplane, the pilot announced that German police would want to see the passports of all passengers as we deplaned. Crap! This meant that, instead of using two exit doors to leave the plane (as we usually did when parked on the tarmac), we’d all be exiting through the front door – a further delay on an already strained schedule. My blood pressure was rising as I sensed disaster appearing on the horizon. My seat was toward the back of the plane, and it took a good five minutes to get to the door where I dutifully showed my blue passport to the nice German police officers.

Down the stairs and into the bus, I found myself waiting as the airport personnel – including the bus driver – flitted about in languid chaos. They shoved more and more passengers onto the bus, and the scent of six hours of flight time (including my own) filled the air. Still, they pressed more passengers into the bus. When was this going to be done? I kept thinking of the clips I’d seen of Japanese police shoving more and more travelers into the subway cars. Here we were, hundreds of strangers shoved together, each with at least one carry-on bag – many with two – being shoved chest-to-back against another person whose acquaintance we had not yet made, but with whose bodies we were all too familiar.

The loading of the bus took at least ten minutes before the driver got the doors to all close. He had to make three slow trips to the back of the airport bus before he could get the last person squeezed in just right for the doors to whish shut. Finally, we rolled forward. By that time, I’d pretty much given up on any chance of making my flight to Portland.

When I say that they parked us out away from the terminal, I mean that we were at least 1/2-3/4 of a mile from the building. The buses don’t travel at more than about 10 miles an hour, and the path painted onto the tarmac is serpentine at best. At least five minutes passed before we arrived at the building.

I don’t clearly remember leaving the bus, walking into the terminal, then walking another serpentine hallway path to get to the concourse in which my gate resided. But, I did. And, I finally got to the security checkpoint.

All flights to the United States (and I think the U.K.) require each passenger to pass through a security checkpoint in order to board their next plane – even if the passenger has never left the airport passenger area. So, I had to pull my laptop out of my case again, empty all of my pockets, take off my shoes – even strip off the denim shirt I was wearing over my tee shirt – then walk through the metal detector. My frustration level was to the breaking point, and when the security lady told me that my laptop had to undergo some special, extra scan, I very nearly lost it. Here I was struggling to get dressed again so I could run to my gate and at least make an effort at getting on my plane, and now I had to follow her to another kiosk as I looped my belt so another guy could play with my computer. “You have just guaranteed I will not make my plane,” I told her.

She responded with great compassion. “Step this way, sir.”

Auuggghhhhh!!!!!!!!!

I very nearly snatched the laptop out of the guy’s hand when they told me, finally, that I could go, and I literally ran to the gate, which was another 100 yards or so from the security checkpoint.

“Am I too late for the flight to Portland?” I asked the lady at the gate.

“No, sir. There was a plane from Spain that was late. We are waiting for a group of about 10. You have just made it, however. You need to walk downstairs and catch the bus to the plane.”

“Thank you.”

I imagine the relief I felt was visible. I knew that I would get home, even if I had to wait a day, had I missed the plane; but I wanted to go home NOW, not later. I took deep breaths as I descended the steps to where the bus sat, and as I stepped onto the bus I realized just how tense and anxious I had been. I also realized that I’d been sweating like a football player in Texas during the dog days of August. I was now embarrassed to sit down next to anybody. Still, as I stood there on the bus, waiting for the group of Portland Spanish students to board the bus with me, I knew I had made my flight, and that really was all that matter.

Onboard the plane, the middle-aged blonde woman next to me spoke mostly German and very little English; so she was unlikely to tell me to go take a sponge bath. She smiled politely as I sat down and turned herself to her magazine. I continued to take deep breaths and worked to lower my blood pressure.

The remainder of the trip was mostly uneventful. We arrived in Portland close to our scheduled time, and I found a nice brew pub serving quality beer where I could wait the two hours for my flight to Eugene. The gate home was only a few yards down the concourse, and I actually left the pub long before my flight time.

The 35 minute turbo-prop flight (not my favorite style of airplane) seemed to take a lot longer than 35 minutes. But, that was only due to me wanting to be home. When we landed, the carry-on they made me check at the plane’s door was not with the other such luggage, and they had to go and retrieve it. So, I was the last passenger to actually leave the plane and make my way into the concourse, through the length of the hallway, to the top of the escalator that took me down to where folks greeted friends and family from far away.

My payoff came almost immediately. I spied Cristina scanning the arrivals, and her face lit up with a smile the moment she saw me. As we embraced and kissed, every anxious moment of the trip slipped away into the past. I was home.

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