Tuesday, July 6, 2010

if i was flying on a plane above your town, and you were gazing at the sky, i'd feel somehow intact and reassured, if you began to wave goodbye

I woke up at least once an hour between the time that I went to sleep and when the phone alarm went off. But I woke up awake (that’s what I call it – you know, as opposed to waking up all groggy), and got ready with my stuff gathered in time to make the 6:05 airport shuttle.

The shuttle was stopping at both the south and north terminals, but I had no idea which one my flight was leaving from, and the printed itinerary I had didn’t say. So I just got off at the south one, because what difference did it make?

I went all the way up the very long ramp. The signs didn’t say which terminal delta was at.

Finally, at the top and down a hall and into the main part of the terminal, there was a sign that listed all the airlines. Delta was at the north terminal. Rats. So I had to go all the way back down the ramp again, and take a shuttle to the north terminal.

I finally got there, and got inside, and found the screen with all the flights listed so that I’d know what gate to go to.

There it was.

Delta 811 … 9:00am … CANCELLED

Oh dear. Now what? I was glad now that I had a long layover in Atlanta. At least I had plenty of time to figure out a new flight, if I could get one. Time to go find the Delta people.

I saw a Delta service desk, but when I went to it, it said “position closed”, and no one was there. This gave me the momentary worst-case-scenario impression that Delta airlines had suddenly gone out of business entirely and no one was left. However, a few moments later I saw the main Delta desk… with lots of people in line. There was also a Delta employee nearby, so I asked him where I was supposed to go if I was on the cancelled Atlanta flight, and he directed me to said line. (Rats. I’ve been in the states too long. I’m already calling it a line instead of a queue.)

I joined the line, and spent the fairly long wait chatting with a stocky, dark-haired young man behind me – comparing travels, and wondering what they were going to do with us.

When we asked one of the airline workers, she said that some people would probably be sent to Heathrow, and some might be sent on other airlines if necessary. As I had lots of time to spare to make my connecting flight, I was satisfied with this.

A bit later – when I was about halfway through the line – I heard another person ask a different worker the same question: what was to be done with us? This worker said the same thing, but added that they were rerouting some people through different cities – Houston, Denver, Detroit

“Oh, send me to Detroit!” I said, excited but not very loud, to no one in particular. If I went to Detroit, even if I couldn’t get a flight to Grand Rapids, my family could come and get me! My new friend and I discussed how much we hoped they were smart enough to reroute us based on final destination and not just send us all to Atlanta regardless of where we actually wanted to be in the end.

I finally made it to the front of the line, and to the desk. I pushed my itinerary printout forward on the counter.

“Where are you going?” the lady asked me.

“My final destination is Grand Rapids,” I replied. She asked for my name and stuff also, and then punched lots of things into her computer.

“There,” she concluded. “I’ve got you on a flight from Heathrow to Detroit” – I jumped up and down, literally – “that leaves at 10:30 and gets into Detroit at 2:30, and then a flight from Detroit to Grand Rapids leaving at 3:30.”

“Hurray! I’m going to be home six hours early!”

“Well, I’m glad it worked out for one person, at least. Here’s a certificate for food, but you’ve got to hurry because you need to get to Heathrow. Here’s your voucher for the shuttle ticket – but ask at the shuttle service desk because I’m not sure whether this counts as your ticket or you need to get one from them.”

So I ran off with my luggage, and followed the signs until I got to the service desk for the shuttle. I did need a printed ticket from them, and the next shuttle would leave at 8:00 – in fifteen minutes. So after I found the place from which the shuttle would leave, I had just enough time to go to the nearby Costa Coffee inside the airport, and get hot chocolate and a banana nut “breakfast loaf” – basically a little bitty loaf of banana bread.

When I came back out, the shuttle was there and people were just starting to get on it – there was a pretty big queue to get on. I gave them my luggage to put below, and got on.

There were few enough people that I could get a window seat, so I curled up there with my hot chocolate and banana bread.

The traffic was pretty bad, so it took us about 45 minutes to get to Heathrow. But it was a beautiful drive – my last glimpses of the English countryside.

And there was this cool truck of huge mirrors.

It also involved me periodically bouncing up and down in my seat, saying in a sing-song voice, “I don’t have to go to At-LAN-ta! I don’t have to go to At-LAN-ta!”

When we got there, and I got off at Terminal 4, where I belonged, and got to the Delta check-in gate, and they found out how soon my plane was leaving – it was already closed for boarding apparently – I got a personal escort to run with me through the airport. One advantage of having no time to get to your flight (if it’s the airline’s fault) is that they don’t fuss about your suitcase being three pounds overweight.

So I ran through the airport, and got through customs as quick as I could, and ran to my gate. Fortunately, people were still boarding, and I joined the line. I didn’t have any trouble getting through – though I was kind of out of breath from running – and I was so incredibly happy to be getting on a plane that was taking me straight to my home state.

It was a great relief to finally be on board the plane. The seat I was assigned was not a window seat, but it was next to a seat that was, so I could see out some. I was next to a middle-aged lady who was friendly but not too talkative - this has been the case with nearly all my seatmates on journeys. I have had good luck with seatmates.

I heard the two teenage girls behind me talking before we took off, and we realized that we had all been at the concert the night before. So I turned around in my seat and we chattered excitedly about that for a bit. I think the lady next to me thought we were all crazy teenagers. But she didn't seem to mind too much.

Then I turned back around, and tried to use the screen in the back of the seat, but it wasn't working yet. So I got out a book or a notebook or something. It was somewhat annoying to be having to kill time when the plane hadn't even taken off yet. I don't like sitting there not moving.

We didn't have a terribly long wait, though, and I was really happy when we were in the air. I kept wanting to bounce up and down with my "I'm not going to At-LAN-ta!" song.

The flight was... long. But not terrible. I tried to watch Sherlock Holmes, but the screen was dark so I couldn't see it very well, and the earphones were cheap so I couldn't hear it very well, and I gave up. I crocheted a bit, and read a bit, and wrote a bit...

When it was about twelve-thirty England time, they brought us a meal. It was seven-thirty Michigan time, so I chose the scrambled egg meal instead of the chicken meal, in hopes of beginning to shift my internal clock to the right time. The scrambled eggs were kind of gross, though. Made from powder. But if you didn't think about the texture and only focused on the taste they were okay. And I was hungry. The "sausages" were inedible, though.

We went through some turbulence. And the fasten seatbelt sign went on. And it stayed on and stayed on even after we weren't jerking anymore. And I had to go to the loo. So I walked up there and went anyway. And then realized that it was the first class loo, so I'd double broken the rules... oh well.

At one point, already feeling like I had been on the plane forever, I looked at the time. Four hours down, five to go. Oh help. This seemed unbearable. I needed to find a position where I could sleep in order to kill some time, or I was going to lose my mind.

I put down my tray, and put a folded blanket and then my pillow on top of it, and then lay down my head on my arms. That was reasonably comfortable, and I was so tired that I fell asleep quickly.

I really crashed, because when I woke up - I think someone came by with a cart - I had no clue how much time it had been, and one of my arms was totally dead. (This always happens to me. I find sleeping with my head on my arms incredibly comfortable, but then my arm goes dead.) It felt like it had been about half an hour. I checked the clock on the screen - it had been two and a half hours! Only two and a half to go! That was doable.

Two of the more exciting parts of the flight were flying over Iceland and Greenland. This is Greenland:

The dinner was good. I don't remember what the main part of it was now, only that I enjoyed it, and that it came with cheese and crackers and a roll and real butter and some other kind of good side dish and a mini chocolate chip cookie bar. Oh! I remember! It was french bread pizza. And it didn't come with all that stuff; the breakfast did. I ate those things as snacks during the afternoon.

The last two hours went faster than I expected.

The moment that they said we could use cell phones, I got mine out to call my mother. I couldn't wait to tell her that I was in Detroit and that she could pick me up in Grand Rapids in two hours. I would say, "What are you doing this afternoon? Could you come to the airport?"

I dialed, and she answered almost right away.

"Hi, Mommy."

"Hi. Does this mean your plane has landed?" Her voice was very happy in a quiet sort of way.

"Yes - "

"Do you know where we are?" I didn't know what to think. Could they be at the GR airport already? But why would they be?

"No, where?"

"Rebecca and I are sitting outside customs at the Detroit Metro airport."

"What - how - but!"

"We got an e-mail that your flight was changed to Detroit - I'll have to tell you whole story. But we'll be here when you come out."

"Now I am crying!"

"Me too."

The doors were finally opened. I got my things out of the overhead compartment.

Out of the plane and into the airport. I suddenly realized that I'd lost my water bottle. I dashed back - and they let me back on, and I found it, rolled a few rows up from where I'd been.

Now I was really arrived. It was a long walk through dim hallways and down an escalator and along a moving walkway, and finally we reached the luggage carousel and customs. I waited in line, and waited in line. I should have switched lines, but I didn't, and by the time I realized it would have been faster it wasn't faster any more. The lady directing us was friendly and seemed like she was happy for us to have arrived, as though she knew us and was welcoming us there. I had the impression - through the blur that mind was - at the time that she was treating us special because we'd been on the flight that was canceled, but looking back that doesn't really make sense because most of the people weren't from the Atlanta flight. So I think she was just a very kind lady.

It was much easier to go through customs back into the States than it had been getting into England. He asked a couple questions about my trip, and I explained. The funny thing was that I used two different English expressions, and I kept almost talking in an English accent. But he didn't seem to care. He looked at my passport, and sent me through.

I had to declare - or thought I did - because I was bringing food back. But I think that that really only counted if it was produce. Oh well. They sent me through very speedy, so that was all right.

Then we were all sent to a queue for re-checking in. I could see the doors to the rest of the airport, and I was going to go through them, but then I thought maybe I was supposed to tell someone that I wouldn't be on the flight to Grand Rapids. So I asked an official lady who was standing there. And she said that I did need to tell them, and to wait in line. Rats. I was too blurry-headed to argue, so I went and got in line. But it was a very long line that seemed to be going very slowly. Having to stand in this line for an hour just to tell them that I wouldn't be on the plane, when my mom and sister were right outside the door, seemed like a terrible thing. But then the lady came up to me again.

"You just need to tell them that you're not on the Grand Rapids flight?"


"Okay. You don't have to wait in this whole line - I'll let them know. You can go."

"Thank you so much!" I ducked under the queuing barricade fabric thing - knocking it loose in the process, which was embarrassing - and finally got myself and my luggage out the door.

There they were - Mommy and Rebecca. And we hugged and everything, and they helped me with my luggage, and we went through the airport until we finally got to the car. It wasn't really that far; Mommy had had extraordinarily good luck in selecting a spot close to the gate where I was landing.

The day was bright and sunny, and the carport seemed warm and familiar even though I'd never been there before. Maybe it was just the presence of our tan van - which looked much more beat up than I'd remembered...

I was so excited about the presents I had for my siblings, and kept wanting to talk about them, but I made myself wait.

I thought that the parking lady who took our money on the way out had an accent, but Mommy and Rebecca said that she didn't. So apparently I was just hearing the Midwestern accent.

When we'd gotten ourselves out of the airport and onto the freeway, Mommy said,

"So, now we have two hours to kill."

I was confused. I hadn't yet figured out why exactly they'd come to get me instead of letting me fly to Grand Rapids, even though it was nice. I don't remember exactly how the conversation went, but eventually the light dawned - my cousin Rachel's graduation was tonight! In Ypsilanti! And I was going to be able to go to it! We would wait around for two hours until it was time, and in the meantime my father would be driving all the rest of the family in the white van. And all the cousins and the grandparents would be there! And they didn't even know I was coming!

We went to Tim Horton's for a sort of supper - it was about 4:30 by this point, I think, but my brain and body were totally off, and it didn't feel like any time in particular. So we just had soup and sandwiches, and doughnuts afterward. And then we still had a lot of time to kill, so after I changed clothes out of my rumpled dirty ones, we went to the Payless that was next door and shoe shopped. The poor lady spieled at us even though we had no intention of buying anything.

Eventually we continued on to the graduation, and got there without any trouble. We were quite early, and we sat in the parking lot waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. Then, finally, they did, and pulled up next to us, and they got out and we got out, and they all took turns hugging me. Then I could absolutely not wait any longer, and made them go to the front of the car while I got all the presents out of my suitcase.

They were telling me to hurry - family was starting to arrive, and they'd seen the van, and would be wondering why we weren't coming in. Finally, I had all of the presents into cloth grocery bags, and brought them to them at the front of the cars.

These were the presents:

Thad - a .3 lead pencil and a copy of the Apocrypha from Oxford

Bram - a junior cricket set, and postcards of the tram engine that inspired Toby

Josh - socks that say Mr. Strong, a red journal, and a pencil from John O'Groats

Zach - fancy yellow and black pencils and a Welsh flag

Rebecca - a ring with a star on it and a mobile phone cover that says Rebecca

Lydia - a porcelain spoon with pink flowers on it from Kensington Palace

Jae - a pirate captain Playmobil set

Mommy - sand from John O'Groats, and something else but I can't remember it

Papa - a flag sort of thing from John O'Groats

When I was all done giving them out, we went inside. There were already lots of people there. I found my cousins and surprised them with hugs, and then my uncle and aunt and my grandparents. Then I found my cousin's boyfriend's graduation display, because I had to investigate to see if he was worth of her.

Then it was time to go into the auditorium for the ceremony. Each graduate's parents gave a two-minute introduction/speech/spiely-thing about him or her, which surprisingly enough wasn't boring. They kept them short, interspersed them with music and stuff, and said interesting things about them. It was fun to feel like I knew them all a little bit. My cousin Rachel did a dance to Jeremy Camp's 'My Desire' - I love her choreography so much.

Then it was done, and we all went into the gym and had food - vegetables and fruit and meatballs and you know, the kind of thing one always has at that sort of event.

And then there was music... and then there was swing dancing. Oh yeah. A lot of swing dancing. Rachel's boyfriend Michael is quite good at it, plus another friend of theirs [friend of theirs is COMPLETELY ungrammatical. This just occurred to me. It should be "friend of them". But nobody says that.] teaches dance. So Thad danced with Rebecca and I danced with Josh (mostly - we switched it up some, too, and Zach and Lydia and Jae joined us sometimes) and they taught us lots of new moves. And we danced for hours to dozens of songs, and had homemade cookies and fruit, and I was very happy.

For the first part of the evening, my brain had adjusted to the Michigan time and it felt like the time it actually was. But by the time 9:30 arrived, my exhausted brain and body had switched back to England time and it felt like 2:30am. Everything was surreal, like a strange but pleasant dream. We left at about 10, I think. They let me have the back seat all to myself so I could sleep. If you don't count the sleep on the plane or in the car, and count getting up to going to bed, I was up for 24 hours - on 4 hours sleep.


Shan said...

Even though I have heard the story, I still got choked up reading about Rebecca and your mom waiting for you in Detroit. <3

lois said...

Even though I LIVED the story, I got choked up when we were waiting for you in Detroit.
(You got me the bear that says "Mum", and the cute little book.)

Uncle Christopher said...

I really enjoyed hearing the whole story. It brought back the smile on my face from the moment I saw you at the graduation. I'm glad your flight was canceled and got re-routed through Detroit.

Ever Thankful said...

I so rarely do the blog thing, it's been MONTHS. I was on and realized I hadn't heard the end of your story. So I came to find it. It was very engaging and by the end I felt emotionally exhausted and so happy you were home at last. Even though you have been home for months, reading the end of your story threw me back in time. I am so glad you were able to go to England. What a blessing! Rob went to England on business and brought home some "Digestives". It was fun to eat something you'd mentioned in your blog. Clearly you have many wonderful memories that will surly last you a life time. I'm so glad you told us your story. I enjoyed your telling of it, and all of your photos as well. To be a part of the adventure was a blessing. Thank you for taking us along!