All this talk about airports has fired up my neurons. Many of my memories ping pong around the surreal experiences I have had traveling.
Like being stuck at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. Munching on my third super croissant. Flaky, buttery, quintessentially French. Slightly panicked by the blaring French announcement possibly saying, “Trudi, this is your last chance to leave, your plane is closing its doors, you’ll be stuck here forever, we’ve lost your luggage – again, and … we’ll only give you 50 francs for clean undies.” Or something like that. Panic needs carbohydrates hence the croissants. Then my attention was diverted by a group of travelers speaking in heavily accented English. They were describing the importance of their carry-on luggage to airport security personnel. Focusing over the croissant, thinking I might need a coffee and searching my mind for the correct French pronunciation, the argument became heated between the family of travelers and the personnel. Looking around, I spotted the luggage. They wanted to take their dining room table and six chairs as carry-on luggage. Huh. So that’s why there’s never room in the overhead bins.
In air travel’s good time, I made my way across the Atlantic. I have no idea what happened to the family and dining set. But that was not my strangest adventure traveling.
This is not for the faint of heart but maybe with all the craziness of canceled flights and endless lines at airport kiosks, it is does put things in perspective.
In my early twenties, back in the Middle Ages of airplane travel, I putzed around the Caribbean. I was young enough to feel invincible, traveled with an overnight bag, and had an American passport when that counted for something.
I was sitting in the airport bar, waiting for an alternative to my canceled flight when I noticed people standing up and clapping. With enthusiasm which was quite a feat in the sweltering humidity of the tropics. Even the stoic bartender stopped polishing the not so clean glasses to smile. After more outbreaks of applause, my curiosity was piqued.
“Uh, what’s happening?” I asked.
“A plane landed,” the bartender said not missing a beat.
“Do they do that every time?”
“Every time a plane’s successful,” said without emotion.
“Can I have another?”
“Good idea,” he said already pouring.
Guess that was the usual response among travelers. Better to be plotched when I plummeted to the earth like a lawn dart.
Finally, my plane was called, I stumbled to the tarmac and squinted. That could not possibly be my plane. My mother’s pinto, the exploding car, was bigger.
“That’s your puddle hopper,” said the ticket taker. “Better hold onto your luggage.”
Like a good sheep, I got into the plane, boosted by another passenger from the rolling stairs through the door (or exit). We, the passengers, sat sweating in a cabin barely six feet wide. Sardine-like, five rows, two in each row, a center aisle walkable if you were anorexic and scuttled crab-like. Strapping myself in, I looked out at the cracked, tiny window, mouth opening at the sight of duct tape wrapped tourniquet tight around the wing.
The man across from me started praying with his rosary. Occasional moans drifted my way. The man catty corner across from me opened a bottle of rum, drank, and passed it to another passenger. When the bottle made its way to me, I took a swig. What a way to go!
The mood lightened and darkened depending on where you were sitting until the pilot stepped into the plane. He grinned at everyone. I could swear I had seen him at the bar earlier. He was wearing cargo shorts and a starched white shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in one sleeve. With a “Gooday folks. We’ll be taking off soon,” he disappeared into the cockpit. More praying and drinking.
Did I say the cabin was tight? It was tight. Before take-off, the pilot, he had introduced himself as Dickie over the PA, opened the cockpit door with some energy. He hit the man sitting in the front seat, knocked him out, “Oh damn, not again,” and the plane was delayed until EMS carried him off the plane.
After stewing for an hour in my own sweat, the plane took off. We flew low, I thought perilously low, to the waves. I watched the white caps cresting the ocean and dark shadows just below the water’s surface – sharks following the plane for the entire flight. If I were a shark, I might think of the plane as a package of easy snack foods.
Air travel is the miracle of careening through the air in a tin can. Fast, often efficient, and highly surreal. It boggles the mind.