What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been, Part Three
Letters to Loo #8, Amsterdam to Bristol
When my last letter ended, I’d just gotten on a flight to Bristol, although at first it had seemed unlikely. All the flights to Bristol were full. London? Same.
“Oh, please look again,” I asked. “I’ll take another class of service.”
She looked again and with a sly smile said, “I found you one that leaves today at 1 pm! And it’s your class of service!” she said like a Labrador Retriever with a duck in its mouth.
As she printed out my boarding pass my thanks were effusive. I was delighted. Though I’d missed an Indian dinner with my friends in Bristol the night before, I would be able to taxi from the airport in Bristol to Bath where I’d join them for a proper English tea. Disruption seemed to be behind me.
Gio, my wheelchair pusher, wanted to know where I wanted to wait for the flight. Despite the pastry cases I could see in a nearby café, I wasn’t hungry. Just down the hall was the handicapped lounge where people like me could wait. There, I told him. He checked me in and walked away briskly. A woman pushed my chair into a large waiting area behind her desk. She handed me a piece of paper upon which “11:30 – 12:00” had been circled. I was to wait until then when someone came for me to be taken to the gate for my flight to Bristol.
I moved from the chair Gio had been pushing to a couch and looked around. It had originally been in good condition but had gotten shabby. Two women in rumpled Indian saris were sleeping deeply, mouths open, draped across tired, firm, modular sofas. A woman wandered by and claimed the one across from me. She spoke to a man behind me and he made his way onto the couch across from her and next to me. I don’t know how long he’d been traveling but I could smell him. On my right was an animated, diminutive young man with an athletic gym bag. He was speaking what I assume was an African language into a cellphone. We all (except the Indian women who never moved, even to breathe) looked up as an attendant came through the lounge looking for her next passengers to ferry to their flights.
“Passengers to Mumbai. Passengers to Mumbai.” We went back to what we’d been doing.
The lounge was once a nice place to wait. It was tastefully decorated but the furniture was tattered and its dark blue walls showed oil stains where countless fatigued heads had been. I thought back to another lounge I’d been in a few months ago, the Qatar Airways handicapped lounge at Hamad International Airport.
Like this one, just outside the lounge area were numerous luxurious stores where Coach purses, Louis Vitton luggage, diamonds, shoes, and anything else that took my fancy were displayed. The curious and the well-heeled combed through the shops, never glancing toward those of us waiting patiently, uncomfortably, in the handicapped lounge next to them.
As I watched travelers in Amsterdam, I was gripped again by the dichotomy between the haves and the have-nots (I wrote about that elsewhere on this trip) and by the inescapable conclusion that even those who would never shop for purses, diamonds, and such are fortunate. They are traveling, coming and going, when so many of their neighbors never leave the places they were born. The inescapable conclusion that I am not only fortunate, I am blessed. The knowledge of that can be overwhelming sometimes.
Shortly before 12:00, the woman at the entry desk made eye contact. It was my turn. I was pushed tto my gate and again, went to the front of the line. The agent took my boarding pass.
“Wait,” she said, looking questioningly into my eyes, “You boarding pass is for tomorrow.” I could hardly believe my ears.
“No, please,” I said. “I need to go today.” I guess I really didn’t need to go. I wanted to go. I was ready for a break.
She looked back down at the screen, fingers tapping. Then she handed me a new boarding pass.
“I got you on,” she said with a smile.
My escort pushed the chair into an elevator and we emerged into the handicapped waiting area downstairs. I didn’t see Bart, Peter, or Gio, but outside the door was a shiny lift waiting to take me to the plane. Another break. Perhaps, I thought, things have turned around.
I arrived on the tarmac next to the plane and boarded ahead of everyone, securing space in the overhead bin. The flight was nearly full and my seat mate was a redhead from Switzerland who had been born in Bristol. In her arms was Jacob, a most delightful smiling, wiggling 7-month baby. I adore babies. Jacob was obsessed with me and I, with him. His mother and I talked nonstop about her life, him, and a thousand other things… for about five minutes… until I looked up and two flight attendants were stopped in front of us.
“I’m so sorry,” one began. “We can’t have two special needs passengers in the same row. In case something happened, we need to have just one per row.” The young mother and I looked at each other disappointedly. “Your husband is in the back,” they said to the woman, “Can he switch with you?”
That almost happened but a child and an infant would make two special needs passengers in the back of the plane so, the mother and Jacob sat one seat in front of me (I had my row to myself), and the flight attendants were happy. Jacob continued wiggling, playing with in flight magazines, and flirted over the seatback at me. When his mother deplaned, she shot me a regretful look and said good bye. Jacob, focused forward, didn’t even notice.
The flight to Bristol lasted just an hour and change. It was drizzling there. As I stepped onto the tarmac (and into another wheelchair), I was grateful for the experiences I had getting there: seeing downtown Minneapolis and meeting Fernan, learning about Mary Tyler Moore and myself, even Amsterdam hadn’t been bad. They all taught me a lot about myself and the world around me. Everything worked out for my good but most importantly, I now have three new stories to tell just about getting here.
I love England and will be back. I leave early tomorrow morning for Boise, Timeshifting again to beat jet lag. Will my taxi driver coming to the castle at 3:00 am to pick me up make it? Will I get on flight(s) to Amsterdam, Salt Lake City, and then Boise? Will I have jet lag when I get home? I don’t know, Loo, and frankly, I really don’t care.
I’ve had the time of my life getting and being here. Any disruption I experience going home will only be icing on the cake.