What a Long Strange Trip It's Been, Part Two
Minneapolis to Amsterdam, Letter to Loo #6
Disruption was indeed along for the ride.
Fernan got me from the Hyatt Regency to the Minneapolis airport at 10 am. My new flight was scheduled to leave at the same time the cancelled flight had been on the previous day, 4:50 pm, but it had been posted that morning with a 2-hour delay. The new flight would leave at 6:50. I would occupy the same seat assigned me on my cancelled fight and it was most assuredly going to Amsterdam, the nice ticket agent told me.
That meant I’d miss my second flight to Bristol and according to the new itinerary they had so thoughtfully booked would have a 16 hour layover in Amsterdam before my next flight to Bristol. I wasn’t keen to cut another day off of my castle time, but resolved to worry about that when I got to Amsterdam. One day, one flight at a time.
When the call to board came, we all cheered. I think we were remarkably well-behaved for people whose plans had been disrupted. Others were connecting to flights to Venice and cruises and such. I placed my carry-on in the Economy Comfort designated proprietary overhead bin and sat down in my window seat. Legroom, sweet legroom. While passengers in Economy streamed past anxiously eyeing the overhead bin ahead, my luggage was already set. There’s no feeling quite like that, isn’t that silly, Loo? I checked my Delta app repeatedly to see if anyone had cleared waitlist and been seated beside me. No, they hadn’t. I was ecstatic! At last my tide was turning. Or so it seemed.
As the plane rattled down the runway, I crossed my fingers and chanted, no mechanical, no mechanical, get up in the air… and we lifted above Minneapolis, leaving behind the setting sun. I began breathing again. Ahead were 8 hours inflight. I put on my dark glasses and leaned back.
It seemed I’d only just closed my eyes when the meal cart arrived, though I’m sure I must have dozed. Chicken or pasta? I removed my dark glasses. Chicken. Delta’s got nothing on Qatar Airlines. Not on planes, flight attendants, or food. The loud rattle coming from somewhere in the ceiling of the aircraft was gone, but everything looked tired. The flight attendants were cordial but not warm or interested in their passengers. And I only ate half of the chicken in mild curry sauce. It wasn’t bad but it was not worth eating. They’d nestled it into a little cardbobard box and laid it onto a bed of long grain rice with long, wilted green beans on the side. Dessert was a lemon bar sealed in plastic, tasty, but tiny. And after they served the meal they left the trays on our tables for at least an hour. Luckily, we ran into no turbulence.
After dinner I started going through the inflight movie and TV offerings, glasses back on. Remember, I was manipulating my circadian rythmn to minimize jet lag. Of course the extra night in Minneapolis had disrupted that but I was determined to get back on track. As long as it was dark I didn’t have to be sleeping.
Interestingly, there was a documentary on about Mary Tyler Moore’s life. That seemed more than random coincidence so I watched it. I was surprised to learn that Mary Tyler Moore had far from a perfect life. That she, like many of us, had not had a secure attachment to her mother or father and that it followed her into adulthood. As I watched I heard, “You’re going to make it after all” in my head and then I wondered if this trip it might be about more for me than writing in England. I’m always surprised when new revelations present themselves and am appreciative when I can deal with and put things behind me. If so, this trip, I thought as I turned off the screen and settled in to try to sleep, would be well worth any disruptions.
I awoke to find we had just three hours until we were to get to Amsterdam. The cart came again, but for breakfast this time. I think I got a Mediterranean Egg Bar or something. It was mostly lots of dough with a little pizza sauce, egg, and cheese inside. Sealed inside another cardboard box, my meal was smaller this time, about the size of the small end of a large candy bar in the States. I didn’t finish it either.
As the sun came out I lifted the window shade and sipped my coffee. At first all I saw were ocean waves but within 15 minutes of landing I saw long empty, windswept beaches. The Netherlands, at least on the approach to Amsterdam, is flat and green. Closer to the city I could see many agricultural fields and small roads crowded with morning rush hour traffic. I checked my Delta app and discovered it had crashed.
Oh no! Though I tried to reinstall it, I couldn’t. All my boarding passes and trip records had been on the app. Par for the course.
We touched down on a runway that was several miles from the flight control tower and taxied a long way to a side lot with a few planes. There was no terminal nearby, no jet bridge. Just steep stairs.
“We will deplane here,” said a voice from the overhead speakers, “because we were an extra flight, not regularly scheduled, a bus will meet us and take us to the terminal where you can connect with your next flight.”
Excuse me,” I stopped a flight attendant sprinting by. “I can’t do the stairs with my carry-on. Can you make sure they bring a lift?” Of course, was the response. “I’ll call for one.” They should have already done that. But when I got to the front of the plane, none of the crew knew that I couldn’t negotiate the stairs. Wait here next to first class, they told me, until everyone deplanes.
All but a handful of passengers were on the tarmac at the foot of the stairs when a small blue-eyed security official zipped up the stairs to scold the flight attendant for allowing passengers to leave the plane before the bus arrived. It is, he swaggered, a violation of their security rules. They listened then asked him to summon a lift. He returned to the tarmac looking official and each time he came back up, perhaps to make sure no one had slipped past him and was headed toward trouble, he would say, “Yes, yes. Your lift will be here in minutes.”
The co-pilot came out of the cockpit and seemed annoyed. What were we doing still standing at the top of the stairs? We explained and he went down the stairs to throw his weight around. It didn’t work. Much to the surprise of the watching flight crew, in Amsterdam security agents outrank pilots. Eventually, another bus came. The remaining passengers, all except me, left.
And half a dozen flight attendants and I milled about the galley in the front of the plane. Many of them had bid on this trip because it was a “special” and they would fly back to Minneapolis as passengers. They were eager to sample the delights of downtown Amsterdam and I was standing between them and all that. The cleaning crew was waiting too. They couldn’t clean the aircraft while I was aboard. Every 5 minutes the co-pilot would re-emerge from the cockpit to see if the lift that would take me safely down to the tarmac had arrived.
The flight attendants, mostly attractive young men, could hardly wait to experience the City and all it had to offer. I felt like a heel.
“If you carry my bags,” I offered, “I think I can get slowly down the stairs.”
“No, the lift is almost here,” they promised. Except it never came. It had been sent to another plane.
Ultimately, two very attentive and good looking young men, Bart and Peter, arrived in a small van with a wheelchair decal on the side. They carried my bags. Bart held out his arm and together we side-stepped carefully down the rain-slicked stairs.
Amsterdam airport is a city. Cars, trucks, and buses dodge departing and arriving airplanes. Just under an overhang of the terminal the van merged with heavily loaded luggage carts onto a narrow winding road. Underneath the terminal was the arrival and departure lounge for us movement-challenged folks.
As an aside, traveling as I have, Loo, for these last several trips with wheelchair assistance has its up and downsides. I get on planes first, sail through customs, and am never confused about how to connect to my next flight. But I also get looks, angry and pitying, when I go to the front of every line, when I board first.
I never realized how it feels to be in a chair in the company of mobile folks but I’ve learned to ignore their and my own guilt. The alternative is that I walk too fast on hard marble floors and injure my knees (one has been totally replaced and the other will need to be eventually) and can’t walk for the rest of the trip (without severe pain). My trip to Kentucky last fall was like that, Loo. On the last day it hurt so badly that I finally retreated to the empty bus and cried.
But I’m not staying home. Not yet. As long as I have it in me to keep going, to see and experience whatever I can of this world before I’m truly not able, I’m taking advantage of anything that will help me do that.
Inside the handicapped arrival and departure lounge, I met Gio, my next chair-pushing escort. Dreadlocked, Gio didn’t speak much English and though his colleagues told him several times where I needed to go (customer service to try to book an earlier flight on KLM to Bristol) he kept asking me where I wanted to go. Finally I saw a special services assistance desk and pointed him there.
The line wasn’t long and the woman agreed to check outbound flights. She found one that would leave at 1 pm and gave me a boarding pass. I was delighted and considered myself almost there. I would take a taxi from the airport in Bristol to Bath where I’d meet my writer friends for a proper tea.
Whoops! I’ll tell you the rest of the story (to quote Paul Harvey) tomorrow. They’re calling me downstairs for dinner now.