Wednesday, August 22, 2007

a series of fortunate events: part one

You know those really pleasant dreams where nothing particular is happening, but you’re just very content? Friday morning I was jolted awake in the midst of one of those mind trips, at 4:36am. One would think this would be disturbing, but I was quite grateful considering I had apparently set my alarm for 4:00pm and would have already pushed my 9-minute snooze 4 times by that point, had I managed to set my alarm correctly. Sitting up long enough to process why I was awake, I fumbled my way to my bedroom door guided by the furniture along the way. My shower was prolonged by my lack of ability to focus on what I was doing. In fact, this may be the first time in my life I followed the shampoo bottle’s instructions to rinse and repeat (albeit, unintentionally).

Passing back through my bedroom doorframe, pulling against the magnetic draw of my bed, I scanned through a mental inventory of what was left to pack. Turning my attention to the iPod that had been left to load overnight, I noted that two songs had been unable to load do to lack of space (despite my concentrated efforts to ensure I stayed within the available limits). Two songs, but not just any two songs: Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Maps (from the birthday mix CD Gretchen made me last year) and Wreckless Eric’s Whole Wide World (the endearing love theme from Stranger Than Fiction). My efforts to delete a few songs to make room for the missing ones were futile… I’m practically an iPod virgin, and I clearly did not have the time to master the necessary skills. Taking a deep breath, I put the loss behind me and completed the packing process.

I tried to explain my heartbreak to my roommate (who was graciously awake to chauffer me to the airport) but, alas, the significance was lost on her. She ushered me out the door with wet hair and fresh face to ensure I did not miss my flight due to playlist remorse.

Having fit everything I needed into carry-on luggage (and having been encouraged the night before by my practical roommate to print out my boarding pass), I made my way directly to the security check-in and breezed through with my pre-packed 3-1-1 items.

Proceeding to my gate with plenty of time to spare, I noticed there were not many passengers, but was not alarmed as there had been several empty seats on the map when I printed my pass the night before. There were two people at the counter, one was looking up something for a young girl and the other was helping a man who’s wife and three children sat nearby. Noticing the employee was intensely working to find a new flight for the family, I asked the woman what had happened. Apparently they had missed their 5:10am flight due to accidentally checking their carry-on bag and trying to bring their suitcase full of liquids, gels and aerosols through security. I felt really bad for them, watching her juggle a baby and two toddlers, but was silently relieved that their problem was with an earlier flight.

My relief wasn’t allowed a long repose.

The other counter-attendant left with the passenger to take care of getting her luggage moved to another flight about the same time the first attendant was finishing up with the family. I looked at her with the look of a lost child and inquired as to the status of the 6:30am flight (no announcements were being made, and there was no indication of adjustments on the board behind her). I was informed calmly that the 6:30am flight was now expected in around a quarter ‘til eight, so I was welcome to go get a bite to eat until it was time.

Shaking myself from a moment of shock, I explained to the lady that I had an 8am connection in Houston to get me to Portland by 11am. “Oh, I am so sorry,” offered the attendant, “didn’t they let you know downstairs?!” Explaining that I did not speak to anyone downstairs because I had followed the airline’s handy suggestion to save time by printing my boarding pass in advance, I asked the attendant to please check on what other flight options were available to me. “It looks like we can get you another connection in Houston. That will put you in Portland around 10pm.”

In moments like these, I am very much a girl and my tears started pooling almost instantaneously. As calmly as I could manage, I clarified my situation and the fact that, while I had hoped to reach Oregon before noon, I absolutely must be there in time to get to a 7pm concert. The lady was very nice (almost to an annoying degree), and tried to keep me encouraged as she searched through numerous airlines and flight schedules. Apparently, she assumed that reciting off to me the landing times of the flights that would not get me to my destination on time would somehow be reassuring. It was not. And the eyes of the people in line behind me, who also wanted a chance to explore alternate routes, did not help to ease my stress level, either. My insistence and the attendant’s persistence paid off in a single seat scheduled to land at PDX by 5:55pm. Having come to terms with the fact that an entire afternoon was shot, I told her I would take it and even managed a weak “Thank you”. She handed me the print-out of the new flight information and directed me back downstairs (thank God Little Rock’s airport is so small) to check in at the new airline.

Walking in a daze back past the security lines, I texted Ramon (who I knew would be sound asleep on Portland time) to break the news of my misfortune. I made it down the escalator (I was dragging my bags and had no desire to utilize the stairs) and over to the new airline counter where I handed my little piece of paper with the new reservations.

“May I see your I.D.?” asked the man at the counter.

My red, swollen eyes looked back at him in a blank panic. “She kept my I.D. upstairs at the counter,” was all I could articulate as my mind raced at the fact that I couldn’t get back through security to get it, as they would inquire as to the same document. “O.K., ma’am, you’re going to have to go over to their airline’s counter to get that straightened out.” Mind you, there was no one else waiting in his line, and I had experienced past situations where the airline employees would walk back and forth to each other’s counters while working out flight changes. This man was clearly heartless. The tears that had been floating at the corners of my eyes were quickly released.

Dragging my half-asleep and emotionally drained body down several counters to face the people who apparently could have helped me earlier had I not been so brash as to print my own boarding pass, I was startled to see through my misty vision a friend approaching me with a look of concern. “Hi!” was all that came out of my mouth as Pauline wrapped her arms around me in a hug. “What are you doing here?” I asked the angel of light before me. Her mother, who had come into town for her graduation and an extended visit, was headed home to Kenya that morning. Snapping back to reality, I recognized her mom standing close by and composed myself enough to tell her how much we had enjoyed having her here and to wish her safe travels home (hopefully I redeemed myself enough to not be remembered as the crazy, crying American). I explained what was going on, and then thought to give Pollie a hug in return, as sending your mother back home so far away can not be easy. I waited in the line with them as my mood became calm and my tears eased up.

As Pauline was checking her mom in, a young man in an orange-and-yellow vest approached the counter and called out, “Miss Roth?” “Yes!” I answered eagerly. The upstairs attendant had realized she had kept my I.D. and this employee was going to go up and retrieve it for me. “Thank you,” I sighed gratefully. Once he returned, I made my way back over to the new airline (which still, suspiciously, had no one waiting in its line), and received my boarding pass for my later flight.

Even after shuffling back through security, and stopping in at the over-priced newsstand for some Excedrin, I found that I had plenty of time to kill. I decided to make myself at home in the restroom and apply the makeup I had neglected that morning due to song-separation anxiety. There was no need to dry my hair, as It had apparently been taken care of during all of my trips up and down the stairs (well… escalators, but still). Despite my industrious use of lag-time, I found myself engrossed in my book for several chapters before boarding of my flight to Dallas (which was also delayed, but did not affect me because my layover would be hours before departing Texas for Oregon). Ramon happened to wake up and call before I had to turn my phone to silent, and I explained the delay with the most nonchalant tones I could muster.

Attempting to sleep on the plane was unavailing. I chose instead to continue reading, accompanied by my stunted iPod playlist. This passed the time until my layover quite sufficiently. Upon my arrival at DFW, I was greeted by the sunny yellow sign of Au Bon Pain – one of my favorite out-of-town restaurants (right up there with Cosi, La Madeline and Panera/St. Louis Bread). Settling down to a caprese sandwich and iced tea, I tried to prepare my spirit for the hours that lay ahead of me.

While reading, I noticed a beautiful little girl near the window of the gate, alternating between dancing in front of the glass and pressing her body against it to get a better view outside. Through the pane, giant airliners moved back and forth as they were loaded with passengers and queued for takeoff. Carts loaded with a variety of luggage were shuttled back and forth. Men in shiny vests waved bright wands in the air. What did this curly-top child, with raven hair and almond skin, notice amidst all of this chaos on the tarmac? “Look at the bird!” she squealed. A non-descript, gray bird was wadding in a puddle formed by a crack in the pavement, and the small, bright eyes watching it from stories above were delighted. My heart was delighted, in turn.

I thought to turn my phone back on, and noticed that I had missed a call from Gretchen. Rarely having such an open span of time in which to catch up, I returned her message and spent an hour or so catching up on her trip to France, continuing struggle with employment and other random life events. I related the iPod incident to my fellow music lover and finally received the sympathy I deserved. We also managed to layout a short-film during our conversation, so it was quite productive.

Prior to boarding the 3+ hour leg of my itinerary, between DFW and PDX, I managed to squeeze in a few more chapters even after eating, observing children and making cinematic history. As I rolled my Diane von Furstenberg suitcase (purchased at deep-discount from T.J. Maxx) behind me through the boarding gate, a stewardess stopped me to say “That’s a great bag!” She’s a professional luggage-toter, and she was admiring my bag. I entered the plane smiling.

I remember thinking this just can't be right.
Got to be a better way to live you life.
Slow like a soft Southern breeze.
Nobody take time to breathe.
Everybody had to rush, rush, rush around.
Rush, rush, rush around.
~ Edie Brickell


Jennie said...

So did you make it there by 7:00? I guess that would be why you titled it part one. I should just learn to be patient.

Kimberly said...

indeed, stay tuned! who knew airport layovers could make for such a compelling story?