Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Trip of a lifetime-Part 1

My husband and I had always wanted to travel abroad, but had never found the time, money, opportunity, and courage all at the same time. This past April, everything came together at one time, and we finally got the opportunity.

His nephew has taught school on air bases in England and Holland for almost 20 years, and had been on us for years to come over for a visit. For most of those years, one or both of us had a job to consider, and for the last several years I hadn't been physically up to doing all the walking we had been warned would be necessary in order to see many of the sights in England.

Last Spring, Doug called and said if we ever planned to come, we'd better get with it, as he didn't plan to stay in England forever. I had had a hip replacement which had put me back on my feet and given my life back, and I felt up to any challenge. Clem had retired, again, a year earlier, and although he had broken ribs and back problems caused by a fall with/on a ladder, he decided to try it anyway.

We left Tulsa early on April 2nd, flew to Dallas, and then on to New York, according to the logic of airlines. We arrived in the airport in New York City with hours to spare, and made all the preparations for our overseas flight. An hour prior to our 6:20 p.m. flight time, we bought some sandwiches for supper, Clem bought a Coke, and we were sitting in the departure area, feeling as relaxed as possible under the circumstances. I asked him to pour a little of his Coke into a folding cup I had with me.

Suddenly everything changed. An announcement came over the speakers informing us that our flight had been cancelled. We were to go to luggage carousel 3, claim our luggage, and report to ticketing. At that announcement, my folding cup collapsed and its contents spilled down the front of my light blue shirt. I made a swipe at the mess with a napkin, then we fled to claim our luggage. I can't imagine what the rush was, as the rest of the evening was wait, wait, wait.

I went to the baggage claim area to retrieve our luggage while Clem went to locate the ticketing counter. Once I had dragged all our luggage off the carousel, I stacked it up into two stacks, on top of the two largest suitcases, and rolled it into the restroom, where I retrieved a clean shirt from one of the bags and changed into it. A few minutes later, I saw Clem coming for me.

We took the luggage to a long line in the ticketing area, and proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait. There were numerous English citizens in that line, anxious to get home after being in New York for a few days. One woman was actually in tears, and there were many cross words passed between some of them and some of the agents. Most of them eventually made arrangements to fly into Heathrow Airport in London, but we were hesitant to do so, because we were supposed to fly into Stansted Airport, which is closer to Doug and Kathleen’s home, and they were supposed to meet us there.

Even knowing it was the middle of the night in England, I took a chance and dialed Doug and Kathleen's number. We had no idea if our cell phone would even work over there. It did, and Kathleen answered. I asked if we should go ahead and fly into Heathrow or wait for the next flight to Stansted 24 hours later. She said it would be best to wait for the next flight into Stansted.

So here we were, in the airport, in New York City, and nowhere to go for 24 hours. Years earlier when we had driven to New York City and had became technically lost in downtown Manhattan, I had promised the Lord I would never go to New York City again if He would just get us out of the place safely. I had let myself out of that promise by saying we wouldn't actually be in New York City--but just in the airport long enough to change planes. So much for my plans.

Once we reached the agent and told him we had decided to wait for the next flight to Stansted, he gave us vouchers to stay in the Ramada Inn, which he said was basically on airport property, a voucher for a taxi ride back the next day, and three food vouchers for $20 each. He then called a taxi, which was supposed to meet us at the door. We dragged all that luggage out the door, and stood waiting at the curb for about an hour, getting colder by the minute. We were rushed by a herd of taxi drivers, but none of them was the one we were waiting for. Finally, Clem called the number he had been told to call the next day, and the man who answered claimed to be waiting in a different location. But he did arrive within the next few minutes, loaded up our luggage, and drove us to the hotel.

Once there and checked in, we went to the restaurant area and checked on the availability of food for the following morning. A buffet breakfast would be $13.95 each. We're used to eating toast for breakfast, and decided we just wouldn't be willing to pay the difference between the voucher and what it would cost us to eat food we wouldn't ordinarily eat anyway.

As soon as we could get around the next morning, we caught the hotel's shuttle bus to the airport, rather than risk dealing with another taxi. Once there, we found our vouchers would buy enough food at the airport to serve us well all day. So we took advantage of it.

Our flight finally left late in the afternoon and the flight to England was uneventful, but we never slept a wink on the whole overnight flight. And once we landed, the circus started again.

When the plane had been parked and the "fasten seat belts" lights turned off, we, along with the other passengers, gathered up our carry-ons and lined up to leave the plane. We had advanced half the length of the cabin when the line stopped. We put down our carry-ons to wait. Then the pilot announced he was going to have to move the plane a bit, so we needed to get back in our seats.

Once we were off the plane and headed for luggage and customs, we were rushing down a hallway when we saw restrooms. I said I should probably stop, but felt sure there would be more near the luggage carousels. So we went on down the hall and down an escalator at the end of the hall.

At the bottom of the escalator, Clem suddenly made a grab for his side and exclaimed, "I've left the camera on the plane!" He had set the bag down when we were waiting in line to leave the plane before we were sent back to our seats. And he had failed to pick it up. We looked around for an up escalator, stairs, anything, and there was nowhere to go but to continue on the way we were going.

At this point Clem was inspired. So the escalator was going down. So what? He dropped his carry-ons and made a mad dash to run UP the down escalator. Now this was a man a week short of his 70th birthday, with broken ribs, back problems, no sleep for over 24 hours, and exhausted physically and mentally. But he didn’t let that even slow him down. As he rushed up the escalator, people coming down were yelling at him, "This escalator is going down!" Wonder if they thought he hadn't been able to figure that out yet. Amazingly, he made it to the top unscathed and jumped off.

I waited for several minutes before he came back and announced that the doors had locked behind us and there was no way to get back to the plane. So we went on to what we expected to be the luggage carousels. Rounding the corner, we were surprised to see that what awaited us was the entrance to an underground train that would carry us to the terminal. There were no restrooms there. We had thought we were already in the terminal.

I saw a phone on the wall and suggested we might find help that way, so he picked it up and was talking to an airport employee when we saw our crew from the plane coming. He handed me the phone and rushed to meet them. One of the flight attendants who had been visiting with us as the plane was landing told him how to get back to the area near the plane, and instructed him to go there and wait for someone to open the door.

While he was gone, I waited, less and less patiently, for at least 30 minutes, watching the doors to the train open and close every two minutes. By the time he finally returned, having been blessed by helpful people who returned his camera case, containing the camera and two GPS units, I was getting desperate.

We quickly boarded the train, and felt the worse was over. It wasn’t. It was probably a two-minute trip to the terminal, but our train stopped just short of the terminal and sat there for at least 20 minutes. There was no way to open the door. We were trapped. A voice, probably automated, kept repeating,"We apologize for any inconvenience."

Inconvenience? "Inconvenience" does not even begin to cover the situation when a restroom is the object of your desires, and when a relative is circling the terminal wondering what has become of you.

To be continued:


At December 7, 2008 at 7:36 AM , Blogger Glen Lazalier said...

One--glad to have you back blogging.
Two--such are the vicissitudes of travel, particularly travel to a foreign location.
I'm on the way to church now but will comment more later.

At December 7, 2008 at 8:47 AM , Blogger Chuck Hudlow said...

Hi Pat...welcome.

Hurry up and wait...that seems to cover what we do when we travel by air. I was out of breath by the time Clem reached the top of that down escalator. :^)

I'm looking forward to the second part of your story.

At December 7, 2008 at 2:14 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome, Pat. Glad to have aboard. It's good you finally got your blog posted. The only time I traveled by air out of country, it was to Vietnam and, always in the military, it's hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait. I'm looking to the 2nd part of your story, tho.

At December 7, 2008 at 3:03 PM , Blogger Bill Hinds said...

Mercy Pat I hope it gets better!
I have flown out of the country too but my worst experience was right here in this country when we were kept sitting in a shuttle flight on a runway sweating for at least 2 hrs. Mercy!!

At December 7, 2008 at 7:00 PM , Blogger Glen Lazalier said...


The key I found that worked for me in my overseas travels was to pack very, very light and be flexible. Probably the hardest kind of travel is the mixed mode where air, trains, and automobiles are mixed together. By the time of my last trip to Europe I could almost make it on a single, small carryon. If I was going to be in one spot for more than three days, I just had the hotel do the laundry and I was ready to start over.

It sounds like you and Clem had quite the adventure. At least while in the UK the signs are readable, even if the language spoken by the natives sounds so different. Remember the old adage that the English and the Americans are two peoples separated by a common language.

I'm looking forward to the rest of your trip blog.


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