Thursday, May 5, 2011

Endless Day

I’m writing this in a word document because, as expected, there is no free internet at the Frankfurt Airport.  We begin at Tampa Airport, early afternoon of the 4th. 
I was packed, forgetting nothing, and prepared for anything.  I had my touching goodbyes: friends and family over the weekend, Dad the night before, and as my mother clutched me for the final hug she said, “I’m not leaving until you get through security.”  I hop on the monorail to the Tampa terminal, and see the line.  “Sorry, mom,” I think to myself as I walk to the end of the line separating me from my 1:35pm flight. 
The only advice I can get is to beg for a spot further in line.  I talk to the woman in uniform, she can’t do anything.  I ask a person twenty people ahead if I can move up, he says yes but the woman in uniform says it’s unfair to the other people in line if I move up without their permission.  She tells me to ask everyone in line for their permission individually.  Did you bring enough gum for the whole class?  Sure, this is the fair way to do thing.  But as I’m standing outside of line with my backpack on and clutching my jacket, feeling slightly humiliated, asking people one at a time in the stock-still line, I get several comments on how I should be asking someone far enough ahead for it to matter.  Yes, I know, but the lady wants me to do this. 
Finally I hit someone, twenty five people ahead, who won’t give up their spot.  I wait a few minutes, the line moves forward, and that same woman in uniform isn’t happy about what I’ve done.  “That’s not fair.  Did you ask everybody?”  Yes, I did, and it is fair if everyone willingly gives up their position.  But she doesn’t pull me out or arrest me so I continue forward. 
I talk to people who are also on my flight and are equally time-pressed and equally stressed by the painfully slow security check.  I know there are whispers about Osama’s death going around, but it’s not just the size of the line.  It’s the full-body spinning scanner that’s on the fritz.  I get pulled for the scanned, and I wait as people who I got permission to skip in front of pass around me and walk through the free-standing metal detector that I’m not allowed to go through.  Finally, a guard pulls me out of the full-body chamber spinning scanner and puts me in the walk-though. 
I run to the Gate with shoes untied and a backpack half open—only to wait in the huge boarding line for five minutes.  So I guess it didn’t really make that big a difference.  I switch seats with another group of people at their request, the flight in uneventful.  Charlotte Airport is uneventful, a simple deal—though I don’t have any time to grab something before boarding. 
The eight hour flight is uneventful; I catch an hour of sleep in the dark.  Hitting Frankfurt Airport, I’m feeling good—like a 100%—like I’m going do everything right.  I do everything right.  I’m still five minutes too late.
If I felt any small lingering traces of resentment at Andrew for leading us astray last year at the Frankfurt Airport, which I shouldn’t because it was equally my fault, it was burned away today by my conviction that it is completely impossible to make that connecting flight. 
I walk out of the airplane; all I know is my destination and my flight number, and I need a boarding pass.  I don’t know what gate I’m supposed to go to.  So I ask the guy giving everyone else directions in English, this guy looks like exactly the person I need to talk to.  I hold this is not a mistake.  If I hadn’t spoken with him, how would I have learned what my Gate letter and number was?  He tells me my gate is probably in A (vague) but I should go to B to be sure.  So I go to B, and I hurry past the big Passport line down the other hall. 
Minutes of walking later, I’m talking to a woman at a desk in front of the Lufthansa signs.  I’m actually not all that afraid of international travel now, because I’ve realized that 90% of all survival-related communications are entirely possible without a common language.  I’m choking.  I’m having a heart attack.  I can’t swim.  I’m in a foreign country lost and confused trying to communicate in a language I don’t know and I just want to know how to get to my connecting flight.  All that last one takes is a facial expression, which the woman at the desk knows very well.  “Shh, I know,” she says, or seems to say, as she interrupts my explanation and takes my paper.  She writes A17 down and sends me on with a, “They give you a boarding pass at the Gate.” 
I’m back at the passport line, and there are fifty people waiting on two guys looking at passports at a rate of 1 per 45 seconds.  There’s no CONNECTING FLIGHTS sign here to mark it—it’s rather easy to miss next to the unguarded hallway.  There’s nothing I can do, there’s people in similar situations all around me, the whole thing just stinks.  I pass through and hit the main room—the familiar and enormous room that connects the different wings and has enormous leader-boards.  Perhaps I could have looked on there for my flight, but I question just how much time I could have saved using it. 
So now I know to go down A, and I hit the Lufthansa security.  Why I need to go through a second round of security I’m not sure, but it takes about as long as the Tampa airport’s.  The line is enormous, but moves fairly quickly so I’m still optimistic about getting there on time.  I get pulled over for my laptop, “This will just take a minute,” and we get taken to a special room where it’s dusted and I’m told to continue on.
I run to A17, but it’s still a hugely long way away.  I come up just behind an old German woman, who is in the exact same situation as myself.  We’re told it was moved to A18, so we go there.  We’re told we’re too late, by however many minutes, and we have to go to the service desk do not pass go, do not collect $200.  
At the service desk, the woman cannot believe I had an hour and it wasn’t enough time to make the connection (like it wasn’t ever more crowded than at eight o’clock in the morning), so she asks me twice to be absolutely sure I’m a lazy American idiot.  Asking why you didn’t make the flight is company policy; the tone and double-take are freebies.  But she gives me the 1:10pm at no charge, so that works out fine—except now I have to call Nadine and let her know I’m not making it to Osnabruck by 11:00am, and I can’t figure out the US exit code.   Turns out what I thought was a ‘busy’ signal was someone’s idea of a ringing phone, and I was able to get to Nadine, with a little help from the family awake at 3:00am. 
All that aside, Frankfurt is the place you want to be delayed.  An hour isn’t enough for the place regardless of circumstances.  I was trapped on the other side of security, so I couldn’t even do a currency exchange, but I was on the side with the panini.  Rows of stacks of them, piled up with nametags and descriptions in English, meat + cheese + tomato.  I pick out one, they panini-press it on the spot and I say, “To go.”  I walk out with a hot gooey meal and when I open the bag to eat the cheese gets everywhere—and I love it.  If they made paninis like that in America, crystal meth would be out of business in a week. 
I picked up a cherry tart because, what harm could it do?  Staring at it after the panini, I wonder if it was really worth it—it doesn’t look quite so spectacular as I thought.  Let me tell you—if the panini was crystal meth, this stuff was hard cocaine.  I had not imagined there was such a crunchy yet tender, mildly sweet yet tart, crumbly buttery treat (without a custard filling or a filling of any kind beyond a half-dozen cherries baked into solid crust) in existence.  I thought, “I’m back, baby!” 
There’s way more to tell about this day, so I’m already lagging behind as I call it quits for the day here in Deutschland.   


  1. Thanks for the excellent post! Your writing style is delightful! It feels like an early Mother's Day present. I hope to see pictures of your flat soon and hear about the rest of the journey to Quakenbruck. Praising God you got there safely!

  2. So relieved you made it and with style and flair to boot. Your telling of the tale certainly made me laugh, although I know it was hard living through it. I'm sure I've told you about the 9-hour delay experience I had on the way to Ottowa several years ago. There just comes a point when you know you're just buckled into the roller coaster ride and have to go wherever it leads. Can't wait to hear more soon.

    Love you!
    --Aunt Mary

  3. definitely lol stay away from the coke, not even to make sure it is nothing like cherry tart

  4. i'll take your word on the paninis.
    there was a place on campus, but they don't make them as well as they used to.

  5. I still remember the fresh cheese bread (kasebrotchen, pardon my lack of umlauts on this US keyboard) from my trip over 20 years ago. So much awesomeness.