Thursday, July 23, 2009

Never Again, I Swear

We got to London at 7 a.m., after jostling all night through England. I spent about 30 minutes in the bus station, smoothing out the wrinkles left in my face from the bus seat, then tried to figure out how much I could see of the city in very little time. In truth, I was so exhausted that there was nothing I saw that I later remembered.
By late afternoon, I just wanted to lay down and fall asleep anywhere that would have me. I decided to get my bags and head to the airport, hoping they would let me on the evening flight to Málaga, since my current flight was scheduled to leave at 7 a.m. Once I factored in tromping through the streets in the wee hours of the morning from the hostel to the bus stop, the hour-plus bus ride to the airport and the requirement of having to check in an hour and a half before departure, it wasn’t worth paying 20 pounds for three hours of sleep in London proper.
The help desk was more than helpful once they heard my predicament.
“Oh, sure you could get on a flight tonight, but you have to pay the difference in cost, which would be about £140.”
Considering I had paid about £30 for the ticket, this was outrageous to me.
“Even if the seat would be empty anyway?” I asked.
“Yep. Sorry.”
Ever so helpful people.
So I sat down for a 12-hour wait. I decided I didn’t want to try and curl myself into a wholly unnatural position in one of the chair banks with its annoying armrests until fewer people were around to watch me snore and twitch. I brought a book out and started to read instead. Soon an elderly grandmother came and sat down next to me with a cartful of luggage.
“They wanted to charge me £80 to take an earlier flight to Belfast,” she said indignantly.
And that was how it started. I was stuck talking to Irish Granny for three hours while she waited for her flight to Belfast, and all the while she was tut-tut ting over how much this cost, or how many black people were working at the airport, or how her children lived so far from home, or how America was a country of the devil (though she had never actually been there to witness our devil-worshipping) or how the British added an “r” to the end of all the words that ended in vowels. Despite her constant wrinkled nose and the huge mole on her eyelid that flapped when she blinked, I found her to be comforting in a grandmotherly sort of way. You know: old, wrinkled, set in her ways, and wondering just what kind of devil-worshipping parents I had who let me go traipsing all over the world alone.
Eventually I said goodbye to Irish Granny and settled as comfortably as I could into a carpet-covered chair with my luggage as a footrest and my inflatable airplane pillow. I may as well have been trying to get comfortable sleeping in a tree. I twisted and turned and at one point hung my legs over the armrest. All this accomplished was turning my legs blue and waking me up with nightmares that they had been cut off and a metal rod put in my back.
Finally, I was released from my tortured state by someone else’s pure genius: he stretched out on the floor. Even though it was hard, cold tile, I was relieved, because I was lying down and my legs were still intact. I folded my sheet in half and crawled inside. Although it was a fitful sleep interrupted constantly by a British voice reminding me to never leave my luggage unattended and that the pay-park machine accepted credit cards, it was, nevertheless, sleep.
From that moment on, I had nothing but flights with 24-hour layovers in between. I went back to my chain-smoking companions in Málaga and bought wine and olive oil with them to take home with me. To make room for my purchases, I gave away a towel, clothes and shoes and shared one last night of second-hand smoke and chocolate with my old friends. The best part of getting there, however, was the shower. I had gone so long without bathing that I felt I had been dipped in body coating candle wax.
The next morning, I boarded a flight back to London. The plane left an hour late, causing me to run like a frightened deer from my gate through the halls, impatiently plod through security, onto a bus, and through another terminal, only to arrive with ten minutes to spare. I wasn’t too surprised when I reached New York and my bag wasn’t on the conveyor belt, the first time I had actually checked it during my whole time abroad. I was out of luck, though, because the only shirt I had with me was the one I was wearing, which I had managed to decorate with a huge dollop of braised beef on the plane.
After an extremely restless night of sleep in the same hostel where I had begun my adventures nearly two months before, I was struck with jet lag and nowhere to rest until my flight took off at 9 p.m. I had arrived at about midnight, and the only room left was right next to the common room, which was full of yuck-yuck laughers until 3 a.m. I woke up too early and packed my purse to see what I could see before my flight left. I gave in and bought an “I  NY” T-shirt that almost looked worse than the braised beef decoration. I was so tired and fed up that I ended up in the airport extremely early, without a bag and having finished my book. When I finally climbed on my flight back to Washington, I vowed to stay out of airports for as long as humanly possible. Or at least until the travel bug bit me again. Then, when I was tired of my job and inspecting my backpack and airfare prices, I would have forgotten all about the braised beef shirt and how uncomfortable it is to sleep on airport floors.