American Interlude: The Journey

I live in a country whose main claims to fame include periodical world domination in the game of rugby,  being the first country to give women the vote [in 1893], steadfastly and obstinately remaining nuclear free since the Act of 1987 and a population of sheep almost four times that of the human count.  We are a people of humble outlooks, given greatly to ‘doing it ourselves’, surrounded by spectacular natural beauty and generally pretty well travelled.  Apparently we are considered ‘up there’ in owning the latest technologies and are fairly consistent in contributing great personages into any given field on the worlds stage.

Well Known NZers

This post is not about any of those things or persons.  It is a simple story of a simple country girl who goes to a land far, far away and the adventures that befall her on the way.

Thursday 2nd April:

Wake at 4.30 am, farewell sleepy kitty, bundle happy puppy into the car, drive to YD’s place and bundle her into the car.  Hurry to airport to catch the red-eye to Auckland, transfer to International Departures and wait patiently for flight to LAX.  Flight to LAX is almost an hour late departing due to some missing information in ‘the paper work’.  Eventually the missing information must be found, for we set off with a cheery pilot who is pretty confident he can get us there not too far behind schedule. It is now just after 4 pm.  We fly east over the Pacific Ocean, soon descending into darkness.  There is just an almost full, brightly glowing moon to keep me company.  It becomes light some ten hours later and in another two the vast city of Los Angeles is beneath us.

We fly over LA for what seems hours as the gigantic quilt of roofs and straight lined arteries unfurls itself beneath us.  The unchanging, greyish vista seemingly goes on and on forever – but of course, eventually we land.

LA from the air

Disembark, get through passport check, customs check and change terminals again – be a bit anxious due to the late arrival, but make it through okay.  Wait for flight to DC, enjoy a spot of people watching and give a silent cheer when the flight leaves on time.

Snuggling in my window seat and flying in cloudless daylight for the first time I enjoy the aerial views offered of a vast vista of undulating red ground, grey mountainous terrain and widespread patches of snow.  I have no idea where I am as my individual TV doesn’t work and the days of in-flight magazines appears to be over.  I guess maybe the Rockies, or Colorado – I realise my intuitive knowledge of American geography is not as sharp as I maybe thought – and then I simply become content with admiring the scenery.

Colorado from air

Thick cloud gathers as we approach Washington DC and I lose my view, but we have arrived early due to an over zealous tail wind.  And now, 36 hours later, here I am finally, standing inside the airport, wondering which way to go now – and it is still the evening of the 2nd of April.

And I am tired, thirsty and need a bathroom NOW!

I spy the sign and make my way in.  I’m the only person there.  I use the facilities, throw cold water on my face, look at myself in the mirror, shrug and walk out.  There’s nothing to be done with that degree of exhaustion!

There is nobody on the walk way.  It’s empty.  There’s only me, wondering where to go to find my bags and my friends.  It dawns on me we never actually said where we would meet.  I had assumed that like home, it would be when I wandered off the plane onto the walk way of the airport.  Apparently I was wrong.  Everyone else knew where to go and has gone there.  Undaunted I set off at an almost brisk pace.  I follow a tiny yellow sign that says ‘baggage’ and points to an escalator.  I go down and find myself on a train platform.  I don’t want to catch a train so I go back up.  I walk the walk way looking for signs.  There appears to be no more that say ‘baggage’ so I way lay the first person who has appeared wearing a high-vis jacket and ask.  He looks at me oddly and points to a small yellow word hanging high above my head.  ‘Baggage’ it says and has an arrow pointing straight up beside it.  He speaks to me, but his accent is thick and I cannot understand – clearly he has also not understood me as my accent is equally thick – and he took a lucky guess.  I smile and say ‘Thank you.’  He frowns at me and hurries off.

dulles walkway

I walk less than briskly back the way I have come.  I feel I walk a long way, I am very tired but I keep my eyes up, watching for those little signs and finally find one.  ‘Baggage!’ it says firmly and has an arrow pointing to my left.  It is pointing straight at the escalator I have been down before.  I know there is a platform down there and a train and nothing else.  Once again the hall is empty of helpful looking folk.  I do not fancy asking the two kids who are roaring with laughter over something on a cell phone and who look like they might be nine or ten.  So I sigh and descend the escalator once more.  Simply because I don’t know what else to do.

dulles train

Photo credit: Stacey P. Fischer Dulles Airport Train

There is a man standing on the platform.  I say to him querulously ‘Do I have to catch a train to get to baggage?’  Like it’s his fault.  He nods and scampers away.

The train comes and I get on.  I realise I have no idea when to get off but I figure if the worst comes to the worst I will just stay on and catch a nap.  The train stops right beside a sign that says ‘Baggage’.  I get off.

I know which carousel to go to, for that was announced on the plane.  I wish they had thought to say ‘Catch the train to the Baggage stop’ as well…….  My flower painted suitcase is sitting on the floor beside the empty carousel.  My fellow travellers have all been and gone and I have obviously missed my welcoming friends.

Now what?

Any body else in this situation would have already whipped out their smart phone and called their friends, quickly arranging a meeting place.  I do not have a smart phone.  I only have a moderately average phone which I thought I would not need to use here as I would always be with people.  I forgot about this bit.  My phone is not loaded with any useful  information, maps or numbers for a dilemma such as this one.

I look about for a help desk, a person who looks in any way ‘official’.  There appears to be nothing and no-one.  I know I am too tired to be thinking straight – and I wander up and down looking for somewhere to sit and collect myself.  There are few seats and all are occupied.

I go outside to the pick up and drop off point and lean on various of the giant concrete lumps that litter the pavement.  I talk to a woman with a thick Spanish accent who assures me everyone waits here.  She is soon whisked away happily in a small car. Other folk lean also and eventually a car swoops in and whisks each one of them away. I watch the quiet or joyful reunions and meetings and cheer myself up, sure there will be one for me soon enough.  I study the cars looking for faces I know – but they aren’t there.  Finally, all my fellow loiterers are gone, over an hour has passed since we landed and I just know I have been forgotten.

I hunt for Julia’s address and can’t find it in my trusty organiser.  I groan at myself – I can’t believe it, I’ve forgotten to enter it!  I pull out my less-than-smart phone which I thought I would not need to use here, turn it on and send a text to my daughter in New Zealand. Now, after years of being told I will one day regret not ‘up-grading’ like the rest of the country, I regret!

But, as always, good fortune is with me.  My daughter, working night shift, receives my text immediately and she sends a text to Alys.  Alys receives that text immediately too.  She calls Boomdee.  ‘Something awful has happened’ she says to Boomdee, ‘Pauline is alone at the airport….’    In this same instant the airport PA system roars into life and a disembodied voice urges me to take myself to the baggage carousel where my friends are waiting for me.

My friends have been waiting for over an hour.  They have found the only official person in the entire airport and have been trying to talk him into putting out the call for at least a half hour.  He keeps telling them to wait, I will be here soon.  They keep waiting inside and I keep waiting outside.

Boomdee is on the phone with Alys as I stagger around the corner and, recognising her immediately, lift one hand in weary greeting.  ‘She’s here!’  I hear her say to the phone and Julia comes rushing towards me, arms out, scooping me into a warm hug, words tumbling, so relieved the wayward traveller has at last revealed herself!

There is a joy that surges forth in a happy dance when you find your friends after a long wait.  I feel it there and it wants to bounce about joyfully, but extreme exhaustion has set in and it flutters aimlessly inside me before settling down quietly for a wee rest and a cup of tea.

I have arrived!  Julia and Boomdee are here and even more delightful and beautiful than I have ever imagined and our Bloggers Funfest will begin – just as soon as I have a wee sleep ……………..

woman-sleeping-on-suitcase

Thanks for coming by today, I love that you did!

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87 thoughts on “American Interlude: The Journey

  1. I am finally finally catching up on reading your blog. Please forgive such tardiness. And oh, my goodness what a story, Pauline! As others said, I was so worried at each step, biting my nails and wondering what would happen next. You write very well.

    Often its the most traumatic stories that end up being the ones we tell over and over with a laugh in the future. For me, it’s boot camp. Terrible then – hilarious now. Here’s hoping your Getting Lost in the DC Airport story is told with a laugh one day.

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  2. Great post – excellent writing. It took me right back to the many long-haul flights we’ve taken to South Africa – not for the faint of heart.

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  3. It takes me so long to get to the bottom as I want to read all the comments above. I’m so late catching this one I missed, (the line is quite long) that I had to say something before reading the rest.
    You write this so well. I was holding my breath for a few moments. Traveling internationally is not for the faint of heart. I’ve done it several times and there is ALWAYS a hitch. Sometimes a good one. But I’m with you on making the pit stop at the loo. I wouldn’t have been able to wait either. I’ve had a smart phone for many years now and hate the expense but it has saved my bacon more than once. I am so delighted someone in this world has come up with such a fantastic gadget to have a phone on me at all times with addresses and maps inside. I felt your weariness. It’s the only thing that keeps me from traveling now. I’ll keep looking in case I missed any other posts you have put out there. Don’t know how this one got away from me. If the painting thing doesn’t work out for you, 🙂 (which it has) you can take up writing stories quite easily.

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  4. Pingback: When Ordinary is Extraordinary | Gardening Nirvana

  5. Pauline, I knew there were “issues” with your arrival but I had no idea what they were. Yikes, girl! I have never been at Dulles when it was that empty! Eerie. And obviously overwhelming for a first-time visitor. I have to admit, finally hearing that you were waiting outside while the others were inside had me chuckling a bit, not because I find your specific situation funny, but because I could envision this rewritten into a great comedy sketch by someone with those talents! And, then of course, I the end, I felt like cheering. And my throat closed up a bit as I imagined all of you meeting and hugging and dancing with joy!

    So, now, I have a question for you. Do you know that picture of the train is one I took? 🙂 How fun is that??

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    • You are so right Stacey – I think the whole adventure would make a great movie as you know – after all it’s Jamie Lee playing you! This bit is the French Farce part without the bedroom scenes 🙂

      I found that image on the web in amongst a hundred others when I was looking for an image of the train – I thought it was the best one. I had no idea it was by you – I shall go back in and credit you immediately! It’s amazing how these things get out there minus their credits isn’t it. How do you feel about it? I once found one of my paintings somewhere being claimed by someone else. I was a tad annoyed at the time then just thought poor girl, she must have liked it a lot to want to pretend she made it!.

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      • LOL, Pauline! And no worries about the image, truly. I thought perhaps you knew it was mine 🙂 What a funny coincidence! And how nice you thought it was the best one 🙂 When I saw it, I said to myself, wow that’s just like the one I took. And then I zoomed in and could make out my watermark. Too, too funny! Glad to know my SEO methods are working. And delighted you are using it 🙂

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  6. I echo some of the comments here, you really do have a wonderful way with words and story telling. Even though I knew things must have worked out well due to a previous post, your descriptions of the events at the airport really made me feel for you! Thank goodness your daughter was on hand to help and your friends were close by to come and rescue you from your airport trauma. I am looking forward to the next part of the story 🙂

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  7. You were very brave Ms Pauline. I would have just stayed put in the first place I got off the plane. SO glad you connected! Nothing like being lost on the other side of the world to make you feel small!

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    • You may have been found quicker – or you may still be waiting there – hard to know! I think my lesson is stick with the crowd, don’t go to the loo til you know where everyone is!!

      You are correct! Such an escapade does make you feel small and insignificant and of no interest to anyone else whatsoever! An interesting state for the ego to bear 🙂

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      • But when you are small and insignificant, you can flip around under the radar incredibly well ;). I think I would always take a good phone, a good book and some good snacks. I learned that from your post 😉

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  8. Ohhhh Pauline! What a wonderful, nail-biting post! Gad, you are such a good writer. Perfectly paced, and I was smiling all the way through knowing there must be a happy ending. You are so brave! No meltdown. No collapsing into a weeping heap. And I LOVE the last picture. Love you, and mahalo for letting us in on your adventure! Christi

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    • There were moments when inside I was a screaming mess on the floor 🙂 Sorry to have to tell you the last picture is a freebie off the web – it’s what I wanted to do but I had to wait a couple more hours to be tucked up in a comfy bed where I DID NOT MOVE for at least 8 hours! Love you too xoxo

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  9. Dear Pauline, what adventures you had just on the first day, and so exhausting, goodness, I am so proud of you!! Coincidentally, I have just written (book not blog) about my first time seeing LA from the air and remembering all those straight lines so unlike the view of London. And 36 hours? Wow. I do hope you found your cup of tea and had a good sleep and can’t wait to read what you did next. So glad your friends found you…I was getting more anxious for you the longer I read!!! I need a cup of tea myself after this… 😉

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  10. I was exhausted at the end of this … no … its not too long, but i felt the emotion of a wary traveler in a foreign land. … but hey … you arrived on our anniversary … so I was at dinner.

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  11. Oh my gosh, Pauline–you describe all this so well! How awful that you had that long, exhausted, scary stage of not finding the others. The idea of traveling as far as you did, alone, overwhelms me–you did great to figure it all out! I’ll look forward to the next installment!

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  12. An amazing story, Pauline! I could relate, even though I’ve never been off this continent. I love ‘adventures’, or used to, but I never had one after travelling for 36 hours . . . I can only imagine . . .

    How wonderful that there were friends to meet you at the end of it all!

    You really must write a book; your stories are so moving AND entertaining and now I, too, wait like the cat, with ‘baited breath’ 🙂

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  13. Oh my goodness, Pauline! Wow! You held me spell bound from the very beginning. I am hoping this is the only bump in the road. Thank goodness for your daughter and her ability to connect to Alys. All is well, so far so good! Love the welcoming group and the announcement couldn’t have been at a better time.
    By the way, I have an old cell phone, which doesn’t even have internet. I would have to rely on the kindness of strangers, calling or texting my own kids for “Help!”
    Enjoy and have a marvelous time, my dear!

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    • Robin, I am sure I replied to your comment and now see I have not. I am so sorry! Thank you for coming by – you and I must be the only people left in the world with our not very clever phones 🙂 I think I shall definitely upgrade if I ever have to travel alone again!

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  14. I am so relieved to hear this comment from you and others – it makes me feel a little less inadequate as a traveller! I always get lost and into scrapes when on the move and this adventure was, in the big scheme of things, a much milder version of what could have occurred!

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  15. Goodness, you had me worried for a while. I’m glad it turned out okay in the end and I’m very impressed that you didn’t freak out well before you found your friends. Looking forward to the next instalment now.

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  16. I finally got back to WordPress to search for a Pauline post about her trip 🙂 Gosh, what a start to it, I would’ve freaked. I get terrible anxiety if I think I am lost or “forgotten” in a strange place lol. you did well! I look forward to part 2 Pauline, I am sure you have made many wonderful memories. xx

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  17. Oh my what a story…you brave woman: I probably would have sat down and started crying a little till a kind police man or flight attendant would have scurried me along to right place. But seeing Boomdee and Alys at the end of the tunnel was even more joyous now!

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  18. Welcome to the USA Pauline 🙂 When you ask workers a question you get a smart answer and a frown, like you are interrupting their favorite TV show. I can’t wait until your next post to read more. I know you had a great time with your visit and its unfortunate it started off this way 🙂

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  19. You survived your visit to the United States of America. A milestone, I assure you. We are a nation of little direction with signage that does not enlighten but only raises more questions.

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  20. You are such a wonderful writer. Even though I know it all turned out well, I want to know what happens next! I have NEVER seen an airport, particularly THAT airport, that empty. It’s amazing. I wouldn’t have wanted to take the train either, if I was unsure it would take me to where I wanted to go. There is a dearth of good signage in this country.

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    • It was amazingly empty! I’m guessing the big wave of travellers had swept through and I was just the little fish trailing along behind in the empty sea. There was probably another big wave getting ready to crash as I got on the train …..

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  21. Ahhhhhhh…that start to your adventure had me riveted it to my computer! I couldn’t think that they would leave you behind and sure enough they hadn’t. My heart went out to you at how exhausted and lonely you must have felt at those moments. I could only imagine what those feelings that you shared so eloquently, must have felt like. I’m sure everything went up words from there and I can’t wait to hear more of the story.♡

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  22. Oh, Pauline, what a story. Airports have so few signs and almost no help now. Last year in Denver, I had the same sort of experience with a train to the main terminal, and an incompetent and confusing shuttle service. I was so relieved to drop into a cab. So glad you were found and whisked away into general celebrations. Cant’ wait for the next installment!

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    • The ‘no help’ available comment does seem to have been widespread in the airports. Our airports have a plethora of folks standing around ready to point you in the right direction. I didn’t realise how much I rely on this service until I got to a place where it didn’t exist. Still, it was just a little blimp in the occasion!

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  23. Oh, I should have warned you about Dulles International Airport and the trains. Having to take a train to the main terminal confuses many people. I’m so happy you were finally able to connect with your blogging buds, Pauline. A bumpy start, but no doubt, a trip of a lifetime. I look forward to hearing more. Hugs to my pal, Siddy!

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    • A sign clarifying the issue for country yokels would have been much appreciated! Can’t guarantee I would have found it given my state of exhaustion though! We all had bumpy starts, isn’t that interesting – I need to include those stories in the next post. Travel is always eventful!

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  24. wow-you remained calm-I would of freaked out-lol….you are a good traveler:-)
    36 hours must of been exhausting-to think you flew over me! Possibly me in my garden working!

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  25. I’m with Alys … even though I knew the story, it was even more dramatic in writing!
    Can’t wait to read more! 🙂

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  26. Oh no, what a way to start your holiday! I felt your stress as I read you weary tale – I think I would have been in tears very early on. Lesson learned to keep all relevant phone numbers to hand and agree where to meet – your poor friends must have been worried sick! I know the story has a happy ending so I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

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    • Yes, you got it! And have a smart phone and a full battery! I have now decided I have to have a new phone so I can be ready for anything! My poor friends were worried sick – it was probably harder on them than me – I knew where I was 🙂

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  27. You were so brave and fortune favors the brave. What a great read! I got all emotional (snif) ❤
    I got herded into a bus at a Chinese tarmac last year and secretly hoped we weren't being abducted. In retrospect the armed guards were probably yelling "hurry up or you will miss your connection" but I hadn't a clue. I just kept smiling for the sake of my 13 year old and telling him everything was fine. LA airport is just ridiculously huge!

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    • Aww – you big softie! 🙂 I thinks it’s made even worse when the language and general behaviour is different too! Having someone with you makes it easier to bear don’t you think, even if it is you being brave for them……

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  28. I’m glad you arrived safely even though the journey turned out to be eventful. Have a wonderful time with your friends.
    xxx Huge Hugs Pauline xxx

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  29. After all that travelling, I’m not surprised you were discombobulated. A sign saying ‘train to baggage pick-up’ would have been so useful even for those passengers who were not jet-lagged, time-travellers! Having been finally found, I would have wanted to spend the next 24 hours asleep!!

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  30. Oh my! What a start to your adventure, Pauline – I was gripped by this airport tale, so well described I could picture it all – and a little lump in my throat as you found your friends at last. I’m looking forward to hearing about your times on American soil – with details like these here I think you could write a book on it! I also think you were very brave to wander around that airport by yourself – I’d have been creeped out by the fact it was so deserted.

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  31. Pauline, what a beautiful piece of writing. Even though I knew the outcome, I still held my breath. It’s awful to be so tired after a long flight, only to have to keep going and in unknown circumstances as well. I myself was quite discombulated the day we returned to LA. Airports are not friendly places are they? Much is assumed, too. They need better signage, better seating, friendlier people and as you say, better instructions when you depart an international flight. I’m so glad you made the exhausting journey to the US, and that things were smooth sailing after that bumpy first day.

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    • It makes a good story Alys 🙂 I could write a book about getting lost at airports – this is partly why I was so glad to have you taking charge on our return journey. That and the opportunity just to chat together a wee bit longer 🙂 xoxo

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      • Oh can so relate, Pauline. When I was traveling and staying in youth hostels, I would constantly look at a map, then go in the wrong direction, convinced that I was heading toward my destination. When you’re tired with a heavy backpack, it’s not nearly as amusing as you would think. ;_0

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  32. OMgosh, I was on the edge of my seat and I was there. You must have felt so discombobulated, long flight and America for the first time. You poor woman. We wanted so badly to be at the door you came thru. I can hardly believe we must have barely missed each other. You going outside, Julia and I rushing between arrival doors, boards, the ‘help’ desk and the baggage round-about. It must have seemed like and comical English farce you see on the television.

    You’re exactly right, there doesn’t seem to be anyone around at the airport for direction. Just the two old gents at the help desk. They reminded me of volunteers you see at the info desk at hospitals in Canada. Not totally engaged in any drama because after all, ‘they’re volunteers’. I can’t imagine why they made us wait a half an hour before they’d page for you. They seemed to be pretty, ‘by the book’ and would only acknowledge what the board said, which was not ‘arrived’ or ‘early’ or ‘at gate a half hour ago’…….only ‘on time’. “She’ll be coming out of either that door, that door or that door” pointing at three different entrances. Good grief, what a way to run an arrival area.

    We were so happy and relieved to she you, I’m sure we looked like a couple of crazed maniacs coming at you, LOL. What a beginning we all had. Heavens only knows how many flights I’d miss coming as far as you…..I might end up somewhere’s really rotten. Thanks for remaining calm, when we were in a panic. LOL, “We’ve lost her before the holiday even got going” is what I was thinking. Thank goodness for daughters right? xoxoxo ❤

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    • You know, I never did see that ‘help’ desk or your two old volunteers…. Volunteers at an airport? I have never heard of that before! And I never came out of any door – I walked the length of the carousels from the train – was it #14?

      So many comments about poor signage at airports also makes me feel better. 🙂 I should have pre warned you – I always get lost at airports. It seems to be something I am very good at. It’s good to excel at something don’t you think? 😀

      I think I also need to do a chapter about the other adventures had by my friends in getting to DC – what do you think?

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      • I’m in the process of writing a post about my silliness. Adventures is a word I might use, haha!
        Now I’m really wondering where the heck you walked from if not from thru an arrival door. LOL, no wonder we missed you. The two old guys reminded me of the two muppets in the balcony on ‘The Muppet Show’, strictly kids stuff (wink wink)….gads they made me laugh. Not the airport guys, the muppets 😀
        I can still see you there, pulling your bag after your great wander around, you poor thing. Now you’re a seasoned traveler, the next trip will be a breeze xoxoxo

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  33. Wow – I can’t believe the airport was THAT empty! Would have totally freaked me out! So glad the drama was kept to a minimum! And I’m loving the name “Boomdee!” Will be checking back to for Part 2!

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