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 ……………..


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