I’m A Travelin’ Peach – Prologue

April 3, 2005 at 4:46 pm (Uncategorized)

So, I did it. I traveled to Louisiana and Texas all by my lonesome and have lived to tell the tale. Traveling is in my blood. I love it. Even when things aren’t perfect, hell, at least I’m not home with my thumb stuck up my ass. I thought I would start this series off with my favorite traveling story. It will also stall long enough for me to get the film developed on Tuesday.

Its my favorite story because its so terrible. Its not just about being in a shitty situation but also about friends and strength.

Our story opens in July of 1989. I have just completed my year’s stay in Germany and have taken the train from my small hamlet to the big city of Bonn. Our group had started out with 60 teenagers and 55 of us had survived and thrived in Deutschland. Several of them were on my connecting train, not to mention, several more who would get on at various other stops. The thing about the Deutsche Bahn (German railroad) is … nothing stops it. You get your butt on or it leaves without you. So, when we pulled into a station and see 12 of our fellow exchange students standing on the platform with a year’s worth of luggage, we all get off, form a line, and schlep all the luggage onto the train while the conductor is yelling, “Einsteigen, einsteigen, schnell!” (Get on, get on, quickly!)

We repeated this several times and when we then had to disembark at Bonn, we once again, formed a line, and tossed and schlepped. Damn Deutsche Bahn. Oh, but then we had to toss and schlep to the two buses which were to take us to the youth hostel and once again when we got there, and once again as we got back on the buses to go to Düsseldorf Flughafen (Airport), and once again when we got to the airport. OY!

We were flying from Düsseldorf due to the Lockerbie tragedy (or so they said – I think it was just the closest international airport which wasn’t Frankfurt). In those days, security was already much tighter in Europe than in the U.S. So, we arrived two hours before our flight, most of us hungover as it was our last night in which we could legally drink. Upon arrival they delayed our flight two hours. I think it was closer to three hours late when we finally got in the air.

First stop was Brussels, Belgium. We had the option, during our hour layover, to either stay on the plane or to disembark and take all of our carry-on luggage with us. I chose to stay behind and wished I hadn’t when they delayed the flight again, probably an hour or more. So, I’m stuck in the plane for 2 – 3 hours. I couldn’t leave because of the bomb dogs. Once they came through, too bad, you’re not going anywhere. Then, when they re-loaded the plane these nice people sat in front of me and proceeded to lay their seats all the way back, into my lap.

Ahhh… international relations. They spoke only French. I speak only German, English, and sign language (the good and bad kind). I asked the steward if he could possibly ask them to raise their seats a little to give us more space. No. They had paid for their tickets and they were leaving their seats. Oh. Well, as I was seated in the first row of smoking and they in the last row of non-smoking, I made sure their trip was very uncomfortable, at least from a breathing aspect. Not to mention the number of times on an international flight when I “accidentally” bumped their seats as I was going to the restroom or trying in vain to get comfortable.

Somewhere over the Atlantic we were informed there was bad weather over New York City and we would possibly be diverted to Heathrow Airport in England. At a minimum, our flight plan had been modified and we would now be arriving at least an hour late. Add this to the first two hour delay, and the one to two hour delay in Brussels and we’re now running approximately four to four and half hours behind schedule. We did eventually land in New York City at John F. Kennedy Airport, only to find out that our connecting flight to Washington, D.C. had left without us and … they were no more shuttle flights that night.

What do we do? We schlep ourselves and all of our luggage into two buses for the ride to LaGuardia, where the shuttle flights run all night. There were about 50 of us on the first bus and the remaining on the second bus. If you have never ridden in a vehicle in NYC, then I would suggest taking a Valium before doing so. Its frightening, especially in something as large as a bus. We quickly lost the other bus in traffic and our anxiety was peaking. Would we all make it?

Airport officials met us outside with luggage racks, which we, of course, filled with all that fucking luggage. They were holding the flight for us, we needed to book it. We couldn’t wait on the other bus. We ran through the airport. Luckily, it wasn’t like it is now, otherwise we wouldn’t have made it. What we didn’t realize is that the other bus had pulled up right as we all took off. Yes, it was like the Hertz commercial with O.J. Simpson. I heard a shout behind me and looked. It was John from the other bus waving us forward, “Keep going!”

Some of us slowed to a fast walk but the airport employees urged us on and we ran onto the plane. The other passengers didn’t look any happier than we did, but I guarantee they certainly looked more rested. I sat down in a window seat and looked out. Lightning. Thunder. Torrential rain. When John and the rest boarded the flight we all clapped. Yay! We were all there! We sat there for a while and I happened to look out the window again. The ground crew had taken shelter, leaving our luggage in the rain, and mine was on top. Oh. *sigh*

They finally loaded the luggage and we taxied onto the runway. The engines powered down. The captain announced another delay of approximately 30 minutes. I was so tired I just leaned my head back and fell asleep. I woke up when the engines revved and I looked at my watch. It had been 45 minutes. Lightening was still streaking, thunder still rumbling, and rain still pouring as we lifted off. The plane shook and quaked, dove and rose. I’ve never been scared to fly but that scared me. My hands gripped the armrests and I closed my eyes.

When the quaking stopped, I opened my eyes and looked out of the plane. Below me were black rolling clouds but even though the sun was well below the horizon by then, every one of those black clouds was touched by vibrant red light. Its still one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

As we landed in Washington, we all drew a long shuttering breath. Food and beds awaited us… you know, after we schlepped that luggage into two more buses and made the trip to the university. Our counselors were thrilled to see us!! They had lost us over the Atlantic. No one could tell them where we were. Someone said we were in Heathrow, someone else said we had been diverted to Greenland (whaaa?), and even someone else said we were still in NYC. One of our counselors was said to have sputtered to an airport official, “HOW IN THE HELL CAN YOU LOSE 55 BILINGUAL TEENAGERS???”

Regardless, we were there, and there in one piece. Our counselor told us that it was a good example of how much we had grown and came together as a group. We had something to do, and we did it. Had it happened on the way to Germany, it would have been chaos.

That’s my worst and best travel experience. And John Drake, I’ll never forget you running behind me in LaGuardia. Yvonne, Brianna, Veronica, Jeremy, Genevieve, Zosia, Steve, May, Kara, Stephen, Scott, Bill, Julie, Anne, Ann, Kris-Ann, Sarah, Jenn, Jennifer, Michael, Mike, Dana, Renee, Sonya, and the others whose faces I can still see, but whose names escape me, I still think of you.

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