July 20, 2011
Trains are so romantic, making me nostalgic for a time in which I have never actually lived. I lingered in the dining car on my way up to Seattle, reading my book, gazing out at the Columbia, at the large swaths of green, of the backyards and shipping docks. We sailed along, the valley a blur of green and blue and cloud.
Josh and I made last minute preparations at his house – feeding the chickens, packing snacks for the plane, synching our various electronic devices – before shouldering our packs and heading for the light rail and onward to the airport. Our flight departed just before midnight, and we flew to Dulles in the sleepy vague haze of the airborne redeye. We deplaned bleary eyed but oddly rested, and continued to the connecting gate for our flight to JFK.
And thus began our trip to... Germany.
There were mechanical problems with the IAD-JFK flight, and so our deparure time was pushed back by fifteen minute increments about, oh, every fifteen minutes. Getting a little edgy, Josh and I played the game "would we make the plane to Joburg if our flight left now? How 'bout now? Now?"until it became clear that we were not going to make it. And, sure enough, come time to board, the gate agent told us (and twelve other Joburg-bound passengers) to refrain from boarding the plane and to instead take a trip to the United customer service desk for rerouting.
After a few comic trips between the gate and customer service, we learned through the passenger rumor-mill that there is only one daily flight to South Africa from JFK, and that we would not in fact be going to South Africa anytime soon. Josh and I suggested we ban together and call ourselves "the United 14" and film a serial television drama on my iPhone, but the others were not in the mood for joking around. Especially when we learned that the next available flight to anywhere in South Africa was not for... two weeks.
"Alas!" the people cried! "No! It cannot be!" "I will not stand for this injustice!" "I am so angry!!" Oh the tears and the gnashing of teeth! Josh and I, however, having the luxury of an open-ended itinerary and a sense of grand adventure, accepted the fact that we might not be going to South Africa, like, at all. Where would we like to go? we asked each other. Italy?! Thailand?! Mongolia?! By the time we reached the head of the line, I thinik we were settled on Greece.
Our customer service agent was a rockstar. You know the part in the movie where the underdog sports team or the beleaguered Navy Seals unit or the chess team from an inner-city school — despite all the odds stacked against them — rallies? When the leader steps forward and says, "This. This is what we've been training for. Today is our day. Let's do this." That was our customer service representative. "I think we can make it happen if we send them through Doha!" she hollered down the line of the bracing agents, fingers flying over their keyboards, eyes feverishly scanning their computer screens. "No, Bahrain! Send them through Bahrain! They can connect in the morning. Wait! No! Bahrain is sold out. Here, I've got something in Heathrow. No, Dakar! No, try—" Josh and I were amazing hypothetical world travelers, skipping from one corner of the Western Hemisphere to the other, and we responded with things like, "Great! We're going to Qatar?!" with a kind of manic glee, prepared at any moment to change our final destination if it became dire. "I've found it!" said our agent. "There's flight out of Frankfurt leaving in two days. We'll put you up in DC for two nights, route you through Germany, and get you to Johannesburg on Saturday." To which we responded, "Thank you! ... But wouldn't it be better to just send us to Frankfurt now?" and... lo and behold... she said yes.
So, before we knew it, we were booked on a two-day adventure — lodging and meals provided — to Germany.
Josh and I spent the time before our evening flight happily (and incredulously) reading Frankfurt guide books while sitting on the floor of the airport Borders, taking notes on where to go and what to see. And then we were aloft, spending another night above the ground...