[Here follows a tale of many airports. Now that I’m leaving Chile, I feel I must warn you that it may be exceedingly dull to read.]
Continuing in my lack-of-skill at sleeping on airplanes, I’m not sure whether I managed to sleep at all on the plane from Chile. I couldn’t find a comfortable place to store my legs, so I lay awake for a very long time, sporadically rearranging myself. When they turned on the lights for breakfast, about seven hours later, I un-reclined my seat and decided to finish the movie I’d started watching earlier. In my tiredness, I only managed a few bites of breakfast, but the tea was nice.
The Mexico City airport was a hellhole. There were a million people in line at customs (I counted), but no visible staff and hardly any ropes to show where the lines should be. My seatmate and I looked for ten minutes and still couldn’t discern where the end of the line was, lost among the tortuous blobs of people. I had a connection to make, so I went to the front to ask if there was a line for connections-people, but was brusquely told no, I’d just have to wait and hope the line didn’t take longer than my layover.
Once I was finally through that, I had to recollect my baggage and go re-check it for the next flight. However, they had moved my airline’s check-in to the other terminal, which was an Airtrain ride and hefty walk away. I finally reached their desk, where I was told I’d have to pay a $40 fee for my second bag. (LAN Airlines, being a good airline, allows two free bags for international flights, but Continental are apparently a pack of cheap robber barons.)
I made it through security and reached my gate a full five minutes before boarding started (having arrived at Mexico City with a four-hour layover). I boarded my second flight of the day feeling quite sulky, and hoping that I might avoid both the Mexico City airport and Continental Airlines in future. Ah the joys of marathon airline travel. I relaxed a little once our plane left Mexico City, and found it interesting to see the giant rippled mountains near the city, poking out of a flat plain.
At Houston, I waited in another giant line to pass border control, and then a shorter line to customs (my first time going through U.S. customs by myself). I had exhaustively detailed the items I was bringing back; they glanced at my OCD list only briefly, then had me go through baggage screening. The man there was moderately friendly. He ran my bags through the x-ray, and saw the library of books I was carrying, and asked, “Are those cigarettes or books?” — “What? Books!” — “Not carrying any cigarettes?” — “Er, no. Just books.” As if I would ever want to fill my suitcase with cigarettes instead of books! He waved me through, and I continued on my way, exhausted by heavy bags.
I now had a very long six-hour layover to wait through, so I re-re-checked my luggage and made my way to the gate, grabbing another coffee on the way. I sat peacefully by the window and finished reading The Subtle Knife, while vapid TV programming and then the Republican Presidential Debates chattered distractingly in the background. I was amused by one particular characteristic of the Houston airport, which was that anytime I looked up, I was guaranteed to see at least one person wearing a cowboy hat.
As boarding-time approached, I closed up my bag and perked up expectantly. Then, I heard someone nearby mention that the airline website listed a 30-minute delay for our flight, although no announcement had yet been made. Here’s a rough outline of how the rest of the airport-time went:
5:00pm: Scheduled boarding time.
5:15pm: “Well, we’re waiting for them to tow the plane to our gate, but it should be here soon.”
5:20pm: “This flight is massively overbooked, so we’re looking for six people who are willing to stay the night in Houston and take a flight tomorrow.”
5:30pm: “Oh, it looks like they’ve towed our plane to the wrong gate, so let’s all walk together to this other gate to wait there.”
5:50pm: Scheduled departure time.
5:55pm: “So we don’t have a pilot yet. But don’t worry, our pilot is scheduled to arrive at 6:30pm!” [audible groan from the crowd]
6:00pm: [Molly begins to tense up, and then reflects on the fact that she’s been gone for three months, and a few more hours aren’t a huge difference, and imagines the joy of seeing her cats so soon, and relaxes.]
6:20pm: “We’re still looking for two more people to give up their seats on tonight’s flight.”
7:00pm: “Okay, we’re going to begin boarding now.”
7:20pm: A new voice on the PA system: “I’m going to be honest with you. Our pilot should have landed about 20 minutes ago, but we have no idea where he is. I’ll let you know as soon as we know anything.”
7:35pm: Same PA guy: “It’s rumored that the pilot has arrived, but I can’t confirm that yet–” New voice on the PA: “I can confirm that. Hello, I’m your pilot. We’re so sorry, but we just came from Salt Lake City. We had huge weather delays there, so we only just arrived.”
7:55pm: We finally took off! (Estimated time, because I gave up on continually looking at my clock.)
In appreciation of our long, long wait, they decided to give us all free DirecTV access at our seats, so I spent the four-hour flight contentedly watching nature documentaries — about jungles and chimpanzee warfare, about baby penguins and how difficult it is to bite through walrus skin. Occasionally, I’d peer out the window at the clear night, wondering which light-strung city we currently were passing over.
Two dear friends were waiting for me outside security at the Sacramento airport, and we hugged abundantly and headed downstairs to collect my baggage. The baggage arrived smoothly, and we leaped into my dear car and drove home to Davis. I was mock-stunned at the fact that it was winter and everything was bitterly cold, although I was secretly pleased to greet my favorite season. After a stop at my local grocery for quick dinner-supplies, I arrived home! The living room had been rearranged in my absence, and was now much more inviting than it had been before. My dear cats seemed enormously chubby in contrast with all the Chilean cats; they shunned me at first, but grudgingly forgave me for my absence.
Four more close Davis friends came over to hang out for a few hours, and we had a pleasant, relaxing, catch-up evening. I sorted through my enormous pile of mail, and doled out a few presents, and squished my cats with love. Finally, once people had departed, I climbed into bed under my electric blanket, marveling at how soft my mattress was in comparison with my Chilean bed.