Saturday, December 25, 2010

Little Mother With Claws

“Prague never lets you go… this dear little mother has sharp claws.” Franz Kafka

My flight home was scheduled for December 18th, but Prague would not let me go.

My friend N. and I arrived at the airport, all packed and ready to return to the US. I checked my baggage, spent my last crowns on a souvenir beer mug for my dad’s shelf, and waited in the terminal for a plane that never came. Eleven-thirty came around and there was no information on the ticker, but it did promise more information at one or so. At one, the ticker insisted that it would give us more information at three. The airline’s website insisted that we got on the plane and that we landed safely in London. After several hours in an airport pub trying to stay awake with some overpriced beverages, we all found out that the flight had been cancelled.

The first thing I had to do was pick up my luggage. My Barney purple suitcase was immediately visible but my black duffle was nowhere to be seen. The belt went round and round, but it was empty. I talked to a woman at the luggage desk. “Just sit down and wait. There will be more baggage coming.” So N. and I sat down and waited. No luggage came onto the belt and then the belt shut off completely. I went back to the woman at the luggage desk. “I’ll call them and have them turn the belt back on,” she said. “But there’s nothing on the belt!” I said. She insisted that it was probably stuck inside of the machine and told me to sit down and wait. The belt came back on and no new luggage appeared. I went to the woman at the luggage desk again and she gave me some forms. I suspected that my bag caught a plane to Heathrow Airport  by itself.

The next ten hours were spent in line. This mind-numbing wait would have been entirely unbearable if I hadn’t accidentally adopted a stray child who named me “Penguin.” For ten hours, Vicky and I shuffled up and down the floor, played “Touch Brittany’s camera lens,” and pretended the electronic ticket machines were TVs full of penguins. My childrearing services were paid for in yogurt which promoted my intestinal regularity. Vicky led me around by the hand, announcing to the other students that I was her friend and that no one else was her friend. “What about N.? Isn’t N. your friend, too?” “No,” she said, finishing off my Subway sandwich. She reluctantly left before me with her real mom and twenty of my Czech crowns jingling in her tiny backpack.

The other students and I got a direct flight booked from Prague to JFK, but we had to wait for two days in a hotel. The airline paid for our rooms and our meals at the hotel. I was all ready to get back to New York, see everyone at home, and sleep with a cat at my feet, but when I looked out the window it seemed an awful lot like the Devicka metro stop. I picked up the lost black suitcase that was discovered in another terminal entirely and spent the rest of the day sleeping. N. distracted himself by choosing our seats on the Delta airlines website.

On Monday, N. and I went to the airport again, checked the luggage again, and waited in line again. Most of the other students were put on standby because the flight was overbooked, but since N. reserved seats we had a guaranteed ride home. After that, the only obstacle in my path from Prague to New York was security, and security made sure that I got a little more waiting in before I took off. Before I went through security, I was told that I had been randomly selected for a special search and that if I waited in the seating area an employee would soon assist me. Two hours later, someone woke me up to escort me and the other randomly selected passengers to a special section of airport security, just in time for the plane to board. “We can’t miss the plane in security, right?” someone asked me. Ahead of us, a punk rocker covered in metal chains was walking back and forth through the metal detector.

Luckily I didn’t miss the plane going through security. As I took my seat, the pilot came on over the loudspeaker and greeted us. “I have some bad news,” he said. “I’ve been told that we lost our timeslot. We were scheduled to leave by a certain time, and now another plane is using our runway. I never imagined anything like this could happen. In all my years as a pilot, nothing like this has ever happened to me. I don’t know how long we’re going to have to wait.” After spending sixteen hours waiting in the airport, losing a suitcase, and becoming a mother I felt like I could endure anything.

And then the stomach virus set in. Not because of the movement of the plane or the quality of the plane food, but because it was the most inconvenient time possible. After an uncomfortable nine hour flight, I arrived at JFK green in the face, but happy to be in a land that doesn’t fall to pieces under the weight of four inches of snow.

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