There are some aspects of international travel that are wonderful. New places, new vistas, new food (although at times the new food is…errm…challenging. Lamb’s eyes, for example), new languages that whisper enticingly through my head, indicating just how much there is left to learn and explore.
There are some aspects of international travel that are less than wonderful. Stressful, even. Like when your connecting flight is delayed, and you realise the odds are you’ll miss your flight home. It’s strange, that the flight HOME is far more sacrosant than the one out of home. No matter how fun the trip, it is the homecoming that is the icing on the cake – at least for me – and delays in that direction are far more painful., Plus there’s the added aggro that by the time I’m going home, I’m out of clean underwear…
Yesterday was one of those excessively exciting days when the powers that are conspired to make the homebound trip anything but relaxing. Finding out you have at most 20 minutes to make it from one end of Chicago O’Hare to the other, is like contemplating entering an Olympic Marathon. (this is a big airport, people…) I have no desire to run a Marathon. I do, however, want to make my flight…
I was more or less resigned to missing the plane and hanging around Chicago for 24 hours until the next flight. Actually, I was just getting used to the idea of having an entire day at my disposal in Windy City – a favourite of mine. My travelling companion had other priorities. He had to get home, as he was scheduled to leave on the next long-haul flight a day later.
My travelling companion is young. And fit. And male. And equipped with very long legs. I am not as young. Sadly, neither am I as fit. My legs compared to his is like placing a dachshund beside a giraffe. So when my travelling companion gave me a determined look and said “let’s run for it,” I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Give up immediately? Try to talk him out of it, pointing out that 28 minutes (yes, we recouped 8 minutes versus the original delay) was very little time to make it from Terminal 1 to Terminal 5 – and that was excluding security? Silly me, being as competitive as my co-traveller, decided to ignore the obvious differences between us and said “ok”.
No sooner did the plane doors open, but we exploded out of them. Okay, exploding is an exaggeration. It is difficult to do so with two backpacks and a bag on wheels. Still, we made good time, weaving like maniacs through all those other travellers who obviously were nowhere close to missing their flight.
To his credit, young and fit did not set off at maximum speed. To his even greater credit, he went to great lengths to pretend he was running as fast as he could, while in actual fact he was pacing himself to me. I owe him a pay hike, I think, for this gallant attempt at safeguarding my self-esteem. Meanwhile, I was running flat out – well, my version of flat out. The backpack bounced uncomfortably, my mouth filled with the metallic taste of my blood – a sure sign of over-exertion – and as to air, well, my lungs were screaming at me that they weren’t getting any.
This is when a vivid imagination comes in handy. It is much easier to ignore the physical pain if you pretend you’re fleeing for your life, rushing up hillsides strewn with rocks and patches of heather, while from behind comes the sound of determined pursuit, the sun glinting off breastplates and helmets. Unfortunately, all it takes is a stubbed toe to bring you hurtling back to a reality where you still have very, very far to go and the clock is ticking.Tick tock.
Up the last flight of stairs, and my legs were trembling, my left knee angrily reminding me that I wasn’t supposed to run. Through the passport control, into the security line (where we were waved to the front) and then it was time for that other very enervating aspect of travelling, namely all that “put your computer in a tray” stuff. Don’t get me wrong; I understand why this has to be done, but there must be a better way of doing it…
On the opposite end of the security control an immaculate stewardess was telling us we had to run – and run fast. Duh. Guess what we had been doing for the last ten minutes or so? The last stretch was down an endless corridor. My legs had morphed into pillars of lead, my lungs had shrunk to the size of a teabag, and my heart was pounding so hard the pulse was drowning out the surrounding sounds. And still I ran, bags bouncing against my legs, heavy winter coat flapping around me. Okay, so it felt as if I ran. I am thinking that by this point it looked as if I was hobbling. But in my head, I was leading the charge of the Light Brigade, the words “theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die” ringing over and over in my head. (Hey! You going down, you should go down with literary style!)
We made it. Truth be told, young and fit reached the gate well before me, standing himself firmly in the doorway. I wheezed like a broken accordion. My dress stuck to my back. My feet were killing me. I hadn’t run this much since mandatory PE classes in high-school. I have no intention of repeating the performance anytime soon, but I do believe I can say we set some sort of record: 18 minutes from one end of the airport to the final security control.
Thankfully, the flight itself was uneventful. And as to young and fit, he grinned, high-fived me and promptly went to sleep. I didn’t. I never sleep in planes, convinced as I am that the moment I shut my eyes, the whole fragile contraption might crash. Sometimes, dear people, I seriously wonder why I travel….