The rain comes down with a loud, awful din. I’m watching the baggage crew outside hustle and shimmy around the tarmac. At the departure gate, inside, it’s warm and (of course) dry, and I’m thankful I’m not one of them out there. I sip my last Canadian coffee (a large double-double from the ubiquitous giant) and slouch down in my seat. I’ve found one of the few sofa-style chairs. Unlike the standard row upon row chairs that thousands find themselves uncomfortably upright in, my chair is welcoming. I slouch way back until I can imagine every medical practitioner I’ve ever met frowning. So relaxed.
And nervous. The weight of the enormity of it all hits me in successive waves. I’m excited and ecstatic for the possibilities (“Oh Possibility!”) and adventures I will surely find myself in. I’m terrified that I’m going it alone, and, despite the fact that I am “blessed” with being a native speaker of English, the world’s second language, I’m worried about having to interact with a very large number of people in several other firsts. The thoughts of this only begin to hit when I overhear the other passengers waiting for our flight. There is a lot of German being spoken. I don’t understand a word of it, and am shamefully inadequate in even being able to apologise for not speaking it. How often could that come up?
I get up and decide to stretch my legs and go for a walk. It’s going to be a long flight, after-all. Eyeing the woman who had perched herself atop the end of the nearest row, I knew my sofa would be gone when I return. Having no comfortable home to return, I walk the length of the terminal. It’s not far. In a sort of casual nervousness, most passengers sit tapping their fingers or checking their watches, re-reading their tickets (heaven forbids all those steps leading to this moment when someone checked your ticket and looked you over was for not), jumping up and having to go piddle (“watch my bags, will you?”), pretending not to watch the many LCD screens plastered throughout (“Royal Wedding Update 2,895,143,659: Wills to wear a tuxedo!”) and cagily planning the quickest route to jam themselves at the boarding gate when it’s time to go (the answer is a banal “walk straight into wherever the existing line crosses your own path and ‘pretend’ like you don’t notice the person you’ve intersected”). Yes, most everyone is doing and thinking the exact same thing.
Well, almost everyone. There’s a certain group of parents who’ve decided that their authority does not, in fact, stretch past the x-ray and body scanner machines of security. It’s hard to argue with their logic. After having watched Mommy and Daddy have to take off and temporarily discard any semblance of what it means to be an adult (watches, belts, mobile phones, etc.), it’s not hard for little Ethan, or Evan, or Emmanuel to recognise that absolutes are not absolute. When little Judith, or Julie, or Jasmine refuses to behave a certain way, the “because I’m your [insert parental figure of choice]” loses much of its meaning, when that [parental figure] just got groped by the security agent, like a common suspect. Nonetheless, after having their Emperor’s Clothes revealed, these parents have caved. Anything past security, from the over-priced cafÈ stand to the three inches of space next to my ear have been given to the Ritalin runts to do as they please. Financial Post Papa and Blackberry Mama will only occasionally call out to come sit down.
I wake up in a haze. I have no idea what time it is. I have no idea what time zone I’m in. Time is, for all intents and purposes, meaningless. There is the world Out There, where normal, linear understandings of time (sun, moon, days, hours, etc.) apply. Then there is the world In Here. In Here, I have no idea what is going on. We were served dinner, I think, just a few hours (?) ago, possibly yesterday (?). I want to say I had the chicken. Just to be safe, I always order the chicken (like an Inception totem). I feel like I’ve slept for hours. I check my iPhone (obviously set to Airplane Mode – when time need not apply). The numbers just don’t make sense. It’s only 11pm (in Ottawa?). Maybe. I really don’t know. Accounting for dinner (likely chicken), the movie I watched (Dinner for Schmucks ), and the last song I remember listening to compared to where my playlist now sits, I’d say I may have slept for thirteen minutes. How is that possible? What Time Lord has messed with me? Get me out of this damned Tardis! I watch True Grit to the end, turn on some more music, and fall asleep again.
Someone opens the window shade three rows ahead and a blast of sunshine comes into the cabin. I remember how forcefully the flight attendant had come around earlier and slammed the shades down. I almost expect her to return and punish the day-bringer. Nothing happens. In Here, under Sky Law, the rules are made up on the spot and enforced with a haphazard inconsistency. Women are sent at one moment to the back of the plane to urinate, and the next, the middle of the plane. Pandemonium! I choose to sit quietly at my window seat and wait until others have opened their shades before I boldly affront the rules of the Sky.
On the screen in front of me, in what is meant to be informative, a countdown of sorts scrawls across the screen. Miles Travelled. Miles to Destination. Time of Arrival. Minutes to Arrival. Seemingly helpful information, but I can’t make sense of it. The screen flashes to a different view, a different angle. Our flight path is animated as an orange arrow over a blank blue background. Now we’re charting over a topographic map of the Atlantic. It’s filled with detailed demarcations of all the different underwater peaks and valleys. Now a world map, with time zones. Now a world map with a parabolic arch marking the division between night and day. Where are we? Now a close up map of us, over underwater ridges I had never heard of before, nor cared to learn. More Miles Travelled. Fewer Miles to Destination. Our Time of Arrival is now three minutes earlier. Now it is four minutes later. Is that our original arrival time? How is there still three hours to go until arrival? What day is this? So, so, so very confused. I make a vow never to take another Red Eye in my life. After glancing at other people’s screens I also vow never to watch Little Fockers.
All the cabin lights come on. Sky Law no longer cares about our puny window shades. Coffee comes. Also, a “muffin” (“Rectangular loaves can never be muffins, Sky Mistress”). We’re over Belgium. Thank goodness for that. That’s far easier for me to imagine than the abstract geography I was treated to earlier.
It’s 9am in Frankfurt. Of that, I am sure. My body disagrees. And so do the travellers in the airport cafÈ line in front of me. They’ve all ordered beers. I’m certainly not a teetotaller, but 9am on a Thursday (?) at an airport isn’t really my time to grab a pint. When I buy my “kaffee”, I can see that the canny travellers had gone with beer because it was cheap. My coffee, though, I’ll admit, it is organic (“bio-kaffee”), came in at 4 euros, or almost six dollars Canadian. In contrast, those lovely lushes are drinking 500ml of morning goodness for 2.50 euros. Oh, and did I mention it’s draught beer. None of that bottled stuff. I feel like a sucker.
I retreat with my bio-kaffee to wait by the gate for my connecting flight to Berlin. After being bombarded with one million arrows pointing one million directions in sans serif font over primary colour blocks, I could use a retreat. Intensity is not necessarily my thing in the morning, let alone during a long journey. After winding through hallway after hallway, with moving walkways, golf carts, bicycles, and on at least one occasion a carry-on suitcase-scooter hybrid [Note: I later found said item in the Lufthansa World Shop catalogue onboard, if you’re interested], I was finding it hard not to believe that I was actually in an airport and not the centre of a major metropolis. Everything I had seen before in my life no longer mattered. This was it. This is the 21st Century, folks. This is what we’ve all been progressing towards. From the Classical era of Aristotle, to Locke’s Enlightenment, nothing could be more magnificent of human achievement than the continental hub of Frankfurt International, with special mention to the waves of yellow and blue Lufthansa logos, podiums, kiosks, carts, and personnel, that just reinforced the feeling that business was business and business is good. I should have been thanking the stars that every action in my life had led to this moment, sipping bio-kaffee in humanity’s zenith.
I’m not. I am crammed at the edge of a bench (yes, those row by row ones) surrounded by a swarm of elderly tourists, clucking away in an indiscriminate Pan-European language that seems to encapsulate every Slavic, Latin and Germanic word. They are presumably travelling as a group (or are very familiar with strangers) and have made it their mission to set up camp on every square centimetre of surface at Gate 21. The men all seem to be wearing red sweaters with plaid collared shirts underneath. I can only see space disappearing and where it once existed now rests plaid collared shirts smartly matched with a light red sweater. I no longer have a table to rest my bio-kaffee on, as one Pan-Euro woman swooped in and made it a seat (they lack not for invention). No matter, that only causes a fuss with the gentleman who had reached behind me to grab a newspaper. The two of them cluck away. The man gets his paper. The table woman has moved on to terrorize the German woman sat across from me that very clearly has flight anxiety. Her husband had been doting to her every need and her nerves seem frayed to the point of meltdown. Her husband leaves and she optimistically places her purse on his seat to guard it. Within seconds another Pan-European Elder claims the spot next to it. A friend arrives and inquires about the vacant spot where the purse rests. The nervous German tells them off in a very universal way. I can’t blame her. Between the flight anxiety and the hive of locusts (yeah, why not?), this woman really ought not to have to worry about a seat. I, for one, subscribe to the philosophy that I’d rather lose a friendship than save a seat (no, friends, I will not save a row of seats at the cinema for you to show up at the last minute on cheap Tuesdays). Who needs the stress?
The boarding commences and a new level of European sophistication emerges. I shouldn’t have doubted that Frankfurt International, evolutionary peak of international travel, would rise to the occasion. In a charmingly simplistic move, Lufthansa has adopted the same procedure as getting on a metro to getting on an airplane. Ah yes! Public transportation has always been a feather in the cap for Europe and why not apply that same model to the sky? As soon as boarding is announced, scores of people push and clamour to get to the gates, which are nothing more than futuristic turnstiles. Scan ticket. Gate opens. Next person. But, like rush hour commuters hoping not to miss the train, three or four people are trying to scan their tickets, while shuffling their bodies towards the plane (I should also mention, we have assigned seats). Amazingly (to me, at least – frequenter of segregated loading of planes: priority, first class, back of plane, middle of plane, etc.), it works. Except for the one guy who decides that twenty centimetres from the gate he better make that phone call. I have heard hecklers before, but nothing like the torrent of multi-lingual abuse that fellow heard. And then, as soon as it came, it’s over; we’re on the plane, seated and ready to go.
The carousel stops turning. A confused look crosses the faces of the forty or so of us that are still waiting for our checked luggage. The screen above the carousel says in German and English that baggage delivery is finished. Next thing I see, most of the people waiting are gone. The Pan-European Elderly Locusts of the Futuristic Departures Gate, travelling as a bus tour, apparently, were given word (presumably in whatever Pan-European hybrid language they spoke) where to go and they are gone. It is left to the remaining half-dozen of us to ask questions and wander through the thankfully “quaint” Berlin-Tegel airport to find the lost luggage office.
There, in a reversal of the frenetic optimism of Frankfurt, we all wait silently. Even the clucking of the Pan-Europeans has stopped. Next to the office is a currency exchange and I spot a 20 euro bill sitting on a lower part of the customer’s side of the counter. No customer remains, and I see the agent walk away from the counter. I walk over, pick up the bill and stand staring at the plexiglass divider. The agent comes and asks me what I’d like. I tell him in simple English that this bill was left by the last customer. I don’t know if he’ll come back, but if he does, here it is. The agent looks confused and takes the bill. I rejoin the line for the lost luggage. I don’t really think too much about that bill, though a small, non-rational part of my brain hopes that a bit of karmic help might come along.
I talk to the lost baggage agent and she takes my contact information. They have no idea what happened to the bags, but they didn’t come from Frankfurt with us. Hopefully they were even in Frankfurt. Travelling from Canada, I fear my bag might be any parts in between (perhaps at the bottom of one of those unknown topographical sea valleys). I’m given a tracking number and, as a gift, a men’s overnight bag as an apology.
As it stands, I’m missing my checked backpack with all my clothes for two months, some books, and a few bathroom necessities (which the Apology Bag helps cover). With me, thankfully, is every single valuable, which I had carried on me and my carry-on. I have all my reservation information, cash, meds, glasses, laptop, camera, etc. I make it to the rented flat with no problem (one-way single ticket zone AB), and catch some shut-eye; regardless of the fact that I’m told it’s the afternoon. I’ll figure out this linear time business later, once I return to the world Out There.