My carry-on suitcase kept falling over at my feet and crashing into the legs of passersby. "I'm sowwy..." I said again and again, as I fought to swallow the concrete in my mouth and simultaneously haul my suitcase upright.
It's not surprising the damn thing couldn't stand up straight—my carry-on was most certainly packed over capacity.
See, I'd had a small...situation...with packing.
My husband had insisted that I not check any bags. After all, I had a layover in Zurich, and all manner of mishaps could happen to my luggage between here and Paris if I didn't keep it with me at all times. So I had bought myself a rolling backpack to hold the stuff I'd need for the plane, and the rest I attempted to cram into a small carry-on suitcase.
This would have worked out fine if I hadn't broken my tailbone recently.
See, the first leg of the flight was seven and a half hours, and there was no way my sore bum was going to tolerate that much abuse without the specially-designed butt pillow I had purchased at a medical supply store.
The only problem was that it was huge.
No, they did not have any smaller ones, and no, my butt is NOT that big.
The ass cushion presented a serious packing dilemma. It definitely would not fit in my backpack, and even when I squished it up and stuffed it into the suitcase, it was nearly as large as the bag itself.
Hmmm...maybe some undies could go in the hole...
Even with the bare minimum packed (I was in danger of having to wear the same pair of pants the entire trip by the time everything was stuffed in the bag), it barely fit. I had to unzip the expandable section and sit on the suitcase to get it closed.
But none of that mattered now. I was going to Paris! In a matter of minutes they would be calling my section...oh, wait...they were calling my section. I chucked the remaining pretzel bites—which by this point could have served as substitutes for Lincoln Logs—threw my backpack on, and dragged my painfully overstuffed suitcase onto the plane.
Now, as a vertically-challenged person (I'm 5'1" on a good day), I always need help lifting my carry-on bag into the overhead compartment. Picture a blond, pale-skinned Snooki—sans heels—trying to heave an overstuffed carry-on that's half her size into the overhead baggage bin, and you've got me...except without the horrible hair and the bad makeup and the slutty clothing and the obnoxious attitude...
Actually, never mind, don't picture Snooki.
Anyway, I always end up holding up the boarding process while some poor shmuck behind me is stuck helping me stow my bag. Thankfully the embarrassment usually only lasts a couple of seconds, and most people are pretty nice about it.
Unfortunately, this time the kind gentleman who offered to help me was stymied by the fact that my bag seemed to be too tall for the overhead bin. It just wouldn't fit. People murmured and grumbled as the guy next to me sweated and grunted and shoved. I could see stewardesses gesturing in my direction, and I knew what was coming, They were going to ask me to check the bag.
My voice goes all high-pitched and screechy when I'm stressed or embarrassed, so I'm pretty sure everyone in coach heard me when I shouted, "Wait! I know what the problem is! It's my giant ass-pillow!"
I stood on my tip-toes, unzipped my bag and noisily wrestled the humongous piece of medical equipment from my carry-on, which was still precariously balanced over my head on the edge of the storage compartment.
I'm pretty certain there was an audible sucking sound when my suitcase finally released the pillow, but I can't be entirely sure because I was too distracted by everyone staring at me as if I were a performing circus elephant that might, at any minute, fall off its ball and land in a pile of its own poo. (I guess now I know how Snooki feels, at least.)
I heard a few murmurs of "What did she say?" so I held up the pillow to clearly display it to all the curious passengers.
"I broke my tailbone, and it's a long flight, so..."
I saw sympathetic looks and nodding heads. One passenger even blurted out, "Oh, you poor thing!" I signaled to my gentleman helper that he could probably easily stuff the suitcase in the overhead compartment now...and sure enough, it slid right in.
Crisis over. *sigh*
I tucked my backpack under the seat in front of me, settled into my seat—ass pillow in place, of course—and opened the hermetically-sealed package of blue dryer lint that the stewardesses mistakenly referred to as a "blanket."
(On a side note...I'm not sure exactly what airplane "blankets" are made of. Like pork rinds, they seem to be made of embellished nothingness, and are therefore a complete mystery to me. But my sister bought me a Snuggie one Christmas, and the first time I washed it, I swear I peeled enough airline blankets from my dryer's lint screen to service at least three people.)
I threw the mystery-fabric over my lap, settled in, and dug out my cellphone to snap the following picture:
I was going to Paris! (You can see how excited I am—I've gone all blurry from anticipation.)
The seats next to me were blessedly vacant, so after a moment's hesitation and a brief internal debate about the importance of being environmentally responsible, I stole the little plastic bags of Snuggie lint from those seats too, piled up all the pillows, and built myself a little sleep nest.
The plane was to arrive in Zurich early the next morning, at which point I'd have a brief layover, and then I was to finally arrive in Paris at around 10:00 in the morning. I was significantly exhausted from the stress of the week, and I was looking forward to getting some good rest on the flight over.
I smiled as the pilot cheerfully introduced himself over the loudspeaker, dutifully listened to the safety precautions—nodding as the stewardesses assured us that "even though your mask may not inflate, air is flowing,"—and watched a few obnoxiously loud movie previews. Then the lights went out, the pilot wished us a pleasant flight, and I swallowed a sleep-aid pill and snuggled into my nest, looking forward to waking up to the sun rising in Zurich.
I was therefore completely surprised when I was awakened in the middle of my personal snore-and-drool fest by the pilot's voice booming loudly through the cabin.
"Ahhh...excuse me, ladies and gentlemen...I'm so sorry to disturb you, but..."
I looked around—it was still pitch dark outside. What the heck?
"You may not be aware of this, but two of the bathrooms on the plane have stopped working. We are about four and a half hours into the flight, and at this point, we feel it is a better choice to turn around and head back to base, then change planes. We're truly sorry about this inconvenience, and we assure you we will do everything possible to get you to your final destination as quickly and smoothly as possible."
My sleepy brain attempted to process this information through its drug-induced haze. We were more than halfway there. Most people on the plane were asleep, and there were certainly still enough bathrooms left—since the plane wasn't even close to full—so why were we turning around and flying four and a half hours back? Wouldn't it just make more sense to continue?
Now, I have no idea of what goes on in the inner workings of airlines, but I've watched plenty of episodes of Lost, and I know that some strange shit sometimes happens on flights. Perhaps the pilot suddenly realized that if we continued on that same aircraft we would all crash onto a mystical island with smoke monsters and talking dead people. In that case...by all means...get us the hell off that plane!
Not digging this idea.
But anything short of that seemed just ridiculous.
The passenger across the aisle and I exchanged meaningful looks. "Why would they turn the plane around just because two bathrooms are broken?" she asked me in a conspiratorial whisper. I didn't know, but the adrenaline had kicked in again as I realized that I would now miss my connecting flight. My phone wouldn't work internationally, and since we were going to arrive back at our starting point in the middle of the night, I knew my husband's cell would just go to voice mail (which he may or may not remember to check).
I spent the flight back alternately sulking and worrying. I didn't bother stuffing my giant ass pillow back in my carry-on when we arrived back at the home airport. Screw it...if they were going to yell at me for having an extra gigantic pillow on my person, they were going to get one hysterical cry-fest.
I called my husband's cell, left a crazed message on his voice mail, and then texted him about ten times to tell him I would not be arriving in Paris at 10:00, and that I had no idea how I would get in touch with him when I finally did arrive.
We hadn't planned for this possibility—I didn't even know what hotel he was staying at (which, upon reflection, seems like a rather important detail that we definitely should have gotten ironed out before I left).
A very, very nice woman next to me told me that her phone did work internationally, and that when we arrived in Zurich I could call my husband from her phone. Thank God. I made a mental note not to let her out of my sight.
The airline had to round up a new pilot, crew, and plane (per regulation), so we all sat despondently and waited anxiously, trying to ease our nerves with meaningless conversation. It was the middle of the night, so everything in the airport was closed. All we could do was to sit, sit, sit, sit...and we did not like it, not one little bit. (Thanks, Dr. Seuss)
After an eternity of waiting, we finally boarded the new plane. The seating arrangement was the same, and this time I didn't even hesitate before angrily tearing into every airplane blanket within arm's reach. I reconstructed my sleep nest, paid no attention to the new pilot's "We're very sorry...blah, blah, blah" speech, completely ignored the safety warnings, flipped the little television the bird when the movie previews came on, lay down and angrily folded my butt pillow over the top of my head to block out any extra sounds.
The pillow, mercifully, did not smell like butt.
Thank God for small favors.
I was awakened by a service cart smashing into my foot. I opened my eyes and squinted into the sunlight as a flight attendant asked me for my trash. We were preparing to land.
Once we were off the plane, I stalked the international-phone-woman down the ramp and glanced at the clock as we entered the terminal. It was 2:00 in the afternoon. I was halfway through my first day in Paris, and I wasn't even there yet.
The kind lady let me use her phone and I called my husband. He had—fortunately—checked his messages, and he was fully aware of what was happening.
"Don't worry!" he said cheerfully. "The airline has already made arrangements for you to transfer to another flight. I have all the information right here online. You'll be coming in on flight "blah...blah...blah...at...blargety blarg...and I'll meet you there." My brain was so addled from sleep and stress that I didn't remember any of the information; all I knew was that he would be there to meet me, and I that was all I really cared about.
I proceeded to the service desk, where they promptly issued me a new ticket and pointed me in the right direction.
The flight to Paris was a blur. Somehow the sleep I had gotten on the other two plane rides seemed to have done absolutely nothing for me, and I passed out almost immediately upon takeoff. I woke up in darkness to the captain's voice thanking us for flying with Unmemorable Airlines. He announced that we were landing and that the local time was 6:15 p.m. It felt like three in the morning. I couldn't wait to see my hubby at the gate.
There was only one problem: he wasn't there.
I wandered about for a good twenty minutes, and when he still hadn't arrived, I approached the "help" desk, explained the situation to the employee and asked if my hubby could be paged. I was answered with a curt, "No. We do not page. He eez probably in zee cafe. Get a coffee and calm down. Can I assist zee next person?"
Well, that was helpful.
I wandered off aimlessly and tried to figure out my next move. I had no idea how to find my husband, and the new arrivals were clearing out quickly—there was no one around who looked sympathetic enough to help me.
Then I spotted an internet station. Hallelujah!
I inserted my credit card and logged into my email. There was a message from my hubby! It was my flight change information—when I was landing and where he would meet me. Uh-oh...the information was all wrong. He was expecting me at Terminal 2, and I was at Terminal 1.
(Now, in the retelling of this, my husband asked me why I didn't just go to Terminal 2 and find him. The answer was simple: I didn't think I could. I was so sleep deprived and stressed out that I didn't realize I could access Terminal 2 from where I was. I thought I had to go back through the airport to get to another terminal, and when I had tried to do that I had been stopped by security. I was so tired I didn't realize I could just walk around the outside.)
So I composed a frantic email to my hubby, letting him know that I was waiting for him at Terminal 1. I figured he'd be checking his phone for any communication from me when he couldn't find me.
I pressed send, then stared wide-eyed at the screen, tapping my foot restlessly and bouncing up and down like an overanxious chihuahua. I kept hitting the "refresh" button, waiting for a response.
Finally: a reply!!
I frantically opened the email to read this:
This is an automated message. Sugar Pie is out of the office on business and will be back in the office on blah, blah, blah... He will contact you as soon as possible when he returns. Thank you.
I started to cry.
I logged out and sat down on a bench, trying to figure a way out of my mess. When I looked back at the blatantly unhelpful "help" desk, I noticed a different employee was standing there, so I decided to inquire again. This time the lady was nice. Perhaps she took pity on me because I really was beginning to resemble a sleep-deprived, confused, sweaty cast extra from Lost.
"Um, my husband's waiting for me at the wrong terminal. Is there any way you can call over to Terminal 2 and let him know I'm over here?"
She nodded and dialed, then babbled something in French and waited. A couple of seconds later she smiled at me and gave me a "thumbs-up." I just about jumped across the counter and kissed her.
"He knows you are here and is on his way," she said kindly. "It is a twenty minute trip from that terminal. Is a very big airport. Sit down. He will be here."
I sat gladly and breathed a sigh of relief.
In about twenty-five minutes, my husband came rapidly striding into view. Had he always been this handsome? He was looking around frantically, and I stood up and waved. He ran over to me, wrapped his arms around me and smothered me with kisses.
"Oh my God, I was so worried," he mumbled into my hair. He looked me over, and it occurred to me that I had never seen him look more relieved—not even when our children were born and turned out to be perfectly normal-looking humans beings and not the hideous creatures from Alien that I'd had nightmares about birthing.
"I am so, so sorry," he said. "I can't believe you had to go through all that. It's just terrible. You must be a wreck. Come on...we'll get a cab and go back to the hotel."
I snuggled up to him in the cab and tried to clear my head. I was finally here...in Paris...and all I wanted to do was cuddle up to him and go to sleep.
Still, he insisted that we get some decent food, so I changed my clothes, put on some makeup so I didn't look ill, and wearily dragged myself out to a restaurant.
I don't even remember what I ate, just that it was French. I remember the dessert, though...mostly because I have a picture of myself with it. It was some berry sorbet that had liquor in it, and I'd never had it before.
Its sweet creaminess was unbelievably comforting, like an ice cream cone on a hot day or a bowl of chicken soup when you're really sick. I perked up enough to smile for a photo before pretty much falling asleep at the table.
A little makeup works wonders.
After getting some real food and having that sweet treat, I was finally able to relax and look forward to the next day's activities...although I was still too tired to be excited, per se.
But I was in Paris, where I'd always dreamed of going...and I was there with my wonderful husband.
At least the drama was finally over.
But I was in Paris, where I'd always dreamed of going...and I was there with my wonderful husband.
At least the drama was finally over.
...For the moment.
(To be continued....)