Six months Into retirement, I was in a public toilet taking what one of my nieces unceremoniously calls a ho’ bath. It’s where you clean up just enough.
I changed my panties. Washed my face. Brushed my teeth. Smoothed my locks with hair butter, all this with strangers milling around.
Then, wishing my two bags would roll themselves, I picked up one and grabbed the handle of the other. They grew heavier by the moment. Now I knew how homeless people felt.
How did a professor who the college president had once called among the finest teachers of the institution get to this point? I missed my flight connection in Dublin.
I mentioned Dublin in my first blog, "Am I There Yet?", but didn't elaborate because I wanted my travel blog to get off to a positive start. But, for this American, Dublin was a doozie.
I was disappointed that Ireland, one of my ancestral lands, showed me so little love, but it was more love than it showed my Irish great grandma after she took a black man for a lover.
That's another story, one you can read in my book, Mother of Orphans: The True and Curious Story of Irish Alice, a Colored Man's Widow. It's due out from 2 Leaf Press in October 2018. I can't wait.
Here's my story about Ireland.
Dublin was supposed to be a one-hour layover, just enough time to run from one gate to the other, fasten my seat belt and jet away toward the Mediterranean. It didn't happen that way.
The trouble started at Chicago O'Hare. My Aer Lingus flight waited for some few passengers to get through TSA. Watching while people strip for TSA can be entertaining, but waiting is a bad idea. My jet got off the ground at 20 minutes to 5 in the afternoon, 35 minutes late.
5:40am, nearly twelve hours later, when we touch down at the Dublin airport, the arrival gate had changed. We sat in limbo for another 20 minutes. Not flying, not landed. They had to find a jetway, or manufacture it. I don't know.
What I know is my flight to Barcelona was for 6:15am, and I got to the gate at 6:30.
The Dublin airport was as good as closed. This confounded me because in the past I have arrived at Detroit Metro at 5am to find the airport buzzing like happy hour. I found a courtesy phone on the dark hall.
"Is this Aer Lingus?"
The voice speaking back to me was airport authority. 'You can find an Aer Lingus representative at gate 406."
Now I was getting angry. In the US, customer service would have been waiting at the gate to tell passengers what was going to happen next. They would have been apologetic, and had lounge and food passes for those, like me, who would wait all day to get their trip underway again. But not only was there no one to meet me, I had to go in search of them.
At gate 406, the airline rep checking passengers in for their flight asked me to wait. I took a seat next to a browning apple core. In time, he took me upstairs where a blond woman listened to me bitch and moan about their employer. I was the only passenger standing with them, but 69 other passengers had also missed their connection.
"They'll probably put them on British Air," the woman told him, then she rolled her eyes and said something to the male employee that I didn't catch. When I asked her to repeat it, she said, "I was talking to him."
Maybe I should have went all "girl-from-The-D" on her, but I understood she was criticising their employer, and I was down with that.
Then the man was walking me away from her through a hall to a big room with cages and gates at one end. The cages said, Immigration.
"Through there?" I pointed at the steel booths manned by faceless uniformed men.
This was my first time through customs (no Detroiter counts Canada).. Every other vertebrae of my spine was scared because of the Darth Vader image of American immigration (Tired and poor stay home; give me your rich, your Norwegians).
I did not want to be caught in any country's immigration service, especially my own, but I screwed up my nerve and walked what seemed like The Green Mile to Immigration. I was scared but also shivering with delight to be getting the first stamp on my passport.
In time I found myself at the Customer Service desk along with 50 other passengers. The other passengers were quiet, but not me. With only two clerks manning the Customer Service desk, I would be standing in this line for hours. Hours meant to be in the air winging to Barcelona.
What could I do but speak to the passenger in front of me. Turned out she was American, some kind of travel agent working to get attention for Aer Lingus in the U.S.
"Really?' I said, looking at the long line of people in front of us, and the measly Customer Service crew. "Do you want have your name attached to this kind of service? Europeans might go for this, but Americans, never!"
Other passengers around us grumbled in agreement, but we all stood there like sheep.
And then a man wearing a tie in Aer Lingus's signature blue colour was walking toward me.
"Sir?" I called. I assumed the manager was a man because Ireland is still wading its way to women's liberation.
He came over to me.
"Do you know the Customer Service manager? Can you get him?"
"The managers sit in that building over there," he said pointing out a big window. "But, you don't need a manager, you need workers."
And he walked away.
Later my husband told me, "That guy spoke English; he understood your complaint. Imagine if you hadn't spoke his language. How far would your complaint had gone then?"
Conscious that I was an American in a foreign country, I tried to make my bitching and moaning more productive. yet while I was looking for more people to complain to, the woman in line with me took her phone out and called her Aer Lingus contact.
"FYI," she said into the phone, "you have some angry passengers down here."
In enough time for her contact to make a call, the woman Customer Service clerk came around the desk and surprise, she was the same blond lady who I had talked to earlier.
She called together our group of Barcelona refugees. Aer Lingus had a plan.
She was going to put us on Ryan Air to Barcelona. It's the discount airline of Europe. No British Airways, no Heathrow airport, but the woman in front of me said, take the direct flight.
It was taking off late that afternoon. In the meantime, I ate dinner in the airport and went on a bus ride into the city. Here is some of what I saw.
3pm, I stood at the Ryan Air ticket window. Finally, the Barcelona portion of my trip was underway.
I have flown discount airlines, Jet Blue and Spirit, but the world of Ryan Air is something else. There is no jetway. Passengers walk onto the tarmac and climb stairs to the jet.
The interior of the airplane rang so hollow it was an echo chamber. Welcome aboard. aboard, aboard.
Made of hard beige plastic, the cleaning crew could sluice the insides down with a fire hose. Indoor/outdoor carpet on the floor.
Passenger seats covered in motorcycle black leather did not recline. Instead of a pocket for your book, magazines and the safety instructions, the seat back was trimmed out in screaming yellow plastic wallpapered with the safety instructions.
Remarkably, there was generous leg room. And a section of young hair-swinging passengers needed it because they crowded into a row to party, chatter, play music, pose for selfies.
Most of the passengers were young, and none of the flight crew looked over the age of 25. The pilot, however, sounded like the crusty old captain on Gilligan's Island. That is the television show about the people who went for a three-hour cruise and ended up together for three seasons.
It was how this leg of my trip felt.
On to the business of flying: the steward stopped in the aisle next to my seat and proceeded with the seat belt-air mask presentation. That was vintage performance, a lost art on airlines at home. Passengers stopped paying attention, and so the airline made safety interesting through funny videos.
Another job lost to machines.
No complimentary refreshment on this flight. Nothing unusual there; some U.S. airlines make passengers pay for a seat. That has always confused me: what does my fare cover?
On Ryan Air, everything available on the plane was for sale. The stewardess came down the aisle hawking, "Chocolate."
"Scratch-offs." I stopped her. What are scratch-offs. She held up instant lottery tickets.
QVC is what happens to a market held captive for 2.5 hours.
But then it was over. We landed and I stepped onto the tarmac in Barcelona, the spring experience of a lifetime set to begin.