Friday, August 11, 2006

There's No Place Like Home

I don’t know if I was more excited to fly home, or to fly to London. This trip has been wonderful, but I’m exhausted. We’re all ready to get back to our family and friends. The day started out uneventful. I shared a taxi with Tim and Susan. We left Hotel Arley at 8:30 and were dropped off at Terminal 1 of Charles De Gaulle Airport a little after 9:00 a.m. Security was light, just a few questions about when I packed my bags and a metal detector at the gate. I joked that this was the airport the shoe bomber left from and it was the only airport that let us keep our shoes on.

The rest of our group came about an hour later on the metro and our flight left on time. Besides Tim and Susan, Wendy, Megan P., Natalie, Barbara, Russell, Adam, Gabe, Kelly, Melissa and Una were on the flight with me. It’s only an hour shorter flying from Paris to Chicago than it was flying San Francisco to London, but it felt a lot longer. I think that’s how all trips are. It always feels longer on the way home. It didn’t help that the audio on my seat didn’t work. I missed out on all the movies and had nothing to watch but the map the whole way. Boy is the Atlantic big!

United Flight 943_003

United Flight 943_002

United Flight 943_006

I amused myself by sketching. I know everyone in the group is sick of my sketches at this point, but I find relaxing. It’s also a great way to kill time. I sketched several pictures in the in flight magazine and was surprised to find that a picture of Jackson Hole’s antler arch made me homesick. I’ve never liked anything western, but this was the first familiar thing I’ve seen in a month.

At Tim’s suggestion I also sketched the inside of the plane. This was my view for 8 and half hours.


The tedium also made me feel guilty. How spoiled are we? For $500 we can fly half way around the world in a day. Travel couldn’t get much easier. It took my great great great grandparents their entire life’s savings, and months on ships, trains, and covered wagons to make this same trip.

About 30 minutes before we landed an announcement was made. Due to new Homeland Security measures we needed to take all liquids of gels we had with us and put them in our checked baggage before we could get on our next flight. That included water, lotions, shampoo and anything else of that consistency. I thought it was odd, but I was a little more concerned with filling out the customs and immigration form.

We landed about 20 minutes late which made me nervous after the flight we missed on the way to London. We still had two hours before the next flight but that isn’t a long layover for an international flight.

This is my first time in Chicago and I didn’t see much of it. I didn’t even see much of the airport. I did notice that the designers did some cool things with the carpet pattern to enhance wayfinding. A pattern of stripes led the way down the hallway to customs, and started to break up and then run perpendicular to the walls when it was time to stop. No one asked, “Where are we supposed to go?” The carpet pattern was clearer than the signs. I also thought, “How lame is it that after all this time away, I finally make it back to the US and all I notice is the airport design!” I can’t help it. I’ve never pretended to be cool!

Immigration was a piece of cake. Two or three questions and I was through. Then things got complicated. We had to collect all our luggage, go through customs, and recheck everything before finding the connecting flight. All would have gone well if it hadn’t taken FOREVER for our luggage to arrive. One of the most stressful parts of the entire trip was waiting at baggage claim knowing how little time we had.

During the wait I found out what was going on. We heard a few more announcements about no liquids or gels, so I finished my water and looked through my bags. All I had in that category was hand sanitizer and sun tan lotion. I pulled them out, ready to put them in my luggage. I stood next to an airport employee who was helping an elderly man with his luggage. Another man nearby asked him why we needed to get rid of anything liquid. He responded, “You haven’t heard yet?” When he was assured that, no, we had no idea why, he continued. “You were in the air while it was happening, but a terrorist ring was busted this morning in England. They were trying to smuggle explosives on to planes in small shampoo bottles. They arrested 24 and think there may be more. The security level has been raised to Orange.” We had absolutely no idea! I found the rest of the group and told them what was going on. It explains why it was taking forever to get our luggage. They must be rescreening everything that came in on an international flight.

The luggage finally came, but mine was in the last batch to arrive. I gathered everything up, put my liquids in the luggage I needed to recheck, and headed for Customs. There was a bottleneck of people trying to get through, but they quickly checked our forms and sent us through. Our souvenirs were the least of their worries. United let us leave our luggage in a pile and with an assurance that I could make the flight I ran to the train. I made it up the stairs just as it was about to leave for Terminal 1. I tried to step on the train and I was half way in as the doors started to shut. This happened all the time on the Tube, and everyone would step back an make more room. It was amazing how many more people could fit into a car that you were sure was packed. But here no one budged! Everyone just stood there staring at me and I barely had time to jump back before the doors shut. I heard Barbara yell my name and looked up to see her and Russell in the corner, and PLENTY of room in the rest of the car. Welcome back to the US! No one here knows the proper way to use mass transit!

It was several minutes before the next train came and as the first one on I went all the way to the back so there would be plenty of room for the next group of travelers. I was joined by a pilot and a few people I recognized from our Paris flight. As the train slowly made it’s way around the terminals there was a long line of news vans outside. Some one asked the pilot if that was because of the terrorist arrests and he said yes. “Heathrow has been shut down” he added. Things must be worse than I thought. I’m very glad that we didn’t fly out from England in the midst of this! My sister went on study abroad last summer and flew to London the morning of the Tube bombings. Now I’m flying back amidst terrorist arrests. My parents may never let their children leave the country again.

Of course my flight left from the furthest terminal and I ran to security. This is where I realized I might not make my flight. The line was long and slow, and they were in no hurry to get us through. Barbara and Russell were a few people ahead of me. If we were going to miss the flight we would miss it together.

As I entered the line a man was going over the security restrictions again. He said to no one in particular, “Do you have any liquids or gels? Any water . . . shampoo . . hair gel . . . booze . . .?” I laughed, which made him laugh to. Under the circumstances there was nothing else to do. I looked through my carry on again and discovered that I had missed my lip gloss. It took it out and looked at it. It was a gel and I had to abandon it on the counter. I loved that lip gloss, and it was a new container. It became my sacrifice to our national security.

I can’t believe how long it took to get through Chicago security. Salt Lake was quite fast, and San Francisco was a model of efficiency. Here they were understaffed and didn’t seem to care about anything. They didn’t screen people based on how soon their flights left. There was no ushering through the multiple lines to make sure they moved at the same rate. There were no instructions on what they wanted done or how to put your belongings through the scanner. This caused delay after delay as they had to rescreen bags that weren’t put through properly. I don’t mind waiting, even when I’m late, but I can’t stand inefficiency.

When I finally made it through I ran with my laptop, camera and bag to gate C16, expecting to miss my flight. I also expected C16 to be the last gate but was relieved to find it way only half way down the hallway. I turned the corner to see they were still boarding the plane. I made it!

Once on board I found that everyone else was there except for Una. She was behind me in baggage claim and must still be in security. An announcement was made over the intercom. Our pilot hadn’t made it in from Seattle yet and they were still waiting for passengers to arrive. It was another half an hour before we were ready to take off which gave Una time to make it. It was a very stressful two hours and there was still another layover in Denver ahead of us.

The flight went by surprisingly fast, but once again I had audio problems. The sound actually worked, but the in flight entertainment from NBC didn’t. The sound cut in and out and was then gone completely. I tried to turn to a music channel, but the woman next to me had her tray table down and her lap top out. Her tray completely covered the controls to my headset. I was stuck again with no sound but I was too tired to care. The flight attendants finally changed the tape and played an episode of The Office. I have only seen one episode of the show before and yes, that is the episode they played.

We finally landed in Denver and for the first time there was plenty of time before the next flight. Tim and Susan were scheduled to leave an hour before the rest of us but they found that their flight had been cancelled due to security reasons and they went to get on stand by. We found our next gate and collapsed on the floor. I pulled out my sketchbook. Sorry everyone, but it helps me de-stress.


Before long the sun started to set. We had been traveling for almost 20 hours, but we flew with the sun and the end of the day was just catching up with us. It was our first rocky mountain sunset in ages. I never really noticed a sunset in London or Paris. You need mountains to make them dramatic. Even behind an airport it was beautiful.

Denver Airport_001

It actually felt good to sit still for a little while. A few of us split an overpriced pizza and Kaylee fell asleep on the floor. She looked like we all felt.

Denver Airport_014

There were concerns that our flight would be cancelled too, but when it was only delayed an hour we considered ourselves lucky. On the plane I shut my eyes for a minute and woke up over the Rockies. I don’t remember take off at all. I looked out the window (this way my first window seat the entire trip) and saw Logan below. The temple was lit and I could see where my house was.

We landed safely and our luggage soon followed. But Tim and Susan were back in Denver and on the carousel were Kelly and Wendy’s luggage going around and around. Their flight went directly from Chicago to Salt Lake, but apparently their luggage didn’t. My parents were there to pick me up and we took Una back to Logan as well. When I got home it was after 1:00 a.m. which was 9:00 a.m. Paris time – over 24 hours after leaving the hotel. I can’t believe I actually made it.

This is a long post, but it was a LONG day to end a LONG trip.

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