Getting There is Half the Trouble... - My Family Travels

The pilot’s voice came through the speaker, announcing our landing.  “We apologize for the delay.  Local time is 1: 40 PM.”  My dad and I looked at each other in horror.  Our flight from New York City to Rome was scheduled to depart at 1:45, and yet here we sat, waiting for the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign to flicker off so that we could try to make our next flight.  My dad instructed me to unfasten my seatbelt and jump to my feet as soon as we were allowed to, and to try and move as far down the aisle as possible before the rest of the passengers found their way out of their seats.

As the tiny illuminated seat belt icon flashed off, I immediately unbuckled my belt and burst up out of my seat, immediately crashing back down again as the top of my head collided with the overhead compartment.  I rubbed my head and slowly began to stand again, but then my dad was nudging me into the aisle, barely aware that I was nursing a quickly rising bump on my head.  We barely made it two steps down the aisle before a short, stocky woman with a long white braid stepped in front of me and reached up to pull her bulky suitcase from the overhead compartment.  I immediately stopped, but the passengers behind me, unaware of this new obstacle, continued pushing forward, bumping into me until I nearly knocked her over.  She turned around to face me angrily, her hands on her hips and the suitcase hanging precariously above us, half in and half out of the compartment.  “You can push all you want, but it won’t make me move any faster.”  She glared at me a moment and then turned to continue trying to squeeze the suitcase from its place above her.  My dad waited impatiently, and when she finally began moving after what seemed like an eternity, I could feel his hand on my back, pushing me forward, as if trying to remind me of our predicament.  I was well aware, however, that if we did not make this flight it would be hours until we could even begin traveling to Rome.  

We stepped over the threshold of the plane and onto the loading ramp, and immediately my dad was blowing by me, jogging up the ramp past others.  He was almost out of sight before I realized what was happening, and I began to half jog after him, feeling ridiculous and well aware of the other passengers watching us.  I arrived beside him as he stared up at the massive screen, and together we scanned for the flight to Rome.  There it was, with a little message beside it indicating that they were closing the gate.  Having already examined a map on the plane to determine where we were headed, we took off sprinting in the direction of our gate.  

I realized at the time how obnoxious we looked, sprinting along the moving walkways and jogging down and then up several sets of escalators, running through JFK International Airport like mad men.  We skidded to a stop beside the door, where several airport staff members were beginning to close the gate.  “Can we… still… get on… the plane?”  My dad panted.  The lady working there nodded kindly.  

“Of course.  You just made it.”  We walked down the ramp, out of breath, and worked our way across the massive plane and down the aisle to our seats far in the rear of the plane.  We found our seats in the middle of the plane and my dad sat down next to a girl that looked a few years older than me. Sweating from the run, I quickly removed my sweatpants, (I had shorts on underneath) and then sat down and settled in for the eight hour ride.   

We sat for about 15 minutes, just waiting, with the plane not moving.  Each moment that passed left my dad and I more frustrated, because if we had known the flight would be delayed this much we would not have sprinted through the airport.  Finally the pilot came over the speakers, announcing that the flight attendants were out of cups, and that we had to wait to take off until they procured some, or else go without beverages for the eight hour flight, which no one wanted to do.  We waited impatiently, making conversation with the girl beside my father (I had an aisle seat).  We talked to her until the plane finally took off, and then we both settled into our tiny seats, exhausted and determined to take a nap.

After about an hour of trying unsuccessfully to sleep in the hot, cramped quarters, I tried watching the in-flight entertainment.  My dad, who was also having trouble sleeping, did the same.  It took us only a moment to realize that the sound was not working.  The only thing coming through on any channel we tried was a constant murmer of static.  My dad flagged down the flight attendant, and asked for a new pair of head phones, saying his were not working.  She assured him that the problem was occuring all over the plane, but that the technical difficulties they were experiencing would soon be resolved.  

They never were.

Having already exhausted all of the reading materials provided in the pocket in front of me on the flight from Chicago to New York, I pulled out my ipod, grateful at least for some form of entertainment.  My dad made another attempt at sleeping, and we held out until dinner time that way.  Finally the flight attendant wheeled the cart by us, bringing a choice of either beef, or chicken and pasta.  Being from Nebraska, I know what good beef tastes like.  Therefore, I was not expecting much from my meal when I ordered the beef.  It tasted all right, although it was nothing too impressive.  About what one expects from airplane food.  When the attendants cleared our trash away, we made another attempt at sleeping, knowing that when we arrived in Rome it would be early morning, so it was in our best interest to sleep.  My dad finally succeeded in falling asleep, but I remained awake for a few hours, listening to my ipod in the dark.  

Finally, with about three hours to go on our eight hour flight I decided with conviction that I could not wait any longer.  I needed to go to the bathroom.  I unfastened my seatbelt and stood up quickly, strolling up the aisle toward the restroom.  I was feeling slightly dizzy, and the beef from supper was not sitting well in my stomach, so I was discouraged when I saw a line outside the lavatory several people long.  I found my way to the back of it and leaned against a wall, exhausted.  I felt so tired.  I could barely stand up…

The next thing I knew I was on the floor of the galley, and I attempted to stand up.  People around me were frantic.  They had no idea what to do.  One man was talking rapidly, with a heavy accent.  “One minute he was standing there, and the next….”  He put his left arm flat in front of him so it crossed his chest, then, resting his right elbow on his left hand, he allowed his erect hand to flop down onto his arm, making a loud slapping noise.  I looked around, wondering who they were talking about.  I was so confused. What’s going on?  And why am I on the floor?  

What happened?”  I asked, as I began to stand again.

I heard the words “You fainted.”  Suddenly another man appeared out of nowhere, being led by a female flight attendant.  I heard the word ‘doctor’ floating around, a murmered statement about how fortunate it was that he was on board.  He knelt beside me as I was again standing and pressed me back down to the floor.  He kept asking me questions, as I continued trying to sit up.  I really have to pee, I thought.  
“Can I get you some water?” He asked, as he took my feet in his hands and rested them on his knees, allowing the blood to rush to my head.  I shook my head.  “I just wanna go to the bathroom.”  He smiled kindly, then shook his head and turned to the flight attendant.  “Get him some water, and put some sugar in it.”

He continued firing questions at me, until finally the flight attendant spoke up.  “Were you traveling alone?”  I shook my head again.  “I was with my dad.”

She seemed the most level-headed of any of them there, so I answered her willingly when she asked what seat.  Some one who was standing near my head took off down the aisle looking for my dad, and suddenly I realized that all of the people in the seats behind us were trying to see what was going on.  They were craning their necks, and some were even standing.  I was suddenly overcome with embarrassment, and I made an attempt to stand, saying  “They’re all watching.  This is really embarrassing.”  The man who was apparently a doctor chuckled and tried to get me to lay down again.  I managed to get into a seated position before he could stop me, and he seemed to compromise.

Suddenly my dad arrived, having obviously just been awakened.  He asked me what was going on, and I simply replied, “I fainted.”  For a few more minutes they fretted over me, until finally I could stand it no longer.  “I… Need… to… go… pee…!”  This outburst seemed to embarrass everybody present, and they grudgingly allowed me to stand, but the doctor insisted that I could not go in alone, because I might faint again.  I argued, saying I felt fine, as I had been insisting since I awoke.  It was true, too.  I felt fine, if you neglected the throbbing in my forehead where I had landed when I collapsed on the floor, and the throbbing on the top of my head where I hit it earlier today.  I knew that I had just fainted because I stood up too quickly, and I argued with them.  Finally, realizing that they would not relent, I compromised.

Moments later, I was crammed awkwardly into the lavaratory, with my dad jammed in behind me, and they closed the door.  There was silence as I finished my business, and my dad asked quietly if I was okay.  I insisted that I was, and that was good enough for him.  When we left the tiny restroom, the flight attendants were asking if they should call an ambulance when we got to Rome, and a million other questions.  My dad insisted that medical attention was not necessary, and I made my way down the dark aisle to my seat, where the college girl we had talked to before asked me what had happen.  

“I fainted.”  I stupidly try to explain, and suddenly it dawned on me that she probably knew that already.   I stopped talking, and we sat in silence until my dad returned.  No one spoke, and soon both my dad and the girl fell asleep.  I just sat there, and occasionally a flight attendant came along offering me cookies or water or orange juice.  Just me.  Nobody else was offered any sort of refreshment.  I of course accepted, figuring it was well deserved after the humiliation I had been forced to suffer.  One attendant asked me if I was all right.  “Just a little embarrassed,”  I replied.  She shook her head, and related a story about ‘just last week,’ how an elderly woman had gone crazy and had to be restrained.  At the end of the flight, when the woman woke up, she had no recollection of what she had done, but the rest of the passengers did.  “Now THAT’S embarrassing.”  She said.  I nodded, and she wandered off again.

Finally, after eight long hours and almost no sleep, with a throbbing headache, I left the plane, now sporting a large black and blue mark on my forehead.  Each flight attendant I passed on the way out asked how I was, and I repeatedly mumbled “Fine”  until I was walking down the steps from the plane into the hot Roman sun.  We were crammed on buses and driven across the tarmac to the arrival gate.  I was feeling recovered from the adventures of the last few hours, and ready to see the Roman sights, but when I saw the line at passport control, my spirits sank.  It stretched on forever.  We got into the line and waited a half hour to have our passports stamped by a grouchy man who waved us through to the baggage claim.  

We waited with the other passengers from our plane, watching as the first of the suitcases slid out of the wall.  We stood for a long time, just watching, looking for the ribbon tied to the handle that would identify our bags.  After watching the same ugly green suitcase go by us three times, we decided to check the other baggage lines, where suitcases were cycling around.  We walked from baggage terminal to baggage terminal, searching for our two black bags.  After nearly two hours of searching, we were forced to admit that our baggage must have been lost.  In hindsight, we should have realized after our narrow connection in New York that the baggage might not have made it with us, but we refused to believe that they had been lost.  

We waited in the line for lost baggage for over an hour, and it did not seem to move for the longest time.  Finally, we reached the front and found ourselves talking to an Italian woman wearing far too much make up and a frown on her face.  She asked us to describe our bags.  We stupidly tried to explain.  “They are black suitcases…”  We struggled for a few moments, and she produced a brochure with a variety of suitcases.  This improved the situation, and we found it easier to provide identifying features, although there was a slight language barrier, so things had to be repeated multiple times before the message got accross.  We left the desk, discouraged by the fact that the earliest our baggage would be at our hotel was afternoon the next day, and it might not even catch up to us until we were all the way in Venice.  We walked wearily through customs, after pathetically and hopelessly checking the baggage terminals once more, just to be sure.  By now it was almost noon in Rome, and we were hungry.  We walked from restaurant to restaurant inside the airport, but saw nothing that appealed to us, or at least nothing appetizing enough that we wanted to pay for it.  We found the spot where we were supposed to be picked up, (We had missed the first shuttle in our luggage confusion) and we collapsed on a bench, tired and discouraged.

We found some crackers in my dad’s backpack and nibbled on those, discussing our poor fortune.  My dad seriously wanted to turn around and fly home after coming all the way to Rome, and I grew angry with him.  “You are going to ruin this trip for me!  Stop talking like that!”  We barely spoke for the next hour as we waited for the shuttle to finally come.

We arrived at our hotel room around 1:00 PM and flopped down onto the beds.  It was a nice enough place, but with no clothes to change into, we found no reason to shower, and so we settled in for a nap.

We rode into Rome that evening on the coach, tired and feeling grungy, but excited just to finally be doing something fun.  My dad kept saying “We NEED this to go right.  We need SOMETHING to go right.”  We went by the Vatican, and saw the massive dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.  Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with excitement.  We got off of the coach somewhere along the Tiber and continued on foot.  We strolled through the narrow streets of Rome and suddenly, unexpectedly, Piazza Navonno was sprawling before us, with its elaborate fountains and enormous cathedral.  We walked around the perimeter, watching the street performers, gazing in awe at the old buildings.  We ate pizza on the edge of the square and watched as others tourists walked by.  All thoughts of our journey and the struggles we had faced were gone.  We were in Rome.  And when in Rome…

We finished the night by driving by all of the monuments and ancient buildings, illuminated in the darkness.  We saw the forum, and colliseum lit up.  It was unbelievable that hours ago my dad had wanted to go home.  Now, I couldn’t imagine leaving.  And this was only the FIRST day.  There was more to come, and tomorrow we would see the Vatican!

Our bags didn’t arrive that night, or even the next afternoon when we returned to the room after visiting the colliseum, seeing the magnificent Sistine Chapel, and wandering inside the cavernous St. Peter’s Basilica.  Finally, when we returned to the room that night after a magical dinner, we found our bags in the room.  I dove to the floor and embraced my suitcase, thrilled.  Finally, we could just enjoy ourselves!


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