…And so, on the second day, I hastily repacked, and returned to the airport at Dorval. I took the city bus as usual, rather than the taxi for which I had a voucher, since I had no special need to have my luggage thrown in the gutter a second time. And at the check-in counter I told the lady the story of my cancelled flight, and the story of the taxi vouchers that get your luggage abused, and she said here, accept this as Delta’s apology, and lo she handed me a voucher for $10 good at the airport restaurants, and a boarding card. So at the first and least serious of the security checkpoints the cheerful and polite (not to mention cute and perky) young lady said, hi again! Why are you back so soon? And I explained about the cancellation of my flight, and she wished me better luck and passed me through.
Still knowing the US immigration routine, I again switched my white coloured card (persons requiring a visa) for a green coloured one (persons from visa-waiver countries), unless it’s the other way around, filled it in, carefully giving JFK and a flight number as my street address in the USA, because that’s what you do, and went to the US border guard, who also said, hi again! Why are you back so soon? And I explained about the cancellation of my flight, and he wished me better luck and passed me through.
Next, at the security checkpoint, the rambunctious crowd of francophone Africans said, hi again! Why are you back so soon? And I explained about the cancellation of my flight, and they wished me better luck and (after X-raying my shoes) they passed me through.
So finally I passed along the infinite corridor to the Halls of Boredom, where one waits and waits and waits, and there, $10 voucher in hand, I sought some breakfast. Now breakfast in the Halls of Boredom must be taken in a sports bar, because loud Bruce Springsteen (if it wasn’t John E. Melloncougar) and wrestlers stepping on each others’ faces is what the overwrought traveller really needs, and costs $12.50, and isn’t very nice, but given that Delta had so generously given me a $10 voucher I paid only $2.50 to have a miserable time and eat what I didn’t want in a place I didn’t care to be, and at least the waitress was polite, when she happened to notice me. And she brewed me fresh coffee, which was merely yuck.
And from there I passed to Boredom Central and waited and waited and waited and finally! A plane arrived! And they let us on board! And it took off!! And it flew!!!!
Most notable about this flight were the small size of the plane and the cabin crew, who numbered one. And he was Oh. So. Gay. So gay! So gay. He was very, very gay. Here was a man who was enjoying every moment of his life, who was truly living his dream, and his dream was to be a stewardess. When he explained about the exits, he did a sexy little dance. When he explained about the floatation devices, he did a sexy little dance. And when he explained about the oxygen supply, he wiggled to the left side, he wiggled to the right side, he rotated both his wrists, and he shimmied. Up and down the aisles he pranced with his peanuts and his bottled water, pointedly leaning over each of the passengers to display such cleavage as he was, perhaps, imagining himself to be displaying, and making such naughty remarks as he thought would be well received. And he actually was most terribly funny.
After not very long, we arrived at JFK, flying in low over the kinds of houses that you don’t imagine being immediately beneath the flight path of a major airport, and as I was leaving the plane I thanked him for his good cheer and one-man in-flight entertainment and he thanked me for thanking him and that was nice.
Now the John F. Kennedy airport in New York City is an immense monstrosity of an airport with ten or twelve terminal buildings, and it is also small and dark and poky and smelly and a dump. Coming off the plane there was not even a docking snorky; like the victims of a black and white film we were tipped onto the tarmac and herded across the field to a curious agglomeration of sort of mobile blast shelters, grey steel cages or runs that were designed to be slightly too narrow to carry your luggage along and slightly too opaque to see out of, yet sufficiently well ventilated to let the jet fuel fumes and the howling of the engines and the wind-driven snow to enter, pass through, and leave unhindered by all but our cowering bodies. Yet after a mere fifteen or twenty minutes of struggling through this sensory hell we came to a hybrid parking lot and garbage dump, where a fat unshaven person with a security badge waved us uncertainly into an unmarked back door, whence we climbed some stairs into the terminal building, which was dark, unfinished, packed with passengers and lacking any visible signage. Ah! New York.
Curiously, however, this was clearly not JFK airport. This was the Delta Terminal. During my entire sojourn of five or six hours I saw no indication—not a map, not a sign, not a transfer mechanism, not an exit, nothing—that any other airline, or indeed any other terminal building, existed. This isn’t true, you understand; as you would expect, dozens of airlines in fact fly in and out of JFK. But Delta isn’t about to let you know, because you are the customer, and you are there to be controlled.
But be that as it may. After some moments of bewilderment I found someone in a Delta uniform who seemed to be giving directions, fought through the scrum of hundreds trying to find out where they should go, and, well, found out where I should go. This turned out to be most of the way back to Montreal: at the far other end of the part of the building at the far other end of the passage at the far other end of the building in which I seemed to be. So out I set.
Half way into my travels I passed from the Unfinished Wing to the Finished Wing of the Delta terminal, and here there were shops and cafés and—signage! Of course, the signage was false. It isn’t true that you can walk up the left-hand corridor clearly marked on the maps, following the gate numbers clearly visible on the ceiling; that entire corridor has been given over to gangs of security people ardently X-raying travellers’ shoes. But there is another corridor (the one signboarded as being for the use of military personnel), and that, somewhat more circuitously, actually led (via a bookshop that was selling English/Chinese dictionaries, which I looked at for some time before deciding that I wasn’t really equipped to judge their quality, but, curiously, not Spanish phrasebooks, which I had stupidly assumed would be the kind of thing that one would find in a bookshop in a major American airport) to the gate from which the fabled flight to Barcelona was to depart. And as I reached that gate I realised that my bladder was about to explode (ploo!).
The next twenty minutes of my life were a horror. I shan’t go into details; suffice it to say that bathroom maintenance is one of those unnecessary frills that today’s leaner and more focussed airlines choose not to provide to their value-conscious customers.
And then, ironically, I realised that I was thirsty.
In my search for an even vaguely subdisgusting bathroom I had passed several times in front of a foodcourtish area, and thence I returned and found a drinks vending machine surrounded by bewildered Germans being bewildered, in German. “’S geht nicht?” I asked accidentally, because I have this problem. I only actually speak 48 words of German (down from 103, when I lived there), and then only in short, panicked phrases, but it seems I must speak them horrifyingly idiomatically, because as soon as I open my mouth (which for reasons of German social dynamics is bizarrely hard not to do) everyone assumes that I’m entirely fluent and it can take twenty minutes to explain (with my 48 words) that I have no idea what we’ve been talking about. But in fact it did indeed nicht gehen, which is to say, not work, so we scouted around and found another place where they sold bottles of iced tea, and I reported back to the bewildered Germans who were thereby transformed into thankful and less thirsty Germans, and I, too, got some tea, and I sat down with my laptop and did this and that and drank iced tea and eventually I went to the gate and my flight was called and we boarded.
And. Then. We. Waited.
Sitting on the plane.
While they turned the engines on and off.
And we waited.
Eventually they came over the speaker thingy and said that there would be a slight delay and that perhaps they would start the in flight movie now, because although we weren’t yet technically in flight, it was just as boring as if we were.
So we watched some terrible film. I think it was Flushed Away. Which, believe me on this point if on no other, should be.
We watched the whole film.
Someone did come on the speaker thing now and then to apologise. To say that we could leave now, after which we would drive around a bit, then turn the engines off again. To say that they had changed their minds and that we couldn’t leave now after all. To say that there were only two runways open. To say that there was only one runway open. To say that we had to be de-iced, or re-iced, or re-de-iced. And finally, as the credits rolled, to say that we were number two in line and that we should turn our phones off again because—here we go!
So then we flew to Barcelona and we got off the plane at a civilised airport and the border guard glanced at my passport and said ‘thank you, sir,’ and I bought a ticket and took the train and got off at the station beneath the convention hotel and I went upstairs and got my badge and there was my friend and it was as simple as that.
And the conference was fine and our paper was well received and Barcelona is a wonderful city and although my friend had experienced great drama and a deep sense of personal unsafety on the day during which I was delayed, that is her story to tell and I experienced none of it. I just had a really nice time.
And (since this is a story about not going to Guatemala, and not a story about visiting Barcelona), that brings me to the trip home.
But then that’s the subject of my next instalment.