GETTING THERE

Chapter 1

At the British Airways check in desk in Phoenix we were told that we would not be able to fly on this day.  The man behind the counter said that we would need visas for India before we could fly and it would be two days before they could be processed.  I know an answer to this issue but the man at check in and his supervisor seem rather flustered that we don’t have visas.  “No, I have an email from the consulate, they say we are okay if we don’t leave the airport during our layover.” I called out to the supervisor as he walked away shaking his head.  We watched as he checked in three or four groups for our flight, leaving us to stand in suspense.  I asked my fiance to find the number to the consulate and try to get the on the phone for when the supervisor would be ready to hear me out.  I was hoping we would be in contact with someone who could straighten things out by the time the supervisor came back to us.

 

“I can’t let you on this flight without a visa, I don’t want to send you all the way out there just to be sent back.”  He put his head down and tapped away at a keyboard.  I told him about the consulate.  “I can’t let you on the flight unless British Airways says I can, I can’t rely on the consulate or embassy.”  Eventually we were able to let him know that we were connecting from a British Airways flight to an Air India flight and that we would barely be in India.  He tapped away more.  Then he asked if we had an itinerary for our Air India flight.  He stuck out his lips as though to show confidence in his supervision role and squinted his eyes.  I struggled to find my print out, I had had it with the email from the consulate when I packed it, flustered, I looked it up on my phone and showed the evidence.  “Yes, you’ll only be there for four or five hours, you’ll be okay, you can go.”

 

As we checked our bags to our final destination we were told that British Airways and Air India “sometimes” have an agreement to forward checked baggage.  On top of this, we learned our bigger duffle bag filled with food, books, shoes and other supplies too heavy to carry on our backs was a few kilograms over the maximum allowed.  This put us in a temporary panic to repack some things, and I was worried from the stress of me asking her to call the consulate (that had just stopped taking phone calls, they only answer the phone for an hour and a half every afternoon) and reshuffling bags was only adding extra stress for us early on our journey.

 

The supervisor, after giving us our tickets told us that we should go to a nearby information desk to print out our now lost itinerary.  We were excited and I was trying to organize some thoughts in my head: info desk, security, liquids ziplock, find our gate, check for a delay, buy some snacks or a magazine, and wait at the gate. 

 

We went to the information desk where a middle aged woman with neon blue eyeshadow was standing in front.  We started to ask her if we could print something.  She stared at us in utter confusion.  “Why didn’t they print it at the check in desk?”  We struggled to finally explain that it was not an itinerary for our current flight, but an email for one a couple days in the future.  She still had the confused look on her face.  “We don’t have a printer here, who told you that?  There’s a desk downstairs on level one that might be able to help you out.

 

We took the escalator down to level one, I didn’t see an information desk right away.  It seemed that it must be on the opposite end of the building.  I looked at my fiance and realized our bags were already feeling very heavy and she would not make the trek and I would have real trouble doing it with the bags with me.  I asked her to hang out while I ran to find the desk.  I actually didn’t have to go very far when I saw an information desk hidden to the side… with no one at it. 

 

Let down, I ran back to her to say how I had been mistaken.  We realized we could maybe find a way to take a screenshot and show immigration in India so that we would not run into a problem.  We started back up the elevators and I reached into my pocket for my passport as we headed toward security.  I pulled out our itinerary for Air India with my passport.  I had shoved it in a pocket in the confusion over the consulate email and the repacking of bags.  We realized we would be okay getting through India.  She smiled at the situation and any worries I had of stressful travel faded away.

The last time I flew British Airways I must have eight or nine years old.  I called my mother the day before we left for Nepal and mentioned that two of our flights out would be on British Airways.  She recalled how our trip to England started.  Our flight was scheduled for eight PM but delayed until midnight.  I grew up on rural eastern Connecticut so the only airport we could fly out of to go directly to England out of Boston which was about a two hour drive away.  We learned our flight was delayed as we checked in, but because of the distance it was not practical to go home and come back for our flight even though we had come to the airport several hours early for our original flight. 

 

We decided to hunker down in the airport near our gate for six or seven hours before our flight.  I think my mom let me have a snack of McDonald’s, a favorite of mine that they did not allow us to have very often while growing up.  We eventually got on the plane for our trip, and even though the flight was delayed until midnight they still served us dinner.  A dinner my mom still remembers as being especially good 24 years later.  I had remembered that they gave us fuzzy socks.

 

This memory of traveling, being on a plane, having a little backpack of entertainment, and in flight meals made me excited for the transit part of the trip.  Although I’m much taller than I was when I was eight or nine, and airplane seats certainly feel much smaller I seem to fare pretty well physically while flying.  I was especially lucky that my fiance picked out seats for our flights were I had a little extra leg room.

 

Before boarding, I had a fun time looking at the other people lined up for our flight.  There were a lot of British people, but also a lot of German speaking people.  There was a woman around 30 years old, who looked very hip, tattooed up and down her arms with some meaningful historical figures as well as multiple tattooes of characters from the Fox animated show American Dad.  At some point she made a choice that the fish with a german accent on the show was something worthy of living on her skin for the rest of her life.   She also must have realized that in her old age it would obviously be a piece of pop culture or a cult character that would be recognizable 50 or 60 years from now.

 

I made a similarly questionable decision picking a movie to watch on the plane as I waited to get dinner and fall asleep.  I chose Night at the Museum 3.  When the movie started I wondered if I had really missed a lot by not seeing the first two movies because the things that came alive in the museum were interacting with dinner guests for a gala.  It turns out I hadn’t missed anything and it was just terrible writing.  While watching, I thought it was written by Tom Lennon and another actor who was on Reno 911 like the first one (fun trivia, those two actors have written movies that have made a shockingly huge amount of money, into the multi-billions, and they are best recognized as the cop with the short shorts and the cop with the mustache and sunglasses) but during the credits I learned they seemed to have passed those responsibilities on to a few other schmucks.  This was a movie I nearly turned off a couple of times but kept it on because it was light fare.  There were a couple scenes that were pretty funny, but for the most part it was not a good movie.  My fiance watched The Second Greatest Grand Marigold Hotel Lobby Gift Shop, or something like that.  She enjoyed it.

 

The dinner was very good on the flight, and it was served with a tiny bottle of wine that was nice.  I think was named after a spanish swear word.  We watched a couple more things after dinner but we both fell asleep soon after.  I woke up a couple hours before landing but did not get quite as much sleep as I had hoped, although it was better than nothing.

We landed in London carrying our large backpacks filled with all of our clothes and our smaller backpacks stuffed with personal entertainment.  Before leaving, we went to REI to get travel backpacks that were actually a larger backpack that could be converted to a carry on suitcase and a smaller personal backpack that could be detached.  We bought identical backpacks for both of us.  So far these have been great, they have fit as carry ons and we have not been required to check them (they are technically slightly bigger than allowed for carry on but by tightening some straps they seem to fit and look the right size). 

 

The only issue is that REI only had one color for this backpack, a nice red color.  While I love the color, because we bought two of them, they are semi easy to confuse with each other.  I had a small bottle of malaria pills that would rattle when I picked up my bag that would identify it but eventually it shifted and stopped rattling.  My fiance claims my clothes bag is lighter.  It may be, I can’t tell.  I can tell my little bag felt heavier and heavier as the hours ticked by.  In Heathrow, the weight of all of these bags became very apparent.  My shoulders were being dug dug into by the little bag and carrying the big one like a suitcase was getting more awkward.  We had to go through security again to get to our next flight.  

 

This time I was prepared to show our itinerary for Air India.  Going through security outside of the US was very interesting.  My fiance had to throw away a large bottle of water just before, it hadn’t dawned on us that we would be back through security and how to dispose of it.  I asked her to look for her liquids ziplock but I think in sleepiness she said she didn’t have one.  There was a large station just for throwing things away before security that was the most congested area before security.  We made it through immigration easily this time.  The only thing of note was seeing a woman who was a dead ringer for Serena Williams.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t her although I think Wimbledon was going on so there’s a chance this tall woman with broad shoulders and a similar style was her.

 

We lugged the bags into another security area, the real security area.  There was a security woman who seemed very on edge shuttling people through.  She stopped one man before the scanners who had a bottle for his baby.  She said it couldn’t go through because it was too big of a liquid container so the man chugged it right there.  He acted like this was no big deal.  I wasn’t sure where the bins came from to send my things through the x-ray machine and she acted impatient as though I was holding up the line.  When I found the bins were under the counter, I sent the bags through, went through metal detectors and the bags came right out on the other side.  This doesn't sound out of the ordinary however it seemed as thoough there were 30 people waiting for their bags from the same machine.  I’m pretty sure security was on break and just letting our things go through through.  They did not notice the ziplock with toothpaste and liquids in  my fiance's bag that she forgot about.  It was very clearly just “security theater.”

 

To go to our terminal we actually had to walk a rather long distance lugging our bags.  We figured because we had been physically inactive for so long, this would not be a big deal, however the bags ended up feeling very heavy and tough to carry.  When we got into our terminal, we waited a while to see what gate we were assigned.  After a wait of two or three hours we learned we had to change terminals again.  This time, we took the tram.  The new terminal was much smaller, no more luxury stores, no more fancy restaurants (we ate in the bigger terminal and had pretty good food, two of our servers were from Nepal and were very interesting to meet) and it was much quieter, more relaxing.

 

We waited and looked at the board to see which gate we were assigned to.  Each flight would say the time when the gate would be assigned so we could check back closer to the departure time.  I was a little nervous for the reporting of our gate because our terminal had previously been changed.  When the time came for our gate to be announced it only read “please wait” for a very long ten minutes.  I wandered around the terminal to try to find any clues, seeing many people similarly confused until I overhearing someone saying “oh it’s at gate furftyfour.”  I just couldn’t make out all the syllables... a few moments later the board was updated to gate 44.

Our next flight was very nice, this time with a lot of indian people and oddly a very redneck looking family.  When we boarded there was a bit of a kerfuffle with four Indian men in the row in front of us when one man had lost his passport.  They were very panicked and I think he eventually found it in his pocket.  The poor flight attendant assisting them also had to deal with people trying to walk around his cart in the aisle during the flight, one who nearly knocked it over acting as though he was doing nothing out of the ordinary.  The oldest man in the redneck family was so asleep during the flight that the flight attendant poked him a couple times as dinner came around and he didn’t flinch.  After the flight I overheard him say “best sleep I ever had, it was like a coma.”  I slept a bit on this flight, but still wished I had slept more.

 

We played a text-based game on the ipad called 80 Days where you embark on an "Around the World in 80 Days" adventure that leaves London.  We haven’t finished it yet, but it is a lot of fun to read through it together.  Later, she watched a show about cat videos on her screen that I glanced at without sound.  It was pretty funny even in the silence.  I did notice one of the people in the show was identified as a "Cat Video Journalist."

 

In Delhi, we asked a few people working at the airport about our luggage.  They seemed to say they really didn’t think our bags would go to our final destination because of the airline change.  We were resigned to go through immigration and pick up our bags until we saw a transfer desk where we, eventually, were able to have them switched over and give us our boarding passes fairly painlessly.  We waited for quite some time then waited around becuase they didn’t say we were done.  “Are we all set?” we asked and they seemed to think we would have already walked away on our own.  Now “are we all set?” is a good ending point for us when we are being helped to keep us from standing around awkwardly after we are done being helped.

 

The Delhi airport was very nice.  They had signs saying they were rated top airport in the world last year, and it certain seemed like it could have been.   My fiance said that in the 15 years since she had been at that airport it went through a drastic changes.  It sounded as though people have started dressing very differently in India since that time too, and I think she felt more comfortable to be wearing more of a mixture of Western and Indian clothing in the airport.

 

The only people I saw in there dressed in a stereotypically Indian way were white people.  It almost seemed like India was ComicCon for these people to dress up in their most Indian way and walk around living within the "Indian" experience.  I wonder if that woudl be would it would be like if people came to the US and dressed like the 1920’s to fit in, or some other era long passed.

 

While waiting for our flight an American girl just out of college overheard us talking and struck up conversation.  I believe she said we were the first Americans she had seen in a few weeks of working abroad.  She was very nice and she and my fiance got along very well.  I was a bit too tired to engage in conversation although I tried in one word responses.  We got her business card and I’m sure we’ll reach out to her in the future.  She seems to have a very interesting job working for an international NGO that helps local NGO’s. 

 

She is definitely very skilled at talking to people from all over the world, we could hear her talking to someone behind us on the flight and she was very natural conversing with him about where he was from and talking about customs in the US.  She told him about the 4th of July, and he seemed really interested when she said “It’s all about fireworks, so many fireworks.”  I thought to myself about what the 4th of July is about.  Fireworks, yes, but without those it’s still fun.  It’s about America and pride, but one of my fondest 4th of July memories was at sea on Semester at Sea.  To me, the 4th of July is about relaxation and fun and being outside to enjoy your time with others.

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