Monday, June 09, 2008

"I don't want anybody to laugh"

The Brussels Airline jet was pushed away from the gate, and suddenly the power quit. The pilot announced that we'd have to go back and restart and engine, and then things would be OK. I noticed that his strong Spanish accent didn't preclude his using the phrase "Y'all."

We got into Brussels a bit late, but there was plenty of layover time. For some reason we had trouble getting started, but once airborne the pilot said he'd run as fast as was safe to make up the lost time--and the "trip meter" program shifted from 8 1/2 hours to 8 hours for the journey.

With an hour to go, the meter suddenly jumped from 50 minutes to an hour and a half, and the little airplane icon on the map was pointed north instead of west--and we did ellipses over Michigan for a hour and a half while a thunderstorm moved across OHare. Back to Detroit to refuel and wait while OHare let the western flights in first (they had a straight shot) and then while they tried to sort out delays.

We got our slot and flew around some wild-looking cloud banks--ragged and tall, though I didn't see anything like the traditional thunderhead. Some of the clouds stretched far higher into the sky than our 32000 feet.

Of course there was an airplane at our gate already, so we waited some more.

Then we got off and raced for Immigrations. Hurray--the line is only about 150 long, and all windows are open!

I spent something like 40 minutes in line--longer than ever before. It seems that there are new biometrics in place now, and all green card holders have to go through some fancy new fingerprint and iris and general paperwork scans. It takes about 5 minutes each. The plane before us must have been half green card holders.

I mistakenly went down the wrong lane, thinking the agents were outside the security area. They weren't, so I went to terminal 3 for the main American Airlines service desks. There were something like 1500 people in each unbudging line, so I gave up and bought my own bus ticket.

The sky was clear and bright, I had a seat on the (completely full) bus, and I was headed home. As we left the airport we passed under a set of billboards. The one on the left said "Welcome to Chicago!" The one on the right's lights spelled out "USE CAUTION."

A spot of road construction on the tollway, an odd selection of lanes at a tollbooth (doesn't the bus have Ipass?) and we noticed that we were going through suburbia instead of the tollway. I speculated with my seatmate as to how bad the construction must be if this was a better route.

The driver announced "I don't want anybody to laugh. Is there a Chicago native who can tell me how to get back on the highway?" After a forlorn attempt to turn around by backing into a side street, he headed on until major intersections (and native guides on the bus) guided him from Tooey to Harlem to the toll road again. He offered to take us to OHare as we passed it again. We had to rendezvous at Rockford to pick up some more Madison passengers.

Of course the skies opened again north of Rockford, but after the cloudburst we made good time, and after a few more hours we came to Dutch Mill park and ride, and waited in the shelter as cars came by to pick up friends and kin.

Not bad as these things go: only a 6 hour delay getting home. The man behind me had a 24-hour delay, and the fellow sitting next to me across the Atlantic has the same name as two different no-fly terrorists. And this time I had all my luggage as carry-ons. (Quite compact--I'm no space hog.)

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