It’s all quite blurry now, but what I remember of it all is full of various landscapes, faces & suitcases. There was eating, drinking, merriment &… mucous.
Fucking holiday travel. It’s always a lot of planning & stress, but we had a plan – a simple plan. There was no way that it could fail.
We had a direct flight from Paris to Pittsburgh, PA. We would rent a car, then drive 3 hours to a tiny, rural town just outside the middle-of-freaking-nowhere. After 1 week, we would board a Greyhound bus to Colorado. Another week there & we would fly from Denver back to Paris.
There were various parties, reunions & get-togethers planned in several different locations with dozens of people.
Ok, so it wasn’t really such a simple plan. Maybe we’d hit a snag here or there; 1 or 2 little things could go wrong.
Or… everything could go wrong.
Olivier & I woke up at 4:30am on December 20th. I stared at the wall with the one eye that I could hold open as I drooled into a quadruple espresso. Olivier was on the couch with his laptop. In 2 hours, a car would be coming to take us to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
“Putain,” he said, rubbing his face with his hands. “Our flight to Pittsburgh is canceled.”
I groped at the curtains & peeked outside. It looked like a photo negative – all black & white; snow & starless sky.
“So,” I said. “We go to the airport & stand around like fucking idiots for the day?”
“Pretty much,” he said. “But, at least we’ll be together.”
We finished getting ready & spent a decent amount of time squeezing our cat, who we’re certain was feeling bitter about our departure, even though we had hired a service to come visit her once a day to see to her every need & demand.
The airport was full of people rushing to catch their flights. Others were yawning in security lines, but many of them were bouncing around like headless chickens because their flight had been canceled or delayed.
At a chaotic & confusing time, people generally lose any capacity of common sense, courtesy or rational thinking. Sure, a great number of people may be in the exact same mess, but it seems to be the nature of most humans to think, “Sure, we’re all fucked, but my problem is greater than anyone else’s – I’m more important.”
So, you get people snapping at one another, pushing & shoving, cutting in lines, or bitching at anyone fool enough to make eye contact.
This was our morning at the airport.
Standing at the Delta service counter, an employee was working to get us on another flight.
“Where are you flying to?”
“We were on the canceled flight to Pittsburgh.”
“Ok, ” he said. “I can get you on a flight to Salt Lake City.”
“Um…ok,” Olivier said. “But, do you have anything that lands a little closer to Pennsylvania?”
A woman with 2 children & a vapid-faced man in a felt cowboy hat crowded behind us in the exit aisle. I turned around to see what was rubbing up against me & accidentally made eye contact. She began jabbering at me in French as she leaned on my suitcase. Olivier turned around & explained to her that she was standing in an exit, that if she needed help, she would be better off standing in a line approaching the service counter, rather than blocking the one leading away from it.
“Well, ” she snorted. “I’m in a hurry. My flight was canceled.”
“Yeah,” Olivier said. “Like everyone else.”
He returned his attention to the Delta employee. The woman then turned to me & continued her tirade. “I have 2 children & I’m in a hurry,” she complained.
“Désolée. Je ne comprends pas… je ne parle pas français,” I lied. Playing dumb foreigner is a convenient luxury that I don’t have in the U.S.
Eventually, Delta employee got us on a flight to Cincinnati, where we would be able to catch a flight into Buffalo, NY. Good enough.
About 9 hours later, we arrived in Cincinnati, where we confirmed our flight into Buffalo. It didn’t leave for another 4 hours. We were exhausted, but Delta bought us dinner & as I’m sure you know, free food lightens any shitty situation. Even free food from a desolate airport food court in the middle of the night.
As soon as we arrived in Buffalo, we picked up our rental car. We still had a 2-hour drive to our destination, but both of us were tired enough that we had stopped forming coherent sentences. It was the middle of the night. It was snowing & the roads were icy. I was positive that I had seen a man riding a camel out in the snow, but Olivier argued that this was some fatigue-induced hallucination. I think that he was just being difficult.
The logical thing to do was to stop for the night, so we sought refuge at Econolodge.
The 2-hour drive was uneventful. The weather went from sort of snowy to oh-fuck-I-can’t-see-shit snowy & then back again. Either way, it was better than sitting in an airplane, or bumming around an airport eating sandwiches made of lips & assholes while people bitch at strangers.
Not to mention the fact that I was just excited to be back in my own country again, even if for a short time.
Our destination was the little town of Warren, PA. It’s not a place that I am all that familiar with, but I do have several relatives there that I was excited to spend some time with & Olivier was looking forward to meeting some more members of my family – most likely to dredge up some more dirt on me.
We arrived safely & only 1 day late. About an hour after we entered the house, I turned to Olivier & informed him that I was getting sick, which I have a habit of doing when we travel.
“Oh, shit,” he said. “Again? Well… at least we’re together.”
“Yeah, that’s something,” I said.
“And now that we’re finally here, we can relax,” he said.
At least… that’s what we thought.