Monday, August 06, 2007

The Return II – Hours later, Charlotte Airport

Charlotte again. I’d never heard of it until 10 days ago and now I can’t seem to step on a plane without ending up here. So I bought a fridge magnet to commemorate that. Looking at all the souvenirs, it seems to me like there’re lots of bears in Charlotte. I should look it up on Google.

A little before it’s time to leave, I get the feeling of something not done and soon realise what it is. So I go up to the gate and have an interesting conversation. “Hi ma’am, I’m goin to Gatwick? And I’m not a yew-ess residend? So I’m technically exidding the country? But nobody’s stamped my passport?” (foreign country + speak their language = communication). She turns to the guy next to her and tells him there’s someone who needs their passport stamped. He says: “Ma’am, go to D1, find the gray door and stand near it. Someone will approach you. I’ll call and let them know you’re coming.” I want to tell him I’m not looking to buy illegal substances, I just want a legal mark on my legal passport. But I go quietly, struggling to wipe the grin off my face and not quite succeeding, judging by the half-smiling looks I’m getting. As I approach D1, I realize there are hundreds of gray doors, The place is full of them. Nobody approaches me. I wander too far, have some hysterical moments because they’ve begun boarding now and find my way back to my gate.

I meet another man this time who escorts me to a gray door, finds someone to look at my passport and finds out that I don’t need a stamp for some reason. Mine not to question why, mine just to get on the plane. This time I have an aisle seat, because I realised on my first leg that a window is all very well on a short flight where you can avoid going to the loo, but what if you’re on a long flight, need to go and your neighbour’s sleeping?

Soon after sunrise, somewhere over the Atlantic. I slept quite soundly, all things considered. I’ll be in England soon, for the very first time. No more than an hour’s stopover, but still… London! I’m conscious of a curious lightness of being. I probe it for a bit and find the source – I’m out of US airspace and the paranoia force-field that is America’s version of bureaucracy. I didn’t know until I shed it that the burden of seven “special screening” security checks in three weeks was quite heavy. As were the constant disclaimers, legal notices, cautions, exceptions and health warnings that surround a chocolate – sorry, candy – bar, let alone something as horrifyingly, heart-thumpingly dangerous as a lighter. Such a beautiful country, pity about the government.

And this bloody airline. The food is so bad. I was forced to give it a second chance last night and it was execrable. How could it possibly have gotten worse? Now they’re bringing coffee and what they’re calling a sweet roll. Let’s see how badly they can screw that up. Ouch, no, no. I took a sip and bite and suddenly remembered that I don’t have to eat prison food anymore. In a little while, I’ll be on an Emirates flight. A proper breakfast for me to eat, real good coffee making lots of heat, my own headphones that are really free, a movie screen that’s just for me, cabin crew with a service ethic… oh wouldn’t it be loverly? The thought is comforting, especially now that I’m tired and emotional, heavy with many conflicting feelings about my holiday and my return. There’s a hole in the bucket, dear ‘liza.

A glimpse of green, light glinting off some cars on the M1 (or something) and then I land in London.

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