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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Talk Thursday: Take The Long Way Home

It isn’t often I get to take a Talk Thursday topic completely literally. I could, I suppose, instead wax rhapsodic about the song by Supertramp, ponder the meaning of the lyrics “And then your wife seems to think you’re a part of the furniture,” wonder whatever happened to Roger Hodgson anyway and why, after two brilliant solo albums, he nosedived out of existence. But, no. This one I think I’ll take literally, and tell y’all about Jen’s Nightmare Flight from Stockholm to Phoenix by way of just about every point between. You know that Infinite Improbability Drive in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which works by passing through every point in the Universe simultaneously on the odds that you’ll eventually arrive at your destination in one piece? Yeah. It was kind of like that.

To begin with, I had a concussion. I would strongly advise against flying with a concussion, or drinking with a concussion, or sleeping with a concussion, or doing basically anything with a concussion besides seeking immediate medical treatment. I’d just been in my first and only barroom brawl, which came about because I was in Birmingham, England circa 1990 and somebody at the back of the bar had just yelled, “We won’t pay our poll taxes!” Utter mayhem ensued, and just for the record, yelling “Don’t hit me, I’m an American” did not help in the slightest. Somebody hit me. Couldn’t say who or with what, but I was out cold for a span of time between several nanoseconds and several hours before I came to on the floor with some brilliant bouncer type standing over me going, “How many fingers? Who’s Prime Minister?” I got the first one right but not the second (Margaret Thatcher having left office several years ago), but that was good enough for them and I got hauled back to my feet and turned loose.

After the concert (there was a concert; did I mention there was a concert?) I made my way back to the place where we were staying, which was a youth hostel of some kind, marginally clean and only a little bit scary. Here I attempted to clean up a little, put away the t-shirt from the concert, then went to sleep, which, again, is a bad idea when you have a concussion. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that I had a concussion, though, because when you have one you don’t think rationally. Besides, there were nearly two weeks left of this trip, and I wasn’t going home early just because I had a stupid headache. The last time I was in England I’d had a sinus infection and it hadn’t even slowed me down.

Ah, youth. Does anyone not remember their twenties fondly, if only because they thought they were invincible? Sure, I can stay up all night and still go to work the next day; no problem flying with a bad cold, who cares if my eardrums explode? They’ll knit in a few weeks. What broken leg? Get outta here. I can still walk, can’t I?

And so two more weeks went by, of which I remember just fragments. Scottish country dancing in Inverness; that was pretty cool. Meeting Alec Wiseman, one of the survivors of the Fifty First Division; yeah. Wow. Camping somewhere in the Highlands, outside of a town, listening to tapes (remember tapes?) on a Walkman. A Highland Games in Bathgate; something like 103 bagpipe bands all playing at once. Really good pizza in Glasgow. And somewhere in the middle of all this, getting the distinct idea that something wasn’t right, that I was not behaving normally, that I might want to do something radical and maybe go home.

So okay, back to London; slept on the train, didn’t shower for days. Got to the airport and asked if I could fly standby back to the States. The nice lady at the airline said she could do it, but she had to route me through Stockholm, because that was what my ticket originally said. I forget, at this late date, why I was supposed to go to Stockholm. There must have been a good reason. So I crawled onto the plane, flew to Stockholm, landed, tried to go through customs, and then all the trouble started.

It seemed I had a ticket that said I’d been to Stockholm and a passport that said I hadn’t. That had something to do with a canceled flight back at the beginning of the trip, and getting rerouted directly to London because of a leaking coffee pot or something like that. But that was a long time ago. Back before the concussion. Back when things made sense, when I still made sense, when things that had happened could still be adequately explained. I’d forgotten all about it since then. I had no more idea how I got to London than I did the workings of an internal combustion engine. When I wasn’t staring blankly at this customs agent, I was saying things that, apparently, made no sense in either Swedish or English. Apparently at some point I got angry (or more probably, frustrated) and raised my voice. The result was spectacular: I got arrested. Or as they say in airport security-land, detained. And I spent the night in a cell.

If you have to get detained by airport security, do it in Sweden. The jail is very nice. Tiny private rooms, almost like itty-bitty hotel rooms, with private showers and even TV. By the time I got to my tiny private room I no longer cared if the door opened or not. I fell into bed and slept for about a year, but not before asking the nice matron to get me something at the airport bookstore. She got me A Prayer for Owen Meany, which was the No. 1 bestseller that week (and a great book, just incidentally.) I read it on the plane, when I got on the plane. Which I’m getting to.

The next morning, after I’d had a shower and put myself into my cleanest set of clothes, they turned me loose. I guess they’d been busy checking me on a list of known terrorists or something, hadn’t found me, and decided I was safe enough to put on the next plane home. Well, sort of home. Home to Atlanta International, anyway, which wasn’t home. After that I was sort of on my own.

So I approached another ticket desk and asked how much closer I could get to Phoenix, which was where I lived at the time. That got me to Tulsa. Tulsa begat Memphis. Memphis begat Minneapolis. Minneapolis begat Denver, Denver begat Salt Lake City and I almost got stuck there, in the Beehive State. There was only one flight left (it was after ten) and it was completely full. I looked around this airport, at its orange and blue decorator panels and its pictures of naked people trying to fly, and decided if I got stuck in Salt Lake City for the night, I might possibly have to kill myself. But then a miracle occurred and I got the second to last standby seat on a flight to Las Vegas that landed at three in the morning. After which I got a flight to Phoenix that touched down just after five.

The sun was coming up when I caught a cab outside of Sky Harbor. I’d been on a plane for over 72 hours. I was so tired I couldn’t remember where I lived and just gave the cab driver my parents’ address. I knew where they hid their spare key. I gave the cabbie a 20 on an eight-dollar fare and didn’t wait for my change; just crawled into the house and fell asleep on the couch, where my dad found me a few hours later. None of this “What are you doing here?” none of this “How did you even get in?” He just hauled me down from the couch, steered me to a bedroom and left me there.

And some fourteen or so hours later, I woke up. And got the joy of explaining myself to two rather concerned and puzzled parents. I finally got back to my apartment the following day.

I never did get treated for the concussion.

I still have the t-shirt.


Cele said...

I pray beg you never tell my husband this story, I will never get him on another plane, let alone to Europe. Ack, and remind me not to travel with you -- okay, I like my travel somewhat uneventful - is this the part where I should hummmmmmmm the long way home? Psam'll kill me.

Jen said...

Fifty bucks says I won't tell your husband--no, I'm just kidding.

To avoid this experience, don't get into barroom fights, don't walk around for two weeks with a concussion and don't piss off the Swedes. Easy peasey. ;)