I can never sleep the night before I need to get up early. We were preparing to travel to Dublin for G to attend a tech conference, and while I’d been creating check lists mentally, my usual organization was faltering. I’d only found my energy and focus to prepare late in the afternoon, shortly before friends arrived to send us on our way.
Finally someone called, “we’re leaving,” like a parent to a resistant child. I shuffled a few small items between bags and they zipped easily. Ready or not, here we go. Sweater. Scarf. Cloak. Hat. I was dressed well ahead of the demands of the weather. In the late hours of the second equinox I was breathtaken by the evening air, still warm from the day scarcely touched by fall.
First stop: airport hotel. After hitting my stride so late my head was still racing. The wake up call would be coming in seven hours, so I went to bed with the best of hopes. Each time I started to drift off I would start awake thinking of one more detail I forgot, or one more impossible task to juggle.
2:40. If I could ever fall asleep, would I wake up?
As promised, the alarm blared at 5:00.
I staggered to the bathroom and tried to get a look at the woman in the mirror. She looked as if she had been out all night drinking and dancing. I felt like I was coming from the dregs of an all-night party, but I most definitely did not enjoy the pleasure. The woman in the mirror appeared to have had a better night than I had.
We bathed, dressed, made final adjustments in our bags, and adorned an extra layer of deodorant in preparation for the 24 hours it would take to travel to Ireland, pass through customs, and kill time before we could check into our room.
Next stop: airport. We passed quickly through security and found our gate to await our flight. The seats at the gate were not arranged in typical airport rows. Instead, the conjoined chairs were lined up at a 45 degree angle, with one row of chairs around the permitter. The face-to-face seats set at an angle felt surprisingly narrow.
We selected perimeter seats in the corner, with ample room to accommodate the angled rows of seats, along with our bags and my clumsy demeanor. My fatigue was setting in and it would be a long day, so I took advantage of the wide spot on the floor to stretch through my entire morning routine.
We had been unable to check in for our connecting flight on an international carrier, so G found a ticket agent to help us take care of this detail. Something was wrong with the computers, and other than we have seat assignments, there was no gate information or access to boarding passes.
While I was inwardly focused trying to relax, G worked anxiously looking for information that would enable us to complete the journey, but to no avail. By time we boarded at PDX there was still no gate assignment for our connection on the east coast, and G could produce boarding passes on his laptop, but with no way to print them. It was clear that we would need to stop and find information before leaving the arrival gate at IAD. With barely an hour between flights we would have to hustle under the best of circumstances.
Weary of G’s anxiety I said, “We’ve got seats confirmed, and we are checked in. I’m fairly confident we’ll be able to get on that flight.” I paused. I really don’t know under what circumstances a flight is held at the gate. Transferring from a domestic to an international flight would likely require changing concourses, but with no gate assignment we would have to figure out which concourse before we can find any reasonable direction.
“Let me rephrase that. We’ve got confirmed seats. We are checked in. I’m fairly certain that if something happens and we do not get on that flight we’ll get there eventually.”
I looked around at the young man who had very dark skin sitting next to us. I wondered if he were were in a similar situation, would he be able to get information quickly once on the ground? Would airline staff be as helpful and friendly to him as to us? In trying to hustle for a connection would fellow travelers allow him to pass as we would surely be allowed? If he gets in a hurry in the airport does he get pulled aside for being suspicious or aggressive?
When it came time to board Greg directed us to the line. I looked around for a path, but the angled rows were so close together that I had difficulty finding a row with few enough people and bags that I could pass. I started down an empty row and saw that it was a dead end into the back of the ticket counter. Greg was already in line when I finally found a path with an outlet that I could navigate with my two bags and three extra layers. I still tripped over two pairs of other passengers.
Next stop: airport.
It seemed fruitless to ask a flight attendant for information about our connecting gate during the flight, so we thought nothing of it until we landed at Dulles. The ramp to the terminal was hot and sticky. I was clumsy and weighted down by my bag, my three extra layers, my water bottle, and even my chenille hat felt extra warm and heavy. We looked around the busy terminal. The line at the ticket counter already had two people standing in it. If we left the gate and could not find our terminal immediately we risked missing our flight waiting in line to get information.
There is power in numbers. “You go find a reader screen. I’ll wait in line. Whoever gets information first lets the other know where to go.” G took off to find a departure schedule. I stood in line and took my phone off of airplane mode, ready to dart.
G did a quick loop through the crowds in the surrounding gates and paused, shaking his head before he started out the main hallway. Meanwhile, the man at the front of the line seemed to be having a very difficult problem. Both he and the ticket agent seemed frustrated. They continued. A small child wearing gold, sparkly cat ears walked up to the woman in front of me and threw herself onto the floor. Her patient mother directed her back to her seat.
A second ticket agent approached the counter, though instead of opening a new line he was drawn into the problem that was underway already. I was suddenly aware of my own frustration and growing anxiety. Finally, the two ticket agents split up and started a second line.
Greg reappeared, shaking his head.
“We clearly need to leave these gates and the only way to go is that way.” He gestured out into the hallway from which he had just come.
“That’s great if we know where to go once we leave the gates. No idea which concourse?”
“It’s not on the departure schedule. No idea.”
We stood a few more minutes and finally it was our turn.
“We need help.” We’d been waiting so long it was difficult to remember where to start clearly. We explained the situation that we had no gate assignment when we left Portland. The agent asked our destination and airline.
“Ohh, you need to go to the other building.” He gave directions, which involved Starbucks as a landmark. I had been following up until that moment. Over the route he described we should have passed at least seven Starbucks by that point in almost any airport. The man concluded with, “Get prepared for a workout.”
We left the gate out into the main hallway and continued until we were blocked by a wall of people. There were several lines to something on the left of the hallway. The lines were packed so deeply they reached all the way into the hallway and backed up against the center display. Presumably we had reached the first turn-off.
G spotted a yellow sign indicating A/B concourse. As we pushed our way through the crowd G turned to find a reader board with different information than he had seen previously.
“B79.” The wall of people had blocked the screen from his site earlier.
Once in the clear, there were only a few people waiting under the A/B sign. We stepped toward the door, trying to stay out of the way in the event that they opened with a rush of people. We waited what was probably only a few minutes, and then the wall behind the doors pulled away from the airport.
We looked across to the auxiliary concourses and G spotted the gate where we would find our connecting flight. “That does not look that far. It’s just right there.”
“That assumes we drive straight across and pull up, or there is more than one stop at the other concourses,” I said pessimistically.
Certainly the wait to return was short, but I was becoming increasingly concerned about the time. The flight we had just come from was overbooked and several people had been bumped. Boarding for our connection must have been imminent, or already underway by the time the shuttle arrived back where we waited.
The doors opened and a rush of people emerged. Once empty we walked through the door and heard a voice from behind directing, “Step all the way to the front. All the way to the front.”
We waited standing, until it seemed as if people had quit boarding. There was plenty of space. After a minute we heard the voice again, “Everyone take two big giant steps forward please.” We moved forward the few inches that were available, but two feet would have put us out the door and onto the tarmac.
As the shuttle finally started forward it pinched me with that sense of simultaneous relief and anxiety. We took a sharp turn to the right to circle around the part of the concourse we could not see from the main airport. Remembering the observation G made at the airport, I called for the attention of the man wearing a short sleeved white shirt and dark blue tie, standing immediately next to us.
“You look like you might know your way around here.”
“Oh? What makes you think that?” asked the all man with official airplane pins on his shoulders and pocket.
“I don’t know. There is something about you that looks kind of official. I just can’t quite put my finger on it.” We laughed.
”I’m getting my wings in two weeks.”
I asked if the shuttle made more than one stop at the auxiliary building, or if it was simply back and fourth, one stop at each building.
“One stop. Where are you going? Which airline?”
“Dublin on Aer Lingus.”
“Everything is to the left. Everything. Go to the left up the stairs. It is a much nicer terminal. You’ll get some exercise.”
The shuttle arrived at the terminal. The doors opened and we were off, to the left.
We hustled up the empty escalator, then immediately came to a down escalator. I am skeptical of running down stairs when they are not moving, though I did not hesitate at that moment, even balancing my two bags, three extra layers, and water bottle over my arms.
We came to a junction that directed to the right. Greg followed it, but I stopped. The B gates were both in front of us and to the right down another escalator labeled “Train to B gates.” We were looking at A gates in front of us before we we could even get to the B gates at the end of the concourse. Two different airport employees described the trip out to the gate and neither of them mentioned getting back onto a train. Both suggested it would be a long walk.
G sized up the situation. Even if the train went the whole distance of the concourse there would surely be several stops in between. No telling how long we would need to wait, or if it would be too full to use without waiting. Either choice would be a commitment.
”I don’t want to wait for a train,” G said. Agreed. We spun around and continued.
Most travelers were casually lounging or moving at a far more relaxed pace than us. A large group began to congregate between the center kiosks and the gates to the side. Several steps behind G, I could see the right half of the hallway was clear sailing for quite a distance.
“Dodge right!” I called, trying not to shout to disturb other travelers. My voice is easily lost in most situations, especially echoey hallways. Accustomed to picking out my voice in a room, G made a sharp right to cut across the hallway between kiosks.
We had to pass several dozen A gates before we even arrived at the B gates. The terminal was indeed a little more polished with a number of international airlines and high end boutiques.
We hustled, up and down minor ramps to avoid stairs in what must have been a gently sloping floor. We continued further still and finally reached the end of the A gates. We were bound for gate B79, starting from one.
Our trot was long enough to hear announcements for a wide range of destinations and airlines. We learned that the A/B concourses were not reserved for the international flights or airlines, unless Minneapolis is situated so far north you have to go through Canada to get there from Washington.
We continued to trot steadily. As the gate numbers marked steady progress, the distance between each gate we passed and number 79 seemed to increase. Then we both heard it: Last call. All passengers boarding Aer Lingus bound for Dublin please proceed to gate B79 immediately. Even in our fatigued and harried state we could both do the math. Gate 43 was immediately in front of us. A mere 36 gates to go.
“Run sweetie!” I called. If just one of us could get to the gate before the door closed we could both board. We both shifted from a trot to a run, but after two gates it was clear my pace was not sustainable for 34 more. The previous flight across the country was stuffy, all five hours worth it. The walk up the ramp from the airplane to the terminal was short but humid. By the time we’d trotted past 80-odd gates I was feeling well less than fresh. My carpet bag had no wheels and I carried it over my shoulder, opposite my computer bag. Over my arms I was loaded down with three extra layers, and hat for the rain like a cherry on top. Running all day on less than two hours of sleep I slowed down to a jog.
When I reached the last gate it was virtually deserted. There were still two ticket agents at the counter, with one handing G his passport and boarding pass. They gestured to hurry even more quickly, but I was moving at the pace I was moving, which was not slow. While I was not out of breath, I was downright sticky. I needed a shower.
At the counter I fumbled for my passport, juggling the now precious bottle of water.
“Are we sitting together?” G asked.
“You are across the aisle, so you will be next to each other.” We both winced.
“Oh, the poor bloke siting next to me. I need a shower after that. I stink!” G spoke like he was reading my thoughts.
On board as we settled into our seats for a six hour flight. While no one said a word, a woman behind us made a face so familiar when the nose detects an unpleasant and pungent waft. Certainly she smelled the progress of our day.
Six, smelly hours later a flight attendant’s voice came over the intercom to make the announcements in preparation for descent.
The transit workers have gone on strike and there is no bus service from the airport at this time. Talk to the gate agents if you need to make alternative arrangements.
“We could walk!”
Next stop: Dublin.