Planes, Benches, and Starbucks: Part Three

For Parts One and Two of this story, please follow these links– http://pearlriverdiaries.com/blog/2015/03/27/planes-benches-and-starbucks-part-one/ and http://pearlriverdiaries.com/blog/2015/04/07/planes-benches-and-starbucks-part-two/.

In no time my alarm clock rang. Springing energetically from bed (or something like that), I prepared for my third day of travel. After a special time meeting Josiah (a baby for whom we’ve prayed more than a year) over breakfast, we again loaded my bags into the car and drove through the Texas dawn to the airport.

Meeting Baby Josiah

More explanation about the baggage at the check in counter, more baggage stubs in hand, and I again headed through security. At Starbucks I pulled out my gift card, and used the remaining amount on a Venti Italian Roast. Ah, that hit the spot.  Blue, cloudless skies shone out the window, and my plane was at the gate. I boarded my second to last flight where I had an exit row seat. Surely all delays were behind me.

The Laaaassstt Starbucks

Half an hour later, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re sorry for the delay, but we seem to be missing a pilot. When he arrives, we’ll prepare for take-off.”

Missing a pilot? Well then, I guess taking off now would probably be a bad idea. I settled numbly back in my exit row seat, stretched my legs out in the seemingly limitless space before me, and tried to read. The words swam before my tired eyes, and I dropped off. Usually falling asleep on a flight is difficult for me. Not that journey. I was completely narcoleptic. I assume the pilot came. Sometimes I was awake when drinks or meals were served, sometimes I slept on. Occasionally I would wake up and think I’d watch something. I watched Rick Steve’s Castles of France three times, snoozing off within minutes each time. I read and re-read my book uncomprehendingly (although in fairness, G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy requires one’s full attention). By the time I landed in Tokyo on the other side of my 17 hour flight, I was beginning to feel more human.

Leg Room!

Once again gathering my things, I headed towards transit security. The attendant asked my name, glanced down at her list, and faltered, “Excuse me, you have seven bags checked??” Futilely trying to explain, I handed her my sheaf of paperwork. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle; she glanced up and said in her cute Japanese accent, “This is a MESS!”

You’re telling me, sister.

After numerous misdirections, I stood before my final gate…which wasn’t really a gate at all, but a door out to a bus. A bus? At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me if they expected me to somehow drive to China. We loaded onto the bus and they took us to a plane parked far from any building. I thought climbing stairs into planes was a thing of the past, but apparently not that day. Come to think of it, I didn’t know they made seats that small. Nor did I know they made meals that miniscule (having neglected to load a GF meal for me, they served not one but two side salads instead, with lemon; mmmm). I didn’t care. I was four hours away from landing home in China. I’d already resolved in my mind to find the first pillar in the GZ airport I could and give it a hearty hug.

Finally, shining dimly through the smog, I could make out the lights of my adopted hometown. Our plane touched down and I sighed with relief. Home. I stepped through the gate and walked towards customs, smiling as the familiar tones of Mandarin washed over me. The end was in sight.

Or was it? I had one last hurdle to overcome, as I picked up my bags and pushed them towards the baggage complaint area. I explained about my missing bag, showed them my paperwork, and they told me that it was unfortunately not their problem, and that I was going to have to find a way to get it from Washington D.C. on my own. It didn’t matter that they were a sister airline, or that my whole story (including the contents of the bag) were already in their system. They said that since my original airline didn’t fly into GZ, the lost bag was my responsibility. Unbelievable. I called my brother (who was waiting outside for me), and he talked with them further. They finally agreed to look into it, but said they could do nothing else that night. (It took a protracted effort on Jeremy’s and my part, and many phone calls, including multiple calls to Japan, but I finally got the last bag back in my possession nearly a month later).

Home at Last

Well, long story short (ha!), I made it. Was it worth it? Absolutely. With every family member’s hug, every friend’s embrace, every beaming kiddo’s joyous greeting, I feel the long journey fade into the distance. In a very small way it reminds me of Hebrews 12:1b-2, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Every worthwhile race must have a worthy goal. Though my prize at the end of this trip was home and a place of belonging, my ultimate reward beckoning me after life’s journey is seeing His face, hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and entering into the joy of my Master. What a homecoming that will be!

 

Planes, Benches, and Starbucks: Part Two

For Part One of this story, please click here– http://pearlriverdiaries.com/blog/2015/03/27/planes-benches-and-starbucks-part-one/ .

Next day was a blur of standing in lines at check-in counters, retrieving my bags, standing in more lines, shuffling my bags again, and trying to get things sorted with Bob, Denise, Patrick and Mary (you know it’s bad when you start greeting the airline employees by name). Somehow, amid rebookings 3-7, the only thing they actually managed to accomplish was to uncheck my bags from going through to China. I had to pick them up in Dallas, keep them with me overnight (wherever I would be; I still had no idea), and then recheck them the next morning. As a special bonus, they calmly informed me, I would have to pay more money for my luggage “because the other airline’s baggage policy is different than ours. At this point, I put my foot down. I also may or may not have cried. There was no way on earth that I was going pay more for the dubious privilege of being inconvenienced by this corporation.

By the time we finally had it “worked out,” I had a sheaf of baggage tags, boarding passes, itineraries, and other paperwork. I again pushed my trusty cart through security, and headed straight to Five Guys for the first real meal I’d had in more than 24 hours. The only open restaurant in the unsecured area didn’t have food I could eat, so I’d been living on fruit, cheese sticks, and Starbucks. Burger patties with fixings (no bun) and fries never tasted so good.

This doesn't look so bad...Southerners; we can't HANDLE the sleet.

More sleet was forecasted for the evening, so I was pretty much champing at the bit to get on a plane and fly anywhere else, although another night on my bench did sound tempting. By that time, a friend in Dallas had seen my plight on Facebook, and offered to pick me up, feed me, give me a bed, and get me back to the airport in the morning. Things were looking up. We boarded the plane…and again sat on the tarmac. I kept checking the time, knowing with every minute we sat there I was closer to missing my connection to Dallas and any chance of sleeping in a bed that night.

Finally on a Plane!

Fire and Ice

Fortunately, the flight to Charlotte was a short hop, and I landed a good seven minutes before my next plane was slated to take off. Striving for patience, I waited my turn to exit the aircraft, and then flat-out ran to my next gate. I needn’t have worried. That flight was also delayed (for once, I was glad to hear it) due to engine trouble. Was the entire US Airways’ fleet falling apart, plane by plane? No matter, at least I knew that I was on time, and could make this flight. What’s more, there was a Starbucks conveniently nearby. My aunt had given me a generous Starbucks gift card before I left (which was obviously coming in very handy), and I was determined to use every penny of it. A woman has to have goals, even in times of crisis.

Refueling

Chai in hand, I stood in line an hour and a half later, ready to board the flight. It was actually happening! I was a mere four hours away from a shower and a bed! Handing my boarding pass to the attendant, I smiled tiredly as she ran it under the infrared reader, which emitted a loud buzz. Frowning, she ran it again. Buzz!

“I’m sorry, Ms. Dexter, but it seems you’re not on this flight.”

“Um, yes I am. See? Here’s my boarding pass. There’s the flight number. I’m definitely here.”

“Well, they didn’t think that you were going to be here in time due to your last flight’s delay (which, may I remind you, was nearly two hours ago), so they switched you to a later flight.”

Sigh. “Of course they did. Okay. Can you please tell me where and when this later flight is? Am I still going to Dallas? Will I get there tonight?”

The Waiting Game

With yet another boarding pass in hand, I trudged to my next gate and slumped into a chair. In my mind, I was trying to go over the things I had to be thankful for, and praying that the Lord would give me a good attitude when I was feeling anything but cheerful. His answer was to send a chatty man with whom to trade travel stories, and eventually share about Jesus. I think he was more interested in commiserating than hearing about the cross, but who knows how God will use the seeds sown?

Honestly, I don’t remember one solitary thing about my flight to Dallas, except that its city lights at night were fantastic, and I was awfully glad to be one step further in my journey.

Dallas Lights

Carrie, my sweet Facebook friend whom I had never actually met before that night, was waiting for me in the baggage claim area. Right off the bat, two of my bags came down the conveyor belt. It was my lucky night! After a longer wait, a third came. Then…nothing.

Perhaps I should explain at this point why I had so much luggage. I’d never done that before, always opting to take only the two free bags that the airlines allowed, plus my carry-on. However, early in my stay in the States, I’d checked with the airline, and they’d said that I could have a free checked-on medical missions bag, because I worked with orphans. So civic-minded of them! I was impressed. The bag was filled in no time with medication, vitamins, supplements, essential oils.

The week before I left, we cleaned out our storage unit, with the things we hadn’t gotten rid of during the previous purges. As I was sorting through my few boxes, I found stacks of photos, my baby book, a picture my grandmother had painted, another a friend had done, a baby blanket my grandmother had crocheted for my first child, and a number of other precious keepsakes that I couldn’t bear to lock up again and probably not see for another twelve years. I prayed about it, and decided that I’d bite the bullet and pay to bring another bag over, since my other bags were full of gluten free food and other things I’d need for my next years in China.

Just a couple of nights before I left, I called the airlines, and received the first rude shock- my medical missions bag was not, in fact, free. And the bag I’d planned to pay for was $50 more than the first representative had said it would be, as well. Everything was already packed, weighed, and ready to go. Leaving the medicine was not an option, so I decided to still take it with me. This was the baggage that they first overcharged me for in Raleigh, when I had no recourse but to pay ($300 more than they had originally told me it would be). These was the suitcases that they unchecked from going through to China, and told me I was going to have to pay more for on another airline (now you see why I put my foot down about that). And these were the bags which were now sitting before me…minus the medical missions bag.

Leaving Carrie with the other bags, I went to the office to file my claim. Sorting through the twelve baggage claim tickets I had on hand (I’ve no idea how I ended up with so many, but I was afraid to get rid of any of them), we figured out that my bag was safe and sound…in Washington D.C. I had not been to Washington D.C. that day, or at any date in the near past, but apparently the powers that be thought that one bag needed to be there. With a decidedly blasé attitude, the agent said that there was nothing that he could do, the bag couldn’t travel internationally without me (since when???), and I would have to figure it out when I got to China.

Fighting back tears, I told him that I was not just some rich woman, and these weren’t excess clothes—this bag was a medical missions bag, and it had medicine for orphans in it. His careless attitude cracked just a bit, and he was like, “Wow, for orphans, huh? That’s too bad. Let me see what I can do.” What he could do was still basically nothing, but at least he was a little nicer about it.

Poor Carrie, between waiting an extra hour at the airport for me to deal with lost luggage, listening to my tale of woe in the car on the way to her apartment, and helping me haul my remaining bags up the stairs, she didn’t know what she’d gotten herself into.  She and her husband were the consummate hosts, though, and made sure my every need was cared for. Soon I was fed (yay for real food!), and I had showered (bliss), and had laid down in a real bed for a solid 5 ½ hours of sleep. Until that night, I never knew it was possible for one to literally be asleep before one’s head hit the pillow.

To be continued…