LEAVING THE U.S.


 


I left the U.S. in such bad winter weather that Robin, the limo driver, came at 7:30 a.m., an hour earlier than agreed on, in case we had trouble getting to the Philadelphia airport. Fortunately, I hadn’t been able to sleep, so was up, with my baggage — a small carry-on, one huge bag, and one big, even heavier carton — all three closed, and on their wheels, ready to go. It hadn’t helped me to sleep that Tim had called the night before, from the Toronto airport on his way to sunny Jamaica, to say that the Toronto airport was closing down due to a storm, and that the storm was headed this way. The ticket for my Air Canada flight to Frankfurt was routed through Toronto.

The storm did come, and it dumped several inches of snow overnight. When he arrived, Robin the Limo Man said he had been up since 3 a.m. At his first pickup, the steep, iced driveway prevented his getting to the house, so he was braced for ours, which is steep, too. The day before, when he had come in sunshine to take Sara and Katie to the airport, also bound for Jamaica, we had joked at the prospect of sliding my luggage down the driveway on ice to the street the next day. But by the time he got there, sleet had changed to rain, ice was melting, and the snow on the ground was getting slushy. So he easily drove up the driveway to the house for my bags. But to get to his van I had to put on the galoshes which Sara and I had bought the day before, thinking I’d only need them in my two northernmost stops, Germany and Anchorage.

We were four hours early because there was a jackknifed semi on Interstate 95, the freeway to the airport, which Robin heard about on his car radio, so he took side roads and we ducked right under 95 with its stopped traffic looking like one long parking lot, and breezed on into the airport. Sure enough, the TV monitors in the terminal said my 12:45 Philadelphia-Toronto-Frankfurt flight was canceled. But when I showed up at the Air Canada counter about 8:45, they immediately put me on a United flight leaving in five minutes for Frankfurt via Chicago, instead of snowed-in Toronto. I got the very last seat, in the tail. I felt so lucky. Chicago was clear. Later, I saw in the paper that it was snowed-in and closed a day later, when I didn’t need it any more.

As we sat in Flight 944, a 747, waiting to depart from Chicago, the captain told us which channel to use to listen to the traffic tower. It addressed planes by their flight numbers, and we were the "944 heavy." Pilots would repeat the tower’s instructions and then sign off with "G’day" affecting an Aussie accent, or "See you." Then a Singapore flight crisply responded in a veddy British accent. After that, one which the tower just called "Dingo" with no number mumbled some sort of reply in an authentic Aussie accent. If he’d been writing, it would have been a scrawl.