Sunday, April 20, 2008
Dateline: Frankfurt, Germany 4/19/08
The timewarp that accompanies intercontinental flight has set in. My watch and my body says it is 3:00 AM on Saturday, but all of the local clocks and the sun, if one were able to see it through the gray overcast sky, indicate that it is, for all practical purposes, actually 9:00 AM.
The United flight from Dayton to Chicago’s O’Hare was quick and uneventful.
At O’Hare, we walked at least a mile until we at last found the Lufthansa terminal. It was just two little reception desks, a couple of departure gates, and a huge, milling multinational crowd. For some reason, Nancy’s phone didn’t work in the airport as she tried repeatedly to call JP. That was a disappointment. Check in was no problem, but the ticket agent was unable to seat us together, which was a bummer, considering it’s a 13-hour flight. The aircraft was a 747, so even though we were only a couple of rows apart, there was no way to converse.
Nancy and I both tried to negotiate with our neighbors to swap seats, but it didn’t work out. She was seated next to a very nice Indian gentleman, but he was sitting with a group of friends. He was willing, but she didn’t want him to give up his friends. Plus, swapping seats with me meant sitting directly behind the bulkhead in the middle row of 4 seats. Not exactly an ideal spot.
I was sandwiched between two women. On my right was a portly German grandmother whose only English was “I don’t speak English.” No problem, I don’t speak German and so we couldn’t really communicate well on the whole swapping seats deal. In that way that one can and, in such close proximity, must surreptitiously espy on one’s travelling companions, she made me smile several times when she would pull out a stack of photos from her her purse and rifle through them. The pictures seemed to be of her family and her recent trip to America. Each time she sifted through them, she would pull to the top a picture of two very small newborn babies, probably twins, lying on a bed together. She would gaze at this picture for some time, then reshuffle them, and put them back in her purse.
The woman on my left was of indeterminate age and origination, possessing a reserved and somber demeanor. When I asked her if she would swap seats with Nancy, she hesitated, frowned, and then with some reluctance said that she might. She got up and went over to where Nancy was to check out the location, it seemed, but then frowned again and said that she just wasn’t comfortable doing that. She returned to her seat beside me, seemingly embarrassed, but not quite apologetic. That seemed a bit odd, and there was not, at that time, a forthcoming explanation, so we had a weird vibe going on for a little bit. And Nancy and I kept our assigned seats.
In the course of the flight, I spoke some more with this woman because I wanted to know her story. She was born in Greece, on an island, had grown up in Australia, and had for the last 20 years or so lived in Chicago. From the context of our discussion, she must have been in her mid-60’s, although she looked much younger. She told me that she had, over the last few years and as a result of a singularly bad experience, become very fearful of flying and that she simply could not easily change seats or make changes to her flying arrangements. During our take off, as well as during some minor turbulence over Canada, she was clearly tense and ill-at-ease. She has issues, clearly, but her reticence was rooted in phobia, it seemed, not incongeniality. We talked about flying and a bit about our families. She apologized for not being able to help us and I told her that was fine. She was on her way home to Greece, it turned out, as her father as dying and she hoped to be there with him. I wished her the very best and asked the Lord to bless her. I think she is in for a rough couple of weeks. And she had three more flights after ours, each on progressively smaller aircraft, before she reached home.
We are about to board the plane for the last leg of our journey, from Frankfort to Rome.