Saturday, September 20, 2008
THE LONG ROAD HOME
The return has been bittersweet.
It was sad - SAD - saying goodbye to Vicki and Bob and their elder son, who was up with us at 6:30AM.
It was also sad to say goodbye to Germany, where people seem to know how to enjoy life (and where the election campaign cycle is just three weeks long!).
The ICE train to the airport was fine - until everyone got off at Frankfurt Main, the stop just before the airport.
I looked around in terror, and started asking people, "Fleurhof? Fleurhof?" (Airport? Airport?).
A beautifully-dressed, multilingual gentleman from Africa motioned that yes, I should get off along with everyone else as the train was on its way to Munich.
How can I do this with three suitcases, I wondered.
With God's grace I managed to do it, stacking the carry-on suitcase on top of the gigantic one, and pulling them all along on their wheels towards the train station. The arms felt like they would be pulled out of the shoulder sockets as we ran towards the train.
It turns out the gentleman, who spoke French, English, German and other languages, did not know where we were going.
But I noticed people with suitcases getting into another train on the same track. Its cone-shaped engine car was head-to-head with the one from our train.
I read the sign on the side, and saw the German words for "Cologne" and "Airport."
I stuck my head in and asked, "Fleurhof?"
"Yah, Yah, Fluerhof," said the man on the train. He even helped me with my bags, and I motioned for my well-dressed friend to join me.
My new friend helped me with my bags when it was time to get off.
At the airport, we helped each other find our way to check-in. Turns out he was going home to visit family in western Africa - which he said was just a seven hour flight from Frankfurt.
Both of our airlines were located in terminal 1B - the small-airline ghetto, which seems to be organized by size and geography; near to Air India was Air Qatar, Jordanian Air and MEA, which may or may not be Middle Eastern Air.
There we parted.
In line I met a kind gentleman from South Bend, whose wonderful stories made the two-hour wait to check in fly by.
The plane ride itself was uneventful, although they didn't give us much food. There was a free seat next to me, which meant I could put the bag under it and stretch out the legs - which were restless, especially during the excellent Aamir Khan movie they showed, “Taare Zameen Par: Every Child Is Special” (“Stars on Earth”), in which he plays a teacher who helps a dyslexic child.
But they only showed half of the movie. Just when it started getting good, it stopped.
They eventually got it going again - starting in the wrong place - and just when it got to the point we hadn't seen, it stopped again.
The screen went blank, and that was that.
I guess I'll put it in the Netflix queue.
* * *
While I was waiting to claim baggage. the Cubs won the division title. (This is both a blessing and a curse if you live near their baseball stadium, Wrigley Field).
Just after getting through Customs, the cell phone died - again.
As I was changing the battery, it fell on the floor, bounced a few times and exploded.
I think it's dead for real this time.
I had no way to get in touch with Jammu, who'd offered to pick me up at the airport.
We'd been texting each other before the phone died. The last I'd heard, she was in something called the Cell Phone Parking Lot, waiting for me to call.
I had no idea where this Cell Phone Lot was, so I got in the queue at the Information desk.
The man in front of me was waiting for his fiance to clear customs. She was meant to be on a plane from Beijing that had landed 90 minutes earlier, and he still hadn't seen her. He was getting anxious.
As was I, fiddling with the phone - which would not recognize the American SIM card - and waiting for him to finish.
Finally I got to the front of the line.
The kind gentleman told me I'd have to take a train to the Cell Phone Lot.
"I can't do that," I said, pointing to the bags.
He took pity, and actually let me put my SIM card in his phone. Even though it was the same type of phone, it didn't work, since he has T-Mobile service and I have Cingular. (One couldn't help but think, f--- these American mobile phone companies for not allowing users to switch services). The kind man also let me call 411, but no luck.
So I went outside and took my chances.
And there was Jammu, in her new mini station wagon.
I was so happy to see her.
It turns out that her newly-adopted baby (from Mysore) is thriving. She was at home, hanging out with Mr. Jammu.
All was well until we went to pick up my car.
The door was unlocked and not closed properly.
The battery was dead.
The ashtray was missing, along with my insurance card (which is full of personal information).
And there was a $100 ticket from mid-August on the seat.
Not exactly a fine how-do-you-do.
* * *
Later, despite the thirst/exhaustion/hunger/jetlag, I got the cell phone to work for ten minutes and called SportMarty. (The phone actually worked just long enough to leave a "What the hell?" voicemail for the car's caretaker, unload on Catesey, and check in with Dreyfus. The last call ended abruptly when the phone died again and could not be revived. For some reason the landline isn't working, either).
SportMarty agreed to help, and graciously picked me up.
By the time we got to the car it was dark.
But somehow he managed to jump it and get it going again.
Then I tried to drive it.
The brakes are shot; every time I used them there was a loud bang each time the wheel turned to a certain spot. It made the whole car - and me - shudder. It actually sounded like a blown-out tire.
While I waited in the alley for SportMarty to check the brakes, I saw the family who'd rescued me during The Great Bike Accident of 2005. The whole family was out, taking a late summer stroll. It was lovely to see them, but the mind was focused on the problem at hand and would not give in to positive thoughts.
And one couldn't help but think, possessions are a pain in the arse.
And, of course, I wish I'd stayed in Germany.
The photo depicts a sign in downtown Erlangen and one's general mood.