Illinois or bust

Illinois or bust. That should have been my motto when I shut off the water and left the house at 5:15 a.m.

Although I knew my layovers were tight, I had opted not to lose sleep over it since there was quite literally nothing I could do about it. But only an hour and ten minutes at Madrid Barajas?

Then the flight from Sevilla ran late, not late late but just enough late to tarnish my hope of catching my connecting flight. Not only would I have to go through security again, but I also had to get to the satellite terminal.

I happened upon others from my Sevilla flight who were trying to get on the same Chicago flight. That gave me hope that if there were enough of us, they might hold that flight. An angelic flight attendant cleared a path for us and we scurried off of the plane.

I ran. Well, I should say “we ran” because two of us hung together. We blazed through security and my partner took off at a trot… stocking-footed because there was no time to put on shoes.

At our breakneck speed, the signs were confusing. Once, when we stopped long enough to ensure we were on the right path, the agent who tried to help confused us more not because she was unhelpful but because we were in too much of a hurry to hang around to make sure we understood.

We raced to a train, down hallways, up escalators, “con permiso”ing our way. Then we rounded the corner and found ourselves at passport control…six fat lines snaking their way along at a decent clip, but not nearly fast enough. A man ahead of us was trying to get an agent to help him, but the agent simply said, “If we helped everyone who is in a hurry, it would be everyone. Get in line.”

So then we were three, trying not to hyperventilate while waiting in line. Trying to read the signs beyond the passport control for the moment when we would finally get through. At the counter, I killed a few extra seconds pulling out my residency card and my two new friends were nowhere in sight when I emerged.

By that time, our flight should have been taking off. Assuredly, the gate was closed. But I ran anyway. I ran with a backpack and a rattling suitcase and was glad Mom had reminded me to wear sneakers. The timing listed below the gates are relative and well, maybe accurate at a full-out run with no slow-pokes blocking one’s path. But those 7 minutes felt like an eternity. My lungs burned, gasping for air behind my mask.

There was the final covid control. Panting and gasping, I showed my negative test QR and asked if by chance the flight was still on the ground.

“Yes” they said.

And I ran again, up to the gate where my friends were just pulling out their boarding passes. But just as the young man passed through the check, the flight agent stopped the line. (Another breathless young gentleman had joined us at this point and we were three again.)

“No. You can’t go. No more people can get on.” The agent was unyielding. She turned back to her computer as if she dealt with puffing, stricken travelers every day, because well, she probably did.

My friend burst into tears. The agent remained immobile. But then another agent joined her. “It’s only three more. They’ll let on three more.” And he got on the phone.

And suddenly the unsympathetic agent was graciously scanning our boarding passes and handing them all to who was first in line in her effort to make us hurry. We didn’t need to be reminded.

I was hot, sweaty, wild-eyed, and extremely thirsty when I plopped into my seat. We were on that plane for more than 10 hours, growing more and more restless and unkempt. Well, at least I was. I made no effort to freshen up because hanging out in the airplane’s WC is not my idea of freshening up. “Oh well,” I decided. “No one I see right now will ever see me again!” Thus, I disembarked the plane rather indifferent to my nerdy glasses, flyaway hair, fuzzy teeth, and death breath.

But while I was waiting in one of those long ORD international arrival lines, the man in front of me said, “You were on the flight from Almería, weren’t you?”

As we chatted, we realized we had been on the same flights all day. He and his wife–she a fellow Illinoisan– live in Almería. “She would enjoy meeting you,” he said. I gave him my number and it wasn’t until he was gone that I realized that my indifference to my appearance perhaps hadn’t been the wisest choice… There indeed may be someone I will see again.

Since I’ve been back in Illinois, I’ve been glutting myself on quality time with friends and family, on holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas in the same weekend? Why not?), and on calorie-laden food. I’ll probably write more on all that later. But I’ll just say that Thanksgiving came at a good time…in the wake of a busy trip that plopped this grateful soul on Illinois soil.

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