When I strolled out of the jetway into the terminal there was no sign of the snow storm that had stranded me in Columbus the day previous. There had been some snow on the ground when we taxied over to Terminal 1 to be sure, but the sky above us was a brilliant blue with a sleepy winter sun shining down on the world. It felt like one huge trick had been played on me, one which had now successfully delayed my homecoming with one long day.
It was only a smidge past nine I the morning and there was already plenty of other travelers milling about, and as I kept my eye out for a place to have breakfast I wondered whether they were coming or going, and how many of them had been delayed by the previous day’s bad weather as well. My long layover at O’Hare had barely begun, and I could already feel a whiff of resentment towards the city and its capricious weather, growing steadily stronger in my gut.
With perhaps a bit of guilty pleasure I settled for a McDonald’s breakfast, to ensure I would have enough money left for some last minute shopping and something to eat before I boarded my plane many hours into the future. I knew that just the hash brown, wrapped in its paper wrapping would give me more calories than I really should consume all at once. As a final reminder what a poor choice I had made, the root beer I had brought along from Columbus, my last root beer in quite a long time, began to froth and bubble when I opened it, spilling onto the carpet and my carry on backpack. It was fortunate I had picked a gate seating area which had only just closed its doors and would not have another flight departing from it for at least an hour, so there were few spectators to my blunder.
As I began to digest my meal I made some quick calculations in my head about how to best divide up the time I had left. I knew I still had to pick up my boarding pass for my second flight, but I would only be able to do that after the check in counters opened. As I gazed off into space, the sounds of the other travelers going to and fro turning into a carpet of sound in my mind, I pondered various solutions. Perhaps, if I walked really slowly towards the monorail that transported passengers between terminals…
After I could stand sitting no more I began my slow walk across the terminal, following the sings that would guide me where I needed to go. Since I had been in a fair bit of a rush the last time I had passed through the tunnel that connected the two sections of Terminal 1 I decided I would take my time now and let the magnificent construct soothe me as the architect had surely envisioned it to do. There was the music, delicate and soft, accompanying the lights in the ceiling, changing, moving. It remains one of my favorite parts of any airport I have ever visited.
As I rode the escalators up I was greeted by another favorite sight; the Field museum airport shop, with its Brachiosaur skeleton standing tall and proud. When I had seen it last, over a week ago, it had been festively decorated and looking rather goofy, but now all was back to normal. Feeling inspired I poked around the shop and purchased a pin for myself and a small gift for a friend.
Content that I had spent a bit more time I continued on my way, moving past the people exiting security now, the sound of rattling trays and TSA staff ordering people around mingling with the normal airport terminal sounds. Every time I had to pass through security I would get nervous, even though I had done all the things you needed to do, but just now I could just observe it from a safe distance.
I backtracked the way I had come when I had been travelling in the other direction, feeling a little forlorn about it. When would I able to take such a trip again? I claimed a monorail car all to myself and let the jostling movement comfort me.
When I made it to the international terminal I finally managed to locate my airline and after I had tried to deal with a misbehaving self-serve kiosk I got into the fairly short line for check in. There was no time to feel jolly about how fast I was called up to the desk, as I was quickly told that this was currently some other airline, an Asian partner of my airline I had previously never heard of, would I please come back in about an hour?
I daresay I might have gone mad then, as there was absolutely nothing to occupy myself with in this echoing terminal, just a small café, smelling like strong coffee and burnt toast and I was not hungry at present. Then I recalled my Nintendo 3DS, filled up with new StreetPass hits and a game that could be used to while away some time.
By the time I made it back to the check in counters I was shocked to see a large line forming, stretching out a ways from where I had been previously. Alright, I told myself, it is yet almost 15 minutes until the desks open, so if I end up spending that time in this line…Well, so be it. After about ten or so minutes two things were revealed, that the long line was for an Air India flight and that if I snuck into my designated line for check in I would be the second in line. Score!
Feeling content I watched the Asian airline staff leave and two women belonging to my airline arrived on the scene, though they took their time getting everything set up. I once or twice glanced over at the longer priority and business class check in lines and felt rather smug. Even if they would be prioritized I should not have to wait that much longer than them. And all about me was chatter that reminded me of the madness of yesterday, people who had been stranded in some airport like me, or simply stranded here at O’Hare, others who had planned on being home already. I felt glad I had picked up my luggage yesterday and checked it in again today, so I would not be forced to have a man dig it out here and return it, so I would have to recheck it here.
What made me less glad was when the lines finally opened and both women only seemed to focus on the fancy pants passengers, neither of them ever giving us the nod to move forward. The priority line people kept moving forward, rushing, as if they sensed our dismay and growing anger, while the line of frustrated people behind me continued to grow. There was annoyed talk and finally the people in front of me actually forced their way up to a desk. I have no such defiance in me and when the priority passengers once more had full control of the desks I heard a lady behind me say that she would cut in front of me if I did nothing. Boiling with upset I finally was called forward, fortunately and as I expected it took no time at all to collect my boarding pass and be on my way finally. I could taste the end of this experience on the tip of my tongue.
Security was as harrowing as it ever was, herding all of us into a small corridor, like cattle to the slaughter pens, but finally I was free of it and rewarded myself with some dumplings, freshly made and actually pretty good for airport food. I even got eight of them, knowing there might be months until I had dumplings again.
To my great delight I realized that I had just enough time to watch some stuff on my laptop before boarding could begin and an experience which seemed to have dragged on for ages was finally, actually nearing its end. I could endure all the children wailing, constantly underfoot.
Boarding started late, as it always seems to do when I am really keen on something, but soon enough I found my seat, squeezed in next to a man in the aisle seat, quashing my dreams of having two seats to myself and putting an end to all hopes of a comfortable sleep on the plane.
As I tend to suffer from dry sinuses we had not even begun to taxi out to the runway when the recirculated air of the cabin made me sneeze. The man next to me informed me, a bit too cheerfully that he would probable sneeze a fair bit too, since he had a cold. Mentally I began to count the days until I had to be back at work. Would the man’s cold germs do its dirty work before then?
To be honest, I need not have worried about him sneezing, what he did instead was cough. And he coughed very loudly, messily and without making a real effort at covering his mouth.
I tried my best to get some rest despite it all, honestly. Sometimes I can nap for short periods on a plane, but this time all efforts turned to nothing. After playing games on my laptop until my battery had near run out I turned in desperation to the selection of music that the airline offered and landed on one that offered supposedly meditative music. Alas, when I had merely expected soothing music that might rock me into a sleepy state my ears were assaulted by a voice painting a picture of some strange dreamscape where much of my concentration was taken up of trying to imagine it properly, instead of offering me the relaxation it promised.
After I had finally given up on music as an aide I tried to nap for a little bit on my own, as I was fairly tired at this point. But just as I had begun to drift off the lights began to come on in the cabin and there was an announcement that breakfast would be served soon.
As I gazed outside my window, down at the faint lights of distant cities below, clutching a cup of airline coffee in my hands, I thought this a fitting end to a very long day of travel. And at least I would be home soon, far away from airports, airlines, air travel and all the complications that they might bring.