Sitting in Atlanta Airport, a very familiar place, and trying to get home. This all started because of a capricious, nasty girl named Sandy, an evil child of Mother Nature. I started my trek in Copenhagen, where, looking back at home, and knowing trouble was closing in, I started making changes. I moved my flight up, as best I could. Re-routed, changed the itin, threw a dart at the wall, and Delta got me to Atlanta. Grabbed a hotel, and made my way back to the airport this morning about 5am. They said, incredibly, a flight to Westchester County Airport was gonna go. Pinch me, I’m dreamin’!
And, of course, I was. So I sit a bit, and have now placed my bets on Hartford and a flight that goes (???) in a couple hours. If it goes, I go. If not, I’ll continue to conjure a path home. My bag? Well, that puppy’s in for its own version of “The Incredible Journey,” one of my favorite books as a kid. I have confidence I will see it again, in a few days, or, perhaps more.
Here’s the thing. I’m pretty calm about this stuff. Resigned, perhaps, but also, it’s just another turn of the page. Whenever travel goes smoothly, I’m surprised. As I look out the window here in Hartsfield Airport, there are so many moving parts out there on the tarmac, all churning and chugging at once, I’m amazed anything works, at all, ever. And there are worse things than cooling your heels at an airport like this, which is basically a super sized mall. Sandy has done her worst to the folks on the ground who took the brunt of it. It’s heartbreaking to see the floods, the fires, and lost homes.
Part of the zen I have about travel is that I’ve done a lot of it, to be sure. My current account at Delta puts my history with them at about 1.6 million miles. They have their moments, to be sure, but they are basically a good airline. I’ve flown on airlines that are not good, and on flying machines that have definitely spoken to the virtues of a long walk.
I got on one such plane in Mogadishu, Somalia. I was working there, and the calendar was veering close to Christmas. I had gotten in on a Red Cross plane, but getting out on one of those was doubtful. The holidays were approaching, and the Red Cross personnel naturally, rightly, had priority on the limited seating over the lowly journalist. My guys, the Somalis who were translating and protecting me, told me they could get me out on a drug plane. They were strong with the Aidid clan, and that particular warlord controlled a dirt airstrip south of Mog where gutted Cessna prop planes would fly into Somalia with bales of khat, which the Somalis chew voraciously. It’s a plant which, when masticated, gives you an all day buzz. Which is an advisable thing, if you live in a place as strife torn and bereft of hope as Mog.
The “airport” itself was a cluster of dust, noise and third world chaos of Spielbergian dimensions. People were swarming up to these planes, trying to stuff goods, mail, and notes onto them, to try to get word to relatives in Kenya, which is where the planes would head back to. I struck a deal with a pilot, fought my way through the crowd, and threw my stuff in the back of the plane, which was stripped of seats to make room for what was basically enormous bags of weed.
People wouldn’t disengage from the plane. The pilot stepped forward on the small gangway, and struck the nearest person to him with two roundhouse blows that sent him reeling backwards into the crowd. He simultaneously shouted orders to his co-pilot to start the props, which he did, right in the middle of this swirling mass of people. The plane became like the center of an explosion, with engines roaring to life and people radiating rapidly away from it in a 360 degree pattern, like so much fast moving shrapnel. He slammed the door shut, slipped into his seat, and pushed the plane down the runway. A few seconds later, we were airborne.
I had been a month in Africa. I slumped, exhausted, on the floor of the Cessna, relieved to be going home two days before Christmas. The co-pilot twisted in his seat to look back at me. I looked back and raised my hand, and said, into the din of the props resounding through the empty shell of the plane, “Excuse me, I ordered the special meal?”
He tilted his head, and I think he was possibly thinking of shooting me. But then he smiled and turned back to the controls. I hit Nairobi Airport, walked to a counter, and found a flight home. More tk….