We arrived on the street outside Gatwick airport at 12:47 PM after going to the Heathrow airport first by accident. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 1:30 PM and we hadn’t even entered Gatwick yet. Our taxi driver had indicated that Gatwick was a small airport that was easy to navigate; a place where it would take us no time to check our bags and get through security. The driver parked the taxi outside a giant conveyor belt that was slowly conveying people up into a giant yellow building that looked like no airport I had ever seen before in my life. The airport was definitely not “small” or “simple” the way that the driver had described it.
John wasn’t privy to a plan that Lydian and I had made regarding the bags. While John had been talking to the taxi driver about the fastest way into the airport, Lydi and I had come up with a plan to get all the bags into the airport swiftly. She was going to take two carry-ons and follow John into check-in and then turn around and come back to help me with the rest of the bags that I’d put on a trolley.
The second the taxi pulled to a stop, each of us immediately went into motion. John ran up the conveyor belt into the airport in long strides to check-in as fast as he could to try to find the right place to check the bags and make sure that the people at the counter knew we were there. Lydian got her two carry-on bags as planned and took off for the elevators. I began stacking our other baggage on a trolley one-by-one.
I was glad that Lydian had taken the two other bags as I made my way across the street. I had bags slung over both of my shoulders and the front of my body and the rest of them were balanced precariously on the trolley. I made my way across the street and pushed the trolley onto the giant conveyor belt. As I stood on the belt slowly ascending toward the doors on the second level, I realized that there were at least three different ways to get into the airport to check-in: an elevator, stairs, and the conveyor belt. Suddenly, it occurred to me that Lydian could take any one of the other routes back to where the taxi had been parked and we would miss each other. And since I was no longer back at the taxi on the street, she wouldn’t know where I was. Since there were THREE entrances, we could, in theory, miss each other over and over again if we went out searching for each other. I couldn’t do anything about this problem with my giant pile of bags on the slow moving conveyor belt but I hoped she’d be with John when I found him upstairs.
It took some time for me to locate John. I looked up our flight and then moved toward the British Airways check-in. I spied John’s head from afar moving back and forth from one desk to another like a crazy man at check-in. I didn’t see Lydian.
“JOHN!” I screamed running toward him with the overflowing trolley.
He turned and looked at me, but gave me the “one-second” gesture. I continued pushing the giant pile of bags toward him.
“WHERE’S LYDIAN?” I yelled.
“THEY WON’T LET US CHECK IN!” He yelled back at me.
“WHERE’S LYDIAN!” I yelled again, this time with an edge to it. Everyone turned around and looked at me. John turned and looked at me exasperated, again giving me the “wait-a-second” finger.
“TAKE OUR LUGGAGE!” I began unstrapping the bags on my back as fast as I could. He didn’t move. I couldn’t abandon our luggage in an airport or security would come and take it away.
“TAKE…OUR …LUGGAGE!” I said again. Still, he didn’t move.
“I NEED TO FIND OUR DAUGHTER!!! “ I said finally. “TAKE THE DAMN LUGGAGE!” And I left.
It was quite a scene.
I ran out into the fray trying to decide how I’d find her. I knew that she’d be able to find her way around in an airport. She’d been in plenty of them and she knew how they worked, but I was still in a panic. I already knew that the layout was going to make it tricky to find her. I headed toward the stairs, but before I even got there, I saw her. She was walking toward me in her little rain jacket and hoodie.
I gave her a cinematic embrace and we cried a little, but only for a few seconds because then John emerged from the glass doors and yelled, “THEY’RE CHECKING US IN, BUT I NEED THE LAST BAG! HURRY!” He waved at me, “HURRY!” I still had a small bag on my back. We ran to check-in with him.
Then we headed toward security. It was a long, long way away from check-in with our heavy roller bags. My calves started to hurt.
When we got there, we were sweaty, panicky, and desperate-looking. And we were in line behind some of the slowest convalescing senior travelers I’ve ever seen. It was 1:07 when our bags took their turn under the x-ray machines. I passed through security unstopped but John was selected for a random pat-down. An Arabic man walked up to me from behind the security booth and asked me to name off the things in my bag.
“I have a med bag filled with antiobiotics and over-the-counter medications.” I told him. “I have a kitchen supply bag with cooking supplies in it and an underwear and pajama bag…” He stopped me there and told me to wait. I knew it was the med bag. It was always the med bag. He brought it over to me and had me open it and begin removing each and every item one by one.
“Can I look at each of these?” He asked me.
“There are probably a hundred of them.” I said. “Get your drug dog…there’s nothing illegal in here.”
He walked away from me. It was 1:11.
I tapped my fingers.
When he returned, I told him that our plane left at 1:30 and that was why I seemed so desperate. This seemed to convince him that I was okay and not a drug mule and he let me put my stuff back in the bag. I worked quickly and again, we took off toward our gate.
The distance between security and gate 106 was eternal. We ran and ran. We went up an escalator and then down an escalator. And then we ran some more. My roll-behind bag was boobie-trapped with straps that drug on the floor and whenever I would pass someone too closely who was walking more slowly than me, they would step on the straps which would immediately bring me and the bag to a halt, the bag right at their feet, tripping them and nearly ripping my shoulder out of its socket. This happened four times with four different people.
“FUCK!” I’d yell. Everyone around me turned to look at me.
On an escalator I said, “Well maybe they should MOVE!” John and Lydian hushed me. People were staring. I was wide-eyed and stressed.
We arrived at gate 106 just as they were boarding.
The flight from London to Rome was relatively short at only 2 hours and 25 minutes. I was awed that we’d made it to Gatwick after having gone to the wrong airport first. AWED. From what everyone had told us, this story is a water-into-wine kind of miracle. I sat down in my seat and tried to become calm, my heart was beating hard.
But our big day wasn’t over yet.
We were all hungry and very tired. John and Lydian fell asleep almost immediately. John’s head fell forward and he didn’t even wake up. I closed my eyes and tried to think calming thoughts. I was so glad that we’d hired a driver to take us directly from the airport in Rome to our vacation rental. The idea of being escorted directly to the rental helped me relax.
The stewardesses handed out little wraps to everyone. An old man next to me ordered wine that smelled funny. I ordered water and thumbed through a catalog that I’d found in the seat pocket. The crinkly sound of wrappers and the smell of food filled the whole plane.
The catalog wasn’t entertaining really, but there was a woman one seat ahead of me who was clearly doing some form of EMDR to keep her anxiety under control. My stress level was still maxed out. I needed to have some private time and download my thoughts. Maybe take a bath. Watching her tapping her fingers ritualistically was surreal and infinitely more interesting than the cologne ads in the flight catalog.
I knew our vacation rental in Rome was only a one-room studio. Lydian would have a bed in a loft. There was a small “kitchen” inside of a cupboard. Although I knew it would feel cramped, I couldn’t wait to get there.
About 45 minutes before landing, the pilot announced that we were going through a thunderstorm. There would be some mild turbulence. I waited for a while and then, when nothing happened, I decided to use the lavatory before the plane landed. I got up and walked to the back of the plane. A few seconds later, Lydian decided to stand up and wait with me. I watched her crawl over John into the aisle just as the plane made a sudden and violent jolt.
On the first jolt, I caught myself on a wall, but the second time it happened, I fell on the floor. Lydian was also on the floor in the aisle. People gasped. The stewardess told me to crawl to a nearby seat and then she sprung into action readying the beverage cart to distract everyone from the spectacle. I yelled up to Lydian to go back to her seat. The stewardesses emerged from both directions with their carts out to quell the masses.
The turbulence continued sporadically and I worried about a plane crash, though my nerves were so frayed that I wasn’t able to seriously entertain the thought. I’d used up all my adrenaline reserves and had none left. Eventually, I was able to move back to my original seat. The old man next me, now mostly drunk stared over at me blankly. I looked back at him and smiled weakly.
The plane had been descending slowly and as it went through the clouds, it jolted again furiously. No one seemed to be terribly concerned about it though having been watered and fed. Most of the passengers were a little drunk. I focused on the idea that our driver would be waiting for us when we got through customs.
The plane made a smooth landing and we disembarked. My legs felt weak. We wobbled through all the airport formalities.
Our luggage arrived like clockwork.
A bitter-looking blonde Italian woman stamped our passports without even looking at them.
We emerged into the area where the driver was supposed to be waiting. Various other drivers were standing in this area with laminated signs bearing the names of their pre-arranged passengers. We took our luggage to an empty space and huddled together for a few minutes.
“I’m gonna walk around and see if I can find him.” John told me. We watched him go. Up and back.
By this time, ten minutes had passed.
“Did our plane land on time?” John asked me.
“No…it was about ten minutes late.” I told him.
He tried calling Cristina Bellini, the owner of the vacation rental located in the middle of Rome near the Vatican. The number didn’t work.
“Are you serious?” I said.
We waited some more. John went over and quizzed a few of the other drivers about how long we should wait.
After about an hour had passed, we walked over to the taxi booths to get a taxi to take us to the vacation rental. Cristina Bellini still wasn’t answering her phone and we only had one number. John sent her an email but there was no response. The taxi would cost us 60 Euros. We got in the cab and then started wondering if we should pay to have them take us there, or if we should just assume that we’d been scammed and go to a hotel instead.
Of course, it was raining heavily.
We’d communicated with Cristina a number of times via email. I hadn’t hesitated to pay the deposit on her property because she had so many great reviews. But now, we were wondering if perhaps the vacation rental didn’t even exist.
To add to our dilemma about getting a hotel vs. going to the vacation rental, our taxi driver was a
grumpy Al-Pacino-type-of-guy. When asked about hotels and where the cheapest/nicest ones would be, he told me five different ways in broken English that all the hotels would be full, but he could ask a friend if there were any rooms available for us. We tried again and again to communicate to him that we’d like to go to our vacation rental first, see if it was a real place, knock on the door, but then get back in the taxi if we weren’t able to get in. The taxi driver could not understand this idea even though a young man sitting next to him translated for us.
He dumped us on the street two blocks from the apartment in the rain with all our luggage.
Just as we readied ourselves for the long wet walk, John got an email from Cristina telling us that she was at the vacation rental waiting for us.
She wasn’t a warm, friendly person like I’d imagined her based on her reviews, but maybe that’s just
because I wasn’t wearing the latest fashions which seems to be important here. Her rental was however set up as advertised and that was nice. After she showed us a few things about the apartment, she left and we all just stood there for a moment, not knowing what to do.
“I can’t believe we’re here.” I said to John.
“I can’t believe it either.”