Waiting for Air Canada
o I wanted to write this sweet, reflective think piece on travelling. You know, the comfort of airports, the eternity of waiting rooms. Solace found in geography, reflection found in windows…but, instead, blearily, I scrawl-texted notes on my iPhone about logistics. Because last week, as I prepared to embark on this multi-city, vacation/pilgrimage east, something happened that has never, ever happened to me before: my flight was canceled.
The night all started out so innocently, all so well. I had been carefully re-assessing the contents of our closet (admittedly compromising of slightly over half the allotted square footage) in part, in an attempt to pack. I cleaned, I washed dishes. We went for a walk, ran errands, shopped for books, watched the sunset, went for a lovely dinner, drank cocktails. I cooked a radish-top cold pasta salad. I made raspberry yoghurt breakfast parfaits in jars. I washed the dishes from the radish-top pasta salad and the parfaits and the food processor. I packed. I re-packed. I agonized over which books to bring. I cut the pile in half, and in half again (I still brought too many). I even remembered to pack my special picnic/snack cheese knife (in my checked-luggage) [note: the knife was misplaced somewhere in Ontario…]. I put all my little toiletries in their respective pouches in my special little toiletry carrying case (again, checked luggage). I had managed to cram everything (including my back-up second and third pairs of shoes) into the smallest piece of luggage I have ever traveled with. A had uploaded new music and Tiny Wings 2.0 onto my computer. I had checked in. I had reserved a shuttle. I had even had a two hour nap. I put on my comfiest traveling clothes (leaving at 445 am is one of the few instances where I can justify yoga pants and soft as a cloud, flashdance-esque sweaters (yoga classes excluded). I had vague directions to my friend’s flat in Montréal and even a metro card.
At about three minutes after five AM I roused him from his mid-evening nap, remarkably coherent yet mumbly, he pulled on the archetype plaid pyjama-pants and loaded all of my luggage onto his back to blindly lead me down the street to where I would wait for the shuttle. By 5:45 AM we had arrived at the airport, only to find out, tragically, that our >300 person plane, had not.
Lightening had grounded flights late the night before in Toronto, meaning that the 300, bleary, pre-caffeinated passengers in the process of materializing for their six hour flight back to the big smoke, were stranded. Along with thousands of other Air Canada passengers country-wide. And Toronto is *not* a good city to be keeping people away from. The family heading back behind me was ostensibly freaking out, lady in front of me headed to Damascus? No problem. So what else to do? I sat. I plugged myself in and after 16 unsuccessful attempts listened to on-hold call music on Air Canada’s hotline for 54 minutes until my call was dropped. Repeat. And then I had actually made it to the front of the line (eventually they added a second person to the rebooking queue). We had now been at the airport for close to three hours, and after much deliberation I had succeeded in convincing them to fly me, not to Montréal, but to Ottawa. I settled in for more waiting.
There is really not much to be done in airports except wait. I am an excellent wait-er. I always have a billion books, I actually enjoy crossword puzzles, I tend to travel with food, I like talking to strangers, I normally have socks and a small blanket. You get the idea. Mind you after six or seven hours in an airport, very few people are good wait-ers. By the time I got to my Vancouver-Ottawa leg, all my good waiting was out the door. When I was being re-booked the lady had sympathetically juggled my seat around to get a window seat. She smiled at my wearily over the counter: “After today, you’re going to need to sleep.” At 8am I smiled and nodded, grateful. I nearly burst into tears when I saw my seat as I boarded the jet: right next to a beautiful young couple and their 8-month old…Who miraculously turned out to be the quietest, smiliest baby I have ever met. She spent the five hour flight cooing happily and being amused by her diligent parents. I was astounded. Whenever I see people travelling with babies I am aways bewildered. They are always so organized. Everything little, for them and the baby. And to boot they are able to do everything one-handed as they haul this big, fragile thing around with them in the other. It’s really incredible. I should also mention here that Air Canada comped me a chocolate bar and a “sandwich” (pita smeared with humus and four pieces of grated carrot). Beggars can’t be chosers but I almost cried when they told me I had food. Anyone wondering if tired travellers can be bought off with chocolate: yes, yes we can.
I flew on a teeny tiny 37 person plane over to YVR before catching our giant cross-country plane east. 37 people. I counted. It had two propellers. Just like in Tale Spin.
By this time I had changed out of my pyjamas into my elastic-waist business pants. The plane was so small it didn’t even have those little under-seat boxes for your carry-on, things just kind of got shoved under where ever. When I first got on the plane (for some reason I was one of the first people). There weren’t too many other people on. There were only four seats across, and about six along the back. I was sitting in the aisle seat in the second last row. The only other woman back there when I arrived was older, in that indistinguishable age that some women get after too much partying and sun and good times (and bad times). She had long hair, down half way to her waist, pulled back in a long, slightly greasy, slate-grey braid and shoved under some kind of trucker hat. She was wearing a tattered plaid jacket, and had several hoop earrings in each ear, and deep sun-wrinkles lining her eyes behind her round wire framed glasses. I wasn’t close enough, but I am sure she smelled like camp-smoke and oil. People often tend to think of west coast hippies as perpetually young, colourful clean things, but it doesn’t take long to realize Canadian hippies are a bit of a different breed. She was talking in a calm loud voice to a plastic carrying case that was sitting on the seat beside her.
“You alright in there, Mr. Bigglesworth? You doin’ okay? Everything is going to be just fine Mr. Bigglesworth, just a short trip over to Vancouver and then one more plane. I’m right here Mr. Bigglesworth.” She had crouched over and was resting her grubby fingers against the wire mesh of the door. Inside a very pissed off grey, striped cat with large greens eyes stared back at her, looking very accusingly and very pissed off. Within a minute, a prim, coiffed, sixty something very tersely excused the hippie, and informed her that that was actually her seat. So sorry. Ha! The hippie instantly scooped up the enormous carrying case in her lap.
“I’m so sorry, it’s just that this is Mr. Bigglesworth. He’s very old you know. He’s seventeen years old. Very old for a cat. We are moving to Fort St. John. We have to go on another plane after this. He’s very old.” She was curled over the cage again: “I’m still here Mr. Bigglesworth: you can hear my voice.”
She went on to explain that they were moving there, and that Mr. Bigglesworth had live with her all over the island, and also on Salt Spring. I was so moved by the tenderness she spoke to her cat with. She never said it, but you could tell that she had not led an easy life. Further, no one moves to Fort St. John by choice. And finally, you could tell Mr. Bigglesworth was really all she had in the word. This was sad, but also painfully sweet. He was eventually wrenched from her hands by a well-meaning (and allergic!) flight attendent, and put under the seat in front of her. She spoke loudly to Mr. Bigglesworth the whole way. I hope they are doing well in Fort St. John.