30 June 2007
It all started in Brussels at 12:30pm when I left the Decrop’s house for the train station. I had to get to Dusseldorf to fly to Frankfurt and then on to Joburg in South Africa. My plans had changed somewhat and I wasn’t in Dusseldorf (obviously), so I had hoped to skip the flight from Dusseldorf to Frankfurt and go straight from Brussels to Frankfurt by train, thus cutting out about 6 hours of pointless travel. “That’s impossible,” the Lufthansa woman told me, when I called the reservation line. “You must start your flight at point of purchase, and Dusseldorf is your point of purchase. I’m sorry, there is nothing I can do unless you want to pay $150 change fee.” Mind you, I didn’t want to “change” anything. I just wanted to skip a flight, empty a seat, give them a chance to make more money. Not an option.
So I took the train from Brussels to Koln, then Koln to Dusseldorf then Dusseldorf to Dusseldorf Airport. From there, I took the “SkyCar” to Terminal A, walked a half-mile to the Economy class check-in, and dropped my baggage. “You have a middle seat,” Elsa told me. “46E.” I showed her my confirmation, which said I had a window, 50A. “That seats taken.” Sorry. Super. Then it was through security, where I had my water bottle confiscated again while my bag was being checked for bomb residue. From there, I went to my gate. Because of the train situation I was 3 hours early but already, my flight was delayed 2 hours, which meant I was going to miss a dinner date with my friend Lori, who is working for Commerzbank in Frankfurt. She didn’t have a cell phone and the Internet station was down, so I decided to text Ben in DC to email her in Frankfurt and explain. No immediate reply and Lori and I are supposed to meet in an hour, so I text Kyle. He replies, letting me know he is at work (a restaurant, so no computer). Then I decide to text Dana (also in DC) who doesn’t know Lori but can get her info on Facebook and send a message to her for me. She replies with “will do.” Success! Then she replies again, letting me know her info is set to “private” on Facebook, but that she sent her a Facebook message. Good enough.
Another hour passes and the flight is further-delayed due to bad weather in Frankfurt. Now it’s looking like I’m going to miss my connection, so I head to the ticket counter. “Not a chance that you’re getting to South Africa tonight,” Freida tells me. “No way, but I will confirm you for tomorrow.” Well that’s good enough, I decide. As this airport stuff happens to me quite often, I was marginally un-phased. That meant I needed a place to crash in Frankfurt, which meant I needed to get a hold of Lori! Now in crisis mode, I decided to spend the $18 to use the airport’s wireless network.
I get on G-chat. Luckily, Lori is online. I explain everything and she says I can stay with her. Glorious! Then she types, “my address is” and at that moment, Gmail goes ballistic and our chat is cancelled. So, I have a confirmation that I can stay but I have NO IDEA where she lives. Being resourceful, I get on AOL Instant Messenger, find Ben online and ask for Lori’s screenname. “She’s on gchat. I’ll ask,” he tells me. Meanwhile, I am on Facebook posting on Lori’s “wall” explaining what happened. A few minutes pass. “Her Instant Messenger isn’t working. What’s up? I’ll tell her.” So I proceed to ask Ben (who is in DC simultaneously hosting a conference call at work and updating the Alpha Phi Omega website) to get Lori’s address, as well as a phone number. He begins acting as middleman and I get what I need. Then he offers to get a map online for me, which he sends via iChat. By now, Lori’s Instant Messenger has decided to start working once again, and we’re chatting directly, though I continue to chat with Ben.
We both decide a phone call would work better, so I Skype her from my computer in the Dusseldorf airport. We finalize the plans and I hang up. Then I call the office in DC to explain that I’m going to be a day late to South Africa. Right in the middle of our conversation they announce that my flight from Dusseldorf to Frankfurt is now CANCELLED, which means I’m back at zero. I quickly hang up with the office and ask the woman what to do. She explains that I need to get my luggage then go to “Re-ticketing” to find a solution.
I go to the baggage carousel. It spins and spins with lots of bags, but not mine. 15 minutes pass and I ask an attendant what to do. He says “I don’t know.” Now, he works at the airport. Shouldn’t he have just the slightest idea what I should do? I head to lost luggage, wait in line with the other 50 people and discover that my bag was “flagged” as unattended (probably because I was supposed to be getting on plane) and put into quarantine. Another 30 minutes and they produce it, wrapped in an air-tight black bag. Hmmm…
So it’s now 10pm (I started this game at 12:30pm) and I’m running to “Re-ticketing,” where I have a lovely discussion with an Australian and South African who explain how they never lock their doors because their countries are so safe, “not like America.” Then it’s my turn and I explain that I’d like to get to Frankfurt tonight, so as not to spend a fortune on a hotel room. Linda (lovely woman) gets me on the next train out of Dusseldorf, so I scurry with all my luggage to the “SkyCar,” which takes me to the Dusseldorf Airport train station, where I attempt to log on to the wireless and email Lori with my updated plan. The network is (shockingly) down, so I decide to use my cell phone, only to discover the cell network is also down! No email, no internet, no phone. Can it get any worse? Obviously, yes.
I get the next train from Dusseldorf Airport to Dusseldorf Main, only to find that my connecting train (from Dusseldforf to Koln) is 15 minutes late, which means I am going to miss my last train from Koln to Frankfurt, and the next one isn’t until 1am! By now I’m starving, as all I had eaten was a croissant and a waffle when I was still in Belgium. My choices are McDonald’s or Pizza Hut. I choose Pizza Hut and decide (why, I do not know) to go with something new and get a slice of Indian Tandoori Chicken Pizza. I take a big bite and within seconds my mouth is ON FIRE from the spices. I reach to the side of my bag to get my water bottle, but there is nothing there. It was confiscated when I went through airport security. I dart to the vending machine (backpack on, suitcase rolling behind me) and stuff my money into the coin slot, pounding on the water button. The machine is broken, and it won’t return my $2! My lips are now numb and I have no control of my tongue. Remembering that bread actually cools the burn, I turn to the snack machine and cram more money into the slot, pressing “1-6” to get some crackers. The little sprockets spin to release the bag and right as it’s about to drop, the bag gets lodged into the spiral. I dig through my pocket looking for more change. I need 1 euro and I have 95 euro-cents. No crackers for me. At this point my train pulls up and I have to board, eyes watering, nose running.
Because this train was late it was also very full. Knowing that I was going to miss my connection from Koln to Frankfurt anyway, all sense of urgency had left my system. I sauntered in to find that the only seat left was in the SMOKING CAR. Again, perfect. The ticket agent came through to stamp tickets. I handed him my plane ticket stub, on which the flight attendant had scribbled in pen, “Good for the train” and initialed it. VERY OFFICIAL. The train attendant looked at me like I was crazy. I began to explain the last 11 hours to him, my eyes still watering from the pizza of death. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll figure this out,” thinking my tears were tears of sadness. I was totally fine with this confusion. I hadn’t lied about anything and hopefully something good was going to happen.
He picked up his walkie-talkie and started speaking in lightning-fast German to someone, then he disappeared into the next car. He reappeared five minutes later to let me know that he had “phoned ahead and made sure the train would wait for us to arrive. You will need to run though,” he told me; and run I did. Like the wind. And scream. Like a 12-year-old girl. “WAIT! WAIT! WAIT!” I yelled, as the train attendant started to board. I jumped in and within 10 seconds we were moving again. For the first time in nearly 12 hours something had gone right.
From there, everything when smoothly – the train was on time, I got a cab easily and he took me right to Lori’s door. I’m about to drift off into dreamland now, but lets recap:
Train to train to train to train to skycar to middle seat to water confiscated to waiting in the airport to texting America to get a hold of someone in Germany to gchatting to skyping to flight being cancelled to quarantined luggage to skycar to train to train to pizza of death to vending machine of doom to train to smoking car to misinterpreted tears to running to train to train to taxi to bed. NOT TO SOUTH AFRICA, all because Lufthansa didn’t want to let me skip my 20-minute flight from Dusseldorf to Frankfurt. Thanks Lufthansa. Thanks!