Thursday, January 19, 2012

Getting Home, Part 3: What went down at the airport (at least it wasn't the plane)

(In case you missed there, here are parts ONE and TWO to this story.)
(This one's the longest section, by the way.  You might want to grab some hot drink to go with your reading.)

After being surprised by the snowstorm and then being stuck in it for nearly two hours, I finally made it to a warm bed at my friend's friend Susan's house.  I know that it was a crazy time trying to just get to Susan's, but I'm really glad that I got there and that I got to talk with her.  By this time, I was even more worried about how I would get home.  The combination of plane ticket anxiety and poor weather anxiety wasn't making a very peaceful person out of me.  Susan is a strong, more mature woman in the Lord, and she spoke to me from a place rooted in God's stability, God's sovereignty, and God's love for His children.  She reminded me that God had gotten me thus far, He wants to bless me, and, no matter what happened, I am His and He is mine.  That put my mind at more ease, but still, I prayed more than I had in a long time about getting to the airport on time, about the early morning bus driver not skidding on the ice and killing us all at 5 AM, but mostly about a miraculous augmentation in my faith.  I really wanted to trust that God knew what He was doing.

The snow at Incheon Airport on the same day of my departure
Photo by Anne Shifley
I made it to the Incheon international airport 30 minutes before my flight departed for Tokyo.  I literally ran through the concourses to make it to my gate.  When I arrived, all of the passengers on my flight were sitting peacefully in their seats as they waiting for boarding.  I found an empty chair next to one of my friends from my Korean class.  I didn't know she was going home for the break, too.  We talked and hung out until we were called to board.

I snuggled into my seat at the back of coach and ended up dozing off.  The intercom woke up every once in a while saying in Korean, Japanese, and English that we would be taking off in just 10 minutes, 7 minutes, soon, and then again 7 minutes.  When my circadian rhythm shook me out of my sleep to check my watch, it was an hour and a half after the schedule take off time, and we hadn't even started taxiing from the jetway.

I did end up making it to Tokyo, but we landed over an hour and a half later than planned, and my layover was only for an hour and 40 minutes!  I was walking very, very quickly from my faraway seat.  I had my passport in hand and I had my seek and find eyes on so that I could get my boarding pass, find my gate, and get on that plane for Dallas.  My first sight of the airport was of a female employee holding a sign with "Dallas" markered across it and the a group of about 20 foreigners standing around her looking bewildered.

I joined the group and tried to figure out what was going on.  People were pointing with their eyes to an airplane outside the window.  They were saying that that was our plane.  They were getting agitated, upset, and holy cow, one girl was crying.  One man started yelling about how American Airlines is always late, and couldn't they wait ten minutes and make 20 people less angry?  And then, I saw that important plane start to move.  It left us.  Wow.

Okay.  I need to break here to let you know that, even though this was exactly what I was praying would not happen, I was still pretty optimistic about the situation.  Frankly, I don't think I had enough anxiety, stress, or any emotion left at this point in my journey.  Also, I knew that this was a temporary situation.  These people with the Tokyo airport weren't going to leave us high and dry, right?

The people in my Dallas group had different opinions.  There was the crying girl from Michigan, a group of female college students who just acted lost and pissed, plenty of other 20-something English teachers who knew enough about international flying to take it cool, a few guys heading to the UK being polite, and two grown American men who had already stepped into the "we're not gonna take it anymore" role.

These two men were each flat out arguing with an airport employee saying things like, "Where's your supervisor.  Let me talk to your supervisor."  "I can't believe you don't have any control over this!"  "Oh no, it's a very simple problem.  If you guys would have just handled it properly..." and on and on.  I was busy trying to stay positive, but I got an ear full of these dudes.  They settled down a little on our way to a counter where we would be getting new boarding passes for new flights.

The two American men continued to complain, to curse, to make obvious observations, and to offer their solutions.  They were speaking at a normal level for a crowded cafeteria, and they were pretty much the only ones in our group of lost boys who were talking, so we were all required to listen.  They knew it, too, and I think that it fueled some of their anger and their responses to each other.
"They'd better be talking Sky Miles when we get up to that counter.  Gosh, and they'd better give us come food."
"I mean, come on, man!  It's Christmas Eve!  Goshhh.  This is just a *** job of taking care of things."
"No, it's that they didn't do their job."
Stuff like that.

It's the understatement of the year to say that they were upsetting me.  I'd been fervently praying the whole day that God would take care of me.  Take care of me He did, and He'd also been gracious enough to help me believe that He would take care of me.  I've been bred to not complain, and that's a habit that's become very valuable and important to me.  I'd come through confusion, snow, late buses, and frightening air turbulence, and here I was stuck in Tokyo (not complaining) with two grown men acting like complete A-holes about something that the airport staff was working very hard to fix.  Their voices were booming over everyone, and everyone was silent.  I don't know about the others with me, but my insides were roiling.  I was getting angrier and angrier, not because I missed my flight, but because these two guys weren't being understanding.  They were complaining, and they were complaining very loudly.

These two guys were directly on the other side of the waiting line, and somehow, instead of snapping and punching one of them in the face,  I turned, looked them in the eyes (for a moment before I got scared), and began to speak.

"Um, excuse me.  I know I'm sticking my neck out there, and I know that this is a terrible situation...  We're all really pissed, and we're all upset, but, your negativity is really starting to agitate me.  If you could, just keep your level down...  And, I know this sucks.  No one's happy about it.  But, negativity breeds negativity, you know, so, could I ask you?  In the spirit of Christmas?  To just, keep it at a lower volume... I'd really appreciate it.  Okay.  That's all."

I turned around and let out the most strained and stressed sigh ever.  I noticed I'd been shaking.  My friend beside me said, very quietly, "That was nice."
"Thanks," I replied, equally quiet.  "I feel like we're in a movie."
We laughed about that-it was totally true-and then we started talking about normal things again.  In a lull in our conversation, Angry Man #1 said in a tone that betrayed humbleness and sincerity, "Thanks."
I, too, was humbled, and I gave him a shy, "You're welcome."

The rest of my time in the Tokyo airport included receiving new tickets for Dallas that would leave 7 hours later; talking about home with the Europeans; finding a free internet cafe and talking briefly with my sister, Millie, and Caleb (the 3 best people I could have possible talked to at that point); buying highly overpriced food for lunch (thank you, Japan); snagging some things for my family; and spending three hours talking about everything with the crying girl from Michigan, Rita.  She and I shared two boxes of koala cookies we bought.  She wasn't crying anymore, by the way.

It was funny.  I really did feel like I was in a movie.  Even after the dramatic show down with the loud men, even beyond the fact that we were stuck in an airport on Christmas Eve, of all days, there was a strange air of half-baked community between us Dallas people that reminded me of something you'd see on TV.  At one point, after I'd bought my sandwich, I saw Oklahoma City and Scotland walking down the escalator.  The only other Dallas person I'd seen in my area was Angry Man #2, and I didn't want to be around him, so I chased after Oklahoma and Scotland.  When I reached them, I said, "Hello.  I really just want some company.  Can I join you?"  Of course I could, they said.  It was then that we shared names (Don and Paul, I think), but we never used them again.  Instead we set out to see how we would survive in this new place, and it was then that we found the internet cafe.  (Zombieland all over again, I'm telling you.)

Anyway.  I made it to Dallas.  I used a girl's iPhone to call my mom about my arrival times.  I experienced reverse culture shock going through customs.  There were the pro-American videos, the girl who responded way too cheerily to my compliment about her nail polish (I was tired), the smiling flight attendant who laughed when he saw me looking at him and asked if I'd heard what he'd been talking about, and all this was before getting to the food court and hanging out with America's most obese city.  Also, there were no recycling receptacles, and the bathroom stalls came up further than a foot off the ground.  Oh, and I could understand just about everyone!  I sure wasn't in Korea anymore, and it was freaking me out like crazy.

At baggage claim in Dallas, I saw Angry Man #2 across the carousel on his cell phone.  We acknowledged each other with a nod, and then he smiled and waved at me.  What else could I do but smile back?  And later, when I could think about it, I knew that he and I were cool.

Later, heading to the line to board the plane, there was a wonderful older American man wearing a fedora with a feather in it.  He was singing with a beautiful crooning voice, "And though it's been said many times many ways..."  I smiled real big at him.  After he finished, he looked at a lady near him holding a bundle in her arms.  The man said, "Looks like your present came early."  She smiled and looked at her bundle again, and I saw that it was a newborn baby.  There were a lot of smiles going on, and I was glad to be nestling into the plane that would finally be taking me home.

I read on the way and played sudokus on my iPod.  I was trying to stay awake so that I could be on my new sleep schedule as soon as possible.  As we got closer to Atlanta, I paid less and less attention to my iPod.  I really, really like the way city lights look from above in the dark.  I remember this one ride down a mountain in California when we lived there about 18 years ago.  It was Christmas time.  We were going back home from something, and it was dark out.  Outside the windows of the Astro van, down and to the right, lay some city bright with its sparkling lights in gold, amber, and silver.  I was dazzled.  Now, every time I see a similar scene, I remember the first, and I'm again mesmerized and transported to someplace where fairies are real and gold tastes delicious.  That's what the lights mean to me, at least, and that's what they spoke to me as we descended.  It had been raining, and there was extra sparkle in the city.  The lights, the darkness in the airplane cabin, and the fact that the crooner from before was on the plane with me all helped remind me that tomorrow was Christmas.

Tomorrow was Christmas?!

In all the rush, the tragedy, the chaos, the stress, I'd completely forgotten why I was going home.  What a beautiful surprise to be reminded of as I latched on to this childhood memory.  It was really a special time for me.

I didn't have to rush off the plane.  I didn't want to, anyway.  I got to hear the singing man again in baggage claim.  I watched him singing to some of the airport personnel.  I told him I really enjoyed being on the plane with him, and he nodded kindly in my direction as he continued to sing.  I had a quick exchange with one of the ladies listening about hoe lovely the man's voice was before heading up to where my family would be waiting.

I didn't see them when I came up to the usual place.  My cell phone was dead, so I couldn't call them to ask where they were, either.  And, funny thing, but I really didn't want to ask anyone if I could use their cell phone.  Most of the people around me seemed busy or not interested.  I did end up going to a help desk where the nice lady showed me an emergency phone I could use.  I got a hold of Mom, told her I'd wait by carousel 3, and then set my eyes on blaze mode while I looked for them to come to me.  After about a minute, I saw a familiar girl running toward me.  I dropped everything and ran to my sister's embrace.  Mom came next, and then Dad who I hadn't been expecting.  We all shared the best group hug in our history, Sister showed me the lime green and glitter sign she made for me, we chatted about why I hadn't come up at the usual meeting place where they had been waiting, and we headed out to where the van was parked.

I told them my story the whole way home.  For 45 minutes I talked.  I shared the story again with Caleb, Millie and Sweeny, and then I had to shorten it each time afterward for time's sake.  But, here you have the whole thing as best as I can remember it, and as much as is relevant.


  1. This whole story really does sound like a movie! And I think the best part is that you make connections with all these strangers. I would just sit down with a book and shut everyone out. But you're pretty awesome at being friendly :)

  2. ...and we're all so glad you made it! You have a much better attitude about such things than I do.

  3. Wow Lindsay, that sounds like an amazing adventure/misadventure! Reading it started to bring back stress from public transportation experiences I had this summer, but that was much more of an ordeal than I ever had to go through. Really enjoyed reading it though, and glad it turned out well!


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