The time finally came—I got homesick for Texas and my kids—so I tearfully said goodbye to County Donegal, Ireland, and headed home on Thursday, 7 July.
Everyone came out to see me off on the McGinley coach at 4pm. Denis waved the American flag, cars honked as they passed. It was raining, so we were huddled under umbrellas. I got hugs and kisses from everyone, and then the bus appeared over the hill.
Once on the bus, I snagged the front seat behind the driver so I could better see the gorgeous countryside. The gentleman across the aisle from me, Manus, engaged me in a wonderful conversation that lasted all the way to the Dublin airport. He’s from Falcarragh, the next town over from Corcreggan Mill, and isn’t it just like the universe to give me a new friend just as I am leaving?
Sidetrack: Since March, I have been going barefoot as much as possible. My feet have become quite tough, and I was even able to walk across the sharp gravel in the drive, for at least a short distance. Two barefooter friends (Dean in Hawaii, Barefoot Nick in San Diego) challenged me to travel home barefoot. It’s hard for me to pass up a dare, so about halfway to Dublin, I put my flip-flops in my backpack, and rode the rest of the way with no shoes. At the airport, I found the pavement to be a little rough, but I persevered and stayed barefoot until I boarded my first flight. The US Airways flight attendant, as she welcomed me aboard, looked down and said in consternation, “Where are your shoes??” I told her they were in my backpack, and she informed me that I had to wear shoes on the plane, because “it’s the rules.”
I was a little disappointed, but I dutifully took the flip-flops out of my bag, and kept them on the floor under my feet. I did wear them to the lavatory, because I really didn’t want any trouble from this flight attendant. I was already tired. Once the flight landed and we disembarked, however, the shoes came off again. My feet were bare for the entire journey home except for the actual flights, where I boarded and left the plane in my flip-flops.
OK, back to the story: I arrived at Dublin airport around 8pm on Thursday. My flight was at 11:15am the next morning, so I found a seat over by the Internet booth, almost under the stairs, and settled in for the night. In case you aren’t aware, sleeping upright in airport chairs is not comfortable! First you slump down, putting a rolled up scarf behind your head, and resting your feet on another loose chair. You can sleep for about a half hour that way, then the stiffness wakes you up, and you then hunch over your knees for another bit. Back and forth, I slept in 30-40 minute stretches through the night. Airports should have sleeping booths for rent, so you can stretch out on something a little more cushiony than the floor.
Sometime around 4am, the airport came alive, and people started arriving for their flights. At 7am, I decided to go check in. Good thing, because I stood in quite a line, and once my bag was checked, the gate agent informed me I needed to go to US Preclearance by 9am, because customs could take a long time.
With boarding passes for all 3 legs of the trip in hand, I went upstairs and ate breakfast (2 slices bacon, scrambled eggs, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms) and had a cappuccino. Then I went back downstairs and exchanged my Euro notes (€180) for US dollars ($240). I still had Euro coins in my purse, but decided that those would make great souvenirs, if I didn’t need them to purchase anything before I left.
Getting through security was both amusing and a pain in the arse. My purse was selected for rechecking: my little nail file was confiscated for being a couple of millimeters over the prescribed size limit, as well as the stainless table knife I’d brought along to eat the pate I had for dinner the night before. I’d forgotten to put my little bottle of lotion in my 3-1-1 bag, but she didn’t take it, saying now that she’d seen it, it was no big deal. All through the rescanning of my bag, the security agent apologized profusely for the trouble. One doesn’t see that in TSA agents in the United States! Once through the gate security, I went to immigration, where my passport was scanned and stamped, with no questions. Next was customs. Sheesh, you’d think the U.S. didn’t trust Ireland! My apple was confiscated, because you can’t take fruits and veggies into the U.S. from other countries. The little chunk of cheese I still had, she didn’t care about. She didn’t even inspect my backpack. I now understood why the ticket agent had said to not be late for preclearance.
At the gate, I dug out my laptop and played on it a bit, checking email and posting my status on Facebook. Finally, we boarded, and I stowed my backpack above and kept my big purse at my seat. I was so tired, I fell asleep, and the flight attendant had to wake me to give me my meal.
Gluten-free was the best I figured I could do to avoid grains, especially wheat. It wasn’t too bad. The entrée was chicken breast with mashed potatoes and an endive and other veggie side dish. There was a salad with baby greens, a cherry tomato, and a lemon slice. The balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing was in a tiny bottle reminiscent of hotel shampoos. Dessert was orange and grapefruit slices, and there was a gluten-free roll with Flora margarine (why do they think gluten-free means low fat??). I left the roll, but ate all the rest. Later I got hungry again, but managed to make it to Philly without eating. I did have a bloody Mary mix, sans the alcohol. It had only 15 grams of carbs for the entire can, and I didn’t drink it all. About the only time I drink stuff like that is on planes, for some reason.
At Philadelphia, I found my gate fairly easily. The next leg of the trip was to Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Except after a while, it was announced that the plane we were awaiting had been diverted to Norfolk, VA, because of a storm. They would try to find a plane there in the airport for us to use. A short time later, there was another announcement that there was no other plane for us, and they were sending the plane from Norfolk back to Philly. That would take at least an hour.
I headed over to customer service to see about getting a different flight out, or to at least find out how that would affect my Chicago flight to Dallas. The line was very long, and I stood in it for about 45 minutes, shuffling forward every so often. Someone came along and started handing out cards with a toll-free number on it, saying they’d opened up a hotline so we wouldn’t have to stand in line. I told the man I didn’t have a cell phone, and he said to come with him, and then he personally rerouted me to another flight, ahead of several other waiting customers!
After finding my new gate, I asked the agent to make sure I was okay for my American Airlines Dallas flight. She tried to book me on a better one, but wasn’t able to, so told me to go see the AA agent at the next gate. That agent told me I was booked on 3 different flights! She fixed it, put me on the 9:05pm flight, and handed me my boarding pass.
Once in Chicago, I had a heck of a time finding the American gates. I finally happened upon an information office and they gave me a terminal map and pointed me in the right direction. By this time, I really needed to let Claire and her dad know the change in plans, but couldn’t get my yahoo mail to open. Gmail opened easily, so I tried to text Claire from that, but had the wrong email for her phone, and it bounced. I jumped up and went to the wall of public phones, knowing that my plane would be boarding very soon. My PayPal debit card didn’t work (they cut me off again, I guess, since I left Ireland?) and I had only 50 cents (but needed $1 to make the long-distance call). Frustrated and really exhausted, I gave up and got on the flight, worrying all along that Claire and her father would be frantic trying to find me.
They were. When I arrived at baggage claim, I found a kind soul who let me use his cell phone to call Claire, who was actually there in baggage claim, across the carousel. Claire just hugged me for about 5 minutes, and David glared at me. Poor man, I didn’t blame him! I later told them the story of my journey, and apologized profusely to him. By the time we got to the apartment at midnight, he was chuckling and not so angry any more.
Ah, but wait—there’s more! My checked bag didn’t make the flight changes, and was nowhere to be found. I ended up filing a claim for it, and they gave me an overnight kit that had toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shave cream, a razor, a comb, and hairspray, but no soap or shampoo. I didn’t really need it, but figured I could use the bits for future travel.
My bag was delivered on Saturday evening around 11pm, intact but having been searched by customs. They’d opened the brick of coffee I’d brought with me, I suppose to check for drugs. I knew there was a reason for not putting a lock on it!
It’s now Wednesday, and after several days of dragging around and then sleeping for 11 hours last night, I’m pretty much over my jetlag. It’s hot and I miss the cool Irish summer, but I am really happy to be home with Claire and the cats. They’re happy for me to be here, too.
Now to prepare for the next adventure: traveling the United States with Claire and three cats. Stay tuned!