A photo my mother took of me in line for security at PDX.
This is the story of my first day in France, circa August 31, 2015. Enjoy:
I left home around 8 in the morning with my whole family in tow to go to PDX. After a hug-filled farewell, I traversed TSA security more quickly than ever. I didn’t have to take off my shoes nor take out my laptop. Crazy thought, being treated like a normal citizen at an airport. Was this what it felt like to live in the 90’s?
I hopped on a Horizon plane for a quick jaunt to Seattle. After landing, I made my way to the S terminal at Sea-Tac and proceeded to wait to get my Lufthansa ticket. After waiting in line until 12:10, I was informed that they didn’t have my seats yet. I had to wait until 1 to be paged for my seat placement. At the time, I was more worried about my checked bags, for I hadn’t been informed exactly how I was supposed to get them back. In any case, I put that out of my mind and waited to board with my friend from school, Nakaia.
Shortly, I boarded the plane, seated in economy class. I proceeded to sit down for nine hours straight in relatively cramped conditions. I finished up The Martian, watched the Secret Life of Walter Mitty (in order to feel good about traveling), started reading Catch-22 and ended my in-flight entertainment by listening to the Ready Player One audio book.
After landing, I quickly traversed customs with Nakaia and went to baggage claim. Sure enough, my bags didn’t appear. I went to the baggage tracking center and chatted with the German attendant there. She handed me a map and gave me quick and precise instructions. By precise, I mean it boiled down to going on a wild goose chase. Sighing heavily, I left the terminal, traversed the rest of the airport, hit a button on a nondescript side door and entered another, separate baggage claim terminal (B to be precise).
I was told to check out carousel 15, for my bags would show up there for some reason. Of course, they didn’t. So I chatted with another German lady at the baggage tracking center in that terminal. She proceeded to call someone, spoke some rapid-fire German and said it would show up in 15 minutes. And, once again, I waited and finally got my bags…after German police checked them out in case they were suspicious. Fantastic. That whole ordeal burned a full hour and a half out of our layover.
Running shorter on time, Nakaia and I attempted to find the bus station at the airport. We got lost. Badly. After walking around, sweaty and tired, we hailed a worker who spoke only German. Communicating with him boiled down to pointing at our shitty map and saying ja, nien, danke, and bitte. After following him a long ways to an elevator, we resumed our journey…by walking down yet another long, long hall. Finally, we found the bus…and were shortly informed by the Kalamazoo students who came soon after that our flight tickets weren’t sufficient for bus travel. We’d have to check in somewhere. So, I left my luggage with them and dashed off to get checked in. I had half an hour.
Suffice to say, it didn’t work out well. The check-in kiosks wouldn’t work. An attendant had to help me to get it to process and I was informed that it was too late to check-in for my bus. I was also informed that it was boarding at the moment. So, not wanting to lose my bags with a bus I wasn’t on, I ran back to grab them and sprinted back to the check-in area, heavy bags in tow. I had ten minutes left. I waited in line, found a nice German lady to check me in manually, and I had my ticket at last…five minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave. German punctuality is a fickle bitch.
So, I ran. Hard. With easily 75 pounds of bags in tow. I made it to the bus at 11 o’ clock sharp somehow. I tossed my bags in and hopped on right as it left. The day had been stressful enough and I was glad to sit down and relax.
Two and a half hours later, we made it Strasbourg. Disembarking from the bus in a wave, my fellow peers were greeted by their host families. Except for me. Turned out my hosts couldn’t come due to several sudden emergencies. In short, I was stuck at the bus station in front of the local Hilton. It also started to rain. Hard.
Thankfully, the program director, Bethany, kept me busy by running a few errands with her and her French assistant, Camille. After some harrowing adventures involving a fellow student’s lost luggage, hot chocolate and bicycles, I returned to the Hilton. Once back at the Hilton, I proceeded to wait another hour and a half for my host.
At that point, I wanted to be anywhere but here. My anxiety had been on an all time high all day, I was wet, cold, and tired. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be home. At Lewis & Clark. Not in this hell, populated by French people.
As 5:30 rolled around, I was greeted by Esteban, my host/roommate for the semester. Thankfully, he spoke English and was generally a cool dude. I followed him out, bags in tow, to his bike. He didn’t have a car. And it was raining. Fuck. Hoofing it again.
So, I walked to my new home with him. In the rain. With heavy bags. I was so done with the day.
20 minutes later, exhausted, I made it to the apartment with him and collapsed on the bed. It was finally over.