Sep 5, 2014

That Time My Life Was an Episode of The Amazing Race

Most good stories don't start with I arrived at the airport in plenty of time and calmly proceeded to the gate. 

This one doesn't either.

You know when you have just enough time to get the airport, but only if things go absolutely perfectly, and the universe is like NOPE? That's how I ended up at the Budapest airport, standing outside the gate with fifteen minutes to go, being told that the gate was closed and I was not allowed to get on the plane.


I had been in Budapest visiting a longtime friend. The kind of friend who you started a Unicorn club with in the fifth grade, wrote notes to in a secret language, and cried with over your first break-up. So when this friend ends up in Europe for one year, and just happens to give birth to her first baby, you go visit her for a weekend. And when your husband sadly loses a brother just a few days before, and books a last-minute flight back to the US for the funeral, you just divvy out your kids to friends, and you still go to Budapest. Because Unicorn Club alum stick together, yo. Also, because of non-refundable flights, and two days to hold this bundle of adorableness:

You see what I'm talking about.

Back to me missing my flight at the airport. 

It was a Saturday, early evening. Mark was in the US, and I was supposed to pick up my kids by Sunday morning. I needed to figure out a way to get to Amsterdam as quickly as possible. Suddenly, it was just like The Amazing Race, but for realzzz. And with a disappointing lack of Phil Keoghan. Sigh.

I walked back to the ticketing area, and gave the departure board a good, long stare. Of course there were no more flights to The Netherlands that night. Summoning my inner Catherine O'hara from Home Alone, I walked to the ticket counter, and sobbed.

"I will do anything! Whatever it takes to get me on a flight, I will fight, kill, prostitute myself... I will sell my soul to Kim Kardashian's baby, wear high-wasted jeans for the rest of my life...JUST GET ME HOME TO MY KIDS."

"Let's see, looks like there's a seat on a flight to Brussels tonight at 8:30."

"I'll take it. What do I have to do?"

"Nothing, just the payment, ma'am."

"Oh, OK. You're sure that's all? Seems a little anti-climactic."

In the actual The Amazing Race, this would be the dramatic part, right before cutting to commercials. Lots of close-up shots of me looking worried, and biting my lip. Suspenseful music. Foreshadowing of tragedy to come. And then after the break, everything seems to have worked out just fine, as if there wasn't really any drama at all, just manipulative editing.

Two hours later I was on a flight to Brussels.

Brussels Charleroi Airport is actually not anywhere near Brussels. It's closer to France. After an hour bus ride, and a quick ride on the next-to-last train into Brussels central station, I arrived to find that the station was closing for the night. Who knew? It was one in the morning. I walked outside, looked at the row of backpackers curled up next to the station, and found a place to sit that didn't look as if it had been peed on too recently.

So there I was. This is the part where my insomnia super power saved the day. It's like I'd been training for this moment my entire life.

Sleep is for wusses. 

Brussels was in the middle of a music festival, so at 1 AM it was loud, boisterous, and busy. Ignoring the shouts in French from drunken passersby, I searched on my phone for ways to get to Amsterdam. Ten points to me for at least having my phone charged, though minus 1000 points for missing my flight in the first place.

Most of the trains and bus services I was aware of didn't leave until the next day, and were either fully booked, insanely pricey, or involved further transfers and waiting. I didn't see how I could get home until at least dinner time.

When was the last time you had to use the second page of Google's search results? I know, right? That's where I found a charter bus that happened to be leaving from Brussels at 4 AM, arriving in Amsterdam three hours later, for just 20 euro. I checked the location-- the bus stop was literally around the corner. And there were still seats available.

Small hiccup: the tickets were only available online, and only by credit card. Guess who didn't bring a credit card? That's right. Mrs Ultra Light Packer.

That's when I sent a message to Mark. "Hey, missed my flight (haha). Send cc#, urgent."

While it was 2 AM in Brussels, it was 6 PM in South Dakota on the day of my brother-in-law's funeral. I had two hours, hoping even a family tragedy wouldn't interfere with smart phone addictions. I really had to pee.

Cue the suspenseful close-up.
(Dramatic reenactment)

At some point, another backpacker arrived and asked in a thick British accent, "so is this where we're sleeping tonight?" He then proceeded to tell me about his day, with a brazen disregard for every word in the English language that was not the f-word, all while undressing and getting in his sleeping bag.

You would think by three in the morning things would quiet down, but no, that's just when the crazies came out. Anyone who is out after that time you just hoped kept walking. And there were plenty of people out, and no police. Which I guess was good for the backpackers sleeping in front of the train station.

A car screeched up on the sidewalk, men hanging out the windows, yelling and honking. After being ignored, they peeled out, only to come back a few minutes later for a repeat. Wasted party goers stumbled past. Teenagers ran down the middle of the street, chasing after cars.

There were the three men who walked up and spent a good thirty minutes alternately screaming at each other in French and caressing each other, until a fourth man joined them, yelled at them, hugged them, and then showed them the contents of his wallet. They all walked off together without even a glance or catcall in my direction. Thank God for gay men.

Eventually I got a response from Mark: "Of course you missed your flight." (We didn't know that three days later, Mark would miss his flight home due to bad weather, he'd spend thirty-six hours traveling due to an airline I won't name but will call Crappy "United" Airlines. But at least he would get to sleep at the airport.)

So, with my credit card number, and just enough cell phone battery, I booked my ticket on the bus and prayed it wasn't a scam. At 4:05 I was pulling out of Brussels on a bus full of sleepy backpackers, thankful I wasn't the stinkiest person there.

Twelve hours after my flight would have arrived, I made it to Amsterdam, or rather the strangest, most remote part of Amsterdam I've ever been to. It took another hour and a half via public transportaion to get home and relieve my bladder.

But it was a non-elimination round! I still had to bike around town retrieving my kids in a nasty storm. Not to mention survive four more days of Summer vacation, alone with the kids and non-stop rain. Thanks Amsterdam, for that.

So Phil, did I win?


Courtney @ Ordinary Happily Ever After said...


Anonymous said...

I always knew your survival training growing up as a middle child in the Stovall family would come in handy.