I recently spent a night in Newark Airport because I missed my connection to Hartford. Upon landing in the Garden State, the plane didn’t have a gate to unload at, so it sat on the runway for a half hour. Of all the reasons to miss a connecting flight, this seemed like a pretty dumb one. It was after 10 p.m. and everyone on the plane except me was ticked.
“Where are you headed?” A librarian-looking lady sitting with her husband asked the guy next to me. What I found so funny was that by asking such a question she assumed that no one flies to New Jersey as a final destination.
“London,” he said, shaking his head. “And you?”
“Paris,” she sighed as she rested her head on her husband’s shoulder.
“What about you dear?” she looked at me.
“Oh me? I’m just going to Hartford, so you can feel only sorry for me if I make the flight,” I said.
The librarian looked confused.
“Oh but I’m fine either way,” I said, remembering my resolve to be less sarcastic and more pleasant when I talk to elders, “I’m not missing anything important.”
Besides, the librarian was likely unaware that when your flight is delayed you can call United and complain and get a travel voucher, which is what I was going to do as soon as I got off the daggum plane.
When we finally got to a gate and disembarked and I rebooked my flight for the next morning, my mom texted me. I assumed she was checking on me to see if I had made it back okay. Instead she was all riled up by the Republican National Convention:
Mom: Did you register to vote yet?
Me: What makes you think I didn’t vote in the last election?
Mom: Couldn’t remember. Well make sure you fill out your absentee ballot.
Me: Can’t right now. Missed my flight from Newark
Mom: Don’t wait too long. That’s too bad. What hotel did they put you up in?
Me: Hotel Gate C90
Mom: Well in that case you should be proud to be sleeping in the state that the Republican National Convention keynote speaker is governing.
Me: Thanks you always know how to make me feel better.
I looked up from my uncomfortable chair to see Chris Christie talking to me from Gate C90’s flatscreen television. He said he wants America to be like his family growing up, where his parents chose “respect over love.” Respect over love. That really got me thinking. Are they really mutually exclusive? I wondered which one my family was. After thinking about it for perhaps too long, I grew distressed because I didn’t think we were either. Respect? Love? What are those? I watched his speech a while longer, but the only thing I took away was that I could go to the food court and get an Oreo McFlurry, because Chris Christie is a living testament (for now) that I can be on the verge of a heart attack and still tell a state of 9 million people what to do.
The convention was a great distraction, but what else to do in an airport for eight hours? In a first world airport, the options are seemingly endless. I could get my shoes shined, window shop, drink myself silly and get lost for a few hours discovering other terminals.
But I did none of those. After waking hours staying occupied gets a bit trickier, but is still very feasible. I took advantage of the sort-of free wifi that only let me on Google and Gmail without paying. So I logged on and wrote a few emails I was behind on. Then I blogged a little. Then I opened up my iTunes to create an “FML I am stuck in New Jersey” depression playlist. But when my iTunes opened, I remembered that while I had uploaded some old CD’s to my computer, one of them being the BBC’s recording of Princess Diana’s entire funeral (Yes, The Anderson’s own this). I originally uploaded it because I thought it would be funny to blog about my mom’s love for the british monarchy, but then found myself captivated. As I sat there and listened to the Choir of Westminster Abbey sing “Make Me A Channel of Your Peace” (Do you want this sung at your funeral, Mom?), all I could do was wonder what Diana would say to Prince Harry about his Las Vegas pictures. Did anyone think the little red headed boy who wrote the note to his“Mummy” on her casket would come to this? (**Note: that this does not change my strong feelings for Prince Harry whatsoever).
But look at all the things I was able to do! I’d enjoyed a $14 panini, a McFlurry and a large Diet Coke, watched the convention, listened to music, complained about my life to friends via text message, relived a funeral (oxymoron?), wrote, practiced on Rosetta Stone Portuguese, emailed my friends, complained to United and got a $50 voucher, Gchatted with my brother in Prague and slept. It was the most productive eight hours I’d had since I wrote a 17 page paper the night before it was due. The only pathetic part about my evening was my makeshift pillow: dirty laundry shoved into a t-shirt with a knot tied at the end.
So while I thought I had a PhD in Crappy Situation Management, I was like a lost freshman at orientation in Nepal’s Tribhuvan quasi-International Airport. I was entirely unprepared. Upon landing in Kathmandu from Delhi, we disembarked on the runway and went to the parking lot to meet Prem, our Nepali travel coordinator extraordinaire. Dad spotted him waving at us from a distance. He waved back and led to the group toward his white van to take us to the other terminal for our flight.
“How does he know who we are?” I asked.
“How many other groups of seven Americans did you see, Amanda?” Dad retorted.
Dad’s right, dumb question. Even in America we are not a group that blends in well. Factor in that my brothers suddenly looked like Dwight Howard standing next to Nepali people and we girls are wearing marathon shirts and spandex and you have quite the motley crew. But beyond that, it’s offseason for tourists in India and Nepal. In peak season a few hundred foreigners come to Kathmandu a day, and well, I only counted our group, five Europeans and three Australians.
Prem’s picture was on his website that I found, but I still wouldn’t have picked him out in the airport parking lot. He wore a white tunic shirt and matching white pants that hung on to his thin frame for dear life. He always had to brush back his lightly waved black chin-length hair that covered part of his face, his fingers combing through it with each stroke. I envision the Maharishi guru dude the Beatles studied under in the India looked just like Prem.
Prem treated us like guests of honor and adorned our us with freshly-picked marigold necklaces. He introduced us to Ramesh, who would be guiding us on the trek. Then he took a picture of our group, which reminded me of those commemorative souvenir pictures you take before you go on the boat ride at Niagara Falls. This is what they looked like before they got soaked! Prem told us the weather was good, and that we should have no problem making it to Lukla, the airport in the Himalayas, because the two earlier flights of the day (6 a.m. and 7 a.m.) had successfully taken off and not crashed, an added bonus. Prem dropped us off on the other side of the airport for our flight to Lukla and wished us all the best on the trek. Since he booked the flight we weren’t exactly sure what airline or what time the flight left; but Ramesh had all the info, so we camped out on a bench and waited for him to tell us where to go.
Dad suggested we use that time to get organized. “Everyone have their passports?” he asked. When you ask a question like that, you aren’t asking whether or not we have them, it’s more of a command to take them out and give them to him. You assume everyone’s got theirs.
So we all took out our passports and stacked them in my dad’s hand. Then he reached into his backpack to get his. Then a strange look crossed his face, which is Paul for “I can’t find my passport but am trying not to show it.” Since he didn’t acknowledge it I seized the opportunity to call him out.
“Lose your passport?” I joked.
He didn’t answer, only dug through his backpack more rapidly. No. Freaking. Way. We all just stared at him silently as he looked in every pocket of his backpack, dumping out its contents onto the dirty airport floor.
greeeeaaaaaaaaaaaat I thought to myself. Could this day get any worse?
After five VERY uncomfortable minutes that seemed more like 20, he opened up one of his folders and found it tucked away.
His passport was (not surprisingly) in his “Important Documents” folder, which is not a folder at all. Rather, it is a used cardboard standard shipping 8 x 10 FedEx envelope that my dad puts all of his travel information in for every vacation we’ve taken as long as I can remember. There is a mystique around the worn out Important Documents folder. No one is allowed to carry it or even look through it besides my father. I am told its contents are typically his passport, emergency numbers, flight information and a remote that could set off nuclear weapons with the press of a single button. But I’ve never known for sure. It’s very unassuming and misleading because it is a previously used envelope that was addressed to him, with each line someone addressed to him now crossed out with my dad’s signature straight lines. In several places on the front and back of the envelope, “DO NOT SHIP!” is written in all caps.
My dad’s reasoning is that should a commoner not privy to the envelope’s contents find the Important Documents folder, he or she would simply drop it in the nearest U.S. Postal Service box. This has always perplexed me. When was the last time you found an envelope on the ground and thought to yourself, “You know what, I should really be a good Samaritan and help out whoever dropped this envelope and put it in the mail for them.” That’s what I thought.
After we had gotten our fill making fun of him for misplacing his passport, my dad tried to explain to us that he thought he took it out of the folder, so did not check there right away. Strike one called on Paul Anderson.
Although we were getting ready to get back on a plane, none of us knew when exactly we were taking off. At this point in the trip, our default mode was just to not ask questions. It’s easier to be ignorant and hope for the best because we never get the answer we want anyway. But before we knew it an hour had passed. I thought we would have at least gone through security by then. But no one in our group seemed to notice.
Ramesh eventually told us that the flight was not allowed to take off yet because it was too cloudy. We would have to wait until it cleared up to take off, which would be at approximately whenever. Clearly meteorologists in Nepal suck as much as they do in America.
“Heck, it’s only 8 a.m., so we have plenty of time for the weather to clear up!” I reminded everyone. “Good thing I booked that early flight!”
No one responded. Since we had woken up at 3 a.m. we wanted to sleep more than we wanted to make our connecting flight and hike for five hours, but the conditions were not very conducive. Even if I had been organized enough to research on my preferred travel site Sleepinginairports.net, the most recent review of Tribhuvan Airport was from 2010. The site allows readers to review any airport in the world based on how easily you can sleep there and skip out on paying for a hotel. As an avid user of the site, I feel it is my civic duty to report on the conditions:
Was this an overnight Stay? Sort of
Reason for Stay: It was that or take off and risk death
Security: I’m not expert but they let 300 baby chickens through customs
Would you sleep in this airport again? I’d rather die
Optional – Tell us what else you noticed: Read on my friends
SEATING: Hard Bucket Seats with Benches with no backs or cushions
- Comfortable Cushioned Seating
- Hard Bucket Seats
- Benches (no backs or cushions)
- Other seating with armrests
- Other seating without armrests
- no seating
- Televisions: two 1990’s TVs in the terminal with Nepali news channel on
- Gift Shops: singular, not plural
- Bookstores: books may have been sold at the one gift shop.
- Fine jewellery and clothing shops
- Internet Cafes: I didn’t see any
- Fast Food: one snack shop
- Sit down style restaurants: not the phraseology I would use but yes there was one
- Bars: unfortunately no
- Casino: fortunately no.
- Prayer rooms: unlikely
- Kids Play areas: the terminal floor
- Gym or fitness areas for adults: nope
- Sleep rooms: the terminal floor
- Movie theatres: our lives are already a movie
- Massage/Spa services: Morgan
- Hair Salon/Barber Shop: please
- Bag Storage /Lockers: nope
- WIFI: didn’t have the phone capability to explore this option, but I’m pretty sure No.
- Clean Bathrooms: No
- Filthy Bathrooms: Yes
- Flush Toilets: No
- Squat/Hole-in-the-ground Toilets: Yes
- Automatic Flush Toilets (the ones that are suppose to flush when you leave the cubicle): No
- no bathrooms: never heard of a bathroomless airport but my goal is to find one now
- BYOTP (Bring your own toilet paper): BIG TIME
SHOWERS: WHAT DO YOU THINK?
SMOKING: Do tell, does it seem like rules are a big thing here?
ANNOUNCEMENTS/NOISE: You have to know somebody that knows somebody to find out when your plane takes off. We had Ramesh. Noise not an issue.
TEMPERATURES: This is the least of your problems so I refuse to answer
- Insects were present: Probably but they didn’t bother us
- Rats and other large rodents/animals present: Do birds count?
- Drug addicts homeless people and other suspicious people were present: NO
CLEANLINESS: What cleaning staff?
Despite all this, my mom had no trouble sleeping:
It’s one of her many talents.
I felt weird sleeping while Ramesh was next to us anyway. It was a little insulting to be like, “Hi, nice to meet you!” and then go to sleep while he sits next to you, basically saying that I’d rather lay across a dirty floor with my eyes closed than get to know you.
So I made small talk and went to through my bag of obvious questions: Where are you from? (village outside Kathmandu) Where did you go to school? (a university in Kathmandu) What did you study? (Sociology and Tourism) How long have you worked with Prem? (since the 90’s–they went to school together) And my all-time favorite compliment-disguised-as-a-question: How did you learn English so well? (taking all you foreigners around)
Time was passing slowly, and the conversation was struggling to keep its head above water. So I graduated quicker than normal to a personal question–how old are you?
“Guess.” Ramesh said.
“Well, you already told me you’ve been a guide since the 90’s, so I would have guessed a lower number so this one probably won’t be as flattering as you were hoping. How about 28?”
Ramesh shakes his head. “Higher…”
“31!” Despite being completely knocked out two minutes ago, my mom’s subconscious sensed the age game in her slumber and blurted out her guess.
“Yes,” Ramesh said.
“Where did you come from?” I asked her mockingly. I hate losing but for better or for worse, she’s really good at it. There is nothing she loves more than the age game, especially when people guess her age. I think she is enjoys when people guess 31 and 49 in the same game. She even got carded at Chipotle a few months ago with Kevin, Morgan and me upon ordering a margarita (I know what you are thinking, no one goes to Chipotle and gets a margarita. Meet my mom).
We continued to pass the time by simply watching the sights of Tribuvan airport. Some very interesting things were coming through security, most notably, 17 flimsy cardboard boxes with tiny holes poked in them stacked on top of each other. We thought we heard chirping coming from them, so got a little closer to inspect. We saw little probably 30 little chicks inside each one. They were unsupervised, just sitting there in the middle of the airport. Other items of note included entire toilets, wood panels, sheets of metal and refrigerators. I laughed to myself that before going through customs I was scared that they might confiscate the marigold necklaces Prem had given us.
By now another two hours had gone by. Ramesh would intermittently excuse himself and talk on the phone. At first I just thought he was really popular, but then I realized that he was updating Prem on our flight status. We still couldn’t take off, but maybe in a few more hours.
A few more hours? Define “a few…”
He wouldn’t say for sure, but now everyone was growing restless, most notably, my mother, who was already upset that she had to leave India to sit on a tile floor. As chief family game planner, it is my self-appointed job to come up with stupid ways to entertain the group. I am a big fan of Sporcle-esque games, like name all the capitals of the US, or list as many animals from Disney movies that begin with the letter M. It’s too bad my friend Jess only recently introduced me to my now all-time favorite people watching airport game ever called ‘Gay or European.’ I try and keep it intelligent though, so I suggested that we try and name all the countries in Africa.
“Why would you think that’d be fun?” Kevin asked. “Plus, you two nerds already know them all,” he said, pointing at Tim and me.
Kevin’s right. When Tim had a geography test requiring him to label a map of Africa last year, I went crazy printing out maps of Africa by region–I posted them in the bathrooms of our house, on doors and in Tim’s bedroom. Needless to say, he got 100%. On top of that, while every other room in the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority house had that archetypical college dorm picture of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol, I hung up an enormous map of Africa in the room Deirdre and me shared our senior year that I got when I interned at National Geographic. I remember one time as we went to sleep we discussed our surprise at the large size of Nigeria. Again, this is why Deirdre is my best friend and also why we won Zeta Tau Alpha’s prestigious award, “Best Roommates of 2011.” The Academy unanimously agreed that no other college-aged girl would have okayed someone hanging up an enormous map of Africa in her bedroom.
“Well it’s not like we’re gonna get all 54,” I said in a weak attempt at self-deprecation.
Then I suggested we try and list all the presidents in order. “C’mon Amanda, I know you know a song with all the presidents,” Deirdre said.
She’s right. It’s from Schoolhouse Rock but I only know the song up to President Grant, so it could still make for a good game. Besides, it was supposed to be a team-oriented game, and so what if I carried the group from 1776 to 1870? I was just trying to help out.
Then I suggested we try and name all the amendments, which finally Kevin and Tim agreed to, being the patriots that they are (recall Tim’s Ted Nugent shirt at the Taj). Looking back on our eloquently abridged list, we would have better luck with the African countries.
- 1st Ammendment: FREEDOM
- 2nd Ammendment: GUNS
- 13th Ammendment: SLAVES
- 18th Ammendment: NO BEER
- 19th Ammendment: WOMEN
- 21st Ammendment: BEER
It would have made a great frat shirt.
We hadn’t left our camp out spot so Ramesh took us upstairs to the mini cafeteria to order lunch. It was pretty simple. I almost ordered Buffalo Momo, which is a dumpling with buffalo meat inside, but Ramesh advised against it because it doesn’t sit well with foreign stomachs.
From there we found a spot where you could walk out on the roof and sort of watch the planes take off. Perhaps not legal, but no one was yelling at us. Plus, it was nice to catch some fresh air after being cooped up for five hours.
Ramesh got on the phone again and when he hung up, he walked up to our group.
“Where is Paul?” he asked Kevin and me. I took this as a good sign that maybe we were going to take off soon.
“Ya where the heck is Dad?” Kevin said.
I looked around. “Hmm. He must have gone to the bathroom or something.”
So we waited 5 minutes. Then 10 minutes. No one could even remember where we last saw him.
“Maybe he’s still in the bathroom?” I said, citing the possibilities of explosive diarrhea or worse, falling into the hole-in-the-ground toilet. There’s only one bathroom in the airport, so I made Kevin go in and check the two-stall men’s room. He came back shaking his head.
“Okay, but really, where could he be?” I said. The airport is only slightly bigger than a Chile’s restaurant. It was just one big open terminal so there were very few places he could be if we could not see him from where we were sitting. It was quite the accomplishment that we had managed to lose someone. Deirdre was impressed at the dysfunctionality of our family.
Ramesh, Kevin and I went off to look for him. We check the café, the roof, the snack shop the size of my closet to no avail. Twice Kevin left the airport to look for him, requiring to go back through security twice to meet back up with me and Ramesh. Now I am nervous. While we had already almost been abducted on our vacation, I did not think it was going to happen at an airport. After about 20 minutes, I started to get worried.
“Maybe we should try calling him?” Kevin suggested. Only problem is that none of us have phones except my dad. Luckily Ramesh offered to call him.
I decided that if we wanted to find my dad, we had to think like my dad. “Is there anywhere you can go to watch planes take off?” I asked Ramesh, remembering one of my Dad’s favorite pastimes. One time he sweet talked his way into the control tower at O’Hare Airport, so nothing is ever off the table when it comes to my father.
There was one part of the airport that led out to the runway. Ramesh kind of thought this was a stupid idea, but let us go check just to clear our consciences. If Ramesh hadn’t gotten a feel for my dad yet, he was most definitely getting an idea of what he was in for then. So the three of us walked to the opening and were stopped by two security guards. I will do my best to translate the ensuing conversation from Nepali: .
“Excuse me, where do you think you are going?” The guard asked Ramesh, but stared at Kevin and me.
“Oh, well, um we just wanted to take a look.” Ramesh replied, swerving around in his tiptoes to see over the guards and onto the runway.
“What are you looking for? A person?”
“Oh, nevermind,” Ramesh got close enough to glance out toward the runway. Unless my dad had gotten on a plane or hit by one, he was not out near the runway.
We gave up looking for him. I was pissed; I hoped we missed our flight because of him. Embarassed and slightly humiliated, the three of us turned back to go back to Morgan, Tim, Deirdre and my mom at our campout on the floor in the middle of the terminal. Dad is always chiding the group for not communicating and sticking together on vacation, and here he was breaking his own rule.
Then, out of nowhere, my dad walks up to our encampment.
“Hi guys!” he said, not catching the our stunned faces staring at him like he was Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
“Where in God’s name have you been?” I raised my voice but wasn’t quite yelling.
“I went to go look for an ATM,” he said, confused at why we were all mad.
“Did you go to Tibet to look for it?”
Again, I didn’t ask for clarification. It doesn’t matter anymore. Moral of the story, we lost my dad at a tiny airport for a half hour. If there had been TSA people, we would have called them to search for him, or at least make an announcement looking for him like a lost child in Walmart, but that sounds like a silly idea in a tiny Nepali airport. Other moral of the story: We had been at the airport for eight total hours.
The reason Ramesh had to talk to him was because he was looking into the possibility of taking a helicopter to Lukla since it still was not safe enough to fly by plane. Two problems here are that a) we would still be flying in nonoptimal conditions and b) we have one too many people to fit in a helicopter. I later learned that we would have to take a military helicopter to accommodate our group, but am still trying to figure out how this would have been the safer option.
It turns out that it really wasn’t a safer option because ultimately the weather did not permit any plane or helicopter, military or not, to take off. After eight hours, we were officially stuck, there would be no Mount Everest trek. Ramesh presented our group with a three options: keep waiting in the airport for the weather to clear up even after 3 p.m. (when it was even more unlikely we would take off), try again tomorrow morning (which could be a repeat of today as there was no guarantee that we would take off) or leave airport right then and embark on a different hike that was nearby but not in the Himalayas and not a part of the Everest trek.
None of those options sounded very promising. We didn’t want to be at the airport any longer, we didn’t want to hike after waking up at 3:30 a.m. only to sit in an airport for eight hours and we didn’t want to wake up tomorrow and risk sitting at the airport all over again. We all looked at each other trying to decide what to do. I could tell my dad was getting anxious and upset. The dream trip was not panning out. We usually get incredibly lucky when it comes to making things happen under our tight schedules, but after waiting for our luck to chnage in a third world airport for eight hours, the jig was up.