Yesterday: a warm, balmy May spectacle in Chicago. The clouds gathered in the late afternoon but waited until dark to produce any rain, out of consideration for the sun-starved. The feeling of the air and the look of the sky out my back door at twilight reminded me of a most memorable warm May afternoon in Chicago, 18 years ago.
I landed at O’Hare in a thunderstorm. I had a sprained ankle and a year’s worth luggage stuffed into a giant army canvas duffel, a backpack, and a donated tote bag with a busted zipper. I had roughly one hour to make a connection to the Kansas City flight that would take me to my fiancee, the reason I’m landing during a May thunderstorm and not a July one. I’ve never been to this airport before, but how hard could it be? I’m days from turning 23.
There’s trouble form the first hobbled step onto the jetway. Eight hours from Heathrow have tightened my ankle up good. The backpack feels heavier than when I packed it in Belfast the night before (what time is it in Belfast if it’s 6:00 pm in Chicago? Midnight. I think of my friends sleeping peacefully as I trudge toward a doomed engagement). The tote bag is bursting. Loaded with an ultimatum–come home early or the wedding’s off–it held as much memory as I could squeeze into its dusty interior. Now, free from the cradle of the overhead bin, it was threatening to give up parcels of my angst right there in the gate.
The ankle is loosening up by the time I reach baggage claim. I retrieve the duffel from the carousel with little difficulty and soon realize that I don’t have a way to transport it, in addition to the tote and the backpack, through customs and to my connecting gate. I had help this morning when I checked it at Belfast International. Now I was alone and hobbled. I spot a chain of wheely baggage carts and experience a surge of relief. But my relief dissipates when, after dragging everything across the baggage claim linoleum, through many happy reunions, I discover they cost $5 to use. I don’t have $5. I’m broke as well as alone.
Also, where’s this humidity coming from? Nine months at 55 degrees latitude have purged my senses of any memory of moisture, and now they are panicking to remember. I’ve sweat through my T-shirt. Of the items protruding from the tote, none is a clean shirt.
To be continued.