Read part I here.
The clock is ticking. I had an hour to make my connection when I landed. Half of that hour was devoured getting off the plane and to the baggage check, where I’m now standing on my one good ankle, sweating through my clothes in the May Chicago humidity, vexed at how to get the year’s worth of life now crammed untidily into three separate bags (none of which feature wheels) through customs and to my connecting gate.
The massive army duffel comes off the conveyor belt with a tug, and now there’s nothing for the situation but to drag it. The wheeled luggage carts are for people with $5 in their pocket, not for me. It actually works well enough. The sprained ankle is loosening up the more it moves, and the duffel slides on the terminal linoleum fairly easily. Customs is not far off, and getting through is unremarkable. On the way to customs, I even snag an abandoned luggage cart. The clock is still ticking, but I’m gaining confidence that I will, in fact, make my connection and get to Kansas City, where the only thing waiting for me is the fiancee who’s not sure she wants to marry me anymore.
The luggage cart serves faithfully until I reach the escalator that leads down to what must be the longest uninterrupted stretch of walkway in any airport in the world. I don’t even think to look for an elevator. In a flash, I heave the bags off the cart, throw the backpack over my shoulders and begin down the escalator. That’s when some of the items I’ve crammed into the borrowed tote bag begin to spill out. I’m able to cram them back in before I reach the bottom of the escalator and begin the long trek across the neon-lit corridor.
That corridor is really something. I admire it every time I’m in O’Hare. This spring evening in 1999 is my first time to ever see it, though, and it’s wavy colored ceiling lights and ambient music are not having the calming effect they’re designed to have. Items keep falling out of my tote as I walk the 37 miles across, skipping the moving walkways because they’re too full. By the time I reach the opposite escalator that leads up to domestic security, I don’t know anymore if I have all my luggage or if I’m leaving a trail of socks and crumpled 4 X 6 photos for rescuers to find me with. I decide I don’t care.
There’s no way I’m making this connection now. The neon marathon killed all hope of that. Nonetheless, I present my bedraggled self to the agent at security. It’s not until now, in this moment when he’s asking for my boarding pass, that I begin to think with any degree of depth about this last leg of my premature journey home. So much of my thinking and planning has revolved around the London-to-Chicago flight and the time in O’Hare to make the connection to Kansas City. So little has gone into the Chicago-to-Kansas City flight that now, asked for a KC-bound boarding pass, my mind draws a blank. Boarding pass? What’s that?
It only takes a moment of rifling through my backpack to retrieve the Chicago-to-Kansas City paperwork. But the security agent is telling me it’s not a boarding pass but a ticket. What’s more, it’s a ticket for a date in July, not May. He points to the ticketing counter some 200 yards away and suggests I go talk to them.
To be continued.