To get to Greenwich from Madrid in a reasonable period of time, first you have to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an airplane and hope you don’t die in the process. We all know that air travel is safe, but we all sense the end coming near when we board one. You find yourself feverishly leafing through “1000 Things to Do Before You Die” and checking just how many you can cross out. I never used to be frightened of mode transport, and I still enjoy immensely for the most part, but I have to admit as the big moment itself drew near, as those engines start gunning at the beginning of takeoff, as the heavy wheels begin to roll ahead, I feed myself dreadful thoughts about being burned to a crisp or hurled through ten kilometers of freefalling terror. It’s a godawful thought which I did my best to suppress via a sudoku or two.
I spent what I thought was my last night on this planet on the couch by the warm glow of our Christmas tree and half-watched the TVE 24-hour news channel into the early hours of the morning hoping it would help me nod off to sleep. Most of the reports were benign items of news that would soon be forgotten, but the part about the weather did grab my attention in an unsettling way. Nasty weather. Rain had been called for earlier that week, but it was supposed to have moved on by the day of our departure. Instead, the storm had decided to linger a little longer and was proving an ever increasing menace but not because of some torrential downpour. In fact, TVE was announcing a severe weather alert for much of Spain. There was a large mustard yellow blot in the middle of the screen indicating where winds would blow as high as 70-100kph, enough to drive our aircraft into the ground with a mushroomed lavalike burst of flames. And from what I could tell, our runway was right square in the center underneath it all. “You know,” I said to myself whimsically. “I couldn’t think of a better day to try and get a Boeing airborne,” and then got up to make some coffee and wrap up the packing.
As I slurped my java I checked Madrid airport’s (Barajas) website and saw that flights were leaving on time, so my guess was that things weren’t all as ugly as the guys on TV were making them out to be. Then I looked out the window and all but confirmed that impression even though there was a little dampness out there. The air was still and just ripe for sending my body up30,000 feet. We made our final preparations and got ready to leave. Just before walking downstairs I had the following paperwork under my arm:
- One copy of my electronic ticket
- One copy of each of our boarding passes
- One copy of the embassy security pass
- One copy of a list with our e-ticket data
- One copy with a list of our seating assignments
- Three American passports and a copy of each
- Three Spanish passports and a copy of each
- One old passport which we used to buy Ana ticket with.
- An extra 2 pairs of underwear
Call me excessively cautious or call me an experienced traveler, I prefer the latter because it sounds better. I have run into problems on trips for the absolutely stupidest reasons, and so, I take along everything just in case some numbskull with “authority” stitched on his uniform decides to shove his weight around and tell me that we don’t have seats or that there’s a problem with our passports, I can pull out that one document he’s asking for and say, “Hey, that’s not true! Read and weep.”
By nine o’clock we were out the door and getting into the car. One of the biggest perks about living where we live inMadridis that I can literally get to the old international terminal in the time it takes for me to walk to school, that is, 12 minutes. It is a blessing in many ways. It also makes me look great, because dropping off and picking up people at the airport is really a rather effortless endeavor for me, and yet it looks like I am giving the person the grand treatment.
So, time wasn’t the issue. The problem was there were new developments in the weather as we turned the corner and drove outside the city. A development that was developing into an ever greater problem. It was pouring. I mean really pouring. No wind, but the precipitation had turned into something resembling a healthy monsoon. I tried to make light of the inclement weather by saying aloud that “the real problem would have been the wind, and thank God it was only a little rain.” I uttered this as the car’s windshield wipers fought off the pounding downpour and while an American Airlines had overshot a runway inJamaicawhile trying to land in an intense storm. It basically skidded off the runway. I kept this information from public domain.
The check-in process was easy. Terminal1 in Madrid is generally a far more pleasant place to be ever sinceIberiamoved out and took with it the immense majority of the human traffic. Just as we were boarding, one of those Christmas miracles occurred: the skies opened up and great swaths of sunlight brightened the outdoors of the airport. With the recent rainfall, the tarmac glistened and the air was clear and crisp. I say miracle because I later learned that not long after takeoff the weather turned foul again and it would not let up for say the next six days. In no time we were rumbling down the runway, gathering speed, momentum and adrenaline. The plane rocked here and there and I was fairly confident that Delta’s flight crew knew just how to get the plane off the ground.
The flight couldn’t have gone more smoothly though it was long, long trip. In reality, it took less time than expected, but it was lengthy all the same. It always is. No matter how well things go, thatEurope-to-U.S.flight is just so unbelievably boring, it’s like listening to a six-hour talk on microbe mutations. On top of that, the state of my health suffered too. I was coming down with a cold and thinking to myself “Am I the lucky guy bringing a virus into American territory?” Would I be helping it to propagate throughout Greenwich? Now would that have been something to insert into my list of lifelong feats. Thank God the swine flu scare was waning or else it all it would have taken was one good sneeze and blob or two of snot freely sailing around the passport control gate for me to be locked up and stored away for forty days like a filthy unwanted cactus plant.
I figured I would be all right, but just in case though, I popped another Ibuprofen pill before entering American air space for good measure. The final minutes on the plane were also treated to an impromptu concert performed by two gospel choruses which happened to be returning to New Yorkon the very same flight. They sang Joy to the World and Oh, Happy Day! It was a joyous moment in the flight as we approached JFK. Naturall, the following thought came to mind: “Now, wouldn’t that suck if we plummeted to our death right here and now!”
I am never comfortable with entering my own country. Never. This saddens me, but it’s true. The customs and border patrol officers (Orwellianly known as Homeland Security) have an incredible knack for making you feel as if you are a perfect criminal even when in the presence of your own children. In fact, it’s the very fact you are with your family that coverts you into a prime suspect of some heinous crime you have allegedly committed. They’ve seen it all before. The simplest question like can induce confessions of the most humiliating kind.
“How long do you plan to stay?” can easily be responded to with a “Yes, I admit it. I am bringing in six kilos of heroin. And I’m going to sell them to a bunch of preschoolers.”
But I’ve gotten used to it and now I just let them go about their business, trying to keep contact with them down to a minimum. My policy is: Whatever makes them happy.
That day the whole process was short and sweet. The guy at the passport control was the usual unfriendly dweeb, but that was par for the course. He taciturnly went through his tough guy routine. No smiles. A grunted greeting. A stupid question here and there. “So, you’re here for…”
“Two weeks.” You already know that dipwad I wanted to add. I’ve always wanted to say something like that to law officer. Most people do, and I think we should be allowed to because they deserve to hear it more often. Just one freebee in your life.
“And you’re staying…” At this point the classic “It’s none of your fucking business” surges to the tip of my tongue, because it really isn’t his business, because, I am a law-abiding citizen and don’t have explain to the INS officer where the hell I will be spending my holidays, and he knows that. Oh, yes, I had a mighty desire to let my remark fly. But I suppressed the urge to say that but instead finished his question for him with a benign reply. “In Cos Cob.”
“Cos Cob, Connecticut,” he remarked. Yeah, he already knew that too.
Then he punched his stamp of approval on the card and added, “Welcome back, Mr. Murdock” as if I’m at the Business Class desk cashing in my frequent flyer airline points. Yeah, minutes before the guy was making me feel like I was planning on blowing up several orphanages and now he was greeting me as if I had just deboarded the Apollo XI space capsule. Thanks for nothing. What an idiot!
We were through, though, and that was all that counted.