Friday–July 31. Gate 18.
“Your flight will be delayed 20 minutes,” the ticket agent announced over a microphone.
“And this won’t delay your connecting flights in Minneapolis,” she added.
My fellow passengers waiting at Gate 18 focused their eyes on books, like The Girl on the Train or a J.A. Jance detective novel. Lit screens on phones hypnotized many others. The man across from me crunched potato chips. Ka-rrrrrunch! A lady chomped on gum. Chaaw-ommmppp! Some took dainty sips of bottled airport water as others gawked blankly into the vast chasm of the airport’s back and forth hustle of people towing luggage…
Dylan Thomas called me to Wales, and so I patiently waited. “Years and years ago,” he said in a voice only I could hear, “when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the colour of red-flannel petticoats, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlours…”
I sat ready for the adventure, ready for the singing and wallowing and wolves in Wales, the birds in red-flannel petticoats and the caves that smell like Sunday afternoons. So I didn’t mind the wait at Gate 18.
Jodee, our niece Becca, and I finally boarded our flight, eighteen minutes past our original departure time. But wind and driving rain and streaks of lightening kept our plane grounded for another hour and a half.
The flight delay in Phoenix caused us to miss our connecting flight. Bomb sniffing dogs and security people swarmed the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport as we sat stiff like well-worn statues with no sleep and glued to hard, plastic chairs. Flights were halted and passengers stalled. Police surrounded a suspicious lone backpack resting by a trash can. It doesn’t explode. After waiting 27 hours for the next flight to London, we boarded our 767 Boeing jet at 1:30 a.m. We propped our eyes open with toothpicks.
Our eight and a half hour plane flight to Heathrow provided cramps, claustrophobia, derriere soreness and something Delta called “dinner.” I noticed Jodee not enjoying her 3 a.m. meal of airplane chicken. It had the aroma of silicone and the chew-ability of latex caulk. Still, I felt certain Jodee had worse meals. I asked what was the absolute worst meal she ever had. Jodee thought for a moment before answering and then said, “Probably this one.” I laughed, probably for the first time since we left Phoenix.
In London, we found a cozy cafe in Heathrow. Although late afternoon, we wanted breakfast. Still on USA time, I ordered porridge, a delectable dish that looked like oatmeal but tasted like creamy deliciousness with fresh blueberries. Jodee and Becca had Eggs Benedict and cappuccinos. “Why do the eggs have such dark orange yolks?” Jodee asked our server Konrad. He explained in his charming British accent, “The orange yolks are an indicator of the hen’s healthful diet, which makes it more nutritious for you. Our chickens eat a natural diet and run free. You Americans feed corn to your chickens and keep them in cages. This is encouraged by your government.” Oh well, thank you for telling us. Now we not only feel like unhealthy Americans but mean Americans who mistreat chickens. May we never eat another egg from the U.S.A. again. At the end of our meal, the bill arrived. Konrad had added an “optional service charge” as well as a VAT charge (whatever that is). No need to put tip money on the table. So messy. Konrad will add all his own extra charges for tidiness and convenience.
We flew to Cork, Ireland and discovered our luggage had taken a trip elsewhere. I filed a delayed luggage report. No clothes, no cosmetics, no curling iron. I decided to pretend my uncombed, wild-flyaway hair followed a new American fashion trend. “Yes. My coiffure is the new wild, flyaway look.”
At the Cork International Hotel, I asked when breakfast is served in the morning. “Half-seven,” a hotel employee said. Is that half after seven? Half before? What does that mean? I just want to know what time breakfast is served?
August 3rd, the next morning.
We woke to a luminous green, fairytale outside our screenless window. We enjoyed a delightful Irish breakfast buffet served in the hotel dining room, which included an exciting tastebud-experience of blood pudding–a breakfast item made of blood and offering the tangy flavor of liverwurst. One bite and you have the urge to shriek a blood-curdling scream. But in Ireland, you don’t scream. You smile, because everyone smiles in Ireland. Afterward, we called a taxi and our driver, Mawrrrr-tin (Martin), swooped us off to our ship docked in Cobh.
“Have a quick look at Cork,” Martin said as he whizzed us past tall, smooshed-together homes and shops in candy-colors like coral, lime green, pink, yellow, dark red, blue and orange.
“Is that an iPhone you have?” Martin asked Becca as he whipped us down a winding, tree-lined country road.
“No, Android,” she said
“What!” An American who doesn’t have an iPhone?”
“Do all your American passengers have iPhones? I asked him.
“Yes,” he said. I glanced at my own Android and suddenly felt very un-American.
We boarded the ship after paying Mawrrrr-tin 70 Euros, which is $79.26 in US dollars. On board we learned we missed our offshore excursion, “The Scenic Wonders of Cork.”
The ship’s crew told us we had time to shop the scenic wonders of Cobh. So we disembarked.
Fiddlers on a street corner serenaded us with happy Irish melodies. Red and pink begonias bulged from planters along the brick-paved streets. “It feels like we’re in Disneyland,” Jodee said.
“Yes, it does,” I said. But at Disneyland you don’t search for deodorant and I needed to find a drug store in Cobh. I had no idea if our luggage would ever show up.
Jodee asked a shopkeeper at a clothing store if they sell bikinis (being the caring aunt she is, she hoped to replace Becca’s missing bikini so she could enjoy the pool on the ship).
“No,” the shopkeeper said with definite finality.
“Do any stores in town have bikinis?” Jodee asked.
The shopkeeper looked aghast as if Jodee had asked if they sell shimmy fringe g-stings and pasties with tassels. “No,” the shopkeeper said. “Not here. Maybe in the City Center in Cork.” She said this in a tone as if to imply, “We’re decent, moral Irish here. Perhaps the City Center might accommodate your immoral inquiry.” It’s possible the shopkeeper is still reeling from Rihanna’s video filmed in an Irish wheat field in 2011. Rihanna wore a bandana-print bikini for the shoot. The farmer who owned the field thought her attire quite inappropriate and asked her to stop.
Didn’t matter. Even if other stores in Cobh sold bikinis, most shops were closed due to the Bank Holiday. What! They close their stores to celebrate the banks? Yahoo for checking accounts and service charges and home equity loans. Let’s party for mobile banking.
Back on the ship, I headed for the buffet. Upon entrance to the restaurant, I washed my hands and sanitized. All passengers had this requirement and a crew member stood there to make sure we did. The norovirus had spread and some infected passengers were quarantined to their rooms. “At least we don’t have the norovirus,” I would say to Jodee when we considered all the mishaps we’d encountered. At dinner, Jodee and I enjoyed a magnificent view of the vast Irish Sea, dark green and choppy with the wind blowing off white caps, spitting and spraying steam. We were grateful for the all the blessings we had, not the mishaps.
In my stateroom L124, which I had alone, I stepped into the tiny bathroom and locked the door since I didn’t know when our steward John might appear. When I attempted to unlock and leave, the lock wouldn’t work and the door wouldn’t open. I jiggled the lock. Nothing. I kicked the door. Owwww! I yelled loudly. Anyone hear me? Help! No one heard me. Locked inside a little bathroom no bigger than a box to hold a refrigerator caused panic to set in. I might have to stay all night. I’ll miss tomorrow’s excursion. I’ll have to sleep seated in the shower. I’ll suck up all the oxygen and suffocate. I furiously jiggled the lock again and the door suddenly opened. Freedom! I never locked or closed the bathroom door again. I didn’t care if John walked in with chocolates for my pillow or for any other reason. The bathroom door stayed open.
That night I snuggled under the clean sheets in my comfy Royal Princess bed.
“I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill [in Wales],” Dylan Thomas said, “and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”
Stay tuned for Part IV.