Friday, November 21, 2008

Getting to Kansas City

Board the Monday midnight train to Bucharest, spend the night tossing and turning in the first sleeping car you've ridden in since a 1954 trip from Chicago to Los Angeles on the Union Pacific, when you were 10 years old. Get ripped off for 50 Lei ($18) by a taxi driver who uses the "awful traffic" to talk you into paying about triple what you should have to get from the Gara Bucuresti Nord to the Casa Victor hotel, where you arrive about 9:15 AM, learn that you cannot check in until 12:00, have breakfast with fellow Fulbrighter Jeremy, then walk with him and Fulbrighter Kim to the Fulbright Commission, still in your slept-in clothes. Spend Tuesday morning discussing general philosophies and other weighty matters with Mihai Moroiu, eat lunch with the group having an advisor training session with the ebullient Mihaela who runs the Education USA program also housed at the Commission, get invited back for a 5:00 PM video presentation on going to an American University, and to join the group for dinner. Go back to the Casa Victor, check in, take a two-hour nap, bathe, put on clean clothes, give the desk clerk the package of stuff-left-in-Cluj by Charles Harris, another one of the Fulbrighters attending the advisor training session, then walk back to the Commission. Watch the excellent (if low-budget) DVD in which Romanian students presently studying at U.S. colleges such as Harvard, Duke, Princeton, Amherst and Hamilton describe various aspects of American university life, including curricular requirements, lingo (e.g., "majors" and "minors"), extracurricular opportunities, dorm living, internships, the relationship with faculty, the methods of testing and grading, etc. Then have a coffee, and come back in for DVD Part Two, which describes the application process. In all become sorry that you cannot yourself compete for a place at Hamilton in the Class of 2013, for the overall effect of the videos is to generate huge enthusiasm for the opportunity. Then, walk the half-mile back to Casa Victor, and board a cab with three others for the Caru cu Bere (Beer Cart) Restaurant (where you also ate a huge lunch during your September orientation). Sit down to dinner and a big mug of beer, only to discover that there is to be a floor show. Two couples begin dancing in the center of the floor, and it is quickly apparent that they are professional ballroom dancers. After the first three numbers, they split off among the tables, and a beautiful dancer invites you to be her partner for the next dance. But you refuse. One day, long ago, you wouldn't have, but tonight your thoughts are only on Shirley, who will meet you in Kansas City. Say your good-byes to the group and multimescs to Mihai and Mihaela, and go find a taxi to the hotel. Check that you are fully repacked for the 3:15 AM departure to the Bucharesti Airport, lay out exactly what you will put on in the morning, take a quick shower, and get 3.5 hours' sleep. Arise, dress, check again that you have your e-ticket and passport, insulin cooler and luggage, and go down to the lobby. Wait while the attendant unlocks the front door to let you in, and chat with her for a minute or three, until the cab that Mihai called for you pulls up outside. Mount the cab, introduce yourself to Daniel, the honest cabbie, and get to the Airport at 3:45, for your 6:00 departure. Including a generous tip of 13 Lei, pay less than you did for a trip one-third as far the previous day. Note that the coffee shop will open at 4:00. Find a chair. Meet another Daniel, Romanian-American proprietor of Tailor Studio in Rancho Cucumonga, California, who happens to be sitting next to you. Buy Daniel and yourself two ridiculously expensive (Starbucks-level price) but very welcome cups of coffee in the airport cafe, and learn that he is an inventor, but his wife a tailor. Have a long and friendly chat, during which he introduces his cousin, who has driven him to Bucuresti from his house three hours to the Northeast. Board with him a totally full flight to Amsterdam. Catch a few z's on the flight, though also meeting at your left elbow Detroit-bound Maria, a sweetheart of close to your own age with family in Motown, who doesn't speak English. Land on time in Amsterdam. Walk a mile or more to the transfer gate. Get put in another security queue, and go through the second round of screening. Stand with Deb, a dignified lady, and chat awhile. Note that the group waiting to board appears to be a random sample of Humanity, as diverse a group as you can imagine. Comment on that to Deb, and learn that she is your country's Deputy Ambassador to Ethiopia, traveling home to her child's "Seventh Grade Dinner," and flying coach. God bless her. Thank Deb for her service to the U.S.A., which is in its 27th year. Listen as the airline announces a technical difficulty. Board late, by about 30 minutes. Learn to your relief that you have a three-seat row to yourself. Listen as they announce that there will be no water for washing hands nor for coffee, but that otherwise, the flight should be normal. It is, though over nine hours long. Arrive at Dulles Airport in Greater Washington, D.C. on time. Get through customs smoothly, and go to the USAirways ticket counter to check in for the connecting flight to KC, only to learn that Flight US7903 is a United flight. Walk to the far end of the terminal. Get a boarding pass, and check your one duffel, because you know that the plane to KC is a small Canadair jet, and fear that the stuffed duffel won't fit in the overhead compartment. Go through security for the third time, grateful not to be carrying the duffel this time. Walk to the "mobile lounge" stop, and ride out to Domestic Terminal. Find Concourse A. Discover that gate A2 is at the far end. Walk another half-mile. Ask at A2, and learn that the flight has already boarded. Go out on the ramp and walk up the stairs into the cabin. Find seat 10-C. Sit. Ask the knock-out gorgeous black girl next to you where she is coming from today. Learn that Fatmah is from Tanzania, is 28, is in America for the first time, is single, will be visiting her cousin in Springfield, Missouri, and runs a boutique in her home town. Also learn that she is intelligent and good-hearted, and not at all interested in becoming the second wife of some rich man back home, where men are allowed four wives, and most marriages are "arranged." Land a few minutes late in KC. Find your duffel to be missing. Learn from the luggage office that it will arrive later, and be delivered to the Marriott. Go call the Marriott to request their shuttle. Check in. Discover that the refrigerator you requested in your room is not there. Call the desk and request one. Strip. Shower. Lie down on the bed. Get up to receive the 'fridge, pulling on only your pants. Lie back down until you hear a key in the door, and the door open. Wait a few minutes as the newcomer adjusts to her own arrival, then hug and kiss your wife, rest a few minutes, and go find a rare filet mignon.

Voila! Just that easy, and you are in Kansas City.

2 comments:

Rather Dashing said...

You make it look easy. Welcome back.

Piper said...

WOW, you were not kidding, quite a trip!! Glad you had a happy ending!

p.s. How do you remember all of those names???

Love you!
Piper