The Return to Seattle, and Home (April 2, 2012)

We rose at 3:30 a.m. and rode to the Madrid airport on the bus in the dark.  From there, we flew back to Charles de Gaulle.  None of us were looking forward to the long 10.5 hour flight from Paris back to Seattle, especially when we still had such fresh memories of the awful flight over.  We would be flying on Delta this time, though, so we had hopes that things might be a bit better.  And they were.  Slightly.  Despite the fact that I had to sit in the middle of the row with Bill hacking and coughing beside me on one side; an Asian woman who barely spoke English and who kept trying to hand me all her leftover food on the other; and a young family with a very talkative three-year-old directly in front of me.  Besides that, the seat wasn’t quite so uncomfortable and it seems that I had just a bit more room to move.

(Speaking of Bill hacking and coughing–he was certainly not the only one in that plane doing so.  There was a terrible virus going around, and I just kept saying to myself over and over, “I hope I don’t get it, I hope I don’t get it…”)

 The main problems with long flights like that are, of course, the agony of having to sit in a confined area for hours on end with very little room to move your limbs; the boredom of doing just that; not being able to get any sleep; having to wait in line at the toilets (and it doesn’t help when, about halfway through the flight, one of those toilets becomes “out-of-order”); the feeling that YOU NEED TO BRUSH YOUR TEETH!  Having remembered that problem from the last flight, I made sure to carry my toothbrush with me this time.  But trying to brush in that teeny-tiny sink with barely a stream coming out of the miniature faucet is next to impossible.  And it’s also intimidating when you know there’s a long line of people on the other side of the door waiting for you to hurry it up .

But finally we landed in Seattle.  During the flight, we had been handed a Customs form to fill out.  Among other things, the form asked you exactly what items you bought and were bringing back to the US with you, and exactly how much all of those items cost (in US dollars, of course).  I tried to remember all the things I bought, but being a zombie by this time, I could only remember a few magnets, Flamenco figurines for gifts, and that deck of cards I bought for Austin.

Immediately after deplaning, we were herded into the Customs area, where we stood in line for at least 45 minutes in order to hand a guy our passports and Customs form.  This guy was very friendly, which was unusual–most of the time they barely look at you.  He talked a bit and then gave us back our form and passports.  After that, we headed over to the rest of the group, who had already taken all the bags off the carousel and who, apparently, had been in a much faster line.  They seemed ready to leave by the time Bill and I made it over to them, but I said that I just had to use the restroom and BRUSH MY TEETH!  They said that they had already done all that, but they did agree to wait a few more minutes.   (I wasn’t quite sure what the big hurry was, since here in Seattle, we were looking at a NINE-HOUR LAYOVER before our next flight to Kalispell.)

Once out of the restroom, I took my bags and hurried after Bill and Joe, who were now waiting in yet another line.  Being the zombie that I was and not knowing what was going on, I just presumed this line was the one that would lead us out of this area and into the main part of the airport.  While in the restroom, I had tucked our Customs form and my passport back into one of my bags, thinking we were finished with them.  How wrong I was.

“Where’s your passport?  Where’s your Customs form?” yelled an overweight uniformed woman who, apparently, missed her calling as a drill sergeant.  Of course, I was hurrying as fast as I could to get into the line, wrestling with my two bags and a backpack in the process.  “Don’t be the only one who doesn’t have your Customs form ready!” she accused, giving me no slack as I frantically tried to remember in which bag I had put the form and passport, all the while trying not to hold up the line.  And then in my exhausted state (as Greg had just said, “We’ve been up for over 20 hours!”), having come to the end of my tolerance with all this standing in line, being searched, having my things x-rayed, I managed to do the unthinkable.  Yes, I talked back.  “Why?” I asked.  Admittedly, I said it in an annoyed way.

“Give me your form!” she snapped as she grabbed it.  I could swear I saw her mark it with her pen.  “We’re not finished with it.  Now we’ll see whether you were telling the truth or not!” she added in a churlish tone as she shoved it back at me.  As we neared the next checkpoint, I was thinking to myself just how much I resented being treated like a criminal, for no good reason, by most of these TSA people.  There has to be a better and more humane way of doing this.

And then I started to think about what I had written on our Customs form.  “Oh no!” I remembered.  “What about that crystal lynx I bought in Gibraltar?  And that bottle of olive oil lotion I bought on the way to Granada?”

As soon as the next guy looked over our Customs form, I thought everything would be just fine. That is, until he directed us to “follow the yellow line” and head over to where an unlucky few were having themselves and their bags re-searched.  I knew it was because of that self-important drill sergeant.  She had indeed marked our form just so she could have her revenge and torture us a bit more.

More waiting in line.  But luckily, the people at this checkpoint just told us to load our bags on the scanner.  The bags quickly went through, and that was finally the end of it.  Our bags had already been scanned several times during the long process of getting from Madrid to Seattle, and we had not stepped outside of an airport or airplane once during that whole time.  In fact, for most of that time, our bags had been in the hands of airport personnel.  So I fail to see why anyone thought they would just happen to find some new item that had mysteriously made its way into one of our bags.  But such are the joys of flying anywhere nowadays, ever since 9-11.

Once out of that hell-hole and into the main part of the airport, Jennifer and Lori told us about the train which shuttles people from the airport to downtown Seattle and back.  So Jennifer, Lori, Greg, Bill, and I decided to put our bags in the storage area (for a fee, of course), and head out for Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle .  No more sitting around waiting in an airport for us.  And though we were all truly exhausted at this point (as Greg kept saying, “We’ve been up for over 20 hours!”), a little fresh air and a change of scenery were just what we all needed.

Lori and Jennifer

Jennifer, Bill and Lori

I thought this shirt in a shop window was funny!  (Bill didn’t)

Jennifer, Bill, Lori, & Greg

We finally arrived back at the Kalispell airport around midnight on April 2.  We fell into our bed at home by about 12:30.  When I woke up six hours later, I WAS SICK!  It is now April 14, and I’m still sick.  As I said, that was some nasty virus.

But I will recuperate.  And after I do, we will begin to plan our next wonderful trip to another exciting country.  We still have three more continents to go.

Rio welcoming us home!