The 33-hour travel-a-thon, otherwise termed My Trip Home from Singapore, began—as might be expected—in the Singaporean airport, with my plane taking off an hour late. Ordinarily, this would be no more than a frustrating inconvenience (one more hour tacked onto my 24-odd hour scheduled flying time). However, this time it proved to be a major problem, because my layover in Korea was only scheduled to be one hour long before my next flight was o take off for Atlanta.
I spent a significant portion of that flight fretting over what I should do, were I to miss my connection (particularly because I was switching from Singapore Airlines to Delta at the Korean airport), and when we landed in Seoul, I found I was left with literally twenty minutes before my next flight was scheduled to take off. Now I was very concerned, because I knew from having passed through on my way to Singapore that the Korean airport requires a second security check, which would thus add to the delays of debarking the plane, finding my gate, and procuring my new boarding pass.
Luckily for me, almost as soon as we landed, a “Mister Leslie GoldstINE” was paged aboard the plane. I made my way to the front and was quickly escourted off the plane and shuttled y a pert little Korean woman all the way to my next gate—just in time for boarding.
At this gate, I met a new set of troubles. As I was given my next boarding pass, I was informed by the desk attendant that it was mandatory that my baggage go through customs in Atlanta. However, the woman at the Singapore check-in counter had told me that my bag would be checked all the way through to Newark, and I could go through customs there. If my bag didn’t show up in Atlanta, the Korean attendant told me, I would need to file a lost luggage claim with a Delta representative. I could give them an address, and when they found my bag, they would mail it to me.
I immediately set about making plans for What To Do in case my bag was lost. First, I needed an address. I decided my cousin Kim’s would have to do, since having my bag sent to Pittsburgh would do me no good, and I wouldn’t be living at my Queens address for another week-and-a-half. Unfortunately, my address book was packed in my checked luggage—the allegedly lost bag—so I would need to call Kim (or, as it turned out, my parents, since Kim did not answer her phone) to find out her exact address. Second: what had I packed in that bag that I would need immediately upon arriving in NY? Luckily, I had my glasses and contacts case in my carry-on, but I was using eyedrops for solution (thank you 9/11 airport security and your fabulous 100ml rule), so contact solution was a must. Also, I had packed my toothbrush in my carry-on, and I could always borrow soap and shampoo from Kim until my bag arrived, but I would still need to buy deodorant. The main problem would be what clothes I would wear to my Madison, WI interview with Epic Systems. I was pretty sure I had packed all of my underwear and most of my respectable-looking shirts, so I would need to deal with that in the two days between my return to NY and my departure to WI. At least I could probably renew the library books I had packed in my bag online, assuming no one had requested them.
I spent a good hour of that 14-hour flight making lists and plans so as to avert panic. Again, my layover would only be about an hour-and-a-half long, so I wouldn’t have time to dilly-dally over this lost luggage matter if I wanted to make it through customs and to my Newark flight on time. Luckily for me, my bag appeared on the conveyor belt in Atlanta, and all was well. Until I got to Newark, of course.
I made it as far as the Air Tram—the shuttle that was supposed to take me out of the airport and to the NJ train station—before more dilemmas arose. After one stop, the shuttle I was aboard announced that is was now “out of service” and would all passengers please “move across the platform” to wait for the next arriving shuttle. All of us tired, disgruntled passengers (including one fat, middle-aged white tourist with too much luggage who announced in a far-too-loud voice “I’ve been travelling for six #@$%! hours”) trudged across the platform to wait twenty more minutes for another shuttle that was currently running the opposite direction and would consequently need to finish that circuit first before coming back to pick us up. After yet one more shuttle change after that one (since the Air Tram apparently needs its own separate shuttle to go to the train station, in spite of running on one continuous track), I arrived at the NJ train station, only to find that the next train to NY Penn Station would not arrive for another forty-five minutes. It was midnight at this point in my trip. I had been travelling for over 24 hours.
Next, as I waited for the train, I was approached by a trim middle-aged black man. In all manner of apologies, he explained that the axel on his car had broken and, as his wife had taken his debit card before his trip, he had no way to get money for a train ticket an cab fare. He was terribly embarrassed to have to ask—after all, look how well he was dressed, in his business suit, with his leather cell phone holster—but could I please lend him $25? I don’t know what made me do it, but I gave him the money and let him call his wife on my cell phone, as his had apparently run out of batteries. Maybe I do believe in karma and was hoping to improve mine. In any case, if a man dressed as well as him felt he had to lie and scam $25 out of a poor twenty-something white girl like me, then shame on him. I’d like to have a bit more faith in humanity.
The NJ train was by no means the last leg of my trip. When I arrived in NY Penn Station, I still needed to take the 2/3 subway up to 125th St. (Harlem). Even finding the Uptown train proved to be a challenge: once I got inside the turnstile, I found the underpasses to all Upton red line trains blocked off. I was at the point of hysteria, not wanting to go back out to ask the attendant in his glass encased booth what to do (as that would involve paying to re-enter through the turnstiles, never mine dragging m suitcase back through in both directions), but also not wanting to take the Downtown train to who-knew-where in the hopes of transferring to an Uptown train, when a large black man descended the Downtown steps in front of me. I asked if he knew how to get to the Uptown trains, and he not only directed me (across the Downtown platform and down the steps on the other side, which I would have had no way of knowing), he even carried my suitcase back up the stairs from which he had descended to the Downtown 2/3 platform. Maybe he was my good karma payback.
In any case, I got on the Uptown 2 train, only mildly suspicious of the “local 96 St” label on the front. “Maybe it will run express after 96th street,” I told myself, since the 2 usually runs express, anyway. Alas no—I was fated to utilize yet one more form of transportation before reaching home. “Ninety-sixth street will be the last stop on this Bronx-bound 2 train, due to construction,” came the announcement, somewhere around 72nd street. “Please use the free shuttle service to 149th street where you can pick up continuing 2/3 services to the Bronx.” 149th street? I just wanted to get to 125th! It turned out that the substitute shuttle did make all of the same stops as the 2 train would have, only there were no announcements or signs, and since the bus was so crowded even at 2:30a.m., I could not manage to make out a single street sign, so I successfully missed my stop and had to walk back from 135th street. “At least,” I told myself, “it wasn’t 149th street.” That would have been an awfully long walk, and I might have had to dodge the remains of Cinderella’s pumpkin coach along they way….