Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was the fifth I'd visited in 10 days. I flew out of O'Hare, stopped through in Amsterdam, ended up in Edinburgh and London, and made my way back to the land of 10,000 lakes. The fact that I actually had a layover in this flyover city made the eight-hour flight from Heathrow to Minneapolis seem even longer. The malfunctioning in-flight entertainment system probably didn’t help either. Neither did the Chatty Cathy sexagenarian seated next to me. I was ready to get out of that plane. When we finally landed, I zigged and zagged around a herd of slow-moving elderly passengers, eager to collect my things, grab one last airport meal and get on with my last flight.
There was a long line at customs. Hurry up and wait. Too bad I never served in the military; there was a special line just for veterans, marked with a sheet of plain white paper printed in bold, capital letters. The officer barking orders at her disoriented civilian charges — U.S. citizens and permanent residents in the middle, visitors all the way to the right — seemed desperate to honor a fellow serviceman with a salute and a shorter line. She rarely got the chance. My line inched forward; when the uniformed officer finally motioned my way, I raced to the Plexiglas window and slapped my passport down. Let's do this, sir.
"Hellooooo." "Hey, how are you," I said, gazing past his armored cubicle at the already-revolving baggage claim belt. Sigh. "Oh, you have a nice voice." Cue screeching needle on vinyl sound effect. That caught me off guard. Aren't these guys supposed to be all business? Rude, even? I softened, forgot that I was in a hurry to get to where I was going so I could sit some more for a flight that would wind up being delayed an hour anyway. I looked him in the eye and thanked him. We made the official-business small talk about why I'd been traveling. Where I'd been. What I'd done while I was there. I told him I was a magazine journalist, reporting on a garden tour of the United Kingdom. Quickly assured him I hadn't brought any seeds or starts back to U.S. soil. He didn't seem to care. He pulled out his stamp and cha-chunked my passport, then slid it back across the counter to me. "Magazines, you said?" "Yep." "Good luck with your reporting," he said, looking down at his paperwork as he dismissed me. "But you should've been in television." I felt my face flush as I stammered another thank-you and hurried across the yellow line of near freedom into baggage claim. I grabbed my bag from the belt, beaming, and floated through the rest of security.
Back inside the domestic terminal, I was surrounded by…Americans. Fat. Loud. Inconsiderate. America's finest, all trolling the F terminal of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. My warm international glow chilled to a cold domestic disdain.
Not that 10 days in the United Kingdom turned me all Anglophile, but God, people in this country make me snarl. But they did lead me to ice cream. A few people lumbered past my gate from the central terminal, lugging carry-ons over their shoulders and attempting to balance waffle cones, bottled water and cell phones with their free hand.
I stumbled, in a trance, toward the food court. I found the Ben & Jerry's counter and ordered a scoop of cookies and cream. Lugging my carry-ons over my shoulders, attempting to balance my cup of ice cream and iPhone in my free hand, I found a seat by the wide bank of windows overlooking the terminal.
Gate F3 stood empty, still awaiting the aircraft that would take me home. As usual, there had been no explanation for the delay. But away from the gate — away from the ogling maintenance men, away from the woman with her earbuds in, unplugged, and Justin Timberlake still blasting from her laptop's tinny speakers — a little more waiting seemed bearable.
The food court was mostly deserted; occasionally, a lonely traveler or a group of airline crewmembers stopped to relax with a fountain drink and a heaping plate of cheap Chinese food. I sat in the early-evening sun, savoring my ice cream and watching the planes take off and land. Wondering if mine would ever show up.
It did, of course.
That last flight, Delta #2701, finally landed at O'Hare around 9:30 p.m. The Knight was waiting for me at baggage claim; the Shining Camry sat at the ready in the parking garage. Forty-eight hours later, I'm working through my jet lag and dreading even a shortened work week.
At least I don't have to get on another plane.