I’ll just take a little break from my break, while I have a quiet house (Quiet! House!) at my disposal, along with a cup of tea and my husband’s laptop, to get you all caught up on our travelling saga. Because of course, there had to be a travelling saga.
We were due to fly out of DC on Friday. As we were leaving from the one airport out of three that’s actually on the Metro line, taking public transport was a no-brainer. (We object to paying airport parking for the guts of three weeks, and feel that buses and trains are character building.) So on Friday we drove our two children, one (small) stroller, one large rolling suitcase, two small rolling suitcases, one large duffel bag, and four small backpacks to the local Metro station, where we can park as long as we want in the long-term parking section for the price of a single day – or free if we happen to return on a weekend.
I had timed the whole thing to perfection. (Ever since the time we set off from Central Pennsylvania – just the two of us, a long time ago – for Pittsburgh airport to fly to Vegas, both casually assuming the other had looked up exactly how long the drive should take, to find out that neither of us had and we would only just squeak into check-in on time with a tailwind and lucky parking, I don’t leave such things to chance, or to husbands, any more. If you want something done, go and do it.) The train left, with us on it. We changed to the yellow line after a few stations, and arrived at the airport with ten minutes in hand before the one-hour mark I had been aiming for. (The first flight was domestic, just to Boston, so we only had to be an hour early. At this point I must note how far from my upbringing I have strayed. In such circumstances my father would certainly plan to arrive no fewer than two hours in advance, and would probably have come in the morning and eaten lunch at the airport just in case.)
At this point, Mabel had missed her nap, as we had left the house at 12.30 exactly. She was bearing up well. The kids were very excited to have their own rolly cases, and she cut an adorable figure pulling her tiny green-with-pink-butterflies zoocase (as she says) all over the airport. Monkey was also happy that his was bigger, as befits his Much Stronger Person.
We checked in, we did the security-line dance, we proceeded in an orderly fashion to our gate, we procured some snacks, Mabel ate some goldfish to keep her happy in her nap-missing state, we boarded the plane. At this point I felt, as you probably do too, that we must have come at least halfway to our final destination (which was Cardiff, Wales, UK, by the way) by now, what with all the planning and packing and decision-making and hoping trains would show up on time and so on that had happened by now.
So, as you can imagine, it was a bit of a disappointment to sit on the plane for an hour while it rained lightly nearby and the captain told dire tales of thunderstorms elsewhere, and then be returned, unmoved, to our gate, to await developments. It was really a make-your-own-developments situation, as B waited for the airline to call him back and it transpired that we were just going to have to do it all again the next day, assuming that the storms had passed by then.
Then we had to wait another hour to get our luggage back. By now it was 6.30 and Mabel was metaphorically hanging on by her fingertips, skating all over the filthy floor of the baggage hall in her socks and then just rolling around on it for good measure.
We took a taxi home, which may not have saved much time, but was infinitely easier. We’re not totally crazy, after all. B had to jog down to the Metro station to retrieve our car the next morning.
Being me, I had found some bright sides to our predicament. We didn’t really have to do anything new for our extra 24 hours at home, since everything was already organised. I could view Friday like a dry run. I now knew that Mabel’s runners were too small and could be left at home. We got to use up the milk and some other bits and pieces that had been left in the fridge. We discovered that the a/c had inadvertently been turned all the way off instead of just down (up?) a little. I even finished the last few pages of my book. And sleeping in our own beds was a lot more restful than a hotel room would have been. The next day we were rested and rejuvenated and ready to take the whole tedious thing on again.
(I gloss over the part where I had to come downstairs at 3am to try to make a phone call to the UK to cancel our non-refundable train tickets from London to Cardiff in the one-hour window of time between their helpline opening at 8am local time and the train we were missing departing from Paddington station. I couldn’t get through. I had to book new, more expensive tickets. I was not so pleased.)
Saturday morning: take two. This time, we left with renewed confidence. We had ironed out every tiny glitch in the process. We knew it would all work perfectly. The sun was shining and the storms had passed on.
What we didn’t think of was the fact that the Metro functions differently at the weekends. So for a start, the station we changed to the yellow line at wasn’t running yellow-line trains that Saturday, but for some reason our green-line train driver didn’t think to announce that tidbit before we’d got off and sat there for a while. We cursed mildly and got onto the next green-line train, to disembark further down the line at a more central station that certainly was running yellow-line trains.
Except, after standing on the platform for 15 minutes or so, it transpired that the yellow-line trains were all delayed. They do work on the lines at weekends, see, when nobody has to get anywhere in a hurry. Everyone knows that. Except those of us who have lived in the environs of DC for five years now but never used the Metro to get to work.
Usually, when travelling, I make a policy of not looking at my watch. It doesn’t make anything move any faster, and just frustrates me. I’ll get there when I get there. I realised it was time for desperate measures, and looked at my watch. We had ten minutes to our designated check-in time and we were still standing on a bloody underground platform miles from the airport.
“We need to go upstairs and take a taxi,” I said to B. He never wears a watch. I had forgotten that. So the burden of knowing just how late we were running was all on me.
And we were suddenly in oh-crap-it-might-be-time-to-panic mode. We dragged the children along the suddenly interminable corridors of the large Metro station. We took the enormous escalator despite all our wheeled stuff and stroller, because the lift turned out to be all the way in the direction we’d just come. We emerged, at the top of more steps, into the bright sunlight and scorching temperatures of midday DC, not onto a busy street with taxis flying this way and that, as I had assumed, but into a small, deserted, back road. I squinted against the sun, carrying a flagging Mabel in one arm and pushing a loaded stroller with the other hand, as B forged ahead pulling the big suitcase and encouraging/chivvying Monkey (who, to his credit, did a great job keeping up and pulling his own case all the way), hoping blindly that we were heading in a more traffic-heavy direction. I suppose we could have called a cab, but we don’t have any city-center cab numbers, and stopping to find our phones would have wasted time.
It was around this point that I seriously began to wonder if we would miss the flight altogether. Perhaps somebody, somewhere, felt it would be best for us not to leave DC today, or this summer. I’ve never missed a flight – at least, apart from that one time in Spain when it turned out I really did need a passport to travel even within the EU; and that other time at Christmas of which we will not speak; I’ve never missed a flight just by not making it to the damn airport in time, I mean – but I suppose there’s a first time for everything. We trailed on, crossing deserted underpasses, placating whining children with as few syllables as possible, and sweating profusely.
Someone we asked said there was a hotel just up there, at the lights, across the road. As we got to the busier intersection, B ran ahead to see if they had a taxi rank or could call one for him. Just as he disappeared, I saw a cab with its light on across the road, and waved frantically. He indicated, to show that he’d seen me, and I dialled the mounting panic down a teensy notch. I didn’t dare look at my watch, but started digging for my phone to call B back, if he even had his phone on him rather than in his jacket, which was on the stroller that I was pushing. I couldn’t figure out how to use my phone. I decided we’d find him one way or the other. The children were a little concerned that we now seemed to be going to the airport without Daddy, but I promised them we wouldn’t, even as he appeared running back down towards us.
I told the lovely taxi driver that we had to check in in five minutes. He was nonchalant. Luckily, the airport is surprisingly close to the city center, so we didn’t have far to go. (After the previous night’s adventures, I had stopped bothering to worry about putting the kids in taxis without proper car seats. We die, or we get to the plane; one or the other.) We tumbled ourselves out of the taxi at the other end, frantically oriented ourselves inside the building, and marched briskly to the check-in queue. A sign said: “Flight check-in will end 45 minutes before departure.” I had to look at my watch again. Zero minutes to go, minus one or two. In panic mode, my inclination to queue is vastly diminished, British father or not. I basically elbowed my way past the black stretchy line-definer tapes and stood myself in front of an employee, waiting for her to draw breath in her sentence to the woman she was dealing with.
“Our flight is at 3pm and we just got here. Can we check in right now?”
She looked suspicious. “Did you just jump the line?”
“Yes. Sorry, but it says check-in ends 45 minutes before the flight leaves, and that’s now. If they’re all going on later flights, would it be possible to take us first? Please?”
(In Dublin airport, they always go around asking if anyone else here, in the long long queues, is waiting for the flight they’re about to close. I guess they don’t bother doing that in Reagan National.)
I cast an apologetic look at the people ranged in front of me, all decent, God-fearing, standing-in-line types who didn’t arrive at the last minute and presume they could just skip the queue, all entitled-like. I hoped the fact that I was clearly at my wits’ end and had two small children who could potentially unleash terrifying screams at any moment, and I was being as polite as I could, would work in my favour.
Luckily, the gods were smiling. Finally. Probably laughing their heads off. The woman relented, asked the other people if anyone was waiting for a 3pm flight, and took us first. I remarked to the lady beside me that we’d done all this the day before. “Did you miss it then too?” she asked. I somehow thought everyone in the country should know that the flights had all been grounded the previous afternoon, but it was news to her. I expounded on the cruel irony of the fact that the previous day we’d been in perfect time. It’s not as if I’d almost miss the same flight twice in a row.
After that, things went pretty much to plan. At least, you can’t plan how a two-year-old will sleep on a red-eye, so while the fact that she went straight to sleep on takeoff from Boston was great, the fact that she woke up less than two hours later, as they were serving dinner, and didn’t sleep again until the connector train from Heathrow to Paddington (and thank goodness I took the Ergo, which we hadn’t used since Christmas but saved our bacon in the clincher) – well, that wasn’t ideal, but didn’t stop us catching any particular mode of transport, and we were met at Cardiff Central by our friends, even though a week later my phone has yet to find a network.
I’m really hoping that the remaining parts of our travel plans will set our travel karma straight again. Somebody up there owes me, bigtime.