August 14, 2013

A Moment in Transit

I often think of flights, buses and connections as dead space. Sure I can catch up on a good book or luxuriate in a long, uninterrupted phone call to a friend while waiting in a terminal, but I don't expect too much out of the experience.

But I may be wrong about that since, particularly when travel gets hard, it gets interesting.

On a connection in Miami the other day I was forced to cross the entire airport. Think of a horseshoe: D is on one side, J the other. There is no shortcut. Between them, travelers must exit security and wait in line once again. Time ticks away. Suffice it to say, you are practically a prize-winner if you don't get lost or miss your connections.

First I followed the signs, until there were none. I asked the only person available, a woman mopping the floor, for J terminal. "Sorry no English," she said. So I had the pleasure of asking her in Spanish.

According to her it was at the end of everything. "Go and go and keep going. But first you take the Skyride two stops." A Brazilian with his small son arrived and asked for more details, then a couple of Argentine women. As we hopped on the Skyride (which whisked us about a thousand feet), I had to convince them that the first stop wasn't ours (the benefit of not being a native Spanish speaker: I actually listen).

Then I got to talking with these two spunky Cordobans, well-dressed and tan in the opposite season, dragging their purses and heavy duty free bags through the whole airport while gushing about their visit to New Hampshire and the lakes. It turned out we had a lot in common, and that the directions were good. I'd like to think that my shepherding saved us some time. Unfortunately, we had long since lost the Brazilians, who had taken the first sky ride stop.

Fast forward twelve hours and I am in Chilean customs trying to clear a bottle of crushed red pepper to make my next flight an hour away. As with every foreign edible in a country where agricultural exports are king, it causes something akin to a Senate debate. I announce my predicament to the customs official, who happens to be listening. He then does what no customs official has ever done: he whisks my cart out of inspection, jogs down the hallway and hails us an elevator to the second floor. He doesn't stop until he has me to the ticket counter.

And no, he doesn't leave his phone number.

I'm ashamed to then find out that my flight is delayed and I will spend another hour in the airport. But the goodwill in transit has had its effect. Sometimes, when you are lucky, the real connections are still there.

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