The Art of Changing Continents
I had no idea that Detroit was in a different time zone than Chicago. My flight from one city to the other was short, something like the flight between Vancouver and the coastal town in Canada where I live part-time, Powell River. Up, down, disembark; a hop, skip and a jump. I explored the Detroit Metropolitan Airport at leisure during what I thought was a 2-hour layover, and then I stepped up to a vacant gate where a bright blue Airbus 330 had stood an hour before. A feeling of “uh-oh…” settled over me. Did I miss my plane to Amsterdam? I uttered slowly to the desk attendant, staring over his shoulder in astonishment at the empty space behind him. Are you Kim? Ohhh man!
The fact that I was in Detroit at all had been the first surprise of my day. Arthur’s gig at the Woodstock Mozart Festival near Chicago was done for another year, and we prepared for a flight to Europe. What time do we fly? I asked as I clamped my suitcase closed and scrambled the combination lock. Uhm – two I think. Oh? I said, I thought it was more like twelve. As it turns out, we were both right.
Arthur’s flights usually originate in Europe, and mine in North America. Occasionally when we are going in the same direction at the same time, we manage to wriggle onto the same plane, but more often than not, it doesn’t work out to be the most efficient way to do things. Apparently, this was one of those times. With so many bookings to deal with, I had simply forgotten that we had two different routings.
In the past 12 years I have booked hundreds of flights, and sometimes things don’t go as planned. There was the time I inadvertently got on the wrong plane in Seattle. In a casual conversation with the flight attendant, he happened to mention the destination of the flight; Yakima. You’re kidding, right? This plane goes to Vancouver? No… not kidding. How does that happen in this age of security? In the USA?
Arthur once presented his passport at the Dusseldorf Airport for a flight leaving from Cologne. I mistook an arrival time for a departure time, missed my plane to Europe and had to rebook my trip for the following day. Too many times my luggage doesn’t land when I do; three times I’ve had to shop a whole new wardrobe in Moscow at the expense of the airline. This might sound like a bonus, but Moscow is decked out for size six thirty-somethings with really long legs. This is not me.
I must admit that I’ve become a wee bit nonchalant about the departure part of my bicontinental life. Preparing to change destinations for a few months should have a weightier feel than it does. There isn’t much to pack; I have a closet full of clothes in Europe, and another one in Canada. There is no hard-copy ticket required to get on a plane these days, my boarding pass is on my mobile phone in the form of a bar-code, and my passport is always in my purse, no visit to the safety deposit box to retrieve it pre-flight. I just bolt the front door behind me and walk away. Departing has the feel of going to the grocery store.
But, arriving is another thing entirely. The first time I acted as my own travel agent to Europe was in 2001. I landed at Milan Malpensa, and I wedged myself into the middle of the disembarking mob trusting that someone must know where we are going. We trotted through the airport passageways like corralled sheep, coming to a stop at the customs desk where my mob dispersed. I was stamped into Italy, and I proceeded to a machine to purchase a train ticket to Sanremo on the Ligurian coast. Sounds simple enough, and it was. Nothing went wrong. But, it was that feeling of nervous energy that I had upon being set free in a different country that dominates my memory to this day. Trains were new, Italy was new. Hearing Italian being spoken all around me, was new. I had to pay with Lira, and I didn’t know that Italian trains were named after the town of their final destination. I couldn’t find a train to Sanremo, and I had to ask for help from a stranger. I used a lot of hand waving and rolled my R’s, SanrRRRemo, and he understood! My train was called Ventimiglia. Grazie! Phew, I did it! The first step of many. Because that’s what travel is. It’s putting one foot in front of the other, and eventually, arriving at a different place.
I don’t ever tire of arriving. As soon as I disembark my plane, I recognize that familiar nervous energy rising to challenge me. That feeling that I have been picked up by the scruff of the neck and dropped into different surroundings, and now the puzzle must begin. I tune into the voices around me speaking languages that are not my language. I clear customs, grab my suitcase and, begin to negotiate the next steps of my journey. I begin to practice questions silently in my mind, Pardon? Is dit de trein naar Maastricht? (Excuse me, is this the train to Maastricht?) Over, and over it plays, like a looping tape, I am working up the courage to use my voice, use this language again for the first time. And then I am on that train, and brown brick villages with church steeples and windmills are zipping past my window. I smile, the satisfaction that I’m doing this for myself never gets old. Was I really in my Canadian kitchen just yesterday?