It’s Monday afternoon and we’re on the UP train that takes us to Pearson airport. I’m a bundle of nerves because I spent an entire summer in the 80s watching airplane disaster movies (even the William Shatner “There’s a MAN on the WING of the PLANE” one) and have never recovered. A woman sits behind us on the train and calls everyone she knows. “Ah jest cain’t buLIEVE it! Do you know Uncle Mike has been at the Nashville airport for HOUAHs? This is tehhhhhabul.”
At Pearson, we end up on the escalator behind a grandma, mom, and four year old Chloe who, like the woman on the train, cannot beLIEVE there is no McDonald’s at Pearson. “CHLOE NO MONKEY BUSINESS ON THE ESCALATOR,” says Grandma as they step on. Todd whispers a reminder that I’m not allowed to take a monkey home from the Monkey Temple in Jaipur. (Apparently the draconian rules state that you are also not allowed to pet them or call them smudgy wumple doodleheads or kiss their tummies. IF I GET SAVAGED BY MONKEYS LATER YOU WILL KNOW WHY.)
We wait to check our baggage in the surprisingly fast line, giving first prize for Most Glorious Moustache to one really stunningly be-moustached elderly man though there is some stiff competition. Then it’s security checks and waiting to board. Our plane has a layover in Amsterdam and the man in front of us in line turns to tell us that he’s meant to have a fun week in Amsterdam with his son, but his son just sent a text message to say he’d missed his flight. The man is sad.
I’m so wracked with nerves at this point that I wish briefly I was that guy’s son, and I am very quiet as we walk onto the plane. The lights are romantic-restaurant low and there’s soothing Indian music playing in the background. We find our seats and sit down and around forty minutes later we take off as I chant in my head, “IT’S JUST A BUS YOU’RE JUST TAKING THE 25 BUS TO PAPE STATION IT’S JUST A BUS”. Having Todd sitting next to me is extremely helpful. I mean, he may not be a cuddly monkey from the monkey temple, but he is calm and happy and the casual way the other 300 passengers are chatting helps too.
Then there’s seven hours of trying and failing to sleep. At one point I do doze off and am woken up by a woman yelling, which is extremely scary. One flight attendant (and without exception, the flight attendants on Jet Airways are not only 1940s movie idol handsome but also have the confidence and style of Shah Rukh Khan) runs over, then another and another until she’s surrounded by five beautiful men, all of whom are solemnly asking what they can do to help. Todd can understand enough of the Hindi floating around to tell me that she’s worried about her husband. The co-pilot gets on the PA system to ask for a doctor and there’s one on the flight who is able to help the husband and eventually everyone drifts back to sleep. I head for the bathroom. There’s a line – a man in his twenties, then a woman in her seventies, and then me. When a bathroom is free, the young man immediately gestures towards the elderly woman to say she should go first. Though they don’t know each other, he helps her with the door and makes sure she’s all right. Awesomely, she takes this all as a matter of course and does not even say thank you. Being an old lady on this plane is the best.
By the time we arrive in Amsterdam I am hungry, furious with myself for not being able to sleep, and dreading another seven hour flight. As we eat sixty dollars worth of burgers and coffee (I mean, the coffee IS delectable but it isn’t worth, you know, ten dollars a cup) I have a grimly quiet meltdown which really just consists of “WAH WAH I CAN’T SLEEP ALSO I’M HUNGRY” and then as soon as the food hits my stomach I remember why I like life and that I am excited about going to India. Todd is relieved.
Everyone at the Amsterdam airport is over six feet tall. I walk through Toronto feeling short (if you ever see me following a tiny old lady you’ll know it’s because she makes me feel tall), but in Amsterdam my head is roughly even with people’s bellybuttons. We find, of all things, an Airport Library filled with art and photography books. A young man sits in the library and plays quiet music on his guitar.
The layover ends and we get back on our plane and settle in. The second takeoff is markedly easier than the first, and I immediately fall asleep and wake up feeling like a new human being. Todd and I play Connect 4 together on the arcade game section of the media console and I tell him that the last time I was on an international flight it was the mid-eighties and instead of Connect 4 competitions it was five dollar headphones that allowed you to listen to the pre-designed airplane “radio” – country music, rock, pop, and classical – each station had thirty pre-selected songs that played over and over again. Everyone on the plane bought the headphones and listened, too! I mean, it was radio IN THE SKY!
Thirty minutes away from landing, the movie idol flight attendants hand out ice cream bars. I lean over to Todd and whisper, “I love this so much. It’s like at the dentist when they give you a lollipop, they’re all, ‘We know you were really scared of being on a plane, but you did it! Hooray!'” (Before we got on the plane Todd assured me that I wouldn’t be able to maintain being scared for two seven hour flights, it just wasn’t possible, and he is right. One baby – whose parents were lovely to her – IS scared for two seven hour flights because poor thing she is probably thinking “Well, this is my life now. I live on this terrifying plane forever.”)
We land just after midnight. The Delhi airport is covered with Las Vegas carpet and, though it’s new, the architecture reminds us both of a 1982 mall. Because Todd’s been to India before, I knew that the guards would have machine guns. I thought it would feel scarier, but truly, my brain just says “Dollarama children’s toys” and will NOT accept that they are real so instead the soldiers just look silly.
Todd has warned me that we’ll be in separate lines for our travel visas and that it’s likely to take two hours. I am prepared to sit on the floor a lot and read my book but we are thrilled to find that the entire visa process takes just over ten minutes. We’re prepared again for a long wait for our luggage but not only does my suitcase immediately appear, Todd’s is right next to mine.
Our excellent luck holds as we eat pav bhaji and then pre-pay for a taxi. There are no windows in the airport so India itself feels theoretical at this point (the digital temperature read-outs of 8C seem like information from another planet) and I can’t wait to actually step outside. There’s a massive crowd of taxi drivers and chauffeurs quietly waiting for fares. We walk with our cab driver to his taxi. The air smells slightly smokey. Todd and the cab driver chat in Hindi as I look out the window.
It’s almost three a.m. now and I can’t see much, but the palm trees and eucalyptus trees feel friendly and familiar, the same trees I saw out the window growing up in Southern California. At the hotel we say goodbye to our cab driver and fall into bed for a dreamless six hour sleep. Now? It’s time to EXPLORE.
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