Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Trek

You sit sideways on a C-130, on red nylon fabric stretched like a cot, and lean against red nylon webbing.  If you're on the outside rows, your back is to the inside of the airframe.  If you're in one of the two inside rows, your back is probably against somebody else's.  You're crammed in about as tightly as the cargomasters can cram, knee-to-knee with the poor slob in the next row.  Your carry-on items aren't under the seat in front of you nor in the overhead bin, since neither exists.  Rather, it's in your lap.  Earplugs are stuffed in your ears because the plane is loud.  And to top it all off, when you're flying in and out of Iraq, you wear 35 pounds of kevlar body armor and helmet.  It's like strapping big frying pans to your front and back and wearing a football helmet made out of concrete.

But C-130's are reliable.  Baghdad was covered with a thick, dusty haze that seemed to grow thicker by the hour.  I was concerned that the flight would be cancelled, particularly when the guy in the terminal said "well, planes are landing ..." but I didn't see any leaving.  However, we were eventually lined up and marched out to the flight line and onto the plane.  In fairly short order it was buttoned up and off we went.  Amman, Jordan, was cold and wet - they told us it had actually snowed a bit the day before.  The State Department had people at the airport to meet us and we were taken to our hotels.  I checked in, took a nice long hot shower to wash off a pound or two of Baghdad dust, and went down to grab some lunch.  The hotel had an American-style Champions Sports Bar (!) and I treated myself to a big, thick, fresh-cooked cheeseburger and fries and a big ol' stein of draft beer.  It was the most delicious meal I'd had in my whole life.  Well, two or three months, anyway.  And then I went up to the room and went to bed.

I never sleep worth a hoot the first night on the road.  Something about being in a new place,with new noises, and having to get up early to catch a can't-miss flight, means I didn't get any sleep the night before leaving Baghdad.  So that six hour's snooze in Amman was heaven.

We were collected from our hotels around midnight for the trip out to the commercial airport.  Getting through ticketing, baggage, passport control, and various security points was slow but non-eventful.  I was told I'd have an aisle seat, but found out they gave me a window seat, and then when I got there, found out that a family with three or four kids had taken over the seats.  I wasn't about to wave my ticket at them (what, and wind up with two small kids in the seats next to me?  NOT!!!).  The Lufthansa stewardesses were very cheerful and efficient and found me an aisle seat instead.  We took off on time at 3 am.  The gentleman sitting next to me turned out to be an Iraqi college professor, now living and working in Jordan, who had spent years in prison under Saddam Hussein.  He was a very interesting man and we spent most of the 4-hour flight talking about all sorts of things.  Got into Frankfurt about 6 to start a 5-hour layover.

The Frankfurt terminal is one of the major ones in Europe, meaning it's big, well-stocked with stores and restaurants, and way too many checkpoints.  I wound up going through personal screening four times ... partly because I kept wandering around (with a 5-hour layover, what the hell else is there to do?) and partly because I kept getting bad information whenever I asked directions.  Eventually I found my gate, where we loaded up onto a United flight and left for Washington Dulles at about 11 a.m. for a 9 1/2 hour flight.  This time, the person sitting next to me was a little old Hungarian lady who had lived in the US for 26 years and returned to Hungary after the fall of communism there.  She was very energetic, curious, and funny, a great travel partner.  

Then we got into Washington Dulles about 3 pm.  After collecting my bags, getting through customs, and calling the courtesy van from the hotel, I finally got to my room.  I talked to my wife, grabbed dinner from a restaurant next door, and crashed into bed about 8 pm.  I was beat - and had been going non-stop for about 30 hours at that point.

Now it's early Tuesday morning.  I'm about to head into Washington to outprocess from the State Department.  Later this afternoon I'll go back to Dulles and get on a plane to take me home.  It's freezing cold here, but with the end in sight, I don't mind.  Not too much, anyway.  Just get me home!

1 comment:

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/03/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front..