As you may recall from yesterday’s post, I went to Europe and had a wonderful time. But what I remember the most about that trip was my return home.
While we were in Europe, our chaperone, who I shall call Flakylady, told us over and over that she had chaperoned these student tours many times. When she told us she knew how to get to the best shopping area at Kings Cross, we got lost. When she told us she knew how to get to the Tower of London, we got lost. She told us that we didn’t need to worry about customs, that she had smuggled all sorts of things over her allowance in and those people were such dopes. Blah blah blah.
She collected tiny furniture for her doll houses. She was involved in decorating a new acquisition, and everywhere we went she bought wonderful miniature furniture. She bought herself new clothes in London, perfume in Paris.
When we finally arrived back in New York after our six weeks in Europe, she had more stuff hidden away in her suitcases than you could shake a stick at. Very little of it was delcared on her customs form.
I had almost nothing to declare. As you may recall, I left for Europe with $250. I blew $25 on a new haircut at the Waldorf before we left the States. There were Tube fares in London. I had to buy lunch in Paris, Salzburg and Rome. I bought a few souvenirs for my family, and that was the end of my money. When I nervously approached the brusque customs inspector, he looked at my pitiful list, and said, “Is this all you have to declare?” in tones that implied he could not believe that was all I had bought.
“I only had $200 dollars for spending money, sir,” I explained. He stuck his hands deep into my carry-on bag, and pulled up all the detritus from the bottom of it. His eyes got big, he looked at his hands, which were covered in red sticky STUFF.
“What is this?” he inquired, acidly. My nail polish (I still used nail polish at that time of my life) had come open during the flight home.
I was embarassed, aghast. “Oh, my nail polish must have come open,” I exclaimed in confusion. “I’m so sorry, let me help clean this up.”
“Go!” He grabbed some tissues from his desk, and began to scrub the mess off his fingers. He shoved my carry-on bag back at me.
“I have nail polish remover,” I began, as I started rummaging through the bag.
“Go!” He stamped my passport viciously. “Just get out of here.” As I exited the room, I looked over at the next line. Flakylady was there, her bag was open on the table. She was flapping her hands in distress as the customs officer methodically unpacked her carefully packed miniature furniture. None of it was listed on her customs form. I never saw her again, and sometimes I wonder what happened to her. I suppose she had to pay a big fine.
But all that concern was edged out of my consciousness by what happened next in my adventure. You see, while I was in Europe, my father got a new job. He had been looking for one for some time, having lost his good position when defense spending was cut and his job disappeared. So he snapped up the new employment, and while I was in Europe gadding about, my family moved from Colorado to California. My parents had been aware of this possibility, so when they bought my airline tickets at the beginning of the summer, they had routed me to North Carolina where my grandparents lived. Once there, arrangements could be made for me to travel to our new home.
I found the Eastern Airlines counter after I had cleared customs, and tried to check in for my flight to Raleigh/Durham. It was about one o’clock in the morning, and there was a large crowd getting processed through for a red-eye flight to Los Angeles. The ticket agent could not find my flight number, and after a few minutes asked me to step aside. After all, my flight was not until seven in the morning, and he had a lot of people to deal with right then.
Finally, the crush of people was processed, and he re-addressed his attention to my reservations. After a minute, he said, “Oh, I see what the problem is. This flight originates from LaGuardia, not Kennedy.” We were at Kennedy, of course.
I looked at my watch. (At that time in my life, I had not given up on watches) “How do you get to LaGuardia?” I asked him.
“You take a cab, I guess.”
I thought about my wallet. Things had gotten very tight in Europe. All it had in it was the one dime my mother told me to always have in case I needed to make a phone call. I didn’t know my grandparents’ phone number, I didn’t even know my parents’ address, Flakylady was back in customs hell, and all I had was ten cents. “I don’t think I can afford a cab. Is there some other way to get there?”
“Yeah, I think there is a shuttle.”
“Does it cost money?”
He looked at me like I was some sort of ninny. “Of course it costs money. It costs two fifty.”
“Oh,” I said. I thought about my wallet again. I was pretty tired, but I was young and strong and I had six hours. “How far is it to LaGuardia Airport?”
He looked up from the paperwork he was trying to finish up, a little tired of my inquisition. “I guess it’s probably about 10 miles.”
That was a relief. Ten miles in six hours, no problem. I could walk it easy. “How do I get there? Can you give me directions?”
“Directions?” His disbelief was palpable. “What do you mean, directions?”
“Well, I just got home from Europe. I don’t have any money left, only a dime for a phone call. So I figured I would walk over to LaGuardia from here. I have plenty of time.”
“WALK?” He looked at me, a certifiably insane country bumpkin. “You can’t WALK to LaGuardia from here. It is a freeway. You aren’t allowed to walk on it.”
That was when I burst into tears. I explained that I would call my parents, except that I didn’t know where they were living since they had moved while I was in Europe.
The poor man looked at this breakdown, and muttered to himself. “I shouldn’t do this. It is against all the rules.” He looked at me. I looked at him. “I get off work at 6 a.m. I’ll give you a ride over to LaGuardia when I get off my shift.”
I thought about getting into cars with strangers. I thought about rapists and murderers. I thought about white slavers in the big city. I thought of all those things, and more, and then I said, “Okay. You won’t forget me, will you?”
“I won’t forget. You sit down right over there and take a nap, and I’ll come get you at six.”
He didn’t forget either. He delivered me right to the Eastern Airlines terminal, where the agent was very kind to me. Apparently, during the remainder of his shift at Kennedy International Airport, this very kind gentleman called his co-worker at LaGuardia and got me completely checked in, complete with an upgrade to first class.
And he had a really cute Porsche too.
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