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European travel journal: Day 1, Sunday, May 10, 2009

Posted May 12 2009 3:45pm

I squinted behind my sunglasses to look at the dark-haired girl who was squinting at me behind her sunglass as if to say, "I'm from the Internet. Are you from the Internet too?" And indeed she was. As with all Internet people she looked kind of like her photo, but in 3D and with sound. I enjoyed reading SassyDemon's now private blog (so no linky) and after we wondered around a three-block radius of Union Station in Chicago we finally gave up trying to find Marshall's diner on our own and let a cabbie find it for us. There was an apple and cheddar omelet and good conversation and an offer of complimentary soft-serve ice cream, though I turned the last part down.

After lunch, SassyDemon walked me to the Blue line stop and after my luggage handle got stuck in the turnstile and then pried out, I got on my train with two and half hours until my plane's departure.

Then there was the shuttle.

You see, construction work was being done on the blue line on Sunday, which meant four stops were closed. Shut down. Not open. And since trains like to travel in straight lines on tracks and not willy nilly on the roads, the train stopped and we were guided to the surface for a special shuttle bus that would take us to the next stop.

It took 45 minutes. I'd estimated the entire train ride would take only 30 minutes.

I have paranoid traveler's syndrome. I've been stricken with it from my youth. Symptoms include nausea, muscle tension and anxiety when I do not arrive at the airport two hours before my departure time. As our bus waited in a traffic jam I murmured to myself, "It will be fine. It will be fine. It will be fine." As the bus kept going and going and going without me knowing how close to the station we were, I told myself that this was why I allow two hours to get to the airport. That way when I am freaking out on a shuttle bus in Chicago traffic I am only doing it because of my paranoid traveler's syndrome and not because I'm actually going to miss my flight.

A short jaunt and two flights of stairs later, I had gotten a good weight-lifting workout with my suitcase and I was on the train platform. We zoomed into O'Hare airport with an hour an ten minutes until my flight's departure time. International travelers have to check in at least 40 minutes before hand. This is another stimulus that provokes paranoid traveler's syndrome, especially when you try checking in at a terminal that tells you it doesn't check in international flights and you only have 30 minutes to find the right one and complete the task. Normally, I check in online beforehand, but my Internet was still on the fritz this morning and my printer had finally had a psychotic break, spewing gibberish and playing card suits, when I'd tried printing my itinerary for my mom.

Another flight of stairs later I found the right terminal and after I figured out how to swipe my passport I was onto security, where I was pulled aside and they stole my almond butter that I'd bought for DietGirl . Sorry, Shauna! Let it be known that flight security has kept us all safe from the terror of a creamy almond spread. I can still remember the way the screener shook her head as she found the jars, as if to say "These kids with their exotic condiment spreads." I bet those screeners are munching on almond-y toast and having a good laugh right now. In retrospect, I should have foreseen that I would never get a buttery, gooey concoction through security, but I thought I would give it a shot. I should have also checked the Chicago Transit Authority's web site and learned about the work on the blue line, but with a zillion details to remember and 5 guidebooks read, I never thought to check the subway schedule of a metro system outside of London or Paris.

As I waited at the gate to board the plane, I played a game of Spot the Brit. I randomly assigned stranger's British citizenship as if their haircuts or jackets were speaking to me in a cockney accent. I boarded my flight with no trouble, except for the fact that my seat was in the dead middle of the row, which is what you get for checking in late. I probably shouldn't use the word "dead" when referring to air flight either. The last time I was on a 777 with 9 seats across I was about 9 years old and flying to Disney World. This was back when they let people meet you at the gate. They probably let you travel with almond butter too.

There were little TV monitors on the back of every chair with several movie selections and a fancy map that showed where our plane was at the moment, as well as the airspeed and the temperature outside the cabin: -60 degrees Fahrenheit. Nobody open a window! The complimentary blankets won't save us from the chill, or the suction. The map was rather addictive and without it I wouldn't have known how close to Newfoundland we flew. I also wouldn't have known when we were flying over a huge mass of water with no land in sight.

I selected the movie "Taken" from the selections, which is a film about two girls traveling alone to Paris who are kidnapped and sold into sex slavery by a cute boy they met at the airport. I didn't think there was anything that could make Paul Blart: Mall Cop look like a good selection, but that plot point did. Mental note: Do not share a cab with any cute guys at the Paris train station!

The flight attendants were really ace, handing out snacks and sodas and chicken meals with tasty oatmeal brownies quickly and efficiently. As I sat with the pillow behind my lower back, a father lifted up his ginger-haired baby up long enough for her to grin and wave at the rest of coach before bringing her back down. Her body popped up again a moment later, like the creatures in the Whack-a-Mole game, but far cuter and adorable. It was the cutest thing ever.

At customs, the agent commented on my picture and said I'd lost "a fair amount of weight." Then he asked if I was travelling alone and my paranoid traveler's syndrome kicked in again, as if the customs agent was going to follow me to my hotel and sell me into an Albanian prostitution ring.

I tried to sleep on the plane but only dozed off for 30 minutes. Now I shall try to stay awake for the rest of the day to sync my body with local time. I'll have to drink lots of tea, I suppose. It is sunny and brisk here in London. It's just like America, but different! Now I'm off to hop on and hop off a big red bus.

Copyright Jennette Fulda. Read more at PastaQueen

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