Home for the Holidays

plane wing

At 6:36 this morning, an unmarked SUV pulls up outside the lobby of my apartment, crimping the first snowfall beneath its weight.  I wait with my collection of luggage: a big, black Jeep-brand suitcase, stuffed to the max with clothes by a someone who only excels at travelling light when she actually cares.  A black book bag packed full of a computer, crocheting supplies, granola bars and an empty water bottle.  My camera case – a carry-on all its own since you couldn’t pay me enough to put my precious camera into checked luggage (unless, mind you, you paid me enough to purchase a new and better replacement).  I miraculously managed to pack most of my purse’s contents into the book bag, throwing the near-empty grey canvas satchel into my suitcase.

A young man with a moustache he forgot to shave off post-Movember climbs out of the driver’s seat and waves.  I had expected a taxi light on top and am wary.   Even though this is a self-startup company that primarily offers cheap transportation to and from the airport for students, the car that had picked my mother and me up at the airport four months ago looked like any other taxi van.  Mind you, it had also been the type equipped with a wheelchair lift.  I fanagle my current driver into confirming his origin before I leave the relative security of the unlocked lobby.  The fact that it is still full dark and the vehicle is unexpectedly and unaccountably full of people doesn’t serve to lessen my concern.

I drag my ridiculously heavy suitcase down the concrete steps.  As he takes it from me and hefts it into the back, I see that the other four passengers – one in front, two squished into the middle bench seat and one in the back, which must have a fold-down seat since my luggage is tossed back there too – are evidently all students as well.  I figure this was alright – eco-consciousness aside, when you book as a group, you only pay $20 for the ride, as opposed to $30 when you book alone.  I figure I should get the discount, since I now have to crumple myself onto a bench seat next to a blonde girl I’ve never seen before, and fumble for the seatbelt latch while consciously avoiding  grabbing a handful of random bum.

The driver hops into the front seat and starts the car.

“Good thing your friend didn’t end up coming,” he says to the girl in front, “Or we wouldn’t have had room.”   That’s comforting.  If their friend had come, I might not have had a ride.

He starts the car.  Immediately, a very particular brand of music is pumped from the speakers.  It isn’t obnoxiously loud, but the onslaught of f-bombs and yo’mothas that emerges – courtesy of The Nortorious B.I.G., the digital faceplate announces in cheerful blue – rather catches me off guard.  Sure, none of the passengers are grannies or toting small children, but really? Blasting inappropriate music in a cab isn’t exactly the height of good taste.

Maybe he is distracted by the sweet bass beats of his tunes, but my confidence in our chauffeur isn’t increased when, a few minutes later, he slides through an intersection and nearly collides with the crossroad’s center meridian.

Other than the cabbie’s initial comment and one instance of the girl in the front seat twisting round to show a picture on her phone to the two beside me, the vehicle is completely silent.  Talking over the not-so-eloquent lyrics of the song would be uncomfortable even if everyone knew one another.

I happen to be the only one catching a domestic flight, so the driver pulls over to let me out earlier than the rest.  The less than enjoyable trip is fittingly wrapped up when he asks for $30.  I think about commenting, but decide it isn’t worth it. I give him $30.   Call me harsh, but being the lucky seat-filler, sitting awkwardly surrounded by strangers, subjection to unsavory music and still being charged the single-rider amount equals no tip, in my book.

I am grateful for the lack of stairs for the remainder of my time with the stupid-heavy suitcase.  I roll into baggage check and in a matter of a minute my boarding pass (now handily available on mobile devices) is scanned and my bag tagged.  I’m instructed to lie it wheels up on the conveyor belt behind the desk, but the damned thing is so clumsy that it slides away before I manage to topple it from standing.  A flight attendant kindly tips it for me with a sympathetic chuckle.

I go through security right away, though my flight is still an hour off.  Security is uneventful, which is somewhat disappointing.  I guess if I want a blog-worthy strip-search story, I need to work on looking more suspicious.  A security guard does earn a heartfelt smile when he calls me ‘miss’.  I get a bit testy when people call me – me, who doesn’t even look my actual (and still sprightly) age! – ma’am.

After that, there’s nothing left to do but trek down to my gate and sit tight.  Rows of grey, pleather seating stretch out on either side of the Gate 22.  Rocking chairs – an ingenious addition new mothers no doubt laud – sit between the rows near the windows.

The flight boards without incident.  I have a fleeting moment of hope that the passenger slated to sit beside me has come down with strep throat or a case of the pox before a large man trundles down the isle to snuggle in beside me.

On this particular flight – two rocky hours from Halifax International to Toronto – I learn a valuable lesson.  Once you’re past the excitement of staring out the window (usually attained after one or two round trips), always request an isle seat.  My bunkmate nods off (head tilted back, mouth wide open betwixt scraggly ‘stache and untrimmed goatee) the instant the plane takes flight.  Due to a fair bit of turbulence, the few times he awakes the seatbelt light has been activated, keeping me from leaving my seat.  Needless to say, my first stop upon disembarking is the nearest restroom.

My luck improves in the Toronto airport.  I have time to a grab Starbucks soy chai latte and discover the gate I need is the selfsame gate I just came out of.  Sometimes airlines are kind like that.  I spend the remaining twenty minutes or so marveling at the fact that Toronto’s duty-free section is like a shockingly well-stocked shopping mall.  Why would you buy anything and pay the extra tax when everything you could ever need – from Body Shop bath bombs to a vending machine-supplied iPod – is available for purchase after security.

Toronto-home is painless and uneventful.  The man to my right this time around is thoughtful enough to pass the time watching a movie rather than snoring, so I am unhindered on my trip to the bathroom (minus the usual awkwardness of having every single person on the plane watch you go by, fully aware of exactly what you’re about to do in the questionable privacy of a unisex cupboard).

We land with zero fanfare on a runway surrounded by an awful lot of snow, and the pilot cheerfully announces it’s currently a balmy -25 degrees in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

It’s a long and tedious trip, and it’s hours and days from the longest and most tedious there is.  It’s funny how all the toe tapping and sitting and twitching and window-gazing becomes momentary and absolutely worth it in every regard the second I see the smiling face I missed so much waiting by luggage claim to sweep me into his arms.

ground from plane

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