My German neighbour had moved his farewell party forward a few days, from the following week to Thursday evening, as I would not have been able to attend. I decided to make a trifle, and top it with fruit in the pattern of a Texas flag, and a Floridian flag, as he is moving to the Sunshine State! However, in the middle of the red 'X' on the white background, is the 'Florida seal', which is rather an elaborate design. On reflection I decided the red, black of yellow of Germany, would be much easier to reproduce.
The trifle was a great success, as was the party, and although I had planned to leave early, my plans rarely come to fruition! I decided to leave the last minute packing until the morning. My list was on the bedside table, and I added a few more notes.
By 8am on Friday morning, I had completed my housework, (spread over the week, as usual,) packed my bags, ticked off all items on my list, and was ready to leave the house to drive to the office. Jerry had offered to drive Samantha, Edward and me to the airport, after I suggested we all go together at 3pm. However, the proverbial spanner was ready to be thrown into the works! For some reason, I had thought Samantha's flight was later than it actually was, and she was hoping to leave the office at around one! I would not be ready to leave at that time, and did not wish to spend four hours at Bergstrom! My bags were at my house, as were my travel clothes and as the work started to mount, I started to panic.
Standing in the makeshift kitchen at our office, I managed to pull myself together, and put things into perspective. After making, and drinking, a cup of coffee, everything appeared to be a little more clear. Samantha and Edward arrived, dog in tow, at the office, and left shortly thereafter. Dana then suggested he follow me home, pick up my cases, and then drive me back to the office to wait for Jerry to return, and repeat the process with a different passenger. This was not such a brilliant plan, as the already forlorn dog was left with Jason, which would not have ordinarily been a problem, had he not already been abandoned by his adoptive parents!
Dana loaded my bags into his car. I donned my travel clothes, and we drove back to the office. Jerry returned in good time, and Dana loaded my bags into Jerry's car, again to the horror of the dog, as he spotted the cases, (which in his mind mean abandonment,) and he looked at me with a frown, no doubt wondering how he was going to cope with 'That Lady', if everyone had gone. Finally, it was time to leave. Samantha had told me that the airport was exceptionally busy due to a few delays, and they had been offered a seat on an earlier flight, in order to vacate seats for those coming into Austin late, missing their connections. They opted for the alternative, and arrived in Houston with time to go and purchase Duty Free and a dozen donuts, requested by Richard! I maneuvered my cases as best I could, into the terminal, and walked through the security section very quickly. My plane was on time and I took my seat.
With a little more than thirty minutes in the air, we landed in Houston. As I switched my phone off aeroplane mode, it rang. Samantha advised me that I would be 'docking' at gate C18, and they were at gate C16. Assuming she was on her trans-Atlantic winged transportation vehicle, I told her that I would wave at the window I thought would correspond with her seat. However, apparently, there had been a problem with their scheduled plane, and it was being swapped for one in full working order. As I deplaned, I saw two familiar figures standing at the end of the tunnel! My daughter greeted me with a big hug, and Edward handed me a receipt. They had qualified for a discount for a future purchase at the duty free shop. Despite being a reasonably sized percentage, it was considered by most to be quite useless, as although it said 'future' purchase, it was limited to 'today!'
I waited for a while with the kids at their gate, and thought I saw a familiar face. A man wearing jogging pants, a t-shirt, and a panama hat was walking up and down, presumably waiting to hear some news. Trying not to stare, I wracked my brains wondering where I knew him from, and came to the conclusion that it was someone from my distant past. Deciding not to ask, I bid farewell to the children, and headed towards the duty free shop. Having bought my grandson many presents, I neglected to consider my son and daughter-in-law. Presenting the discount voucher at the cash desk caused a little bit of a stir. They were quite prepared to accept it, but appeared to be rather confused as to how to apply it. After all, with the time restriction, and duty free being available to those flying internationally, it was quite doubtful that they saw many of these vouchers redeemed. After a while they would see another, as I also qualified for a discount, which I passed to another customer in the shop, before leaving for a nice cup of tea in the lounge.
Thinking that I was now compos mentis, I handed the attendant my passport and boarding pass, so that she could enter me into their system. I made my way inside and set my bags down before making my way to the food counter. I suddenly realised that I had not eaten all day and felt a little hungry. However, before enjoying some repast from the newly updated options, (out with the cheese and crackers, and in with the soup, hummus, olives and salads,) I thought I would check on the progress of the delayed flight. My phone was nowhere to be found. Before going into a full blown tantrum, I remembered that I was alone, and unable to pass the buck to anyone else. I mentally retraced my steps and remembered the brief feeling of lucidity at the desk. I ran to the front of the lounge, and saw that not only was the front table deserted of staff, but there was no sign of my phone. However, a variety of staff were at a counter a little further back, and I asked if anyone had handed them a yellow smart phone. (If it was that smart, it would have found me!) As the nice lady offered to call my number, the original attendant appeared, waving. "There it is!" I exclaimed as I was reunited with my mobile device. Apparently, the original lady had turned it on, seen the picture on my screen of Richard and Ollie, and gone in search of the owner. A young man at the bar, with a beard, assured her that he did not have any children, nor did he know any, and therefore, was not the owner of the phone, nor the person in the picture! She found the whole incident rather amusing, but apparently there was a traumatised single male sitting at the bar!
Samantha and Edward were still at their gate when I returned, an hour later, as was the familiar looking gentleman in the hat! Still unwilling to approach him, I quite sure that my friends with whom I used to attend youth club would berate my decision. After another round of hugs, I walked two gates over and stood in line and waited to board my plane. Waving across the divide, Samantha finally boarded, and called me as I took my seat.
The flight was quite uneventful, and after watching 'Far from the Madding Crowd', and putting away my tray, following the nice cup of tea that I failed to get in the lounge, I laid down and fell asleep. The cabin crew member that was assigned to my row was very pleasant, and very attentive to the gentleman sitting next to me. I had to stop myself from laughing, as she threw her head back and giggled at every comment he made, including the "Thank you. ma'am"! I was not perturbed as it occurred to me, should I need anything extra, she would be hovering over my neighbour so I could also get preferential treatment. I am not sure if he was enjoying the added attention but it suited me! The sun rose while I was 38,000 feet above the earth, and I watched before dozing off for another hour or two. As we landed, Samantha called to say that they had just retrieved their bags, and she was heading through customs, and looking out for her father, who was collecting her. I told her that I would see her the following day, but no doubt speak to her later.
I cleared immigration and went to the baggage hall. Standing at the carousel was the familiar face under the panama hat. He smiled, and I decided not to let the final opportunity pass. "I have to ask ...... I saw you at Houston, and you have such a familiar face". I blurted. "I get that a lot. I think I have one of those faces", he replied in a very strong American drawl. I laughed and told him that the accent answered my question, as if he was someone I once knew, he certainly would have been English! He introduced himself, shook my hand, and I introduced myself in return. His wife appeared from around the other side of the carousel, and he turned to her and said, "Tracie's daughter was on our flight. Tracie has just landed. She was on the later flight". She smiled, and looked suitably shocked. "Really. We were meant to land a few hours ago". I, too, looked suitably shocked. My first response would have been, "Who the heck is Tracie?" However, being visitors on my home turf, I felt compassion and checked the overhead monitor, which they had not thought to do. Their luggage was actually on a different carousel, and I pointed this out to them. They had assumed that all flights from Houston would collect their bags from one carousel. "You see", I said, "There was a reason why I thought you looked familiar!" They reclaimed their bags, waved, and walked through customs.
With my bags collected, customs behind me, and a renewed sense of determination, I went in search of my hire car. The lady at the desk in the airport had never heard of 'Thrifty'. She told me that all the shuttle buses were on the lower level, and I should ask one of the drivers.
Waiting for the lift was almost as long as Samantha had to wait for her plane. It stopped at every floor, several times, apart from ours! Eventually, I stepped into the elevator, which took me up, rather than down, just to ensure my place inside! Down we eventually went and I got out, not recognising the surroundings, reminding myself to make a note of where not to go next time! I walked a couple of hundred yards to the ticket office for the underground, and a nice young man instructed me to go back to the lifts, and go to level zero! I obeyed!
Stepping out of the lift, I recognised the lower level of the car park. I could have been there thirty minutes earlier, as the lifts to the right of the original set were for 'lower ground car park only'. However, when I last hired a car, it was when Oliver had just been born, and I was not paying much attention to anything, other than getting to the hospital!
The drivers of the shuttles for the other car hire companies could not (or would not) tell me where to get the bus for my particular company. "Dunno", and "Nope" were the answers I received. Unsure as to their candour, I walked around, attempting to remember where I had sat for nearly an hour, on my last visit. Feeling a little overwhelmed, I called Samantha and asked her to find me a telephone number, so I could call the company and ask which 'stop' I should go to, in order to hitch a ride. She sent through the number via a text to my ancient English mobile phone, and I started to make my way back to the terminal. As I crossed the road, I spotted the blue bus, very clearly marked, in very big yellow letters, 'Thrifty'! I waved, and shouted, "Oi!" and started to run, as best I could, with my trolley and three bags! I though about turning around to the drivers of the other shuttles, who obviously have a blind spot for blue and yellow, and letting them know where the alternative companies collect their patrons, but decided that it would be a redundant effort! I was now very sure as to their candour, or lack thereof!
The 'headquarters' was rather busy. I explained that I had made the booking for the previous day, as the website had automatically taken my day of departure, and I had not thought to check. This apparently was not a problem. However, they would have to run the economy car through the wash, and this would take a few minutes. I called mum, and Samantha to let them know that I was waiting, and not to worry if I was later than anticipated. I stood and watched people come and go, and after having done so for nearly an hour, I made my way back up the slope to the office, pushing the trolley (of which they had one, and I was the quickest to grab it!) with all my bags. The young lady who assisted me appeared, and I very politely asked her if she knew how much longer the car would take to arrive. She snapped. "It's there! I have been busy with customers and have not had a chance to check you out". Finally, all the tension that had been simmering, waiting for the pressure valve to be released, overflowed! "I asked a civil question. I did not ask for attitude", I barked. I do not think she was expecting such an eloquent response, as the sheepish look on her face was hidden behind her clip board. She mumbled an apology and took me to my vehicle, which was a white Fiat 500. We checked the car, together, and I spotted a few marks that she had failed to notice, and I signed the form to say that I would return it in the same condition!
Two large suitcases, a carry on, a backpack and a hat, are not the recommended amount of luggage to fit into a Fiat 500! After a little bit of detective work, and the help (or not) of one of the staff, I found the catch to release the back seat. Upon seeing the removal of the cases from the (only) trolley, a fellow hirer ran towards me and asked if he could help, in return for the coveted cart. I thanked him, and dismissed him from the duty of the haulage work, in order to make sure he had full possession of the metal wheeled contraption, before it got whisked away by another. I got into the driver's seat, and headed towards the motorway! Driving on the correct side of the road, (stop shouting. I will not change my mind) I followed the signs for the M25 to Watford, and sat in traffic! Ah the biggest car park in the world, never fails to live up to its name! At around 3pm, I backed into my mum's drive, and the rest of the saga will have to remain .... another story!