The line to the Air France ticket counter that night was the scene of many surprisingly friendly encounters between exhausted and exasperated passengers attempting to dissolve their stress by participating in contests. The coveted prize of a collective “Wow” murmured by the long, long line of discouraged travelers was won by a few lucky people in the following categories:
A) Longest time spent traveling (counted in hours, based on time zone of origin)
B) Longest time spent traveling without sleep
C) Longest time spent traveling without food
D) Most missed connecting flights
The Tall Blond and I did not win in any categories, but a comparison of our thrice-modified flight itineraries did prove that we had been traveling from 2 cities 2 hours from each other (in France) and were traveling to 2 cities 2 hours from each (in New York state).
Two hours of conversation later, the fourth version of our itineraries showed both of us taking the first possible morning flights to our respective destinations. It was then that The Tall Blonde and I looked at each other and instantly made a decision.
We would spend the night together.
At Terminal 4.
This was not as odd an idea as it sounds. It was 1 AM by the time Air France solved our complicated itinerary issues, and the hotel they proposed was an expensive (not reimbursed) taxi ride away. Also, I had 60 kg of luggage (the full weight of which I now felt in my body, having pushed the heavy cart 2 terminals down in a desperate sprint to make my flight to Buffalo, thanks to airline personnel informing me first that I had no chance to make my flight, so they wouldn’t take my suitcases, and later an Air France lady insisting I could make it in time, but I had to run, as AirTrain wasn’t functioning. Well, let’s just say, I obviously didn’t make it, and I’m pretty sure pushing a cart loaded with 2 huge suitcases up and down curbs at JFK airport should be a new Olympic discipline.)
So yes, my one-night stand with TTB was at JFK Terminal 4, and the 7 hours we spent together were mostly on a very hard and uncomfortable bench.
Immediately upon entering the Terminal 4, an Angel pushing a long line of luggage carts directed us to the best camp-out place. Our conversation went something like this:
‘Hi! Are you going to sleep here?” asked the Angel.
“Um, yes… how do you know?” I answered.
“You look like person who sleep here. I work here long time. I know. My English not very good, but I help you. You go to end of terminal, and take elevator. Push button “1” for “Food”. That F – O -O – D. There McDonalds. Best place on floor, room for suitcase.”
TTB and I looked at the Angel in awe and wished him a very Merry Christmas, because he really deserved it.
So we spent the night there, on a bench, our laptops under our heads and our feet on luggage carts. TTB was a perfect gentleman. He bought me dinner (called that in spite of it being 1.30 AM to differentiate from breakfast, which I bought him at 4.30 AM). He offered me his travel pillow and blanket (purloined from the plane we had just been on), and expressed his willingness to sacrifice his sleep to keep watch over my suitcases. When I protested, he was intent on fashioning a contraption to tie the suitcases to the cart so that I could doze in peace (trust me to get stuck at the airport with a nuclear physicist with an intense practical problem-solving desire!)
We talked about travel, Europe, Oxford, hitch-hiking, the interns’ strikes at the International Labor Organization, winter sports, careers, life plans, ethics and life choices throughout the night. TTB was very bright (I don’t think you can be a nuclear physicist otherwise…), amusing, well-travelled, well-read, and most importantly, enthusiastic. Anything I proposed, he accepted as the best idea on earth. Normally this is something I find annoying, but in the context, it was uplifting to be woken up with “So, dear U., did you sleep well? Guess what! In half an hour we can move our luggage to Terminal 3! Isn’t that exciting!”
And his spatial-thinking abilities came in handy when I was trying to figure out how to put the muesli I had bought in the cafe from the plastic cap into my yogurt.
As Fate would have it, our gates were next to each other, so we kept up a steady stream of jokes and talk until I boarded the plane to Buffalo and we waved each other cheery goodbyes.
You’ve already figured it out, dear readers, and I have given it away. The romance, in spite of all the necessary ingredients being there, didn’t happen, and the one-night stand didn’t exactly fit the standard definition.
But it reminded me of why I love travel in the first place – not for sweeping vistas in the Alps, quaint cobble-stoned streets in French countryside villages or the swirling skirts of tango dancers in a milonga in Buenos Aires, although those are nice too. Travel is about meeting people I never would’ve encountered had not a snowstorm delayed our flight; travel is about discovering others, connecting to them, and building friendships.
Even if it’s only for one night.