I can’t remember the title, but there was an episode of the “Twilight Zone” where groups of construction workers moved along in front of you and built the scenery of your life. Another crew came a long behind and tore it all down. And if you stopped, or went off script, you were left in a void, condemned never to get back on track.
Or maybe there was that “Star Trek, TNG” episode, where Dr. Crusher is stuck in a time warp and her universe was steadily shrinking until she was the only one left.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about time and how often, things happen quickly. Like within the course of an airplane ride. One leaves the ground with the world in a certain state and touches down in a land of rule changes and great unfamiliarity.
In January, I headed for Manila. I lifted off on an ordinary Sunday Afternoon, fell asleep halfway through “JoJo Rabbit” and woke to this scene passing by the window. I was bewildered. I was certain I was looking at a volcanic eruption. The plume of steam and ash. Lighting spiraled all around. But, I keep fairly tuned into the world around me. I hadn’t heard of a volcano. Surely, something this spectacular, would have made the news. I landed to find I was one of the last planes in and indeed the Taal volcano had just erupted. Manila was donned in masks. Grit was in my teeth. Ash fell out of my hair. A changed world within 3 hours.
March, then, and I’m trying to skirt the COVID virus. I’m off to NZ and Fiji, thinking that for sure I can avoid contamination for a bit. New Zealand seemed to have things under pretty good control. I lifted off from a normal world. Soon after landing I learned that New Zealand was planning on closing her borders behind me and was due to make more restrictions in the coming days.
As my return trip was back through New Zealand, I was facing a possibility of being stranded. Thinking of postcard Fiji, one may imagine no better place to be stranded at the end of the world. But given the small number of ventilators, the tribal nature of much of Fijian culture, and the fact that when you ask if they’ve really stopped cannibalism, the response is a half-hearted shrug and an “I’m pretty sure”, an extended time there as a foreigner may not be the best.
I tried to get my travel agent to help me. After about 8 hours, and repeated calls, they noted that they were unable to get through to the airline to make the switch. They recommended that I try to contact the airlines directly. I tried calling, but was unable to get through, but because I was across the street from the airport, I walked over and asked face to face.
They were able to swap my flight directly with no difficulty and I went back on my merry way.
6 hours later, I’m about to go to sleep. I get a message from the airline, saying my flight is delayed and they’re trying to contact me. So, I rang them and waited. And waited. And waited. 15 minutes. 30 minutes. 45 minutes. Fiji Airways has one song that is approximately, 2 and a half minutes long. I heard it a lot.
Still on hold, I decided to try my luck at the airport and headed back over to the desk which, having boarded the final flight out for the evening, was now closed. I found a helpful security lady, who waved at the vacant desks and confirmed that they were indeed closed.
“You should have come earlier. When everyone was here.”
The Fiji Airways hold song and the building anger, must have caused my face to twitch, because then she said, “If you want, you could try their corporate office. It’s upstairs in the next building.”
The corporate office was not really a corporate office, that you might imagine. No wood panel or recessed lights. It’s a dingy, couple of rooms, with dark tinted windows with nearly no markings, save for a “Fiji Airways” bumper sticker. I thought they were closed, but then I saw a hulking Fijiian hunched in front of a computer.
So I rapped at the door. Nothing. I rapped again. Nothing. Then I gave it a good pounding. Shaking the glass door and wall.
A Fijian woman opened the door. I stood in the darkened hall. My Fijian Air hold music was still playing on speaker phone.
“Hi, I need to change my flight. I got an email saying to contact you as soon as possible. Here I am?”
Now, she could have sent me away and told me to remain on hold, but maybe the line between pathetic old man and crazy old man had not quite been crossed and she took pity on me.
She invited me in.“What seems to be the problem?”
“Well, you’ve delayed my flight and as a result, I’m going to miss my connection.” I handed her my itinerary.
She looked pensively. “This flight is delayed.”
“Yes.” I replied.
“Looks like you’re going to miss your connection.”
“We’re going to need to change this!”
I felt like Obi Wan Kenobi, so I continued to push my luck as we strolled over to the computer. “I see that there is a flight tomorrow through Australia connecting home, and that there are seats available. Perhaps you could get me on that flight.”
She pulled up a computer screen. My hold music gently played. I’m not kidding when I say that she remarked, “It looks like there is a flight we could get you on through Australia.”
She picked up her cell phone and dialed a number. She was immediately placed on hold. Same exact music. “You need to listen to the same music as the rest of us?” She smiled and shrugged.
Somehow her hold was short, and after a brief explanation to the other end, they responded that indeed there was a flight through Australia, but Australia had just moved to close their borders and I couldn’t get on that plane. I felt a disturbance in the force.
It was here that I felt the time warp shrinking around me. Maybe hearing the time builders tearing things down. Nipping at my heels. Venuda, my helper, though offered me a Fiji water and a seat and set about on a search. Staying on hold. Making some other calls. Pulling in other staff for help
Eventually, an option arose. It would require 15 extra hours, but it got me home eventually. I expressed my deep gratitude for her help
It was late now, but the new flight allowed me to sleep in and catch a morning rain shower and a rainbow.
Since then, travel has gotten harder and harder. I used to comfort myself with the fact that I could get back to my family in about 26 hours. Now? That is a near impossibility and lengthening all the time. The world is growing larger, and the chasms are hard to cross.
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