Europe! Just the word was exciting. We probably wouldn’t have made such a trip for many years, but Heather was living in southern Spain in 2004 while Wayne was stationed at the Naval Air Base in Rota. We would take Matt and spend Christmas together. Our first journey to a new continent has become a funny story, but we weren’t laughing at the time . . . it was the proverbial trip from hell!
First, waiting in the crowded Crescent City Airport, we barely flinched as they announced a flight delay due to weather. We had planned an extra day in San Francisco, so this wouldn’t affect our smoothly planned trip at all. Then I heard my name called. A TSA employee informed me that my suitcase had to be searched. They took my passport, copied details, asked my occupation. I felt like a criminal. Have I now been entered into some sort of terrorist database? I asked the reason for the search and was told that an explosive alarm had been tripped. “What would cause that?” I asked. “Sometimes components of makeup will do that,” he answered. Sandy, in her usual joking manner (which, in ANY other situation, I love) said, “must be a pretty ugly woman to need explosive makeup.” I resisted the urge to kick her under the counter. I do not think you are supposed to joke with the TSA. And I did not find it funny to watch this guy empty my carefully packed bag. Thankfully my underwear was in ziplock bags!
Within minutes after Ray and Sandy walked out the door, it was announced that the flight was cancelled. No answer on Ray’s cell. We waited in line for more than an hour. With each party that left the counter, an announcement was made. “No more flights out of Arcata until after the first of the year.” “No more flights out of Medford until after the first.” After my initial panic that we weren’t going to Spain, we began to consider our options. We just had to get to San Francisco by morning. Actually, it would work if we could get to Atlanta by tomorrow night. I called everyone I could think of who could get on line and check flights for us; Matt, Ray, Bob, Chris. No answer. I called Delta reservations and got a busy signal for forty minutes. As we waited, we talked to the woman behind us in line, whom we sort of knew from her job at a Brookings title company. Gary and I ended up sharing a ride with her and her 10-year-old son Dylan to San Francisco. The kid was spoiled and annoying, and it was a tedious 8-hour drive. As we rolled on to the Golden Gate Bridge, Silver Bells began to play on the radio. "It’s Christmas time in the city", with colored lights glittering on the bridge and all around the bay. Irritation melted away.
Except for a bit of a late takeoff, our flight to Atlanta was uneventful. When I went to confirm handicapped assistance, Delta moved our seats to the bulkhead, which ended up saving our flight to Europe. If we’d had to wait in the back of the plane, we would have missed our flight. In Atlanta the following evening, we were met with a wheelchair, as promised. But when we left the shuttle, at the base of a flight of stairs to Gate 4, there was no one to help. Our flight was in its final boarding call at Gate 34! We hustled, Gary struggling to keep up, 6 months after his stroke. Matt, already on the plane from his Portland connection, made several calls to our cell. “Mom, this is the last call! What should I do?” “Matthew, do not let that plane take off!!” We slid into our seats beside him as they closed the doors.
In Madrid, we went through passport check and to the baggage carousel. We waited for our bags. Matt picked his from the conveyor. We waited for our bags. We began to see the same bags go around and around. We waited for our bags. Finally, we stood for an hour and a half in the Delta baggage claim line. Afraid that he was missing the chance to check his bag for our flight to Jerez, Matt wanted to go, but we wouldn’t let him leave until we determined that the woman at the counter spoke English. She did, and he disappeared through Customs, never to return. They needed Heather’s phone number, but Matt had it, and where was he?? We were given a claim number and told to call when we had a contact number. Not sure we’d ever see our stuff again, we had no choice but to walk away.
We headed the way we’d last seen Matt go, and found him waiting at the arrivals gate, very relieved to see us. He’d gone into an unsecured area and couldn’t get back without boarding passes, which we had. Now we needed to check in with Iberia Airlines, and stopped at the first counter we saw. We waited thirty minutes to find it was the wrong line. “Terminale Dos!” we were directed. We walked, and waited in line at a counter under a sign proclaiming Terminale Dos. Wrong again. Gary began to approach people to ask if they spoke English. Matt, after taking four years of Spanish, had assured us he would translate on this trip. In reality, the combination of rapid speech and the unfamiliar Castilian dialect was intimidating, and he wouldn’t speak at all. But this he couldn’t tolerate! “Dad,” he hissed. “Assuming that people should speak your language is acting like a stupid American!” “Matt,” said Dad, “I am a stupid American. If you want me to look like anything else, then you speak Spanish!” Somehow, we did find the right gate, in time to be told they had just closed the doors on our flight. The next one was in three hours and would cost us an additional two hundred dollars. We bought the tickets, figured out how to call Heather and Wayne, and settled in to wait.
Tired as we were, it was amazing to look out the windows at EUROPE!! And it all ended happily; an easy flight to Jerez, two very welcome faces waiting, luggage delivered the next day to the base in Rota, and a fantastic story to tell!

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