This past month in California has flown by…..occupied by visits with family, friends and physical therapists. I can now walk easily with only one cane…..sometimes the cane becomes a nuisance and it’s easier to gimp along without any assistance. I can also walk down stairs….as long as the railings are close enough to hold on to both sides and no one wants to pass. Progress….slow but sure.
You know how you sometimes remember something incorrectly? That happened to us today. We both thought the plane departed at 3:00 pm, so we checked out of the hotel and drove over to SFO around noon thinking we’d have just enough time. Traffic was light and we arrived at the airport about 12:30. Craig loaded a luggage rack with our two duffel bags, two suitcases and four carry-on’s (winter clothes take up a lot of room!). I wheeled the luggage inside while Craig returned the rental car.
There was no line at check-in….in fact, there was no one at check-in….British Airways hadn’t even opened up yet. I waited for Craig to return. He arrived (in record time) about the same time as the British Airways staff, so we wheeled the luggage over, checked our bags and got our boarding passes. I decided to forgo wheelchair assistance this time since the gate was nearby and easily walkable…..and, since traffic had been light, we had plenty of time.
We arrived at the gate. It was empty….no passengers, no staff, no plane. Well, it was still early….only 1:00….they’d probably all be here soon.
2:00 came and went and still no people, no staff, no plane….so I looked at our boarding passes. The flight wasn’t leaving until 5:00 pm! We arrived almost five hours early! Well, with that little bit of humbling behind us, we wandered over to the bar and chilled out with some spicy Bloody Mary’s. While we imbibed, Craig was facing a man with a “clock” necklace. Craig mentioned this odd accessory, so I turned around to look. There at the table behind us was a middle-aged black man who, indeed, was wearing a white plastic clock on a large chain around his neck. Well, to each his own, I thought. Then we noticed people taking his picture and asking for his autograph.
Turns out he’s not an advertisement for Salvador Dali….he’s someone “famous”…..rapper Flavor Flav??? Former member of Public Enemy???
Due to my ignorance of rap, I must be showing my age…..which turns out to be not that much older than Flavor Flav’s.
Thanks to my (now-healing) leg, we were allowed to board the plane early, so we ambled on and tried to get comfy in our coach seats. British Airways gave us a little more seat room than Air France but after a few hours, it’s a moot point….there’s just no getting comfortable in coach seats.
Dinner was served promptly….but Air France wins over on food…..the only thing this meal had going for it was that it gave us something to do during the long flight. As we flew through the storms blanketing the US and the Atlantic, we had periods of strong turbulence….. reminiscent of the “Indiana Jones” ride in Disneyland….more fun than scary….and it provided some “air” time away from the seats that, by now, felt like cement.
After ten hours of this self-imposed hell, we arrived in London. Since Heathrow is a large and confusing airport, we opted to utilize wheelchair assistance to take us to the gate for the flight to Toulouse. Those of us needing assistance were put on “buggies” for the ride to the Assistance area. These buggies are electric mini-buses similar in design and shape to a 6-person golf cart. We were transported through a large basement area under the terminals. Craig and I were in the back of the buggy…..sitting backwards. The walls of the long empty corridors were bathed in purple light; every 50 yards there was a set of open double doors; occasionally, an empty buggy going the other direction would pass. It was a surreal landscape….modernistic vehicles traversing purple corridors….we felt like we were in a 1960’s James Bond movie.
We were deposited at a large holding area for people needing assistance. One by one, our wheelchairs arrived and we were whisked to other holding areas in the appropriate departure terminals. We had a long layover, but my carriage finally arrived and we were taken through Customs and Security to our gate. Our plane was parked on the tarmac so I was asked if I’d be able to enter the bus and walk up the 20+ steps to the airplane….in the rain….with a busload of other passengers. As I was debating this scenario, Craig took control and said “No” so I was wheeled over to the “Hi-Lift”….a large van with an interior cabin that lifts up to airplane height on pneumatic “scissors”. Craig and I were welcomed aboard by the pilots and the flight attendants. I’m not sure if Craig was really worried about my safety or if he just wanted to ride the “Hi-Lift.”
Two hours later, we arrived in Toulouse. My wheelchair was waiting, attended by an adorable young man with curly dark hair and crystal blue eyes. He helped us though Customs and Baggage Claim and then wheeled me to the restroom. After assuring me that he wouldn’t go into the restroom with me, he went into the restroom with me to show me where the large “handicapped” stall was; he then returned to the entrance to wait my return.
The restrooms had paper toilet seat covers….a rarity in France…..so I happily placed one on the toilet seat, went about my business then washed up and walked out to the wheelchair. As I was about to sit down, this handsome young man with the crystal blue eyes said, “no, no, no.” He made a quick motion, grabbed the remants of the toilet seat cover from my slacks, walked back into the restroom to dispose of the evidence and proceeded to wheel his very red-faced client back to her husband.
He helped us find our rental car and finally said “Au revoir” after we had deposited all of our baggage in the very small Volkswagen Polo that will be our wheels for the next few weeks.
It was now about 6:00 pm….rush hour in Toulouse….we inched our way through the traffic and were finally on the A-61 heading toward Chateau Miaou and a happy reunion with Felix.
The fields, so green all summer, were now wearing their autumn colors….reds, oranges, browns. As dusk approached, the countryside was bathed in a golden glow. Very different than the landscape we left but still so very beautiful.
We arrived at Chateau Miaou a little late, but Sharon and her husband were waiting for us. Felix was resting contentedly on his tower and, although he wasn’t too happy about it, he allowed Craig to put him in his carry case. We packed him and his belongings up and started the drive back to Maison de l’Ecurie.
We arrived an hour or so later and entered the cottage with some trepidation…..wondering if any four-legged squatters were waiting for us. As Craig returned time and again with our belongings, I tip-toed through the cottage….hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
There were a lot of dead flies and quite a few live spiders. The peanut butter was missing from the mouse traps, but there were no other tell-tale rodent signs. Victory! Hopefully!
The cottage was cold so Craig lit a fire while Felix spent time getting reacquainted with us. After a glass of amber vermouth and a little telly, it was time for bed.
Bonne nuit, mes amis……good night, my friends.