Grounded in Chicago

Trip Start Sep 01, 2007
1
52
Trip End Dec 01, 2007


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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Saturday, September 1, 2007

Day One - Friday, August 31
 
As soon as I walked into the waiting room of Gate 18, at Chicago's O'Hare International airport, I knew the long awaited journey home had begun, for the sweet sounds of Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, caressed my ears like good music and filled the room. There was the young woman student from Marília with a head filled with wavy black hair. Eyes shining, she was clearly enjoying her newly found audience, excitedly telling everyone about everything. Filled with life, energy and enthusiasm, she was enthusiastically sharing news about the States, her life as a student at the university and so forth, all news to her new found friends. This is the Brazilian way: when life brings you people, make them a friend (at least for awhile) and enjoy the moment. There were the two businessmen from Sao Paulo, one clearly loved conversation at all times and rarely stopped talking but had all the appearances of a very nice likeable man, the other now an older middle-aged man with a scraggly beard and glasses and a stomach that betrayed he had enjoyed life and his food a little too much. There was the young couple who were quietly observing it all, sitting off to the side and soaking it all in: he, a tall strong young man, who I guessed right away to be from the south "a gaucho", she, a quiet woman who clung to him closely, newlyweds perhaps? She was so white, blonde and blue-eyed she was obviously of German descent and I guessed she might even be an American who had met a nice young Brazilian boy somehow. There was the black man wearing dark sun glasses, not saying a thing, just quietly watching and observing, taking in the situation. There was the group of Americans from Sioux Falls, SD filled with young commitment and good-will, yet a little uneasy and not sure what to make of all these new strange new sounds. As the room filled with more and more passengers, and people lost their inhibitions, the beautiful sounds of Portuguese filled the air, and I knew at that moment, I was going home.
 
Language has power. It shapes and forms us. It helps define who we are and how we think. Little do we know when we are in our mother's womb, the rest of our life is being determined by our "mother tongue."
 
While my mother was clearly not Brazilian, I spent enough time living in the country of Brazil as a young child, that like a child in the womb of a mother, my life was being shaped and formed forever. And when I stepped into that airport waiting room, I heard the sounds of my mother calling me home.
 
Chicago's O'Hare Airport moves so fast. The traffic snarls to get to the place. The security guards snap the lines forward. People with feared expressions run from one gate to another, trying to catch their connecting flight. They even walk rapidly on the moving sidewalks, jostling around each other, all trying to get a step ahead. Maybe it's the American competitive spirit coming out, we're going to push and shove and get ahead of you no matter what. So coming to O'Hare from the tranquil corners of northeast Iowa is a little bit of a shock, a bit like going from riding a calm little pony to sitting in the seat of a roaring Porsche. But O'Hare all ground to a halt that night with the words, "Passengers on Flight 843 to Sao Paulo, we're sorry..."
 
I suspected something was up when suddenly the waiting room was being invaded by a group of people we hadn't seen before, not just a few, but a huge crowd of them, clearly wanting to get somewhere else - fast. They had the expressions of people who had been bumped and jostled and pushed around and were beginning to rebel a bit, not unlike a group of cattle at the beginning of a cattle drive. Turns out they had been sitting in their airplane for two hours, the flight from Los Angeles through Chicago to Midway, now ground to a halt by mechanical problems. Little did we know at the time, two hours is nothing!
 
"Passengers of Flight 843 to Sao Paulo, we're sorry to inform you that United Airlines Control Operations has decided to use your airplane for the flight to Munich. You will have to wait until further decisions are made. We will keep you informed as soon as we know more information."
 
So we sat and watched the passengers for the flight to Munich that had started in Los Angeles, hurriedly board the plane, our plane. Some of us cursed to ourselves, others not so silently, cursed in Portuguese. (That's one of the advantages of knowing a foreign language in another land. You can curse and swear and no one but the insiders know what you are saying.) But the hand gestures betrayed those who already were frustrated.
 
By 9:30 p.m. it was known that no plane and no crew could be found at this time to take us to Brazil. The airline was very sorry but we would have to stay overnight and leave the next morning. So we were all moved to the Customer Service Center where a large woman with a walkie-talkie in her hand clearly took charge as we all waited in a very long line and the United personnel hurriedly printed us vouchers for taxis, meals and hotel while trying to answer questions like, "How are we going to make our connecting flight? How am I going to make it to the wedding?" I have to say United treated us right and took care of us that
night. We were told stay patient, stay calm... United was very sorry but we would be able to leave at 11:30 a.m. the next morning. Vouchers in hand, we all dutifully moved out like obedient soldiers though none of us had the foggiest idea how to find the taxi stand or our hotels. Fortunately Deb and I somehow made it quickly through the line and our cab and were at our hotel in the Jacuzzi trying to blast away the tension and stress of the day by 10:15 p.m. (The Jacuzzi closed at 10:00 p.m.
 
Deb, the daughter of a volunteer policeman, who always obediently follows all the rules and drives just a shade over the speed limit, said, "I don't care!"
 
By that time, none of us did.

 
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