July, 1995. I am sitting on the marble floor of my departure gate in the Athens Airport with many impatient Hungarians. We are all waiting for our plane to Budapest to arrive.
Frankly, I am just glad to be at the gate at all, considering I had just ridden on a ferry and a bus, run several blocks while being chased by feral dogs and then hailed a $1,000 drachma cab to take me to about .9 kilometers to the International Terminal.
Worse, I had begged, pleaded and gone both Ugly American and Damsel-in-Distress at the ticket counter. The result was a scolding about checking in late and getting a personal escort to the Malev Airlines gate where the friggin’ flight is now delayed due to mechanical problems. Hence, my current situation, which is a far cry from yesterday.
The day had been perfect. My friend Indira and I finally found Paros, the Greek island we really liked. After buying ferry tickets to Athens on our last full day in Greece, we spent most of our dwindling time at the beach, swimming in the Aegean Sea. Then we visited this stunning Orthodox church where we witnessed a christening of a new baby
We had boarded the ferry to Athens that night with plenty of time to catch the city bus that would take us to the Athens airport, where we planned to sleep in order to catch our early flights.
Because we were on the sea and it started raining, the ferry ride was soggy and cold. However it was on time. After reaching Athens, we got off the ferry and ran into Christine, this woman Indira had met on her flight from LA to Athens. We all needed to catch the city bus that would take us to the airport.
Upon finding the correct bus stop, we practically stepped on these two cocooned South Africans, Adam and Lance. They, too, were waiting for the airport bus. Definitely the South African boys made two-hour wait we were about to endure bearable. Having both completed their mandatory service with the South African army, they told us horror stories about the South African military and their equivalent to boot camp.
To get to Athens, from the interior of Greece, Adam and Lance had hitched a ride on a chicken cart and slept, essentially, on the side of the road several times.
Grateful for the free entertainment, I gave Adam my beach mat. Despite the hilarity, I was stressing about potentially missing my 6 a.m. flight. Finally, at 5 a.m. the bus picked us up and headed for the airport.
Let me just say that the west and east terminals of the Athens airport could not be further apart. In fact, the east terminal may as well have been in Turkey. The bus pulled away from the west terminal, where Indira, Lance and Adam got off and which housed all gates for domestic Greek flights. It lurched on and finally stopped at the next terminal.
Lunging out, I hurled my duffle bag over my shoulder and sprinted in to what I assumed was the east terminal. What the..?! It turned out to be the charter flight terminal. Shit!! It is 5:30 a.m. and my flight leaves at 6 a.m. I’m screwed.
Running down the sidewalk, I practically jumped on the hood of the next taxi I saw. What’s the word for please…ughhh I can’t remember. Okay, forget using the pleasantries or asking if the driver speaks English.
“I need to get to the east terminal!” I screeched as the pitch in my voice rose to levels dogs snoozing across town at the Acropolis could probably hear. The cab driver didn’t really care. He shook his head and essentially said, “no way” and then told me the east terminal is only 100 meters away.
The city bus still lumbered away in the distance. I bolted off in the direction of the bus, but it turned and disappeared. My heart revved at the pace of a chainsaw as I looked around. I was in some sort of poorly lit, empty business complex.
On instinct, I went the other direction toward lights. As I ran, one of Athens’s flea ridden, balding, patchy dogs with its nipples dragging along the ground started barking and jogging along with me on this deserted street. Soon more mangy nipple draggers appeared and followed yipping and growling. It was like leading a pack of escapees from an abandoned animal asylum. At least they seemed to be on my side.
This did not help with the stress level as I hauled ass. Finally, the pace slowed, and I discovered some random men. My dog disciples slowed down as well. “How do I get to the international airport terminal?” I asked out-of-breath. They gave me the runaround by pointing right and saying, “Here,” and then pointing left and saying, “Here” and laughing the whole time. Forget it.
Spotting another cab, I took off and raced toward it. Pulling what was pretty close to a Dukes of Hazard move, I slid along the cab around to the front and slammed my hands on the hood to get the driver’s attention. (The cab was stopped by the way.)
The guy behind the wheel leered at me and actually smacked his lips. Momentarily, I recalled the story Indira had just told me about a tourist being raped in Athens by her cab driver.
Then I thought about potentially missing my flight to Amsterdam, and ultimately, the one to the US. Maybe I had established authority with the hand slam on the hood of the car. I risked the possibility of rape, opened the door to the cab and commanded this guy get me to the international airport. Before getting in, I heard the flapping of sandals on asphalt and look over to see Christine who headed towards us. She got in the cab, and we left. I looked back to see the dogs chasing the cab.
Neither Christine nor I had any change so I gave the driver a 1,000 drachma note and he offered us no money back. Instead we got a tip from him. “You really must hurry to get to your plane,” he chided.
Gee, buddy, thanks for that helpful statement. That’s the only reason we took your damn cab for half a kilometer in the first place!
Scrambling into the terminal, I yelled goodbye to Christine again and tried to find the ticket counter for Malev: The Hungarian Airlines. Pretty ripe, I was disheveled, sweating, and still in my beachwear.
I found the counter and told the attendants I was checking in for the flight to Amsterdam via Budapest.
“You are too late,” the young, attractive woman behind the counter with really red lipstick informed me. It was 5:50 but I was determined to get on that plane.
“But the flight leaves at 6 am.” I stated.
“Please, I need to get to Amsterdam to catch a flight back to my country, the United States of America, my homeland. Please, you need to let me on that plane.” I looked at the woman who definitely had the hint of a smirk on her face.
“You should have thought of that earlier,” she lectured me. “We cannot accommodate you.” She just stared in this satisfied manner.
“Look, it’s not my fault your transportation system SUCKS — although your ferries are great, very efficient,” I threw in the last statement because I was feeling the ugly come on.
“The bus was supposed to pick us up at 3:30 a.m. and it arrived at 5 a.m. Seriously, the transportation in this country needs some work.”
No sympathy and a full smirk now.
Well, since I had already gone there, and I wasn’t proud of it, I decided to go Damsel-in-Distress in addition to Ugly American. To the male attendant, who sported fancy glasses frames and had been rather quiet, I turned and started pleading, begging, letting tears well up.
“Please, sir, I miss my country and want to get back. Surely, you understand.”
As I looked at his name tag, I then basically quoted Hologram Princess Leia from Star Wars: “Help me, Dmitri, please….You’re my only hope.”
The lipstick lady glared at me with a look like, “you are a complete embarrassment — no — an abomination to our gender.” Finally Dmitri took my duffle bag, stuck a tag on it, placed it on the conveyer belt and came out from behind the counter. He escorted me to the gate, asking me why I was so late and don’t I know that was not considerate and ultimately poor planning.
“Yes, you are so correct. I have learned a valuable lesson here.” I just sucked it up at that point.
At the gate, all the passengers stood and sat, looking irritated, bored and tired. No one had boarded as lipstick lady had insisted at the desk. My stomach dropped. Were they waiting for me?
Nope the plane was delayed. Dmitri laughed and smiled that we busted our butts to get there. When I asked him if I should just stay at the gate and wait, he said, “No, you may walk around and I will come find you.”
Here I am and I’m not going anywhere.