When I was a boy I used to sit in the garage with Dad and watch thunderstorms roll in, the creak of rickety lawn chairs on the concrete floor and that electric taste of a springtime rain filling my lungs. Everywhere I’ve ever been, I’ve never seen anything like a good Midwestern thunderstorm. There is none of this on and off confused drizzle, this mist that won’t make up its mind whether to just condense and get the falling part over with or not. No, there are two choices: stay inside and you will stay dry. Step outside and you will be soaked through. You can even see it in the clouds, no hazy mix-up of rain or not rain. There is blue sky, and then there are black clouds.
When it rains, it pours.
Which is awesome when you’re a ten year-old boy sitting in his garage with nowhere to go and a penchant for boisterous booming thunderstorms. Not awesome when you’re sitting on a Boeing 777 at O’Hare field with a connecting flight waiting in London and that line of approaching black clouds is a very firm and definitive “you’re going to be stuck here for a while amigo.” This is how we began our journey.
I will save you most of the gory details from the trip to Athens (like airplane dinner at 2:30 a.m. from an airline called Aegean Air, smelling oddly similar to the heavyset Greek woman next to me) but the long and the short of our trip over was if it could go wrong, it generally did. Our 7:30 p.m. flight out of Chicago got delayed until 12:30 a.m. (courtesy of torrential rain which turned to lightning which turned to hail which led to all of us being ushered off of the plane while the ground crew checked it for dents large enough to bring our bird down mid-flight). When we landed at Heathrow, two hours after our connections to Athens had departed, they told me that unfortunately since I had booked my trip through Airfare.com, rather than one continuous trip it was scheduled as two separate trips, one with American Airlines and the other with Aegean, and there was nothing they could do for me. I was up a creek and out a flight. Which led to the 30 minute walk from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 (Aegean’s front desk) where they told me to go back to Terminal 3 and pick up my luggage before they could do anything, which led to the 30 minute walk back to Terminal 3, which led to the 30 minute wait to get through customs, which led to the search for the American Airlines desk to (kindly) give them a piece of my mind and hopefully secure another flight and avoid spending the night on a bench, which led to them telling me to go back to Terminal 1 and work it out with Aegean, which led to the 30 minute walk back to Terminal 1 where they finally told me that my flight was booked and I would be arriving in Athens at the fresh hour of 2:50 a.m.
And then I collapsed. And bought 4 shots of espresso.
By 3:15 a.m., both Ryan and I (on separate flights) had arrived in Athens and picked up our luggage. The team leader here met us outside and drove us back to his place for the night where we fell into bed (or “futon” as the case was) to catch a full 2 hours of sleep (can you call it “sleep” when most naps are about that length?) before we had to be up for orientation and a day at the refugee center. But that’s getting ahead of myself.
Here’s the gist: 27 hours of travel time later, we are settled in Athens, and by the grace of God, we haven’t stopped smiling. It’ll take more than a Midwestern hail storm, missed flights, smelly food, and a serious lack of sleep for us to be defeated. Although, the airplane food almost did me in…