he short version is that we're at our destination, alive, safe, and really didn't have to deal with anything worse than stress; Escalating, gnawing, soul-grinding stress.
You didn't come here for the short version though, and by gum, I'm incapable of telling any story in under 5000 words.
We set out around Noon on Friday, May 7th. There were 12 of us in the group with the pastor from my church kindly chauffeuring us to O'Hare. It's 4 guys and 8 girls, with another girl joining up today or tomorrow. Let's see if my aged brain can recall the names - Jon, Bekah, Grant, Tabitha, Caleb (Kaleb? Fuzzy?), Amy, Ruth, Alyssa, Molly, Haley, Athena, and myself. The girl making us a baker's dozen is named Amy, I believe. I'm trying really hard to learn the names, as "dude", "sport", "champ", "chief" and "pal" start wearing thin pretty fast. Fortunately they all seem to know each other for the most part, so there's a bit of baked-in camaraderie to start things off.
I'd like to call the drive up to Chicago uneventful, but that would gloss over Pastor Dave's mastery of
simultaneous storytelling and traffic-fighting skills. We were on this shuttle bus, the kind which typically ferries senior citizens from retirement homes to dens of bingo, or travelers from their car parked in distant airport parking lots to the terminal entrance. A comfortable vehicle with an track record of service at moderate speed; A beast of burden with nothing to apologize for while ambling slowly along in the right lane...
A beast that became a snorting, agile predator of the asphalt under Dave's zen-like touch on the steering wheel. The chaos of highway traffic gave way to a curious orchestra of which Dave was the conductor. A near ballet-like performance - a Swan Lake of shuttle bus maneuvering. Our stubby, white transport became a surgeon's scalpel, and traffic was our patient. None were immune, even fellow Christian soldiers. Sorry First Presbyterian of Lake Forest, your bus ain't got game. Yes, we laughed when we passed another church's bus. It was sad and awesome all at once.
Also, Dave told travel stories about Europe, centering around miserable health and crushed dreams of a lost VW EuroVan. We were entertained and relatively relaxed when we arrived for the next leg of the journey, an 8 hour flight to Madrid.
The flight over was serviceable. No screaming babies, and they fed us twice (without which I would have become a screaming baby). They also played the movie "Tooth Fairy" with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. I guess they figured being a sardine with 4 jet engines howling outside and curious odors from our fellow passengers for eight hours wasn't enough to test our sanity. ProTip: Don't rent Tooth Fairy for any reason.
Upon arrival we got situated and prepared for the next leg of the journey - the one hour flight to San Sebastian. The hard part was over... OR SO WE THOUGHT [insert discordant piano attack here].
So there was this volcano, in Iceland, and it blew it's top and bummed out airline travelers a few weeks ago. Apparently it wasn't done being a pain in the ash, because the cloud of debris it spewed was still grounding planes this week. Yesterday. In Spain. So we waited for our second flight, and waited, and five minutes before the flight hey, it's canceled. Rats.
The ensuing 9 hours was spent in the warm embrace of Madrid's airport, usually laying on the highly comfortable marble floor in a heap of checked luggage and greasy-haired misery. It wasn't just our flight, but a lot of flights. A lot of destinations. We moaned and griped, and our airline Iberia was working to secure bus rides for the hundreds of passengers in our situation.
Rumors flew all day about buses being available, or not, and we looked into renting a couple cars and driving ourselves. Our plans, so carefully crafted and prepared, went up in a puff of volcanic smoke. Our new plan was to hurry up and wait, and stop acting like we were in control of anything. It's a good lesson, and I like learning to be patient, but why does it take so long?!
To be fair, the group handled the whole thing with a pretty admirable nonchalance, which was reinforced by the steely reserve of our occasionally bespectacled leader, Jon. He claims he was "5 minutes from the fetal position," but he had us fooled. People pulled out decks of cards, sat in a circle and hung out. There was a time when we started considering who among the group would be tastiest in soup, but then we found a vending machine. El Coca-Cola can solve almost anything, including nascent cannibalism. Who knew?
The end came eventually. Athena cornered anyone with an "Iberia" patch on their jacket until we found Paula, who was about the only employee who patiently listened to our frothy rants. We threatened & cajoled, donned some sack cloth, and stuck out our lower lip and sniffled until Paula promised to signal to us when the first available bus got secured. We didn't expect to be put on the first bus, but we wanted to be on a
bus, and preferably before Halley's next orbit. There were camera crews getting news footage of the delays, and it was a bit of a free-for-all whenever a new bus was announced. Strangely, the announcements seemed to be in Spanish. Europe's crazy like that.
As promised, Paula came through like a champ and signaled us to line up for tickets when the next bus to San Sebastian was headed into town. All 12 tickets were issued, and we waited anxiously for the arrival of the bus - an hour later.
The bus ride was long. It took us 8 hours to fly to Spain, and 6 (six, as in one-half dozen...) hours to drive from Madrid to San Sebastian. Buses here are speedometer limited to like, 5 miles an hour, and as exciting as seeing a "100" on a speed limit sign is, don't let it fool you - 100 in Euro-math is like... 12 in America. Don't give me that "metric" excuse either; When a speed limit is three digits long, I expect the vehicle to take turns on two wheels and catch air over every hill. It's a good thing I learned patience while sitting in that Madrid airport, or I might spend an entire paragraph whining about an absurdly slow, Inquisition-worthy, torture of a bus ride. A good thing indeed. On reflection, maybe a recent bus trip to O'Hare had simply set the bar too high, and I'll forever be disappointed by all other attempts at mass transit.
So we arrived in San Sebastian after 27 hours, and everyone piled into a bunch of taxis for a short trip to Olarain, our hotel/dorm rooms. Our taxi driver was a super-grumpy old guy with a cigar clenched firmly in his teeth. Conversation in the car was limited to one of the girls motioning to me to please roll down the window. The cigar was... malodorous. Like it or not, those are the awesome moments of any trip -- The rough gaps between points on an schedule where you're floating; someone else is in the driver's seat (literally or otherwise) and you are simply along for a weird, bouncy ride. A trip that follows your plan will undoubtedly be the most boring trip you'll ever take. Within 2 days of travel, we've learned to loosen up our death grip on agendas and gotten better at letting the Lord take the wheel.
Thankfully He doesn't smoke.