I knew I was still crazy, but it felt like a good kind of crazy the closer we came to getting on that airplane for a six hour trip fast forward in time across the Atlantic. And then the day had arrived, the one I had been waiting for an entire two years, or even since I first left that booth at NCTE (the national English teacher’s conference) in late November, 2005, and we were loading up on the Greyhound bus headed for New York City: me, 12 students, and 3 chaperones. The bus was a concession we had to make because I had unwittingly secured us a tour out of the NYC without first finding a way for us to get to the NYC. We somehow got sixteen seats on the bus, though, and made our way to the city that doesn’t sleep, with our plethora of bags, ready for our great adventure.
When we got to New York City it was a quick trip from the bus station to the airport, but our times were really close so we had to hurry. Little did we know then how much of a story rushing would be for us during the rest of the journey, but we made our first flight with no real problems. It was the changeover I was most worried about, however, as we had to fly to London first, then cross through the airport to board the plane to Ireland, all in a matter of two hours. The biggest problem was that we would have to go through customs in London, then all the way across the airport to the Ireland terminal and through security before being able to board the next plane. Our tour guide would meet us once we arrived in the Shannon airport and take it from there.
But our plane got into Heathrow late, and the queue for customs was longer than the line for a Justin Bieber concert, not to mention that two in our group were waylaid at customs for whatever reasons. Passports were in order, we weren’t even staying in England, and they had to put our trip on pause while the rest of time moved on. I kept checking my watch while the customs agent tried to explain something I would never understand anyway. Eventually we kept moving, but by that time our group was champing at the bit knowing how little time we had. Once we left customs we sprinted for the Aer Lingus counter to check in and get our boarding passes, and when we were about halfway there we heard that boarding had started. Yikes. We picked up the pace, got there in record time, got our passes, and headed through security. Where we had another issue.
Now, as the group leader, I couldn’t leave any member of my group behind (makes me think now of No Child Left Behind), so when another two members of the group were held up going through security I sent a group on with 2 of my chaperones while I stayed and argued with security about letting my people through. Well, debated is more like it. One of them was cleared and we were still waiting for number two when I sent along the rest of the group with the other chaperone while I continued to stay behind with my one person. Final boarding was called for our plane and I just knew we weren’t going to make it. I only hoped that the other two mini-groups I sent on ahead had been able to board with no problems. A minute later my final group member was cleared, we threw on our sneakers, and flew off down the long, twisting hallway.
And when I say long and twisting, I mean like Labyrinth style. I grabbed both of our carry-ons and took off, while she followed behind, both of us huffing and puffing all the way. I kept hoping that the rest of my crew would somehow have convinced the boarding gate to wait for us. My group member told me she had to stop, that she had a stitch in her side, and we stopped for a second, but then we had to keep moving quickly. As we approached the boarding gate I saw two airline employees standing there, and the gate was still open! They told me they had been holding the plane for us, and I almost kissed their feet, but instead I merely thanked them profusely and we got on the plane and took our seats. We did have several bad looks from other passengers, but I didn’t even mind those. We were going to get to Ireland all in one piece.
When we arrived at the Shannon airport the real fun began, because it was really early in the morning, Ireland time, and we were due to meet up with not only our tour guide but also with the other four groups we would be traveling with for the eight-day journey. Those other groups proved to be amazing companions for us, and they were from all over the country. One group was from Pennsylvania, a town not too far from where I grew up in Philadelphia, another was from DC, and one from Texas. The last group was from California, and our group was from New York state, and we started getting to know each other right away as we boarded the huge bus that would take us to our hotel.
That’s where the shower came in, but I’m getting ahead of myself again. Stay tuned for Part 3!