The Random 4: Stranded in Detroit

My end of many beginnings was the launch of my late year plans. I was going to my hometown to take care of some well needed business. The obligations I was carrying from Florida was worrying me a little. Went to Tampa airport to start a chain of flights on a sunny day. Said my goodbyes, checked in, cleared security, and went into an empty plane. “A short flight to Detroit” I told myself “don’t give in and fall asleep now; next one is the long one.”

Landed smoothly at Detroit, even a tiny bit earlier than expected. I felt better about my short layover. It was going to be easier to catch the next flight. I saw my connection’s gate information on the screen, and repeated it to myself for it to stick. Another fellow passenger of my route overheard my mumbling and joined me. We started chit chatting. An easy to talk to, down to earth girl with a nice smile. Pauline was a tourist in Florida. She felt that Miami had nothing touristic or nice to offer; just like any other honest tourist Miami ever had. Hearing what I always thought from her made me a little happy inside. She needed to go back to her home in Belgium to start working. A nice job description, her job consisted of entertaining young children. She picked playing laser-tag with kids as the example activity.

Florida work needed to be addressed, especially the comments about the new paper I submitted the day before. After a short review of the information at the gate, I left and found myself a seat. Some emails, some typing, some reading to make sure everything is in order… The written boarding time came and passed before I know it. We weren’t boarding.

I walked towards the gate and found Pauline there. There was a short delay. We chatted more as we wait to board. I learned that she was supposed to connect flights from Atlanta, but there was a delay. She changed her route to include Detroit after she got recommended that this would be faster. That was what she identified as her mistake. Standing right under gate’s information screens, we started socializing with other people as they come and go. Not long after the first delay, came the second one. A lot of faces dropped at the gate. We listened to the reason all together. The front light of the cockpit wasn’t working. They had a spare at the hangar. It was going to take some time to go get and install, but everything was under control. We got assured that the crew was good to fly till 2 am. It was not going to be a problem, the issue was going to be resolved by midnight and the crew was going to fly us safely to our destination.

Me and Pauline kept chatting about the job she needs to catch on Monday morning. I suggested walking around the airport a little bit. I remembered the inter-terminal tunnel with the shooting lights. This wasn’t the first time I had extra time in Detroit airport. I spent 5 hours there last time my mom decided to buy a ticket on her own. The tunnel was close to our gate. We walked it back and forth talking. The tunnel was as weird as ever. We talked about me working at a university, her being a medical student and trying to pick a field of focus. I made my preemptive guess on what she will pick without knowing her much, but influencing her by writing something here won’t be fair.

The gate crowd was, if anything, more upset when we came back 15 minutes later. The delay was in effect. There were snacks and warm soda cans on some pushcarts to keep the stuck passengers busy. Snacks wasn’t cutting it though. People needed to steam off and the airline employees were feeling this heat over the counter.

Grégory, a cool French man with an Indiana hoodie and style cut facial hair, joined us at the counter. I thought he was a proud Indiana Univesity student at first. We shared short stories. Me, Turkey, leisure and business… Pauline, work Monday, Belgium… Grégory was on a vacation around Washington D.C. and the Indiana area with his family. They had a road trip and saw acres of corn fields. He needed to cut his vacation short and go be back on top his DHL customer relations position in a couple days. Him and I kept chatting, and later looked at his Washington photos. I have added Washington D.C. to my short-list of places to see.

We were hanging out around the gate to catch the next delay announcement of the dreaded 2 am. The pilot himself announced that if the mechanics can find the broken cable out of the gillion cables in the cockpit we could still go. At that moment 2 am was just a placeholder. We kept on chatting with people at the gate. No two people were trying to go to the same final destination, our lives were just intersecting at this one flight. The one flight that made us all miserable together.

Snacks in front of the counter got paper-thin blankets and pillows added to them. Bright red blankets created a new fashion trend at the only gate that still had some people. We were officially the last flight of the day. A tribe of mostly angry people sitting and waiting for one broken cable in their tribal colors. People were fed up and angry, the group that I was in… not so much. We kept it humorous. The situation was not ideal, but were the mechanics going to find the cable any faster if we were to join the grumpy side?

Around that time we also got Cameron added to the named people of this story. Tall, sympathetic guy, putting his money on a prayer circle to improve our chances of a timely take off. He was a seventeen year-old on his way to Germany to payback a visit to the exchange student he hosted. He commented on how the people were giving a hard time to the airline employees, and how he wishes to never be at the receiving end of those complaints. His sentence made me think of teaching and all my student interactions. I thought about Grégory calling people and hearing the customers’ reaction when he tells them that their parcel is not going to make it on time. Then I thought about Pauline becoming a medical doctor and listening to people’s problems as her daily profession. Didn’t say anything to Cameron, but I felt like being the complaint department for some was just a part of being a human. I hoped that his wish comes true.

Complaining to a powerless representative 30 to 1 was still unjustifiably inhumane. He would have sent all of us to our houses instead of taking that abuse any day.

Some time passed and as we close down on 2 am, pizza appeared at the gate. Representatives put the pizza in such a way that it looked like we were boarding the flight with our boarding-plates. I focused too much on how they got the pizza in the secure area. Did the TSA ask for a boarding pass of the pizza guy? Did the boxes fit the scanner? We laughed at these things as we enjoyed our lukewarm slices.

After we got the pizza induced morale boost, the expected news of the overnight delay hit the floor. It was 2 am. The pilots were tired of sitting around and they were deemed not safe to fly. We needed a new crew from Atlanta. We were the last flight of the day, no other plane was flying in or out that night. It meant waiting for the morning… Without losing any time another announcement made clear that all hotels in the area were filled. Detroit was a busy town that night.

We sat around, chat with people: mostly heard where they were heading and where they made a mistake in their trips and ended up in Detroit, charged our devices, and tried to pass the time. Time passed, but it wasn’t going fast enough. The night was too long and we were waiting for a new flight number scheduled for almost 10 am. The random 4: Pauline, Grégory, Cameron and I decided to walk the entire terminal. We took it slow. There were too many empty gates and closed shops to cherish. We talked about the basics that make us ourselves in the entire hour-long trip. Who we were, what we do, what languages we speak, what mistake(s) lead us to Detroit that night. Later we talked about how people were shy to have conversations with strangers in general… And of course, how playing laser-tag with kids and getting paid for it was a great gig

A little before 5 am the terminal train started commuting again. The night was coming to an end. Cameron somehow found out that a close by coffee shop was opening at 5:30 am. Our excitement was visible. I claimed the check. It was a thank you to this group. Thanks to these guys, the night passed without me hitting my head on every wall I see in that terminal. I guess it was the Mediterranean, sun-touched skin thing in me. As Grégory named us, “The crew” didn’t understand why I wanted to pay but I was able to assert it. I think I remembered the Turkish saying which I can only translate as “a coffee-chat can worth 40 years of memories” and knew I wanted to remember that night.

We were right at the door to see the coffee shop’s metal curtains lift up. Walked right in with a child like excitement, started deciding, and ordering. The clerk asked:

“Where are you guys all from?”

Cameron took the lead and started listing. The confused clerk, with lots of laughter mixed into his sentence, asked

“So you guys don’t know each other at all?”

Our laughter confirmed him

“You look close, like you know each other for some ti…”

A lot more laughter…

We took our drinks to the terminal train and started riding it back and forth.On the way to the train, Grégory said “I always thought the city name t-shirts they sell at the airports were unnecessary, but I am really thinking about getting one from Detroit now.” He was right, those t-shirts were souvenirs for these type of nights. People were starting to fill the airport, and we still needed to check what happened to our flights. Couple of trips on the train was enough for this tired bunch to get bored. We left and went to our gate. Sun was coming up.

The rest is all about getting boarding passes, arranging new routes for the missed connections. You go talk to a representative and ask for the best, she talks to a representative over the phone and asks for the best, and they… takes time and patience.

We all ended up in the same flight to Amsterdam that we waited all night for, but we didn’t get to sit together. Not that we tried.

The most important thing was that, a senior high-schooler, a medical student, a young adult, and a father of three, all from completely different backgrounds enjoyed the company of each other. We couldn’t have done this on a “normal” day. Out of our comfort zones for a night, we met each other at the basics and saw how we were all OK in our own way. We unexpectedly molded friendships from our one-time misery.

 

I should have had the night connecting July 30th to 31st, 2016 in my nightmares to come, but instead it will always be a fond memory.

 

Ali Kemal Uncu, Jul 31st, 2016

The random 4 in Pdf format

 

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When the face and time stalled

In the early summer of 2014, I had the chance of showing Turkey, as I like it, to three of my PhD friends from Florida. I knew them all from the beginning of my Gainesville days. Smart bunch, all have doctorates now. One was my flatmate of the time, let’s name him Dillard. And I had preliminary arrangements to move in with the the other two after Dillard leaves Florida. A couple, Ben and Liz.

It was the second time in Turkey for Dillard and Liz. Dillard joined me at an earlier trip. Liz lived in a southeastern city when she was a kid. They were comfortable, and they knew what to expect for the most part. On the other hand, this trip was the main reason of Ben getting his first passport. Don’t underestimate Ben though, he was the most comfortable one throughout the time in Turkey.

We started at Istanbul. We have seen more than the mosques and museums one can name. Got tips from locals… saw even more. Got tips from my friends… went to restaurants that don’t even have signs on the streets. After about a week we moved onto Ankara. Not much to see, but family and friends filled up time. We extended the coverage of the Ankara trip and saw Cappadocia and enjoyed the scenery fairy towers offered. There is a story about Liz saving me (she saved us all really) from an astray donkey. Maybe another time. Then came the part where our trip was going to Kusadasi on the shores of the Aegean sea. I had some motives planning this part of the trip. The biggest one, I wanted to be on the shore for a couple of days. Others include Ephesus, the town of Sirince and the Mathematics Village at that town.

We flew and took a shuttle to my family’s summer house at Davutlar – Kusadasi. A modest 2/1 by the beach. Everything I needed to rest a little. It wasn’t even the tourist season yet so there was only a convenience store and a restaurant open in the town square. We ate at the only restaurant. Bought some beer, but forgot about it at the fridge as we skipped stones towards the Aegean sunset. We planned on taking it easy the next day and maybe going to the city center.

Morning came and the first thing we noticed was that I forgot to turn on the water heater. Now there was an awkward wait for the hot shower. Ben and Dillard were trying to decide who was going to take a shower first. Dillard also made a point that his face was feeling a little weird. He seemed just fine. We all assumed that it would be a bug bite. The debate about the shower kept on going. I went for a short run on the beach, and learned that nothing has changed when I came back. Dillard added again “my face feels weird.” All of us in harmony “It must be a bug bite, what can be wrong anyway?”

“My lip doesn’t seem to move when I move my face… You know, when you smile and such.” Dillard said.

I asked him to smile, he hesitated. I asked him again, and then we saw why he was feeling any weird. From one half of an upper lip to an eyebrow, his face was just in its neutral state. I don’t know what the other two thought, but I was scared. I called my mom, the first person I could think of to give me a good advice, and explained her the situation of Dillard having a permanent poker face. I was speaking in a language the rest can’t understand. I tried to hide how terrified I was from everyone, the ones in the same room and the one on the phone. Me and my mom decided that I should act fast and try not to scare Dillard. Heck, I was scared, how was he staying so calm? Or was that just the face of his that was looking calm? I told everyone to pack up and that we were going to go to a hospital and get this thing checked. “What about the showers, we have been waiting for the water to heat?” Different priorities.

I called the only cab in the town. His name was Muharrem (an old Turkish name) but he went by George Taxi, so his business card said. Gave George my address. He asked about my family specifically by name once he heard the door number. Little towns either gets people closer or makes people curious about one another I guess. I said “they are fine, please come here and we need to go to a hospital”. I can’t recall how much we waited, maybe 10 minutes, maybe 4 hours.Time was running differently. The shower gang and I packed ourselves into George’s taxi. Me in the front, the others at the back. I told George that we want to go to a hospital. George said “the town has changed a lot since you’ve last been here. There are three options: Kusadasi Public, Kusadasi Private and Kusadasi American Private Hospital.” I explained the options and we picked the newest of these close proximity options: Kusadasi American Private Hospital. After all, I was with American tourists.

George was eager to show me what was changing in town. He was driving slowly and kept on pointing at uninteresting things like a new cafe or a new apartment building that has been built in the last years. I firmly reminded him that we were going to a hospital. I needed him to be faster. He asked “Who is sick?” To this day, none of your God damn business George.

We reached at the door of a good looking building. I got out of the car, threw some colorful money at where I was sitting. A guy was yelling at us with his shopping bags from the other side of the road. I didn’t listen. I didn’t care. I still don’t know what he said. I took fast steps towards the sliding doors of the hospital. The doors didn’t slide for us. Confused, I started looking blank at nothing. Others showed me a paper on the door of the hospital. It was from the Ministry of Health, declaring the hospital not suitable for operation because they can’t match the minimum number of specialists needed to be classified as a hospital. It is a cutthroat market. I’m sure the other hospitals hired those specialists. The hospital’s name wasn’t what George said either, but who cares about the name of a closed hospital.

I called George and told him to take us to the other hospital asap. He said that he had a new customer. But our situation is urgent! He caved…

As we wait for the cab, we started talking about breakfast. I couldn’t pay much attention to that filler. I thought, in the center of this city, only a handful of people would know any English. I didn’t want to let anyone loose to get lost. Face first, food second. Dillard was still stable, and this lowered my anxiety a little.

George came and picked us up. Entire way, he repeated the same statement in different sentences: He couldn’t believe that the hospital was closed.

It was obvious that the Kusadasi Private Hospital was open. A lot of (now red) people with sunburns were walking the sidewalk. I asked about how much I owe George, he said no charge and that he would wait for us if we want to. That made me think of how much I’ve given him in the first place, but I couldn’t count. I vaguely remember Ben saying something about food. Sorry buddy, I wasn’t able to pay attention… Me at the edge of losing my grasp: “Please wait till this things is over and I’ll find food for you, I promise.”

We started scampering towards the hospital only to be stopped at the door. Again! This time by a man smoking outside. He was different than the usual crowd though. He had a tucked in light purple polo shirt and all the confidence in the world that came with it. He was a doctor in the hospital and asked us what the problem was. I’ve explained. He started smirking a little, and said “that’s just facial paralysis, it’s going to go away in 20 days or so.”

No matter what he said I wanted Dillard to see another doctor that is actually wearing some scrubs. We entered the hospital with the doctor. He helped us with our check in and directed the staff that we should go to the Neurology. After 10 minutes or so, a young nervous guy in full suit and a dark red tie came and told us that we were going to see the neurologist. I asked him who he was. He was a translator that recently started at the hospital. It was hospital policy to have a translator for foreign patients. Ben and Liz sat at the couch in front of the office. Me, Dillard and the translator went into the neurologists room. Dillard took a seat on the opposite wall of the doctor. Doctor slowly took the file from the translator, looked at it a little, took the last sip from his tea cup. 

“So what is the problem?” he said.

I started explaining how it started. Before even coming to Dillard’s smile the doctor interrupted: “I already know what the problem is, you know? – Tell your friend to push his thumb on the back of his ear. It is going to hurt.” I told Dillard. It visibly hurt him a little. “He is experiencing Bell’s Palsy. I will prescribe him steroids and it will go away in a matter of weeks. Nothing to worry.” Some more chatter with the doctor…

 

This type of unexpected responsibility took some time out of my life for sure. I aged in this story more than usual. But I am happy that this story had a happy ending. I am amazed how Dillard kept himself calm through that day and the following days where the facial paralysis became more apparent and didn’t seem to go anywhere. What a day? But things turn normal before you know it. We had tea and skipped stones into the sunset later that day.

 

 

 

Oh! When we got out of the doctor’s room, Liz and Ben were eating Haylayf* biscuits. Turns out, there was a convenience store that Ben saw when we were entering the hospital. He went there to get something to eat. No conversation whatsoever with the clerk, just pointing and showing some cash at each other. Different priorities. I am so happy that there was a store right on the opposite side of the street.

* read as ‘High Life’ in Turkish even though it doesn’t mean anything.

 

Also in case if you’d like to call George: 20160910_145504_hdr-2