Sunday, March 11, 2012

Adjust Your Expectations to the Upright Position

By Belinda


I had woken shortly before landing, after an approximately ninety minute flight from Toronto to New Jersey. In between conversation with my seatmate, I glanced down with interest on the terrain below. The massive Passaic River river wound through brown swampy land below, which I since learned from Wikipedia is called The Great Swamp.  I wished that my camera was handy, but it was in the overhead luggage rack in my backpack.


I disembarked from the small De Havilland Dash 8, squinting my eyes against the bright morning sunshine and walked through a short portal from the plane to the airport, where I would be spending the next 11 hours before my flight to Birmingham, England. There was lots of time; a commodity that I treasured after several days of working hard on many levels to get to this point.


The first thing I noticed were the signs in the airport. They were bi-lingual, but Spanish and English--not French and English as in Canada. Right away I sat down to unpack my camera, I wanted to chronicle my day in the airport, recording the things I noticed and  tell people about them. Since I got my first camera at the age of 11, a camera has become almost an extension of my body, along with a compulsion to record life in words and pictures. To tell the stories around me.


I dropped to the nearest seat, unzipped my bag, clipped the lens onto my camera, took aim...and nothing happened. What could be wrong? I had packed it carefully. I checked it over, opened the battery compartment and saw an empty hole. With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach I remembered that the battery was still in the charger, plugged in where I had left it in my kitchen wall outlet the previous night. Wise advice given in a photography course, "Always pack a spare battery;" had been procrastinated on and now I felt like a painter without a brush. I still had words to use, but I couldn't imagine going on this trip without a camera, so the problem needed solving.


I walked up a hallway to the busy main concourse, bustling with early morning activity. I approached a cleaning lady, small of stature, with dark brown hair, and eyes, who was working hard, sweeping the floor. 


"Excuse me" I said, she stopped sweeping, and explained what I needed. English was her second language, but she grasped my need for a camera store and with smiling eyes, she said, "Yes, you go there!" and pointed towards some distant stores. 


"You see? Orange sign!" she said,  nodding reassuringly.


I saw it. I thanked her profusely, and she seemed so happy to have helped.


The store was Gadget Express and I was greeted by a young man named Junior, who greeted my tale of woe with a, "No problem!" and a determination to get my camera up and running that lifted my spirits. When he couldn't find  the right battery in the store, he looked so sorry  about his failed mission but didn't give up. He told me that there was a mall nearby and explained how to take the shuttle from the airport and catch a bus or take a taxi to the mall. 
I was so encouraged by the kindness of the cleaning lady and Junior. I really didn't feel brave enough to leave the airport and venture out into Newark on my own, but it seemed I would have to and for that I would need American dollars. 


I went to the money exchange counter to change some Canadian dollars. A young woman with dark blond hair was helping a couple who were traveling to Taiwan, with their decisions on how much money to change into Taiwanese dollars. It was a lengthy process, involving much counting as $400 U.S. converted to over 11,000 Taiwan dollars. Strands of hair fell over her earnest face, as she maintained a pleasant, calm demeanour, although obviously feeling the pressure of a line of waiting customers. Her name was Maria.


I turned to the woman behind me in the lineup m who wore a dark blue, short sleeved dress, and looked like flight personnel. I commented on the ethos in the airport--the pleasantness of everyone I had met so far. In a Texan drawl, with warmth and her eyes smiling like everyone else's so far that day, "That's  so nice." 


As we waited I told her the story of my long wait for my next plane as well as my camera problem. She wore the uniform of some sort of flight personnel, and she said, "You know, you can pay for a day pass to the United Club Lounge and spend the day in a more comfortable place." I would have had no idea of that possibility but it seemed like a wonderful plan! And next she suggested another store I might try for my camera equipment--and pointed further into the airport near gate 130.


Maria had finished with the customers in front  of me by then. "Thank you for your patience," she said, "I've only been doing this for a month." She too, was outstandingly polite and quickly exchanged my money for American.


I headed for the store my fellow customer had pointed me to, where another young man, named Jason, immediately hustled into action. By now I was loving Newark and its lovely people. He looked up my camera online, then pulled out a small, sharp knife and started cutting the hard plastic around a packaged battery with speed and precision. "I want to make sure this fits your camera," he said. And it did! I was SO grateful. Then he started the hunt for a charger. This time he had no compatible charger, but, "I'm going to the head office at lunchtime," he said, "and if I can't find one there, I'll stop at Wal Mart and get you one." And he took my email address to send me an email when he got back.


I had done all that I could, so I decided to go for breakfast at Ruby's. Coffee was going to taste very good by this point. To my delight, when I tried the camera, the battery was already quite well charged and I was able to use it all that day and beyond. 


After breakfast I bought my ticket into the United Club Lounge and entered a world of relaxation with unlimited wi fi and snacks which I used for my base for the rest of the day, venturing in and out to check on the status of Jason's search for a charger. 


In the end Jason was replaced at the desk before getting the charger, by a young woman named Shinmar. She right away said, "Oh, I can get that for you from our other store in ten minutes," and made the call. I came back a little later and she had the charger. She also opened the package to make sure it would fit the battery, and showed me how to use it. She was "pleasant" personified! 


Back in the lounge, happy with all my parts in place; my camera truly feels like an extension of my body :); I got down to some unfinished work, on my laptop for the next couple of hours. 


I had a conversation with a nice man from Tel-Aviv, and told him all about my trip to Israel last year.  He asked for my email address so that he could send me his (which he did right away.) He said if we ever came back to Israel, he would show us Tel-Aviv. We talked about the survival of the Jewish people and what a miracle that was and how it could only be God that could make such a thing happen. "I agree," he said.


I was beginning to think I was turning into my dear Mum, who would always disembark from plane trips with a host of new friends. She always embarrassed her more introverted daughter by talking to strangers left and right. Yes, a little more of her would not be a bad thing, in fact I was enjoying my day with a sense that she was with me, and her freedom with people was a gift she was passing on.


At the end of the day I actually felt sad to be leaving Newark Liberty Airport. (Hey, how cool--"Liberty" airport!!) As I boarded the United Airlines flight to Birmingham, I noticed and loved, their slogan, which could have described my day:


Adjust Your Expectations to the Upright Position


4 comments:

Marilyn said...

Having grown up in New Jersey (rural, not Newark, but still.....) AND being all too aware of the "ugly American" stereotype, I wish to thank you for this post!

:-)
Marilyn

Susan said...

I loved the post too... I thought of how I would have reacted in the same situation. Instead of looking at it as an adventure, I'm pretty sure my retelling would have been a tale of woe!

Thanks for a great example of a positive outlook. I'll try to keep that in mind when I'm traveling this weekend. :)

Belinda said...

Aha Marilyn. Now I know why you are so nice--you come from the undiscovered treasure of a place--Newark!

Belinda said...

Susan, you are off on a GREAT adventure and are about to experience something so very special. I can't wait to see Alvechurch through your eyes.