Day 21: Homeward Bound

It is never easy returning to America from Paris. I got up early in the morning, after staying up too late the night before and arrive at the airport by 7:30. It is going to be a long day, I doubt it will be a million and six times better than yesterday, but I am on my way home to Beth, William, Olivia, and Ivy and that is wonderful. I am excited to see them and I know they will have questions about the trip, though they have been following along and reading the blog. Traveling from east to west is always difficult because when you arrive it is only a couple of hours later than when you left and it is a nine-hour flight.  I leave at 10:30 AM Paris time and arrive in Chicago at 12:35 PM. Put in relative terms; my body thinks it is 7:35 PM and I am ready for dinner and bed, soon. Warren, Julie, and I are leaving today and David and Trish are leaving tomorrow. The alarm rang early and I lay there thinking. Warren popped up showed and was ready. I followed shortly. I met them downstairs in the lobby, loaded my bags into the waiting taxi, and greeted David who had gotten up to say goodbye. It has been a fun week with my brothers though I know that bringing dad home was not a fun activity, but it brought us together to celebrate his life and bring closure for all of us. The taxi ride to the airport is short and the terminal where Julie and I are departing is the first stop. It has been fun with rooming with Warren this week. It saved money and got to spend more time with each other. I also, kept him up late at night working on the blog. I hope we will get a chance to see each other later this summer at the cottage. Julie and I head inside the terminal, check our bags, and get our boarding passes. We are ready to go and we have almost two hours before takeoff. There is much needed coffee and a visit to the duty free shop for chocolates and other last minute items.

It is also time to walk the terminal to see if I can find any interesting aircraft. One of my favorite memories of Paris in 1966 was visiting the airport to watch airplanes take off and land. Dad was learning to use his camera then and practiced by taking pictures of airplanes. He gave the slides to me and for years, I remember looking at them. Somewhere, I still have them. When I got my first real camera in ’79, I ventured to the airport in Houston and took pictures, too. When William was going to take his first airplane flight in 2000, we went to the airport and watched planes take off and land.  Living near O’Hare gives us opportunity to see airplanes often; we are on a glide path into O’Hare and planes frequently fly low enough to identify them. Occasionally, Olivia will identify a 747 with its distinctive hum and yell, ‘hump plane.’ I spy a China Eastern and an African airline but I cannot get a good shot from the terminal. I will have to wait until we board and taxi to take pictures from the window. Watching airplanes has been a fun family activity and when the Airbus 380 made its initial world tour and came to Chicago in March 2007. We were there to see it land. We took William. We picked him up at school, he was in third grade, and told him we were going somewhere special. Many others had a similar idea and thousands of people were there to see the historic plane land. Now the plane is in service and I am hoping to catch one on the ground at Charles de Gaulle. We board, settle in and wait. As we taxi to the runway I spot planes out the window, the African plane I could not see well is Kenyan Airways and readying to leave as well. I spot other aircraft, including a Singapore Airlines A380. It is far away and a long shot through the hazy morning but I take the picture anyway. There other planes as we taxi to the runway Lufthansa and Lot – Polish Airlines and the pilot points are plane down the runway and we are on our way back to Chicago and for Julie Memphis and finally Oxford.

The Chicago and Lake Michigan shoreline with downtown Chicago in the distance

The flight is relatively uneventful. The planes video system has a live map showing the planes progress along with information about the flight – altitude, ground speed, miles from destination, and estimated time of arrival. Watching helps pass the time. We cross the English Channel, southern England and Wales, Ireland and over the Atlantic Ocean; when the cabin crew serves lunch. Air France food is very good. We have choices – lasagna or chicken in a cream sauce, but when are we are served there is only one choice – lasagna. Julie remarks to me that when she wants to eat ‘airline chicken,’ they are out. Still, the lasagna is delicious. After, lunch I doze off for a couple of hours. Sleep is good. When I awake, we are three hours from Chicago. The plane’s flight takes over the Atlantic south of Iceland and the volcano and Greenland making landfall somewhere over Nova Scotia in Canada. The track will take us over Quebec, southern Ontario, Lake Huron and upper Lower Michigan, not far Grayling. When I fly, I usually prefer an aisle seat but Julie gets the aisle and I get the window on this trip. It works to my advantage and I watch through our progress through the window and follow along on the monitor. I can see fields, lakes, and highways. I think I can make out 127 and the 10 interchange we take to and from the cottage. We pass over Grand Rapids and are soon over Lake Michigan as we make our descent into Chicago. The lake is calm and deep blue. The plane crosses over the lake and the Chicago skyline comes into view, we cross the Tri-State and the plane is quickly on the ground taxiing to the gate. The pilot pulls the plane into the gate and shuts the engine down, immediately every passenger is standing and waiting to get off. After nine hours of sitting, it is good to stand and stretch. Julie and I decide to wait and take our time and wait. Our patience pays off and we can take our time and gather our belongings before exiting the plane and getting through passport control and customs. The process moves smoothly, but takes time.

Planes greet us as we taxi to our gate at O’Hare Airport

The final part of the trip for me is to help Julie make her connecting flight to Memphis. We are able to check her bag through to Memphis in the international terminal so we do not have to lug it over to Terminal 2 and her next flight. I want to make sure she is able to get through O’Hare and get to her gate before I go home, unfortunately, I cannot sit with her and wait for her plane, 9/11 changed air travel forever. We make it to the train and navigate the escalators and I get her to security gate and tearfully hug her goodbye. She soon disappears in the line and is gone. I wave a final goodbye; I make my way down to the baggage claim and ground transportation. I call my ride and soon am on my way home. The weather is hot and humid and storms are on the way. As I ride home, I reflect on the trip and think of the days ahead. Day 21 counted and there are 61 more ahead. Summer is just beginning.

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