Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 20, 2023

I left my "kids" in Newark!

When I wrote the column "We and the ÖBB," a few weeks ago, it related the tale of a thankfully rare minor travel excursion momentarily gone wrong. It was over almost as quickly as it began, adding an amusing footnote to an otherwise fun adventure.

But that "gone wrong" part was not as rare as we had presumed!

When we invited friends Lou and Deb to be travel companions a few years ago, we had to deal with their individual quirks just as they had to deal with ours. They are easy travel companions, but one of husband Art's oddities often threw them for a loop. I have a hunch some of the differences are what we typically see between men and women. One example is when we gals see a shop selling something we think someone back home might like, we can't resist going in. In contrast, Art has perhaps bought three or four things over our 35-plus years together and they were not items he was searching for, but instead, something he happened upon.

Art's wandering nature often kicks in when we shop and it seemed to bother Deb and Lou. We'd be doing our thing and he'd "take off," a habit that was at first a tad disconcerting to me as well. But I know he always keeps track of where we are and, if worse came to worse, we had our phones.

This impulsive exploring has generated no small number of great serendipitous experiences over the years. One on this trip involved seeing Stixenstein Castle in the neighboring valley from our home base in Payerbach, Austria. The "reasonable" thing to do would have been to drive to the end of our valley, turn into the one the castle was in and travel to it. But Art decided going over the mountain would be more "interesting" - and was it ever. Near the top, in a 40-acre field, was an outdoor art installation. We spent the better part of the afternoon exploring its quirky pieces.

On another occasion, we were looking for a nice concert featuring classical music. There are tons of them, but almost all begin at 8:30 p.m., which means they would be over at about 10. An hour ride on the subway to the Park & Ride and an additional hour "home" to Payerback after the concert meant we wouldn't get back until midnight or after. Driving to our place in the mountains in the dark while tired wasn't appealing. But one day while Deb and Lou were inspecting the crown jewels, Art's exploratory urge took us past a church with a 6:30 p.m. concert. He used his phone to immediately buy tickets. It was perfect!

Our three weeks in Austria drew to a close last Tuesday. We were up at 6 a.m. to reach the airport in time for our 10:30 a.m. flight. The flight to Frankfurt was routine and we were at the gate well ahead of our 1:30 p.m. departure for Newark. But while we knew the experience once we reached New Jersey would be a tad unusual, we had no idea.

Art, Lou and I had our Global Entry cards, so passing through passport control amounted to nothing more than walking up to the facial scanner, having it scan us, and then having someone welcome us back to the United States. While Deb had applied for her card, she hadn't yet been invited for an interview. But major entrance airports, such as Newark, can do it on the spot. The whole process takes perhaps 20 minutes and Lou decided she would accompany Deb.

The line for the folks without Global Entry was unbelievably long, so being the mother-hen type, I was inclined to wait with them. But Art had other ideas. He suggested we explore what hurdles lay ahead and then report back to them via text message what they would encounter and how to navigate it.

After passport control, we had to collect our luggage, go through customs, and then re-check it on our U.S. flights. Then we took an airport tram to Terminal A, from which we then boarded a bus to the actual terminal building. We again went through security and proceeded to our gate, which turned out to be at the farthest possible point!

When we arrived, Art immediately texted them about what they would experience. Everything was working just as planned.

Or so we thought!

A chunk of time passed and still we hadn't seen Deb or Lou. Then we got a message Deb had started the interview.

Then she called. It had hit the fan! When they tried to re-check their baggage, there was no record of either of their bags. Many others were experiencing the same problem. Art said it sounded like a glitch in the airline's database.

With so many having to again register their bags, it made us wonder if Deb and Lou would make the flight. But we couldn't stay behind for moral support as our arrangements were fine and the airline wouldn't compensate us if we opted to stay.

While Deb and I are virtually the same age and Lou is a tad older, as our plane lifted off, the mother hen in me kicked in. It felt like I had left my "kids" in Newark!

In the end, while we flew home, Deb and Lou headed off to a hotel and a 6 a.m. flight home the next day.

I was relieved when they reported they had made it home. But there was still one more surprise - and not a good one: Lou, Art and I arrived home with Covid.

Three examples of Art's exploration leading to unexpected benefits. Top-left: we came upon an old castle that was being renovated near our home base in Payerbach, Austria. Bottom-left: admission to the "Eine Kleine Nacht Musik" concert and the venue for the concert. Right: part of a memorial against war and fascism at Albertinaplatz in Vienna. Stones are from the quarry of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. Small stone represents Jews scrubbing the streets.

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