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June 25, 2002
D.C. to Detroit (Russell)

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The last airport: waiting at Washington Dulles

During the past year, our most stressful days have been transition days, when we have needed to move from one location to another.  While Gail likes to keep everything calm and relaxed, Russell works almost obsessively to keep things ahead of a precise schedule.  The worst days are those when we need to pack up and board an airplane.  On June 25th -- our transition (and airplane) day from Washington D.C. to Detroit, Michigan -- Russell got a little too far ahead of schedule.

Our United Express Shuttle flight would depart from Washington Dulles International Airport at 12:55 PM, so Russell arranged for a limo to pick us up from our hotel at 10:00 AM.  The driver was early (in fact, at 9:00 AM he was watching the World Cup game in the exercise room), but we were ready on time.  During the drive to the airport, we chatted with the driver, who is a 50-year-old ex-patriot of Poland.  He came here 27 years ago at the behest of a friend who told him he could get rich in America.  ("I still have $998,000 to go before I get my first million," he said ruefully.)  Living here with his mother, it took him 25 years to save up enough money just to go back to visit Poland.  We were therefore somewhat ashamed to admit that we had just completed a one-year tour of the world, but he was genuinely impressed.  He even shook Cameron's and Joss' hands when we left, saying that he had never meet such special boys (and he has chauffeured movie stars and politicians).

Unfortunately, the estimated one-hour drive to the airport only took half an hour, and we arrived well before we needed to.  Because we were flying on a shuttle, there was no Business Class.  This meant not only that we would be in normal Economy seats, but that we would not be able to wait in the Business Lounge.  Therefore, we ended up with a good hour and a half to just sit around in the airport waiting for our flight.  Gail worked on the world map embroidery that she is on the verge of completing; Cameron read another "Horrible Histories" book, Joss played his Game Boy, and Russell simply wandered.  We had a quick bite to eat (Russell had a chili dog; the rest had chocolate chunk cookies) before we boarded our flight, which ran a half hour late.

Our arrival at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport at 2:30 PM -- signaling the end of our trip's air travels -- was the worst we've had in our entire year.  In the absence of a skyway, we had to lug all of our carry-on bags down the airplane steps, across the tarmac, then back up two flights of steps inside the terminal.  The weather was 95 and humid.  At baggage claim, we were reminded that America is the only country in the world that makes you pay to use a luggage cart -- here, it cost a ridiculous $3.00 (and the one we pulled out was broken).

As we reclaimed our luggage, we were horrified to discover that all of the external zippered pockets had been methodically unzipped (we overheard the man next to us say that the same thing had happened to his), and that Gail's backpack was no longer in the plastic bag in which D.C. check-in had sealed it.  Missing were two boxes, one containing Cameron's art pastel pencils, and the other containing the game that Cameron had hand-made for Joss' birthday.  Gail was absolutely livid, and stood in the complaint line for a half hour before being told that the incident had probably happened in D.C. and there was nothing that they could do about it here.

(We want to stress that in all of our travels, this kind of incident never happened in any other country... except for the United States.)

National Car Rental was a shuttle bus away, which meant that we had to drag our entire collection of suitcases and bags onto a bus, literally filling the aisles.  As the driver careened the bus around corners, Gail (who was closest to the luggage) had to stand in the aisle and hold our suitcases to keep them from flying around and hitting people (a nearby man graciously helped).  In another first, at National Car Rental, they pointed us to a row of minivans and told us to pick out our own.  We settled for a dark blue Dodge Grand Caravan Sport that looked clean inside, and we were off.

Detroit, Michigan is frankly not the greatest tourist destination in the United States.  It is flat and industrial, hot and humid, and the sky is usually a grayish brown.  For being the "Motor Capital" of the world (Henry Ford built his automobile empire here), the roads are in horrible shape -- even worse than those in Eastern Europe.  But Riverview, a "downriver" suburb south of Detroit, is Gail's childhood home town, so this is a very important stop on our short tour of America.

Even before we went to our hotel to check in, we stopped at the Southland Shopping Mall, where our daughter Colleen manages a retail hat store called Lids.  She was there waiting for us, and it was hard to say who was happier to see whom as we all exchanged hugs and kisses.  Colleen took a quick break and joined us at the food court for ice cream; then she went back to work, and we went on to shop for new swimming suits and sandals for Cameron and Joss.

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With our daughter Colleen

For the next four nights we are staying at the Best Western Motel in nearby Woodhaven.  In addition to having two adjoining rooms with a connecting door, there is an indoor swimming pool here.  The boys were delighted and spent the rest of their afternoon at the pool.  For dinner we returned to the mall to eat at Olga's Kitchen, an old favorite of Gail's (she took Russell here during his first visit more than ten years ago).

Even better was dessert at a downriver institution, Bob Jo's frozen custard stand, where Colleen met us after work.  This one-of-a-kind place existed even when Gail was a child; Bob Jo's makes incredible frozen custard at a little hole-in-the-wall shack that always has people lined up (it is only open from May until September; the rest of the time Bob Jo is apparently on vacation).  Even tonight in the pouring rain, there was a line of people who retreated back to their cars to eat their cones.  But Gail didn't mind -- with her daughter at her side and a frozen custard in her hand, Gail was back in familiar territory.

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Colleen and custard


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