The Schiphol Hustle

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a real story…well, however real a story can be that is based on my travel journal and memories from a trip to Europe my wife and I took in the summer of 2012.

I pointed to the gate number on my boarding pass. The airline worker understood English and I understood her lack of confidence in us as she spoke the words, “B24. You might make it.”

I looked at Stacey and said, quite calmly, “Run.”

With our carry-on bags rolling along behind us as we ran, I had doubts that gate B24 actually existed. Back on the plane, before landing, being the overly prepared and worrisome person that I am, I used the monitor on the back of the chair in front of me to search a terminal map of Amsterdam’s SchipholAirport. I checked the departing gate on my boarding pass. Gate B24. Simple: find Terminal B, and then look for the gate number.  Terminal B was easy to find on the map, but it only showed gates B1 to B19.  B24 was nowhere to be found. I asked a flight attendant before landing and she pulled out a map of the airport. We looked over it, I with extreme care like it was a treasure map, and she like it was a brick wall standing in her way from getting to her seat in time for landing.

“Here’s B.” I pointed to the area of the map with B gates, after explaining that we would be pressed for time once we landed. “See, no B24.”

“Hmm.” She pretended to think about it. “Yeah, it’s not on here. Good luck.” She smiled.

The Dutch had no confidence in me.

Stacey and I wove between people as we raced to Terminal B. We could only exchange confused looks at each other while sweating, grunting, and pointing at signs. I didn’t want to full out sprint yet for fear Amsterdam would have a bad first impression of me. I wondered if our running through the airport was culturally acceptable there. As I avoided eye contact and looked to the ground, I came to a sudden halt as I bumped into someone, who transferred their end-of-the-line status to me along with a displeased look.

Customs. I completely forgot we had to go through customs. I looked at my phone for time: nine minutes until takeoff.

I flagged a woman over, asked if she spoke English, and she did. I showed her my boarding pass and frowned. She called an older woman over. They spoke Dutch, discussing our fate, while I reflected on booking these flights. We were expecting a quick layover in Amsterdam on our way to Berlin.  According to my meticulously planned itinerary, it would be an hour wait. “Get off of a plane and find the other gate,” I told my wife six months ago while making our travel arrangements. “There’s nothing to worry about.” Speaking those sure words guaranteed a late arrival and docked forty minutes off of our planned sixty-minute layover.

I wondered why it was taking so long for them to take action. The older woman looked and sounded like she was getting upset with the younger one. There were more head shakes than was comfortable. “A few minutes in Europe and we’re already causing problems,” I thought.

The older one turned to us and smiled. My heart sunk. I wondered, “Is smiling before you give someone bad news universal?” Fortunately, I misread their body language and the younger one told us to follow her as she led us up to the front of the customs line. Stacey was the first of us to say “dank u.” We repeated it a dozen times with full sincerity while the customs officer stamped our passports. We had officially arrived in Amsterdam but could only stay for three more minutes before our plane departed.

“Are you kidding me?” Stacey muttered as she saw the line for the security checkpoint.

“This is absurd. They just stamped our passports and now they want to go through our luggage? They already let us into the country. And what could we have possibly added to our bags? We went through security in Detroit and we landed what, six minutes ago?”

“Go. They’re waiving us over,” Stacey said, relieved that we were next which would momentarily stop my complaining.

On her cue I remained quiet as I approached the security guard. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself anymore. I was already sweaty, out of breath, and panicky, which can easily mean doom at an airport. They didn’t require me to take my shoes off though. Great, an extra thirty seconds that could make or break us because who has time for shoelaces?

“Do you have a laptop?” the security officer asked.

“No.” I put my belongings on the conveyer.

They went through at a subjectively annoying pace and I reached for them as they began to show themselves like the head of a turtle coming out of its shell.

“Wait. You have laptop.”

I didn’t answer. I glanced over my shoulder and Stacey was there, ready to run. I debated grabbing my bags quickly and making a run for it but was able to rationalize how that was not a good decision. I shook my head instead.

“An iPad?”

“No, I don’t have an iPad or laptop.”

“I see you have laptop.” He pointed to his screen.

My Asus Transformer tablet caused absolutely no problems at Detroit Metro, but here in Amsterdam its presence threw me into a nightmarishly cheesy commercial.

“It’s a tablet.”

“A what?”

“Tablet.”

“A laptop?”

“No.” I resorted to one word answers hoping it would speed up the process.

“An iPad?”

I wanted to discuss with him, at this moment, the use of his word iPad. Were all tablets known as iPads in Europe? Do they sell Windows or Android tablets or are citizens on this continent not given the basic human freedom to choose their tablet OS that we must take for granted in the States?  Or is it like ordering a pop in Texas, not knowing they call all pop Coke? I wanted to discuss and come to a friendly understanding on the international categorical meanings of laptops, iPads, and tablet electronics. Being four minutes behind schedule didn’t leave time for semantics.

“Yes. An iPad.” I gave up.

“Take it out.”

I did. Upon seeing me take the tablet apart from the keyboard dock, the security officer agreed with me.

“That’s not an iPad.”

In the interest of time, even knowing it was already past our flight time, I kept my mouth shut and watched him run my belongings back through the security conveyer. Stacey and I used this as an opportunity to catch our breath. I grabbed my possessions as they passed through security a second time, agitated that this delay would result in me having to move at the speed of a slow sprint to the gate instead of my planned mild hustle.

Amsterdam’s SchipholAirport is huge, or at least it feels that way when you’re rushing through it. Fortunately it is equipped with those futuristic Jetsons-era moving sidewalks. Unfortunately, some of them were missing a few space sprockets and weren’t functioning properly. Broken down sidewalks of tomorrow become non-moving sidewalks of today with restricted space that do not help me speedily reach my destination. In fact, non-functioning ones deceivingly look as if they are moving as you swiftly approach them from afar, only to get stuck behind two slowly progressing travelers walking side-by-side.

On the way to our gate, thoughts started to burn up precious oxygen in my brain that I really couldn’t spare at the moment. What am I doing? This is how I’m starting a two-and-a-half-week trip through countries I’ve never been to, where I can’t speak their language? I spent a lot of money for this? My wife is never going to want to travel with me again, or at least never let me be in charge of our itinerary. If we missed our plane, I hope I can talk to someone who speaks English to catch the next flight to Berlin. How long have I been awake? I must be going on hour twenty-two. I wonder where the nearest Applebee’s is from here.

After many anxious thoughts, moving sidewalks, non-moving sidewalks, and extremely long corridors, we turned down a hallway with a sign above that read, “Terminal B.” Our gate number did exist, and as it came into view at the other end of this final passageway, I kicked it into hyper mode.

I’m no runner. I’m a slow-moving, one-hundred-and-ninety-pound, six-foot-one-inch-tall male, with an imagination. To me, I was breezing through the corridor with Olympic speed and fitness, leaving my wife in the dust two terminals away. The disgusted gazes of blurry-faced onlookers as I ran by suggested that I was just a large, hairy, heavy breathing beast, who was grotesquely sweating. To add to the view I gave them, somehow my glistening, fat, unfit body was making my shirt defy simple laws of gravity.  With every ungraceful step I made it was getting pulled up, wedged between my back and my backpack.

I was getting closer to the gate when I heard, “…Crupi…Brandon Crupi,” explode over the loud speaker. I let out a grunt of excitement at the thought of the plane still being there.

My embarrassingly naked belly arrived at the gate just before I did, and my wife wasn’t far behind.

“Brandon Crupi?”

That’s me!” I yelled in their faces, as I had no energy left for volume control. I wiped sweat from my forehead, but that proved useless. I needed a shower.

“Good thing. That was last call. Hurry up and get on the plane. They’re all waiting. And just so you know, you’re checked baggage will not be on this flight since your arrival plane was late.”

I had enough energy left to smile. Bringing with us only carry-on luggage for a nineteen-day European vacation had already paid off.

We boarded the plane, which was small enough to feel the angry stares of every passenger on board. I felt bad for being late but didn’t feel guilty because it was beyond my control. I had the sweat and panting to prove it.

Stacey and I took our seats, and the undermining words the airline worker spoke to me echoed in my head.

“B24. You might make it.”

Have some confidence in me, Europe.

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