Wednesday, March 4, 2015

People Needing People

To springboard off the last entry – having to learn how to lean on others, I need to pay tribute to those who helped me the most during that terrible trip back to China.

Of course, it goes without saying that my son, George and Chris and my sister Donna top the list of those to be thanked. They were there in the aftermath of the accident: Donna actually taking me to the hospital, my son driving me around when I was discharged and George and Chris for always being so kind and nurturing. They saw to my every need in those first few days, when my world was agony.

Beyond those, there were strangers who deserve special mention, like:

Alex: a tall, rangy, nice looking young man carrying a backpack who prowled LAX where I was sitting. After about his 4th circuit he asked me if there were any place to get food. I pointed to my crutches and told him I had no idea because I had no way to get around, but then offered him some snacks. Over peanut butter pretzels we exchanged stories.

He was headed for Vancouver, British Columbia... whenever the flight desk opened. Apparently he was very early. I told him my sorry tale of missing my plane, being dumped in front of the check-in counter and no one able or willing to offer help. After expressing his disbelief he pulled out his phone, called his friend Jacquline in Chicago and instructed her to browse the web and/or call the airline to find out what she could that would help me. He took pictures of my United Airline tickets – the flight that got me to LAX from Dallas, and reservation (for my Air China flight) and sent them to her.

Jacqueline: a cheerful young woman with bubbly laughter in her voice. About 15 minutes after Alex told her of my plight she called back (Alex handed me his phone) to tell me she ranted and raved, but could find no way to help me other than to tell me the Air China desk would be staffed again around 9PM.

I would have loved to meet this charming young woman who assured me it was not trouble at all for her to act on my behalf. She was just happy she could do anything at all. Shortly after I talked with her, Alex volunteered to watch my bags so I could hobble to the bathroom and then refill my water bottle from the fountain, just outside the bathroom doors. When I got back, Alex checked into his flight and we parted company. 

The Chinese family, also looking for someone at the Air China counter, who expressed their dismay at the idea that I was stranded and alone. They volunteered to watch my bags while I again went to the bathroom, and then wished me a safe trip before leaving me on my bench.

TSA Agent Ortega: Around 7PM I was feeling so terrible – in pain and hungry, and no way to get any food. I begged him (even started crying, much as I didn't want to) to go buy me some food. I didn't care what kind. At first, he told me there was nothing he could do, but about 5 minutes after I regained my bench he came after me and offered to go buy me something. I handed him some money – again relying on blind trust. A while later he came back with a full sack from Burger King and a large soda. And a receipt and the change from the $20 I had given him.

Sha-Sha: a Chinese born reservations clerk for Air China.

After sitting for so long and nothing happening, I decided to take matters in my own hands... as much as possible. Thank all the stars for free WIFI! I got on my computer and used QQ to talk with my son, who took up the matter. He called Air China's toll free number and didn't quit yelling until someone finally appeared at the airline counter. I waved Sha-Sha over. She had her phone to her ear. Immediately she asked me my name. Once confirming that I was Darrell's mother, she asked me to please get him to calm down and stop shouting! (how funny! How cute!)

Sha-Sha not only arranged my flight for the next day, but also called the shuttle to the hotel my son arranged for me, and then sat and waited with me until I boarded the shuttle.

I can't honestly say that I got a bum rap from the airline but I will aver that Sha-Sha went above and beyond her call of duty to help me.

The flight attendants were wonderful in spite of my throwing up all over their plane and repeatedly calling for them. I've already eulogized them in a previous entry, but they bear mentioning again.

Wheelchair services in Beijing and Wuhan: Between my limited Chinese and their limited English we made ourselves understood. The chairs in China are actual wheelchairs that my longer than average frame did not exactly fit in (the ones in America are modified luggage carts that I fit in nicely). Still, my dear attendant did her very best to get me where I needed to be. Ditto in Wuhan, with one small exception.

Tianhe airport in Wuhan is rather old-fashioned. To board a plane, one walks down a gangway and into the plane, just like about every airport the world over. However, getting off an airplane involves climbing down a set of stairs onto the tarmac, and then boarding a bus to the terminal. Of course, handicapped services were waiting for me, but first, I had to get down those stairs. In the rain. 

No fewer than 4 people tugged on me, causing me to feel I might fall down the stairs rather than be helped down the stairs. A dear attendant stood on my left side, telling me to just lean on him. When I did his arm gave way, thus causing me to use my hurt leg to step down. Perhaps he didn't reckon on how much I weigh or how strong I am but he tried to help, bless his dear heart.

It would have been easier for me to use the left handrail, seeing as my left leg is the hurt one. I couldn't seem to convince him of that.

Finally making it down the stairs, another attendant wiped the rain out of the seat of the wheelchair. How kind! And, whereas other passengers were loading into a large bus, I was pushed to the first class van, seated in a plush seat and driven to the terminal in relative comfort.

Once my bag was claimed, again by my kind attendant, he pushed me to the exit, where Sam was waiting.

Sam: I talk about him a lot, and with good reason. Sam is the epitome of 'friend'. He will do anything in his power to make things work. Coming to the airport at 10:30 at night on the country's most revered holiday is not the least of his feats. But there he was, all round-headed and bespectacled, dripping umbrella in hand. He couldn't wait to relieve my attendant of the burden of pushing the luggage cart and soon, we were out in the parking lot, looking for our ride.

Here a mention also goes to the driver of the school van, who left her family to celebrate Lunar New Year without her, in order to come pick me up.

Upon finally making it home, Sam made me something to eat – I had told him about the nightmare flight and throwing up everywhere. While I was attempting to eat he did some rudimentary cleaning, put a chair in the bathroom so I could shower (and he remembered to turn the water heater on), and turned my futon couch into a bed, complete with mattress heater and quilt. He left after 2 hours – around 1:30AM, only after making sure I was settled in.  

Another thing Sam arranged: the flight rebooking fee. Remember I did not have my bank card with me while I was in America? I had no money to pay the more than $1000 fee, so I contacted Sam via QQ, who negotiated the fare with travel agents in China. While I was being shuttled to the hotel for the night, my dear friend Sam was working the phone and paying for my ticket. When I appeared at the counter the next day, he had everything taken care of. All I had to do was get on the plane.

No matter how brief an encounter – Alex, Jacqueline and TSA agent Ortega; how professional – Sha-Sha; or how long-standing a relationship – Darrell and Sam, I am constantly awed at human kindness. I aver that kindnesses such as these make me the richest person in the world.

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