Monday, June 16, 2008

Back to Beijing

There is no approved solution to any tactical situation. George Patton

There are races you run because you love the thrill, you are enticed by the challenged, or the camaraderie of your fellow competitors is enough motivation in itself. And then there is the no-holds-barred rush to catch a plane on Friday afternoon, the sort of contest that only the pious few will ever go in for.

My race to catch an 11:30 flight to Beijing from Chengdu began in a seedy hotel on the slopes of Emei Shan. I woke at 5:30, said an especially heartfelt prayer, grabbed my waterpak and held onto the seat of the motorcycle that roared down the final miles of the mountain with me aboard. The drive was thrilling and all too short. I arrived at the guesthouse where my bag had spent the night, sent off a concise email requesting my older brother purchase an e-ticket in my name for the flight later that morning, and made a run for the bus that would take me on the three hour trip back to Chengdu.

Unfortunately the bus schedule had felt the wrath of the earthquake as well. Regular services had been scaled back due to the paucity of visitors to the mountain. As a result there was no bus when I came running into the local bus station at 7:00 AM. I grabbed a cab instead to the larger bus station in the nearby town. Although I had no problem purchasing ticket, the bus almost did not leave. The driver got into a tremendous verbal argument with several of the passengers. Feeling slighted, he stormed off and the passengers were left to argue amongst themselves. Despite my limited time, I was fascinated and could hardly choose which one of the eye glaring, vein popping, tomato faced combatants to stare at.

Several rounds of negotiations later, the bus driver returned and at a quarter to eleven we finally rolled to a stop in Chengdu. I had little time for sentimental farewells to the city I had called home for much of the past week. Somehow I pushed my way to the front of the bus, and by an even greater miracle, immediately threw myself into one of Chengdu’s typically hard to locate cabs. The driver and I gabbed about the future of China and Israel relations while he raced to the airport in, what he promised me, may have been the fastest time ever recorded by a cab heading to the Chengdu airport.

I arrived at the airport precisely at eleven. In thirty minutes the flight I was counting on joining was leaving the tarmac. In fifteen minutes the gate would close. And as of the minute I stepped into the airport, the passengers were taking their seats aboard the plane.

The rest of the story is about a healthy dose of impudence, along with a rock of an older brother who off in New York had made certain to purchase a ticket in my name. After the airport information desk confirmed a Samuel Chester was indeed booked on the flight, I apologized my way to the front of first the check-in counter and then the crowded security line. At 11:12 I reached the gate, at 11:15 I was stretching out in the front row of the aircraft, taking advantage of what was a fairly empty flight to revel in the joy you feels when you find yourself somewhere you should have no business being, except through you own determination and an overly generous dose of good fortune.

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