If you haven’t read the first part, My Last Days in America, then go ahead and do that before reading this!
Zoey and I had left Fayetteville and were finally on our way to the airport. We parted ways on the 295 highway with my parents who were driving back to Texas. I was about to have a good cry when Mark called. We talked for a bit and that lifted my spirits. He asked me teasingly, “What’s it like being a nomad?” I answered, “It’s terrifying!” I imagined it would be an exhilarating feeling, driving the highway to BWI; but I still had that irrational “I think I forgot something” fear, alongside the bizarre feeling of having everything that I owned (that wasn’t shipped) in that vehicle with me. It was a real-life version of my recurring nightmare of falling: this is it, I have no more control, and at some point I’m going to hit the ground.
What Happens When You Overpack
The drive from Fayetteville, NC to BWI was about seven hours total. It would’ve been easier to have the military pay for me to fly commercial. But I decided to go the rental car route so that Zoey didn’t have to endure two plane rides. (We also would’ve had to pay out of pocket for her cargo spot.) The military later reimburses for mileage driven, so that made it especially worth it. My biggest dilemma, however, was how in the world I was going to handle my two overweight suitcases, Zoey, her huge crate, and my two carry-on pieces. Even with one of those luggage carts, how was I going to lug everything from the rental car place to the ticket counter? AMC (Air Mobility Command), who operates the Patriot Express for military members and their families, did not have a curbside baggage check.
But, I made sure to not complain, especially not to Mark. I didn’t want him to feel helpless while his wife struggled with everything! And, I figured, I couldn’t be the first military wife to deal with a scenario exactly like this. I had half a mind to strap my GoPro camera to my chest and film the ordeal, to show the world: this is what military families deal with!! Plus, it would be comical: this tiny woman struggling with her luggage. (Yup, my friend Karen warned me about not packing too heavily. Obviously I didn’t heed her advice.)
How My Mom Rescued Me
Well, leave it to my mom to rescue me. 😉 While I was driving, she began worrying about how I realistically was going to handle everything. I had planned on meeting up with my friend Margaret, one of my best friends from college (the first time), for dinner. But there was no way I could just ask for help! She had a baby, and I hate feeling like I’m inconveniencing people. But, the thought of me struggling alone kept gnawing at Mama, so she reached out to Margaret via Facebook. Margaret then called me and said “a little birdie” told her that I was going to need some help at the airport. She and her husband Bob could meet me at the rental car place and help me out with both their cars. What a relief and lifesaver that was for me! In hindsight, I realized that I was probably too optimistic about my solo situation.
The Ridiculousness of Army Life
I ran into some traffic in the Washington D.C. area, but was happy to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Capitol building and Washington Monument. Ah, the glory of America. How I would miss it! The Hertz rental car place was off-site from the airport, so after returning the SUV I met up with Margaret. It was so wonderful reconnecting after a couple years of not seeing each other! The beauty with true friendships is that you can pick up exactly where you left off. We played Rubik’s Cube with my luggage and her station wagon, and actually made everything fit!!
We drove over to the airport and unloaded everything on the curb. (The AMC ticket counter is at the very end of the airport!) I grabbed one of those luggage carts and hoisted some of my stuff on there, but couldn’t fit everything. I had Zoey on a short leash. I thought I could wait outside till Margaret came back from parking, but it was freezing cold! I knew that it was against the rules to have a pet dog on a leash inside the airport, but I had no choice until I could get Zoey’s crate assembled. Since I know it looks super-suspicious to leave luggage sitting alone at an airport, I slowly inched inside: first the cart, then my large red suitcase and rolling carry-on bag. I probably looked ridiculous, but lots of things about Army life are ridiculous.
Waiting in Line
Whew, I was fully inside and I hadn’t gotten yelled at by anyone for having Zoey outside a crate. To my great surprise, the line at the AMC counter was already veeeerrrry long. I thought I’d be ahead of the game by getting there six hours ahead of the flight departure, which is the earliest you can check into a Patriot Express flight. Apparently everyone else had the same idea. I kept inching my way toward the line, until a USO volunteer came to my rescue. He gently reminded me that Zoey needed to be in a crate and offered me this awesome, big, flat rolling cart on which I could put her crate and more luggage!! I was so grateful for that.
He also helped me over to the special line for families and people with pets. I thought it would move faster than the general line, but I ended up waiting in line for two hours! But that was okay, because Margaret and her husband and daughter arrived, and we had time to visit. They watched my stuff while I ran to the bathroom, and helped push along everything when the line moved. They also brought a frozen bowl of water that I attached to Zoey’s crate. (I mailed the bowl to them a few weeks prior.) That way the water didn’t slosh around. I put together Zoey’s crate together, and occasionally she would whine but mostly she behaved fine. Halfway through the line, Bob decided to take the baby home in his car and Margaret stayed behind with me.
Checking In to the Patriot Express
While in line, one of the AMC employees took a copy of Mark’s orders and amendments, and a copy of my family travel orders, and put a red stamp on it. I handed that packet to the lady at the counter when it was my turn. I also had to show my passport and military dependent ID. My bags were weighed, and I found out that my big red suitcase weighed 93 pounds! It counted as two pieces of luggage. (Am I ridiculous or what?!) I had two more checked bags and a small box. Everything weighed a total of 227 pounds, which cost $375. (Thankfully the Army reimburses for that.) She also weighed Zoey in the crate, and her charge was $250. (The Army does not reimburse for pets.) I had to present the papers from the military veterinarian that Zoey was cleared for entrance into Germany, and her original rabies certificate. She made copies, gave the originals back to me, and we were on our way out of line!
We took Zoey outside to the pet relief area (near the light rail station), and then we sat and chatted some more until Margaret had to leave. I’m so grateful for her help and being the last one to send me off to Germany! It really would have been crazy dealing with everything alone at the airport. True friends are the best!
Saying Goodbye to Zoey
After Margaret departed, Zoey and I settled in near the cargo entrance. I FaceTimed Mama for a little bit and ate my “dinner” of beef jerky and plantain chips. (My dinner plans with Margaret and Bob fell through: by the time I completed check-in, it was 10pm and everything was closed at the airport.) At midnight, Zoey was “taken back” with all the other pets for cargo. I zip-tied her cage door closed, just in case she attempted escape artistry. The pets were supposed to be kept in a heated van until being loaded into the airplane. I felt anxious leaving her, but I tried not to act scared so she wouldn’t pick up on it. It was comforting that other people were having to do the same thing for their dogs. I was also told that when she was safely in cargo, I would be hand-delivered a paper at my seat, saying that she was on board.
Almost on the Plane!
BWI was dead except for all the military personnel and families riding the Patriot Express. Going through security was quick and easy. I stopped at one shop that was open for some snacks, and FINALLY I made it to the gate. I couldn’t believe that I was actually there and it was almost time to fly to Germany!
Stick around for Part 3!