So here's the short version of the voyage home thus far:
It started with me leaving behind the last tent I hope to sleep in for quite a while. It was one of these ones:
I hopped on a bus in Kuwait at 1830 so we could wait for almost an hour before we started rolling. It was most of two hours to get to the Kuwait City International Airport. As we arrived, a Navy petty officer stood up on the bus, told us that we were at the terminal and wished us good luck finding our flights. I never would've guessed we'd need luck until I started looking:
Once we were there we were marshalled into a line by airport security personnel and told to wait until they were ready for us. Standing there it became clear that we were waiting mostly so the local nationals could be in line ahead of us.*
Once we were through security (or what they called security) we had another couple of hours to wait for the flight to leave. I was connecting through Frankfurt, Germany and my flight was leaving at 0055.** I was flying on Lufthansa.
If you glean nothing else from the reading of this entry, know this: I absolutely LOVE Lufthansa. Less than an hour off the ground and they started with the beverage service. I'm not sure how often they brought the cart around (or how often I went to the galley to get refills) but I'd bet that I singlehandedly accounted for one and a half of their rather large bottles of red wine and one of their small bottles of Bailey's Irish Cream. That alone may have accounted for my generally positive impressions of the airline, the food, the cleanliness of the plane, the speed of the flight, or the fact that I teared up at the end of Marley & Me. One way or another, it was a great flight.
We landed in Germany at about 0600 and I had almost four hours to kill in the terminal. It was only through an act of tremendous willpower that I managed to talk myself out of buying a Bavarian maiden costume*** for Ana.
At 0940 Germany time it was time to hop on the connecting flight (also Lufthansa) from Frankfurt to Houston Texas. Despite the fact that I'd been awake for about 30 hours at this point, I still didn't really manage to sleep on that flight. Several glasses of wine and 250 pages of novel-reading later, I got my first glimpse of the United States: a patch of nondescript farmland through a hole in the cloud cover somewhere in the midwest. I'm not sure why, but suddenly a great weight was lifted off my shoulders and I felt like I was ten feet taller.****
We landed in Houston about an hour late. The original itinerary had set me up with about 90 minutes to get through customs, re-check my bags, and get to the other end of the airport to catch my connecting flight on Continental Airlines. I realize it might be a surprise, but I missed my connection. Then, in an effort that was above and beyond the call of the line of duty for any customer service representative, they gave me a standby ticket for an overbooked flight that wouldn't leave for another five hours. Welcome home indeed.
After a bit of running around, I managed to convince a more friendly customer service agent to set me up with a flight to New Orleans instead of Gulfport, Mississippi. This meant going to a different city (and state) from where my luggage was headed, but it also meant that Ana (who was waiting patiently for me to land so she could collect me) could get me in New Orleans and then drive me on to Gulfport.
While I was waiting, I managed to buy myself the niftiest T-shirt the State of Texas (as represented by the George H.W. Bush International Airport) had to offer:
When I landed in New Orleans I rushed out to meet Ana at the gate. She absolutely loved my new shirt.*****
We drove from New Orleans straight to Gulfport, got me a room in the Transient Quarters, and the rest of the evening was none of your business.
Needless to say, we did not make it to the airport in time to recover my luggage before they shut down for the night.
*This is one of those rare moments where I've almost been the definitive ugly American. It was all I could do to keep from grabbing one of these bastards by the throat and shaking vigorously while shouting, "If it weren't for guys like me you'd be an IRAQI you dumb sonofabitch!" or, "My little sister's done more than you to protect your nation, so cut us some freakin' slack." I did not. I should get a medal.
** That's 55 minutes past midnight for my civilian readers.
***This is basically the same outfit that the "St Pauli Girl" wears in those German beer ads. The main difference being that the one I was going to buy would've been about two sizes too small. Awesome!
****I was not, in reality, ten feet taller. If I was I wouldn't've fit in my seat on the plane, silly.
*****Actually, she was embarrassed enough that she almost left me behind at the airport. Almost.