Three weeks later, my preparations complete, I parked the Lexus in the long-term parking structure at Bluegrass Field and made ready to board my flight to Chicago, where I would meet up with the remainder of the group touring to China.
I had selected my Canadian passport, having agreed with L.T.‘s assessment that, by traveling as a Canadian, I would come under less scrutiny once we reached China.
Since my flight from Lexington to Chicago arrived two hours before the scheduled departure for Seattle, there was little likelihood of anyone in the tour group wondering why a Canadian was coming from Lexington rather than from someplace in Canada, although my prepared response to such a question would have been that I was concluding some business there before going on this tour.
I walked to the waiting area at the gate where our flight to Seattle would be departing, grabbing a cup of coffee on the way from one of the many food and drink stalls located along the midway.
By the time I had deplaned from the flight from Lexington, walked some distance to my departing gate and stopped long enough to acquire my coffee, it was now only about sixty minutes before our flight was scheduled to depart. I settled myself into a marginally comfortable seat, slid my modest carry-on under the seat and began to pass the time by observing the other passengers who were gathering in the waiting area, trying to assess which ones might be a part of the tour and which were just going to ‘Frisco. Eavesdropping of some nearby conversations allowed me to correctly gauge some of the tour members and I easily spotted the tour guide who was busily moving among us, introducing herself and marking off those she encountered.
As she approached the area where I was sitting, she first engaged the middle-aged gentleman sitting next to me.
“Good morning,” she beamed cheerily. “I’m Ann Pierson. I’m leading a tour to China. Are you one of the members of the tour?”
“Yes,” he replied. “My name is Harold Rasmussen. From Cleveland.”
“Of course, Mr. Rasmussen. Good to have you with us. I hope you’ll find the trip enjoyable and see all you care to when we arrive. I think our itinerary is a very good one.”
“I’m sure it will be,” Rasmussen responded. “I read the tour brochure very thoroughly and am looking forward to all the areas we’ll be visiting.”
“And you, sir,” Ann said, turning toward me. “Are you also on our tour?”
“Yes, indeed,” I said, trying to be as cheery as possible, as I expected someone going on a real tour would be. “My name is Michael Tallent. From Toronto.”
“Ah, yes, Mr. Tallent. So happy to have a Canadian with us. I’m sure the other tour members will be most interested in finding out more about Canada, as everyone else is from somewhere in the States.”
“I’m pleased to be with you. Looking forward to it.”
Satisfied, Ann jauntily made her way to other waiting passengers, jotting down names and checking off her list.
“So, you’re from Toronto, eh?” inquired Rasmussen as he turned in my direction.
“Yes, ever been there?” I asked, hoping his answer would be no so that I wouldn’t have to contend with someone with a deep knowledge of the city.
“No, afraid not,” he replied. “I’ve heard a good deal about it and I’m very impressed with the Canadians. I’ll never forget the help your people extended to ours during that Mideast crisis many years ago when your embassy sheltered a large group of Americans until they could be sent safely home.”
“Well,” I responded, “the Americans and Canadians have been friends and partners for a very long time, at least going back to your War Between the States when Canada gave sanctuary to a good number of your runaway slaves.”
“I guess so,” said Rasmussen. “Being from Ohio, I know that our state not only sheltered many slaves but served as a passage for a lot of them to get on into Canada.”
After a bit more small talk about Toronto and Cleveland, I was somewhat relieved to hear the boarding clerk announce that passengers could begin boarding the plane. As the clerk called off the rows of seats that would be boarding, Rasmussen stood with his camera bag and headed toward the queue.
“I’m sure we’ll see each other again before the trip is over, Mr. Tallent,” he said as he moved away.
I remained seated, knowing that there was no rush to board since my row had not been called and I wouldn’t be heading up until most passengers were aboard anyway. In my years of traveling, it had become obvious that planes don’t leave as long as there is a valid passenger still waiting to board and that waiting until most people were already aboard reduced the amount of time one has to spend standing in the plane’s aisle while everyone else stows their oversized carry-ons in the overhead bins.
At what I considered the appropriate time I headed toward the boarding gate, offered my boarding pass to the clerk, and headed through the passageway for a four-and-a-half-hour trip sandwiched into a too-narrow seat with some three hundred other people, forty-four of whom would be continuing on with me to China.