Welcome. Go F*** Yourselves.

By Jess McGlothlin

“Welcome to France. We love visitors. Go fuck yourselves.” And he drove off.

It’s 0200, and I was hunkered outside Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport with newfound airport friends. Our flight to Johannesburg was canceled, and after queuing our way through Air France lines in the airport, we had hotel vouchers in hand and needed to get the 1.7 kilometers to the Hilton—unwalkable due to overnight security closures. This was our third attempt at finding the correct bus in the airport, the first two Air France had told us to find refused to take us.

Really, we weren’t that bad of a lot.

We’d lost five people at the first bus attempt, two younger women dissolving into tired tears while their boyfriends tried to comfort them. Another older gentleman vanished, mumbling about a taxi and a bar. When you’re stuck in a foreign airport at 0200 you learn very quickly who your allies are.

So there I was, camped out on the far side of the airport with my own little band of midnight operators. We were a motley squad: me, hauling around a Pelican case, camera gear, and fly rods. Two older South African couples; vastly entertaining grandparent-era folks who had the right “Eh, we’ll see what happens” attitude. They’d been around the block enough to know it wasn’t the end of the world. Rounding out the crew were two businessmen: one from the UAE, and one intransigent Belgian—Rikard—who was our lead when being cursed out by the bus driver moments ago.

Rikard was going to Zimbabwe to hunt. Judging by the worn leather of his Courteneys, it wasn’t his first venture into the bush. And no croissant-munching bus driver was going to keep him from his hunt. He was stone-cold sober and possessed with a holy determination that if Air France was costing him a day in Africa, at least he was going to get a night in the fucking Hilton.

A half-hour into our failed curbside bus-hailing, Rikard produced a small bag of chocolates and offered it around. One of the South Africans pulled out a flask of something dark. It was 31F, windy, and well past midnight, but we had chocolate and booze. All was well.

Here’s the thing with unexpected travel issues: finding a solid squad makes it vastly more fun. Gather your team wisely; everyone has to bring a skillset. I knew the hotel shuttle train system (which was less help than I’d hoped, as the trains weren’t running at 0200) and where the Hilton supposedly was in relation to our starting terminal. Rikard spoke French—and brought chocolate. Our UAE businessman? He laughed uncontrollably and without provocation when exhausted and slightly drunk, but the entertainment value was high. The South African grandparents? Well, they were an even, steady presence and good for morale—plus, flask.

We started placing bets on if we could get a bus to stop. After buses just started accelerating past us with drivers’ middle fingers flying, our verbiage grew far more entertaining.

We discovered the group could curse in five languages: Afrikaans, English, French, Belgian, and Arabic. I think Afrikaans had the best curses and made certain to educate myself on a few.

We considered pooling money and seeing if we could bribe a bus to give us a ride. We contemplated walking back to the public transit post across the airport and seeing about an Uber. Ultimately, we decided we’d come this far, and we were going to work ‘til we made something happen.

0300 was on the horizon; Rikard finally muttered something inaudible and parked himself in the middle of the bus lane, luggage and all. Another bus trundled around the corner and he squared his stance, facing off against the driver with one arm forward, middle finger extended boldly. The bus creaked to a stop not eight feet from the Belgian. Victory.

We laughed, clambered up from our impromptu picnic / foreign-language cursing session, and boarded. Ten minutes later we were slogging in the front doors of the Hilton, ready to get a few hours’ sleep before we had to head back to the airport and—fingers crossed—board another plane—one that actually might take off.

It was ten hours later, settling into my seat for another 11-hour flight, when Rikard passed me on the way to his own seat.

“Montana!” he crowed, turning a few heads. “No fucking bus drivers today!”

We laughed, liberated some champagne from a passing flight attendant, and toasted to our wee-hour success. After another hour’s delay we finally took off, landing in Joburg at 0200 the next day. A full day since our curbside escapades. Counting time changes, three full days since I’d left Montana.

And, with the (soon-to-be) dawn of a new day, it was my birthday. The O.R. Tambo immigration agent eyed my Pelican cases and stamped my passport with a wink and, “It’s your day today, darling.”

In true post-2020 fashion, the flights had rapidly turned into a “choose your own adventure” shitshow. But sometimes all you can do is take a deep breath, get a Belgian hunter drunk, and flip off the driver of whatever proverbial bus is barreling towards you at the moment.

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