Italy #12

We had hoped that our return trip would be less arduous than our flight over, which had taken us from Kenosha to Chicago to Toronto to Frankfurt to Rome to Cerreto D'Esi. Surely the return would be easier.

The flight from Rome to Montréal was completely without incident. Sure it was long, and sure the food was some of the worst I've ever had on an airplane--an especially grievous insult after ten days of fantastic Italian cuisine--but we would soon be home. Plus we had entertainment consoles packed with tons of movies. Those reviews of The Reader and Taken I did back in July? I watched them on this flight, in addition to a lovely re-watch of Witness.

But then the fun began. We had one hour and 15 minutes to make our connecting flight to Chicago. In that time, we had to go through Canadian customs, collect our bags, check in with the Air Canada desk, pack our duty-free liquor in some clothing and hope it didn't get busted in the checked luggage (because American security doesn't trust duty free coming in from other countries!!), make it through security, check our bags, go through American customs, and hoof it to the gate. We made it with ten minutes to spare--but the flight had been canceled. No explanation.

A stewardess from Air Canada took us through a hallway. We thought maybe she would explain the process of getting our asses back to Chicago. But no. She simply took us back to Canadian customs. Apparently when a flight is canceled, you have to start the whole process over again. So we went through Canadian customs and wound up back at the luggage carousel. We had only just given our bags to some Air Canada personnel a few minutes earlier and had little hope of seeing them again.

While Keven started looking for the bags, I called my dad, got the number for Air Canada's support desk, and booked on a flight that was leaving three hours later. After bugging some airport personnel, Keven finally found our luggage, which had been hidden back on a carousel that had been stopped prematurely.

We returned to the Air Canada desk where they tried to tell us that we needed to go to a separate place to rebook. But we'd already done that and held our ground. We went through security where one of the screeners recognized us. We handed our bags back to the same airport personnel, talked to the same US customs agent, and finally made it out to the gate. With a few hours to spare, we got lunch. Then, when we were mere feet from the boarding ramp, the stewardess asked us to wait. She let everyone else onto the plane. Keven looked ready to blow a gasket, and I was about ready to cry. But then it turned out she had made a mistake and our seats were fine. We were on board and on our way.

After collecting her bags and breathing a sigh of relief that our two bottles of liquor were still intact, we made it back to the long-term lot where our car was waiting to take us home. This was about 7 PM. With any luck, we hoped to arrive at my parents' house before the kids were asleep. We missed them terribly, and they had been very disappointed by our delay.

We got in the car and started to drive. But something was wrong. I got out and checked all of the tires--the fourth one I checked was flat. Dead flat. More calls my dad. The airport was able to send a parking lot maintenance guy, someone who could jump a dead battery or help change a tire. Keven and I have managed to get the Corolla up on a jack, but the tire would not come off. The man helped us, but even after we had installed a spare, we weren't going anywhere. I drove forward about eight inches and it stopped dead.

Many hours passed, whereupon we discovered that a missing lugnut had caused its supporting stud to become rusted and completely corroded. The stud had broken off and slipped back into the brake casing. We had a tow truck on the way, but they wouldn't even be able to drive it up onto the skids. The car could manage just those eight inches before the loose stud caught on the brakes drum. Crunch!

I played Macguyver. First, I used my eyebrow tweezers to retrieve the stud. Then Keven had these cheap headphones from Air Canada. I ripped out the earbuds and used the wire to tie a knot around the stud and keep it from slipping back into the casing. It wasn't going anywhere--at least not for the 10 feet it would need to drive onto the back of the tow truck--so we replaced the spare tire and waited. In the meantime, a good Samaritan offered his assistance. We didn't need his help at that point, but we were just about starving. He drove Keven the quarter mile to the nearest McDonald's so we could get dinner. I stayed with the car as darkness fell, coming on 22 hours since I had woken up in Rome that morning.

The tow truck finally arrived, operated by three men who were the working class equivalent of the witches in Macbeth. Their DVD player in the cab was playing a live concert by Andrea Bocelli. Weird. Really weird. It was almost 11pm when we pulled into a 24-hour station. We had trusted the tow truck guys, and now we had to trust these mechanical denizens of the night. The man in charge had only one working eye. But he understood the problem right away. He sent Keven around the corner to a 24-hour parts store to pick up a replacement stud. I didn't exactly feel safe staying at the gas station, but it was well-lit and busy, and it was certainly safer than walking down the road myself.

Ninety tense, tiring, edgy minutes later, we were done and away. And two hours after that, we finally pulled into my parents' driveway. And thus ended our magnificent Italian Odyssey.

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