Today started very early, and promising. I had woken up very many times in the night in order to drive the current visiting scholars to the airport. They are visiting Washington DC for the first time for the Fulbright conference. I knew the feeling of anticipation that attends such an important experience. Less than a year ago, I was on the plane eastwards on the same mission across the country. Now, an older (and hopefully wiser) man, I volunteered to drive them to the airport perhaps in order to relive some of the excitement. Eventually, after waking up the umpteenth time, I realized that I’d had enough sleep. I got up and set out. It was seven in the morning. The flight of the first one of them was billed for nine thirty. We had underestimated the traffic situation in our neighbouring state.
A few minutes later at seven thirty, we reached a detour. The interstate highway was closed and the only way to get to the airport was to take another route, which ordinarily would have got us there in twenty minutes. After about three miles, we ran into a traffic situation that brought me thousand kilometres away from the scene of the annoying stretch of ice-capped cars on the Missouri road. I was back in Lagos, on the Third Mainland Bridge. It was morning on a Monday morning and the only available space for movement was just an inch, and if we got lucky, a foot, then a stop for another three minutes. The cycle repeated itself for as long as possible until you got to work, late. It was my first experience with bad road traffic. Back to the present, it was about eight twenty.
Thirty minutes, very many exasperated sighs, plenty discomforts and pretend conversation easing topics later, we got off that stretch of road finally and headed out to the airport. The traveller needed at least thirty minutes to get to the airport before his flight. The distance from home to the airport was supposed to have been thirty-five minutes at the most. We got down at ten past nine, and rushed into the terminal. We were late, as were about four other people. The attendant staff were courteous but unyielding. “You have to be here thirty minutes before. No buts.” They scanned the machine for available flights and put my friend on one to leave at twelve thirty. He didn’t mind. It wasn’t as if he had a choice. Then we went to the tables, sat down and started talking about everything under the sun. I had my eye on the car outside just in case a cop showed up and wondered why it was left attended. He did. The car bad been there for about two hours.
There was a ticket on it already, and he was just getting into his car. “Are you the owner of this car sir?” “Yes.” “Can I see your license?” “Here sir.” “Can you read that sign over there?” Sigh. The sign read Vehicles should not be left unattended. For the first time, I also heard the announcement on the PA that said in two minutes intervals: Cars left unattended will be ticketed and towed. “I was already getting ready to get it towed” the officer said. I looked at the ticket and hoped that the soft unassuming look on my face would earn me a slap on the wrist and a pardon, being a first time offence. Nope. He was already leaving. “You have to pay that before thirty days or you’d lose your license,” he said, and moved to the next car. Now I had a dilemma, get out of the car back into the terminal to say bye to my friend, or to go home. I waited it out for ten minutes, hoping at least that said friend would come out towards me. He didn’t notice, probably, so he didn’t. The cop did however, with a mean look on his face. I moved, and headed home.
Not yet over, I got back on the road and found myself back eventually at the interstate closure. It was time for another long roundabout rerouting through a series bad roads and empty countrysides and through Alton in order to get into campus on time for the first time today. It was almost one o clock. What a day.
Update: I have now found out the cause of the closure. A petrol tanker had run into a stationary car on the bridge, killed a man and set parts of the bridge on fire. That was why by the time I returned home, a few people who had heard about the news on the radio had been frantically looking for me, praying that I was not the victim. Now I have to worry about paying the darn ticket! On the bright side, look at how many pictures I took, even in my state of distress.