4 - Breaking the E-Barrier

Highway seventeen goes on for-bloody-ever! Which is major hyperbole because it ends at either the ferry terminal or airport. I guess it just feels like it's endless because if you're on it, you are probably trying to catch a flight or ferry. The best part of the whole experience, has to be the way the speed limit drops, the closer you get to the terminal. By the time you're watching your ferry leave or your flight taxi for take-off, you're idling along at a tortured crawl. The coppers make a right killing with their speed traps. Let's just call it highway robbery.

Bernadette in the volvo estate car photo elenameg.com

[Image 4-1] "Bernie" Bernadette in the ol' reno-wagon

"Hey, can't you drive any faster?" I whinged.

Bernadette clung to the wheel, knuckles white, teeth gritted, bolt upright on a booster cushion to see out the windscreen. "Hey, you want to drive?"

I was jammed into the passenger seat, my pranged ankle resting on the dash.

"Oh, that's right, you can't! All busted up like that."

"Not funny, it hurts."

"I bet it does. They're going to love you at the airport." She pulled out to pass a lorry leaving a blizzard of flower petals in its wake.

The airport is small, obsessively clean and run like clockwork. It's no wonder: air-traffic is mainly commuter flights to and from Vancouver. Victoria is a terminus. End of the line. Affectionately called the city for newlyweds and nearly deads. Now, only the nearly dead can afford it. Aye, Victoria really is all about being end-of-the-line. One big checkout station.

We pulled up in the passenger drop-off zone, and before I could stop her, Bernadette bolted from the car to grab a luggage cart.

I wanted to melt into my seat. Abandoned vehicles in the drop-off-only zone are immediately set upon by a parking commissar. The one hustling over, apparently dragged toward the car by his ticket book, took one look at me and circled back to get a wheelchair.

It was an inauspicious start to my big adventure, and seeing as I was wearing most of my luggage, Bernadette and the commissar literally had to pry me from the car. Things like my stone age, fake-fur and suede parka -- good for former Soviet republics in the dead of winter -- were way too big to pack. It's safe to say, I was somewhat overdressed for Victoria's comparatively mild climate.

I buckled into deluxe accommodation for the long-haul. Preflight champagne was offered. The bubbly felt great, doing some kind of tango with the analgesics already coursing through my bloodstream. I couldn't refuse a refill. Heavens, it would have been rude! The plane hadn't left the terminal, and I was already flying. Nothing to do but change planes in ten hours and a million miles from home. Until then, someone else was doing the driving. I cherished that feeling of not being in charge. Of knowing there was nothing I could do. I felt the luggage doors slam and the wide-body-heavy push back onto the taxiway. Destination set. Decisions made. There was no turning back. I mercifully relinquished control to the flight crew, the champagne, and fate. It was the last time in my life I would ever feel that way.

Earth's terminator at sunrise from the edge of space photo elenameg.com

[Image 4-2] Earth's terminator or twilight zone, seen by Meg from the edge of space somewhere over Europe on the morning of February, 16, 2006.

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By the time I landed at a gargantuan German hub, my ankle had swollen into an exquisitely painful, boot sized ball of blood, bone and tendon. Ahead of me sprawled miles of airport before I could even think of finding a place to drop my bahookie. The able-bodied poured around me. I was a slow motion, three-legged mastodon in a stampede from a wildfire.

"Achtung!" meeeep meeeep, blared from behind.

"Yikes!" Plant crutches. Hop on good foot. Gasp in pain. Swing hips. And repeat.

"You! To where are you going?" A smartly uniformed woman on a golf cart demanded.

"Uh, Kyiv?" What business was it of hers?

"You speak English. Yes!"

I tried to clear a path for her golf cart.

"Halt! Sprechen, to where are you needing to go?" She dismounted. "To flight? To customs? To duty free, perhaps?"

"Duty free?" I wondered aloud. Next thing I knew, Frau Efficiency had me manhandled onto the back of her cart and speeding toward a cavernous shopping area. I might have been thinking of some light reading and Skittles, not overpriced perfume and a home entertainment system, so I pointed at the one part of the duty free emporium I might find remotely interesting. Books!

Tawdry novels. Easy reads for the long haul. True life disasters. Ghostwritten memoirs of dot-com glory kings, blah, blah, bl--!? Wait a minute. Bottom shelf, something about wind and being close to it. Probably a lot of wind, like The Perfect Storm. I love stuff like that! Give me a cracking-great survival story and I'm a happy passenger. Couldn't reach it, so I hooked the only copy out with a crutch.

And there it was, fate lying on the floor, staring me right in the face. Close to the Wind by Pete Goss. Not a survival story, per se, but a round-the-world, solo yacht-race memoir. Come to think of it; yeah, it was a survival story after all. Little did I know, back then.

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Outskirts of Kyiv Ukraine from 5000 feet up photo elenameg.com

[Image 4-3] Descending to 5000 feet, the outskirts of Kyiv appear to rise from the steppe like a geological formation.

Descending through five-thousand feet, then banking into a rate-one turn, an infinite, white-marble slab tilted toward my window. A snowy landscape riven with battleship-grey imperfections: roads, sloughs, trees, creeks, buildings. All of it, crystalline, inhuman, perfectly still. Frozen. The density of buildings sliding by under the aircraft increased. And then, a colossal, cellular structure laced together by a circulatory system of vague capillary trails, arterial roads and gleaming axon rails. Ahh, Kyiv!

Aerial view of downtown Kyiv Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 4-4] Meg was lucky to see Downtown Kyiv from the air during her plane's approach to Boryspil (Kyiv's international airport) to the south of the city. Toward the lower edge of the frame, the tombstone shaped area, with roads radiating away from it, is the famed Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), focal point of the bloody 2014 Ukrainian revolution that brought down the Russian puppet government of Viktor Yanukovych.

The Boeing kissed a runway at Kyiv's Boryspil International airport and rolled to a stop so far from the terminal, I thought we'd run out of petrol! Either that, or it had frozen solid. It was so bloody cold that inhaling too fast froze my nostrils shut. Outside customs, a driver met and escorted me through an ice-field-like car park to an idling saloon. All the cars out there had their motors running. The ones that didn't, looked like they never would. They might as well have been glacial erratics.

Borispol International Airport, Kyiv Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 4-5] Meg knew she was in trouble when her plane came to a stop nowhere near Kyiv's Boryspil International Airport. The puddles to the left of the frame are not melting snow but de-icing fluid.

Across from a flat I'd arranged near the centre of town, loomed a monolithic, Kafkaesque-like building. The word, PROKURATURA stood out on slabs of black granite above a phalanx of medieval, wooden doors. PROKURATURA, by the way, means prosecutor. In this case, The General Prosecutor of Ukraine. It was with the people in that dark satanic mill that the buck stopped, or the hryvnya, or the gold, or the scotch, or the bullet. Absolutely perfect, I thought, getting out of the car. Adventure!

Offices of the General Prosecutor of Ukraine entrance doors in Kyiv, Ukraine photo elenameg.com

[Image 4-6] Entrance to the offices of the General Prosecutor of Ukraine and focal point of countless protests, desperate pleas, and shady deals.

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An hour before Elena's arrival, a sleek, late-model car pulled up beneath the flat's kitchenette window. I watched a glowing ember levitate behind the windscreen. Finally, a mobile display revealed a ghostly face sucking on a gasper. Seconds later, my own mobile rang.

30 stories of Soviet Stainless Steel Defend the Ukrainian Motherland photo elenameg.com

[Image 4-7] The Motherland is undoubtedly Kyiv's most prominent modern landmark. However, superstition won out when Mother's sword was truncated several metres to keep it shorter than the tallest church spire.

It could have been the jet lag, or the excitement of my very last steps toward a mysterious Russian, but the trip back to the airport felt a lot longer than the ride into town.

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Elena's flight from Moscow was late. Typical! Eventually, bleary-eyed passengers began pouring down a tiled ramp from customs. Incidently, it was the same ramp I descended several hours earlier. If I'd been nervous then, I was ten times more so by the time the flow of travellers emerging from customs had slowed to a trickle. And still, there was no sign of Elena.

Finally, whoosh, creak, clank. The doors at the top of the ramp opened and there she was. Taller than I expected, but wearing the coat she'd texted about. She looked like her pictures, except that now she was real! She had a small suitcase in tow. Its wheels sounded like a ram-jet on the tiled floor. She was grinning, glancing one way then the other, head swinging around. Eyes focusing above the crowd, looking without seeing. Then she turned her head and stared into the wall beside the ramp. It was like she couldn't look into yet another expectant, nervous, pleading face without recognising it.

Within the throng of hugging, hand-shaking, boisterous arrivals, her ramjet suitcase fell silent. I watched her standing there, slowly scanning the crowd. Elena looked like a terrified gazelle in tall grass full of lions. It was as though she looked at everyone but me. Maybe she had seen me and was looking for a way back onto the plane.

But then, our eyes met, and her face lit up with a brilliant flash of recognition, a smile, then a huge grin. Her ramjet suitcase roared back to life and there she was, right in front of me. I was face to face with this incredible force, the source of all those words and ideas that had so moved me by their electronic echo. Now, for the first time, I heard her dark, strong voice for real. All we could do was stand in that moment, taking each other in.

Eventually, we moved without words. Neither of us speaking. Both of us beaming. With great care, as though testing thin ice, and without taking our eyes off each other, we walked together into the cold Ukrainian night.

The heroic city of Kyiv, Ukraine, motorway sign, photo elenameg.com

[Image 4-8] The Heroic city of Kyiv sign adorns the motorway from Boryspil Airport into the metropolis itself.

[[ 2022-07-07 23:52 GMT ]]