Tag Archives: airports

Buddy movies never go like this

A guy, his wife, his mother, and 25 million frozen sperm go for a road trip to Portland. No, it’s not the beginning of a joke. I took a road trip to Portland with my wife, my mother, and a million frozen sperm. Just for kicks, really. Okay, not for kicks. If it could have been avoided I would have, trust me, avoided it like the plague, like . . . oh, forget it. Who would wish such an event on themselves? But I’ll at least start at the beginning.

Some gentle readers may recall that we’ve tried this whole conception thing before, specifically last fall. It did not take, so we’re trying again, many months and lab results and sonograms later. Whereas the delivery fella from FedEx was uncomfortably cavalier the first time, on this occasion he was terse, almost gruff. It seemed he was frustrated with our incapacity to already be pregnant so he didn’t have to haul the 22-pound thermos to our doorstep.

“Good morning,” he said to me, loudly, with twelve minutes left before post meridian would take over. I’m glad he wished me a good 12 minutes. It was almost like he was casting his bet to Drew Carey from Contestant’s Row, but with no enthusiasm.

I didn’t really know what to say back to him, so I kind of nodded and kind of grunted a salutation.

“Guess I’m back here again,” he said, relishing in my humiliation, or something. I could have told him he was being redundant, throwing the shame of the moment onto him, but I was more interested in just completing our little transaction and having a door between us, as it was meant to be.

I hauled the plastic container inside. My mother, who was visiting us, took one look at it and suddenly seemed touched.

“Aw, it’s like a little robot,” she said.

I rolled my eyes at her, even as I appreciated her support.

Truth be told, our little million friends were joining us late; they were supposed to arrive the previous Saturday, but the bank in San Francisco hadn’t sent them out, and were horrified on Monday morning when I called to inquire. In their haste to make things right they reversed all of the shipping charges, which trust me, were plenty expensive, and promised we’d have them on Tuesday morning. So with a dozen minutes remaining, we had just gotten our guaranteed delivery.

I had disclosed to my mother earlier about our attempts at creating what Susanne still called a “parasitic fetus,” changing this to “baby” when I communicated with Mom so that she wouldn’t worry about our hearts being in the right place about this. Mom was on board and excited, as was Susanne’s mother when she was told of our plans. I actually wonder if there isn’t a room in her house, back in the Midwest, where all sorts of toys and clothing and supplies are piling up in expectation of our announcement that we’re having a child, because she seems that thrilled about it. But as we’re 2,600 miles away, we’re not privy to any potential hoarding, and we’re not about to ask.

Also, we considered it bad timing that my Mom’s visit was coinciding with the probable ovulation date, but I at least was willing to stick my fingers in my ears and shout, “blah blah blah” to pretend there weren’t any strange boundaries being crossed. Mom and Susanne really just seemed to prefer that I not discuss the issue with either of them.

So there we were, all standing around in the foyer, looking at our friend the robot with his little stash of swimming life-bearers. Should all sperm feel so attended to. Or not.

An ultrasound the day before this delivery indicated that we should attempt to knock Susanne up at precisely 11AM on Wednesday. This was not convenient news, as my Mom’s flight back home was scheduled for 12:15PM on Wednesday, out of Portland Airport, 3 and a half hours’ drive from here. So our options went from uncomfortable to awful to worse. We could, it appeared, pick from the following:

1. I could take Mom out to Portland and Susanne could do the whole kit and kaboodle herself, back at home. That was a non-starter.

2. I could take Mom out to Portland really super early and speed right back and do the deed. Grossly unrealistic, and risky, in terms of my driving at the end of the 8-hour round trip, and then being able to see my hands in front of me to know what I was doing back in Walla Walla.

3. We could take the robot and entrails along with us to Portland, stay the night, take Mom to the airport, and attempt to conceive in the hotel room.

We picked the last option, feeling like the first two were really just red herrings.

I broke the news to Mom, who was fine with it. “Well, you have to do what you have to do,” she said. I figured no matter the situation, it was pretty much always a little weird anyway.

Susanne had taken to calling it the Bargain Baby, because it was half off with the free shipping and all. That would be her kind of baby. I told her we couldn’t ever tell a child we’d called it that. She questioned my commitment to frugality. I attempted to reassure her.

multnomah falls, oregonReceipt of robot completed, our plan swung into action. I had already loaded up the car with everything else—foodstuffs for the trip, our suitcases, laptop computers, a pillow, and an updated iPod. Down Route 12 we traveled, out to the gorge west of Walla Walla, Lowden, and Touchet, along the banks of the Columbia, the deep blue water coursing through red rock covered in sage brush that stretched to the cloudless sky. It was a nice farewell to my mother’s visit, direct from Washington State, the Pretend Evergreen State. Mom oohed and ahed at the landscape but noted how lonely it looked out here. I agreed.

Susanne, for her part, slept almost the whole trip, until we pulled over at Mulnomah Falls just outside Portland. We walked around, and I tried not to think about everything in the trunk. Of the car, that is.

We’d driven so long, and not eaten much, so by the time we made it from our airport hotel to an Italian eatery in the Hollywood neighborhood, everything tasted like heaven. I nearly ate the table, just for the fiber.

“Oh, isn’t this marinara sauce wonderful,” asked my mother.

“It really is,” said Susanne, agreeing exuberantly. Jesus, we were eating cheese toast with red sauce. You’d have thought it was black truffle on top of foie gras and drizzled with saffron oil and Beluga caviar. But wow did it taste good.

Coming back to our hotel we settled in for some laptopping and crossword puzzling time. We slept like rocks until, at 5:30, with the sky still in stubborn nightfall, there came a great rumbling from the room above. Smash, went the ceiling. Pound, pound, pound, pound, said the heavy-footed occupant upstairs. It was like an elephant practicing her catwalk. Back and forth, back and forth. My mother sent me to the front desk. I looked a sight, with dark bags under my eyes, my face somewhat puffy, dried drool on my cheek, and my hair pointing in so many directions I looked like that guy from She Blinded Me with Science.

“Hi,” I announced. This is where telepathy would have been handy, but darn it, I had to use words.

“Hi,” he said. I could only guess at his expectation for why I was standing in front of him with an inside-out t-shirt and dingy Old Navy pajama pants.

“The person in the room above us is very loud, and has woken up my mother. Next my wife will be up. Please help.”

I probably should have explained my predicament in a different, better way, but he seemed to understand enough.

“Are you sure it’s the room directly above you?”

This was not a question I’d anticipated. I didn’t really even understand it, come to think of it. “What other room would it be?”

“You know, maybe it’s to one side or the other.”

Well, screw me for not memorizing the building blueprints before selecting this gem of a hotel on Priceline. I thought about the pounding noises.

“No, it was directly above us, right in front of where the beds would be.”

“Okay, I’ll take care of it,” he assured me.

I reported back to my bunkmates. There was hardly any way our circumstances could have been more awkward.

Susanne, who was of course awake after all of this, remarked that no way would the front desk knock on the door of the prancing pounder. She had worked at a hotel, and no way would she ever have checked on someone in a room unless she heard screams of bloody murder. But lo and behold, a few minutes later, the pacing ceased, and we went back to sleep for a time.

And then we needed to get Mom to the airport, which was around a corner, down a street, next to a highway, make another turn, and voila! Kisses and hugs goodbye, chirps of “what a wonderful visit” and “good luck with robot,” and then we were back in the car, making our way, making our way, making, our, uh oh, we missed a turn. And then another turn. And somehow we were at IKEA, and wow, 4 grand, 64 indecipherable instruction sheets, 2,387 tiny screws and dowels, and 28,291 swear words later, I hate IKEA. Especially when I’m trying to get to the frigging airport hotel so I can impregnate my wife. This is exactly when I am seriously not interested in buying an $89 POANG chair.

We needed to admit we were stressing out. Susanne gruffly suggested I call 411 and get directions from the airport to the airport hotel. Who was I to argue?

Finally, we pulled into the parking spot we’d left earlier that morning. Eleven o’clock was our time to trot, and it was 10:49. We raced back to the room, and I took off my shoes, because of course shoes would inhibit bargain baby robot creation. Susanne pointed to the storage container. Almost invisible, hanging loosely around the metal clasp, reveling in its securityness, was a thin plastic cuff. We had remembered to bring oven mitts to get at the vial in the frozen nitrogen—not wanting to sacrifice fingers to the cause—but we’d forgotten scissors. I scratched at it with a key.

I might as well have been trying to scratch my way out of Alcatraz. This was not the Shawshank Redemption.

I returned to the front desk. There was a new employee there, a young woman. Maybe I would impress her with my street clothes, since I’d changed out of my sleep wear.

She was reticent to lend me scissors, but I must have looked just pleading and pathetic enough. I went back upstairs and cut the plastic. Victory! I turned back to the door.

“Wait, there’s another one.”

Thank goodness one of us had some intelligence. I cut the second cuff. Back downstairs, return the scissors, back upstairs, sweating and really not in the mood for any of this nonsense anymore. I donned the mitts and opened the tank inside and pulled out the vial holder thingy, and . . . .

THERE WAS NO VIAL.

Now then, at this point, to say we were on our last nerve would be a bit of an understatement. I believe I screamed, and I believe I heard Susanne take in such a quantity of air as to resemble any kind of animal that has great lung capacity, and no, I would never call my lovely wife a whale. But a large lobed lungfish, maybe.

I plunged my mitt in again and pulled out the whole canister, and dumped it upside down on the desk, freezing the fake leather blotter, as the vial tumbled out. Screw you anyway, fake leather blotter. I put all the robot bits back and let the vial thaw on the desk. It was 11:06.

Finally, we were back on the road home, having made our checkout time of noon, and we enjoyed the sun and the light traffic as we sped through the rainforest side of Oregon.

We like the trees.

Rice-a-Roni

people on the sidewalk with umbrellasInitially we debated whether to stay up or sleep for three hours, because our flight left at 5:56AM from an airport an hour away. We suspected we had lost our minds somewhere along the way, and then opted to sleep.

For those out there not so educated on this, hearing a clock alarm blare at 3 in the morning is like having a woodpecker attempt to find sustenance in one’s right ear. Definitely not the left ear, and if you feel that, you should call your doctor quickly. I stood up, not sure why, teetering just a little, because I suspect I was only using my lizard brain, waiting for things like my frontal lobe and memory of self to come online.

Susanne was more than happy for me to take the first shower. She’s a clever one.

I remembered to step into the tub, which was orders of magnitude more intelligent of me than I had been just 30 seconds earlier. I knew I was getting on a plane, although I still wasn’t sure why. By the time the water had hit my skin and I realized I needed greatly warmer water, I could recall every second of my life again.

San Francisco, Susanne’s politics wonk conference. My time to explore a place I’d never before seen, but had heard about for years.

It’s mythological, legendary, about lots of people, but certainly for people who have “teh ghey.” Would it be a nonstop Folsom Street Fair, with nary a stitch of clothing because everyone was decked out in leather and rubber and spandex? Would I see lines of rainbow flags, heralding in ships to the Bay? Was there a gay trumpeter? There had to be a gay trumpeter.

I jest, but some of this wondering is serious. When Susanne and I took a weekend trip to New Hope, Pennsylvania in the spring of 2006, I told her to expect a lot of gayness. I’d grown up across the Delaware River and hung out there a lot in high school, usually around the record store and a short line of shops next to the river. I was there for the comradery of friends, true, but I noticed that there were a lot of references to this alternative lifestyle, as I remember it being called then.

Susanne told her friends about our upcoming trip, and one of them who was also from the area, remarked that she’d never noticed any such thing. She was kind enough to stop short of saying I was making it all up, but I’m pretty sure she thought it.

room in new hope, PASo we showed up at the bed and breakfast that was around the corner from the main thoroughfare, The Wishing Well. The manager greeted us with bear hugs and a high-pitched, “Hulloooo! Welcome to New Hope!” He went on to tell us, excitedly, that we were the first guests of the day and if we wanted, we could sneak around the house to check out all of the rooms before settling into ours.

“But of course, you’re in the nicest room,” he said, practically gushing, “the Cathedral Room!”

Before I knew it, I had oohed. I looked at Susanne. Her jaw hung open a little, as she took in the lovely aura of the B&B. The gay aura.

We unpacked and freshened up a little, and still being a new couple at the time, took some time to check each other’s breath. And then we walked to the first cluster of stores. One was charmingly named Suzy’s Hot Shop, so of course I beseeched Susanne to pose for a snapshot, which she was kind enough to do, even as she gave me a withering look, eternally now captured on film. We decided to check out the store.

The proprietor was happy to have customers on what was still a frigid day, and she apparently needed more human contact than she was getting, because she went on about her girlfriend and their two dogs for what seemed like half an hour. We bought a small bottle of Ecuadorian tabasco sauce, and waved goodbye.

“Okay, it’s a pretty gay town,” said Susanne. Next up was a chocolate shop, the man behind the counter flitting and making a happy fuss to show us the freshest chocolates he’d just made that morning. He only seemed bereft of a feather boa, and he could have gone through half the music of La Cage Aux Folles* for us.

We shopped through a few more places, coming back to our B&B for a rest before dinner. I asked our host for recommendations. He led us to The Raven, a fine dining establishment. Many potted plants set near tall mirrors lined the walls, and the two-level dining room was decked out in many, many flower centerpieces and long white tablecloths. We looked around at the diners and it was as if we’d taken the Hot Tub Time Machine to 1976, East Village. I think everyone in there was gay or lesbian. They seemed mostly segregated, the women with each other and the men likewise, although there were a few daring sort who had gone for a mix at their tables. And they were all, every single one of them, over 40. We took our seats and enjoyed a fine, if not fantastic, dinner, a little on the edge of being over-gayed or gayed-out. For those who don’t know what this is like, one wants in these moments, usually, to find a traditional gendered outfit that is also mature or even dowdy (because a pink frilly dress won’t do here), and some country music sung by a man about a woman. Or one could simply make a trip home and all feelings of gay freedom will cease immediately.

But we weren’t quite there yet. We were still amused and to some degree, in shock. I had said the place was gay. I hadn’t say it was a gay explosion.

So I’ve always thought, I suppose, that if New Hope is gay, then San Francisco is sequin-squirting, pink frilly lei, Cher and Madonna GAAAAAAAY. Having gotten to the end of my 30s is as good a time as any to find out, I figured. How nice for Susanne’s discipline to select this city as this year’s conference site.

This, all this, was why I was standing in an off-temperature shower at 3AM. To see if I could surpass New Hope.

We put ourselves together about as well as two people can on three hours of sleep, and I plugged the iPod into the car so that I’d have something other than engine and road to listen to as I drove through utter darkness to the airport. We parked in the long-term lot which is laughably 10 feet and a fence from the short-term lot, and dragged our bags up to the security checkpoint. The TSA officer asked if I needed any help putting my toiletries into a quart-sized bag, and I showed her my pre-made bag. We must have been the only regular travelers that morning, because she visibly relaxed. I wondered if there was anyone left who hasn’t flown post 9/11.

I found out the answer almost immediately.

We boarded our flight, setting our bags on the rack next to the Canadair regional jet, and took our seats, neither of us caring that our necks didn’t like sleeping while sitting. A woman came on after us and clearly had not flown often in her lifetime, and most definitely not in the last 8 years. She had sixteen questions for the stewardess, blocking other people who were trying to board. She sat in her window seat, next to a woman who clearly had difficulty getting up and down. Five minutes later she had another question for the flight attendant, so she got up again. And then she sat down again. And then she got up again, this time to take the open seats behind us. I pretended to be asleep.

Right before we landed in California she tugged on my sleeve from behind. I had actually fallen asleep, apparently.

“Yes,” I asked.

“We’re so low but we’re still over water,” she said anxiously.

“It’s okay,” I said. Again, I wasn’t really in full control of my faculties yet.

“But why,” she asked. She looked mid-30s to me, but maybe she was 6. Maybe she was Benjaminette Button.

“It’s a water approach,” said Susanne, and Susanne is so nice you really have to know her to know she sounds annoyed.

This woman clearly had no idea what water approach meant, and probably figured it meant we were going to pull a Hudson River landing on her.

“The land will start before we touch ground,” I said, smiling so she knew we should all remain calm.

“Oh.”

That little bit of inanity over, we grabbed our bags and cabbed it to the hotel. I saw a sign for San Jose to our south. The song played in my head for the rest of the day.

And now, I’m off to see just how gay this city really is.

*As an aside, I saw La Cage Aux Folles with my mom and sister when I was 15, and I was just amazed that they could get Joan Rivers and Cher in the same performance. And then my mom told me they were all men, and blew my little mind.

Holiday trains, planes, and automobiles

Detroit Metro AirportThe lack of proximity between purchasing airline tickets and actually getting onto an airplane has not served us well this year. Susanne, in early October, had her face buried in her laptop screen. “What do you think about this flight,” she asked, her eyes mere inches from the glowing pixels, “it’s a really good price.”

“How good,” I asked, leaning over. “Oh, that is good.”

“But it’s a red eye,” she said.

“But the price,” I said.

Abstractly, I understood that it was a middle-of-the-night flight. I do, after all, have a very successful track record with surviving the middle of the night, even if I’m usually asleep for it.

“It’s three legs,” she said, sounding less confident.

I responded by ignoring her fears. “It’s always at least two, hon,” I said, a little too cheerfully. She should have understood right then that I was just blinded by my thriftiness and rethought our approach. But perhaps Susanne was seeing little stars of savings, too.

We sent our credit card numbers through the information superhighway and were rewarded with an email confirming we had just purchased our way to visiting friends and family for the holidays. And then went about our daily routine, forgetting all about it.

And then we were driving, in late December, to the airport. We had an 8 o’clock fight to Seattle, a multi-hour layover, and then a midnight flight to Minneapolis, followed by another couple of hours in that airport, and then a morning flight to Detroit.

What a horrible itinerary! Who had done this to us?

We had. We had done this to ourselves.

We drove by the bad broccoli plant, which for its part sent us an intense putrid odor as a parting shot for departing Walla Walla. Every time we’ve left before, the city has done some kind of stick-its-tendrils-into-us to slow us down. What would it be this time, I wondered, trying not to breathe as I drove past the paper mill. It just loved us so much it wanted to stay in our nostrils.

On the first plane, the flight attendant told us happily that we’d be making a stop in Yakima on our way to Seattle. This meant we were splitting the trip into two 25-minute segments. Never going about 15,000 feet, we stopped like a bus at the Yakima airport and five people joined our flight. About ten minutes away from Seattle, the worst stench of gastrointestinal distress invaded my olfactory nerves. I looked at Susanne and mouthed, “was that you?”

She shook her head no emphatically. We tried to breathe as little as we could, having just practiced this outside the paper mill. The flight attendant empathized with us, as she was also stuck at the very back of the plane with us and the killer fart. As we rolled into the gate, they put two staircases up to the fuselage, and the flight attendant, knowing our plight, told us we could just take the one in the back, two feet behind our seats. We walked the length of the terminal toward our next gate. Having cleared our heads, our stomachs started rumbling, and we decided to get dinner.

The waiter asked what we wanted. As we were in a tap house and pub, we each ordered a wheat beer. He plunked them down on the table, announcing last call.

“When do you close,” I asked.

“In 30 minutes,” he said.

We drank our beers and ate our greasy food quickly, rushing off to the shuttle train to our next terminal and departure gate. I could feel the reuben sloshing around in my tipsy stomach, but we had some time to relax before the red eye. The Seattle airport has free wifi, which seems nice until one notices that it has next to no power outlets. What teases. We wandered around looking for a free outlet, to no avail. And the people who had already juiced up weren’t offering to unplug, even for a little while. This made me wonder if:

1. everyone had terrible laptop batteries that wouldn’t hold a charge

2. they hated Christmas and were hogging the electricity just to be nasty

3. they were inattentive, oblivious Northwesterners

So we booted up my laptop, sharing it between us and hoping to model good behavior for all of the manners-impaired strangers in the terminal. Somehow I think it didn’t make any difference.

We piled on to the red eye, hoping for a smooth enough, unoffensively smelling enough flight that we could catch some sleep before getting into the Twin Cities. Susanne conked out on my shoulder quickly, but I have trouble staying asleep while sitting up, so I watched the people around me slumber instead, some snoring, some with their jaws hanging open while doing so. And I realized that it’s no wonder why people eat a good number of bugs over the years.

Landing after the red eye, we were somewhat dismayed to discover we still weren’t there yet.

Our next gate was a little ways down from a Caribou Coffee. A family of three each had a drink from there, and they looked so happy, like a live advertisement for the wonderful things coffee can do for you, too. Have an impressive blonde son and snappily dressed trophy wife! Enjoy endless energy and increase your income potential with our frozen vanilla frappuccinos!

“I’m going to get some coffee,” said Susanne, standing up. “Would you like anything?”

I stared at the happy people. Happy people. I wanted to go to there. I nodded at her.

“Okay, what would you like?”

My voice, exhausted, came out in a whisper.

“A frosty mcfrosterson,” I said.

“A what?”

I pointed at the 4-year-old toe head. “Mocha,” I squeaked.

“Is there anything else you want, like some caramel flavor or hazelnut?”

Why was she making this so difficult? I said frosty mcfrosterson! Just understand what I want! I’m perfectly clear!

That was what I thought. But what I said was:

“Mocha!”

“Okay,” she said, now talking to me as if I were only 4. “Do you want anything to eat?”

I shook my head no.

She came back a really long time later that equaled something like 7 minutes, and I sucked back my frozen mocha in a few gulps. The caffeine hit me like a Boxing Day tsunami. Maybe that’s exaggerating and trivializing. Okay, it hit me like really bad flatulence, except it was so good. And not odiferous in any way. I was suddenly, powerfully awake.

I typed things, I texted people. I was online and sending status updates to anyone who cared. In the very narrow band of things that could be remotely productive while sitting in an airport waiting to catch one’s third flight in 12 hours, I was a king of getting shit done.

Susanne seemed to be buzzing, too. She asked if she should get us a bagel and cream cheese. That sounded like a terrific idea! Sure! Get us 14 bagels!

She found some organic-pretends-to-be-French bakery and got us a hemp bagel. I had no idea people ate hemp. Wasn’t it reserved for scratchy rope and reusable shopping bags? Would we get high from eating this?

We did not get high, which was good, given that we were already loopy. But I did discover that hemp seeds can get caught pretty easily between one’s teeth. Good life experience to note, I guess.

Finally, at long last, we were on our last flight. Only two hours and forty-eight minutes to Detroit. The flight was uneventful.

Our bags were not on the belt. I lined up in a long queue for lost luggage, not confident that I could explain what had happened with any degree of clarity, or words, even. Probably I would just wave my arms a lot and point to my claim tag bar codes, and hope that would suffice for them. I was a raving mad man, a very tired raving mad man. So maybe I wasn’t raving. I was a raved, farted on, ear-drum deafened, sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, hemp-eating mad man.

Three people before I reached the front of the line Susanne tapped me on the shoulder and told me she’d found her bag on one random luggage belt and mine on another. I trudged out to the car, brought thankfully by her cousin and husband, who came with the car as part of a package driving deal, and didn’t ask how our bags wound up on the opposite end of the baggage claim area. I didn’t care anymore.

We rode 90 minutes to Susanne’s parents’ house, had a cup of tea, and took a 3-hour nap. We had crossed 17 hours, three flights, four airports, one train, two commutes, one really bad cheese cutting incident, two bad meals, one hurried pint of hefeweisen, and three increasingly inarticulate conversations. We woke up at 5:30pm Eastern time, which felt like 2:30 to us, kind of, since I think I never actually saw the sun the whole day, and really, I didn’t even know what day it was anymore.

But hell, it only cost us $525 a ticket.

Should old acquaintance be forgot

Christmas Day, or rather, the last 45 minutes of it, were spent happily and wearily exchanging presents with my sister, her daughters, my best friend, Susanne, and my sister’s friend. Also in attendance were three dogs, two cats, and a very helpful hot tub in the back yard. Backing up to the morning, though. . .

The snow was coming down sideways. Quite unlike the movie of the same name. We had pulled into a Days Inn near the airport, but it wasn’t the Days Inn we thought it was, it was the bastard younger brother Days Inn, aka the Place to Have One’s Affair. A lovely wall length mirror stood proudly behind the bed, opposite another mirror, so that if desired, one could see oneself into actual infinity, doing whatever it was one chose to do with such an uh, hotel amenity. We did, more excitingly for us, have the benefit of cable television, and could finally catch up with Top Chef, since this was, of course, the first thing a person would want to watch after a week and a half with no television.

I shuffled out to the car and took off the latest 4 inches of snow. Susanne had checked the status of our flight before we headed to the airport 3 miles away. We slip-slided away and walked into the tiny but functional Spokane airport. Sitting on the tarmac, waiting for our flight to take off, we had no idea what lay ahead of us. I thought I was the smartest traveler in Walla Walla County. We sat on the tarmac, waiting to be de-iced, just 5 or 10 minutes, according to the pilot. And we sat. Sat, through the anti-icing, which will just take a few minutes, folks, and then we’ll be on our way. Someone please tell me the difference between de-ice and anti-ice. Isn’t de-icing, by definition, an anti-icing process?

We contined to sit. Our flight, which had been scheduled to take off at 6:15, actually lifted off at 7:30. We landed at Salt Lake City airport at 9:45 (losing an hour to the time zone change), precisely 5 minutes before our connection was due to depart, two gates over. Two gates. Roughly 100 feet apart. I could have teleported myself from our first aircraft to the gate and I would not have been fast enough. On Christmas, knowing 5 people from our flight were scheduled on the connection to JFK, Delta chose to leave the gate. Christ. Mas. An unhelpful gate agent pointed vaguely to the airport in response to my question about where we were now supposed to go. I told them directly that I found them thusly unhelpful and that I needed a more indicative answer, and was told “between gates 3 and 4.”

The space between gates 3 and 4 was not altogether unlike the magical train station stop 9 3/4 to catch the train to Hogwarts. A mythical space that you must find on faith alone. A small red laser told us what no person could:

1. that we had been bestowed with a $7 meal voucher from Delta Airlines, for our trouble

2. that our reassigned tickets would depart for JFK at 4:55pm, or, if you did the math, 7 hours later

My heart and my brain quickly worked out a deal wherein my heart would continue to beat if my brain could find a way out of this morass. In the meantime my face turned a holiday-inspired yet unfriendly shade of red. Susanne told me she would hang out in some chairs about 30 feet away while I talked to the staffer who had already done enough wrong in her job to warrant getting stuck working on Christmas morning.

She looked at our boarding passes, then looked at me with a blank stare that suggested she was actually an android, devoid of all feeling, caring, or sympathy for lowly humans like me. “That’s the next flight to JFK,” she said. She actually sounded like the robot in Small Miracle. See, child actors can make something of themselves! They can be gate attendants working on major holidays!

“That can’t be the next flight,” I argued, “that’s 7 hours from now. My watch had just ticked past 10:03am.

“No, that’s it,” she said.

“Can you at least type something into your keyboard so I feel like you’re looking for me?”

She obliged. “No. Nothing to JFK.”

“Have you looked at other airlines?”

“Yes.”

“What about Newark — EWR?”

“4:55.”

Okay, we were going to have to play 20 questions.

I rattled off other airports. “Philadelphia? IAD? BWI? LaGuardia? National Airport?”

“BWI — 4:55pm, Dulles, 4:35pm, Philly, 5:10pm, we don’t fly to LaGuardia today.”

“Hartford, Albany? There has to be something to the east coast.”

“There’s nothing to the east coast until this evening.” This was punctuated with a sigh. I must be so annoying to her right now.

“Look, I understand you don’t want to be here today,” I began, but she cut me off.

“Oh, I’m only here for the next hour, and then I get to go home.”

“Oh, then we’ll join you for our Christmas,” I exclaimed.

She was having none of it.

“Look,” I said, “my sister had major back surgery two days ago, and is now lying in bed unable to do anything and she needs me. I have to get out there sooner than this. You people sent the plane away early on Christmas! Do something for me here. This $7 meal voucher and flight 7 hours from now is not acceptable.”

She actually shrugged. Apparently not just on Christmas, flights don’t go out of Salt Lake until the late afternoon. I pointed to the people all around us.

“What the hell are they all here for then? They just want to show up early on CHRISTMAS because they love this airport?”

“I don’t know why they’re here.”

Wow. What this woman didn’t know could fill an airplane hangar.

“What about connections to New York? Do you go through Chicago?”

I said Chicago because it wasn’t on the east coast, because it was big, and because I have heard of it before. I said it before thinking about how I’ve run through it before, when I had two good knees and 40 fewer pounds to carry on my body. I regretted it before I said it, and my heart was like, “Brain, you are sucking with this negotiation crap right now!”

She started clicking the keys, mostly for her own amusement. “There’s a flight to O’Hare at 11am, connecting to JFK, arriving at 8:59pm.”

That was 2.5 hours before our other tickets showed we would arrive. I told her to reissue the tickets.

I walked over to Susanne, victorious. We might actually get 6 seconds of actual Christmas with the family. All this knowing that Christ’s birth probably happened in the summer anyway, but whatever. I won.

She looked at me and said quietly, “O’Hare?” Oh dear.

“It’ll be okay,” I promised, with absolutely no means to secure it.

It was, in fact, okay, if you take the version of “not awful, not good” for this use of the word. There were not enough free Delta cookies to make me feel better, even though our flights were on time and uneventful, and Susanne’s checked bag found us at the baggage claim in New York. To add insult to the long line of injury, Delta now no longer carries ginger ale. So now I’m hoping I someday throw up all over their planes because they didn’t have anything on board to quell my nausea, although I’m not nearly as motion-sickness prone as I was in my 20s.

My sister’s friend had sent a Chrysler sedan for us, so we drove up to her house in the roomiest car I could imagine existing at the end of this awful day. And then there was a last car ride from her house to my sister’s, and then we had the picturesque, if not hurried, present exchange moment. A couple of sweet butterscotch shots later, we were in the hot tub, in the crisp Connecticut air, enjoying 23:57 of Christmas. No thanks to the airline industry.

One 22-pound turkey, piles of mashed potatoes, stuffing made from Mom’s recipe, creamed spinach, and New York style cheesecake later, on the next day (which we had “decreed” Christmas), things were in full swing. I kept my sister on top of her pain medication, since she really had had back surgery on December 23, and made such each night I hopped in the tub for soothing my frayed nerves. We took the nieces duckpin bowling, an east coast tradition, wandered around the mall with them, and went to my favorite restaurant, Kings, in New Town (see post from August in the tags).

Michael, Susanne and I drove down to DC a few days later, hoping that 2009 will be good to us. I know the Hindus say that Karma never takes place in the same lifetime, but if there could be some good to come out of the frustration of having a ruined holiday, I am ready for it, I promise.

Let’s hear it for 2009!

And away we go! And . . . away we go! Away we go!

 

Witch Hazel -- away she goes!

Witch Hazel -- away she goes!

 

 

The logic behind spending the night in a hotel near the Portland airport was obvious — we would be near the airport for our flight the next day. For while Susanne and I consider ourselves to be above average intelligence, we surely enjoy a good obvious moment. Sometimes what is right in front of one’s face proves elusive anyway, after all, despite the best intentions. Or road map.

Here is where our careful planning went wrong. More precisely, my careful planning. For while I traced our route from home to Powell’s bookstore, and from Powell’s to the nearest Burgerville, and from there to our airport hotel, I did not plan the route to the actual airport for the next morning. I figured, lazily, “it’s an airport hotel! How far will we have to go!”

Far, it seems, when one winds up driving around in circles. We could actually hear planes landing and taking off while we drove around a dark warehouse district. It would make sense for warehouses to set up near a hub of transportation, it’s true, but can’t these folks plant an airport sign or two?

We started off with a wakeup call at 5 a.m. that wouldn’t stop ringing until we’d picked up both phones in the room. Not sure if that’s brilliant or sadistic. We were operating on the premise that our flight was leaving at 6:45. Now I know the adage, since 9/11, that you’re supposed to leave two hours at the airport to get on your domestic flight, but come on, really?

Yes, Ev. Really.

So we’re driving around clueless at 5:48, knowing we’re right next to the darn airport. 

I come to a T intersection. There’s no street sign. We don’t know which way to go. So we try both options. I thought Susanne would know how to get there. She thought I would know how to get there. To say we were annoyed would be to grossly understate the situation.

I pull into a Howard Johnson’s, hoping I’m still in the city of Portland and haven’t somehow made my way down to Eugene. I hop inside and ask the concierge for the directions to the airport, in a way that clearly identifies me as a harried, stressed out, idiot of a person who is also not from this area. I brace for his answer, thinking the directions will look something like this:

orifice-c-equation

He tells me to take a right out of the parking lot, go down three lights, and make a left.

That’s it?

Even better, the name of the road just outside the parking lot is Airport Way.

I could hear giggling from somewhere. I’m not sure it’s real or not. Or if it’s coming from me.

We make our way to the airport, find the extended parking, and scramble to the shuttle, grabbing our bags and coats. I press blindly at the car lock thingie on my keychain, locking it up as I run to the shuttle.

We made it! Susanne pulls out our itinerary. Our flight’s at 6:30. Not 6:45. 6:30 is in 20 minutes.

We didn’t make it. The Northwest computer laughs at us as we try to check in. The Northwest rep at the counter is really helpful though, and books us on a nonstop flight, getting us into Detroit about half an hour earlier than we would have with our original itinerary. Which, for $200 in changing flights fees . . . is nice?

We settle into the airport for some breakfast, since now we’ll have time for that instead of $3 trail mix and Sierra Mist on the plane. Portland airport has free Wi-Fi. How cool! We pass the time reading useless email and playing Facebook games. Ten minutes before boarding Susanne goes to get an iced tea, and I stress out again as folks are called to board and I don’t see her. Then, unlike in a romantic dream sequence, I see her walking down the corridor, carrying her tea, seeing the queue for the gate, and frowning. Apparently it is Training Day at Starbucks, and we all know how that movie ends. We get on the plane, promptly fall asleep with our necks in such a contorted position that we can not look directly ahead for the rest of the day, and wake up 3.7 hours later in the frigid tundra known as Michigan.

And away we go, on the hour-plus ride to my in-laws. They already knew the way there, fortunately for us.

Back in the high life again

The airline industry is just not what it used to be. I know I’m not saying anything people don’t already know, but reading headlines about paying for each checked bag and not getting a tiny package of two mini-pretzels anymore is also not the same as living with the changes.

Take overhead containers on the planes themselves. There’s just no way to get your overnight bag in them, because everyone else’s overnight bags are already stuffed into them. I bet you could fit an olympic-sized swimming pool in the cargo areas at this point because all of our crap is sitting over our heads. Anything not to pay another $15 for a trip in a flying gas can.

I also want to ask: how much are the airlines saving on the peanuts and pretzels? Okay, okay, the answer is out there — $650,000. This multi-billion dollar industry is hurting, I understand, but when the flights are packed together and you’re hobbling through an airport on one bad leg and one that sounds like a bowl of Rice Crispies, with no time to get even the most depressing burger from Burger King Express (isn’t it already a scaled-down fast food restaurant? what the hell does “express” mean?), a bag of a few pretzels for your 5-hour flight is suddenly critically important. And sure, I could spend $9 on a cup of sulfurized fruit, yogurt, and granola, but the 10 hours of feeling stupid for paying top dollar for crap food doesn’t seem worth it.

After oversleeping past my 3:30 a.m. wake up, I groggily looked at my cell phone and screamed silently as I saw it was now 5:37. My flight was leaving Dulles Airport, site of the personally infamous 2005 Big Toe Mishap, 50 miles away from where I was. I cursed, stumbled to the computer and looked up the Airline’s customer service line. After 45 minutes of trying to explain I wanted to rebook my flight, I was told I had to go to the airport. Note to United Airlines: please redo your “help” protocol so you tell customers this information in the first 5 minutes and not the 45th!

I hopped in the rental car, along with the rest of the Beltway early morning rush hour traffic, and eventually I got to Dulles. I was happy to get on the plane, not so happy for the lack of leg room, and really not happy with my seatmate to the right. Seatmate to the Right had obviously showered not in water, as I hear is standard (see last post), but in tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil. She smelled like she’d screwed a koala, seriously, or like she was taking the best-defense-is-a-good-offense approach to the whole anti-perfume movement. I couldn’t even look out the window because putting my nostrils two inches closer to her body made me overwhelmed with the powerfully bad smell. It was like sitting next to an Aveda store after an earthquake. That flight was 5 and a half hours, people. Five and a half hours of TEA TREE OIL. And just to note — there is no bloody point to huffing tea tree oil, unless you want a bad headache in the middle of your forehead. So boys and girls, just say no to tea tree oil huffing, mkay?

My flight from Seattle to Spokane was less perfumatic, more turbulent. We had a flight attendant who had clearly previously been a performer at Cirque du Soleil, for she had amazing balance and control as the propellor plane dipped and weaved and bounced like it was Oscar de la Hoya in a fight. I could tell we were close to Walla Walla because

1. at 23,000 feet you can practically read the license plates on the cars below

2. I could almost smell the Bad Broccoli Plant

3. the wheat fields began appearing, like such:

 

wheat fields

wheat fields

Living in Washington for 8 weeks, it was almost familiar, though not really. But now I’m home, olfactory senses intact, big toe unbroken, and back in the arms of my honey.

Next post: getting through the Dulles Airport is a lot harder than it would seem to be.

%d bloggers like this: