Thursday, January 31, 2008

Comin' into Los Angeles, bringin' in a coupla keys

Well, not really. But Arlo Guthrie's words still have a ring to them after all these years.

Technically I completed my around the world trip some time this afternoon over Nevada when my inbound path crossed the trail I blazed almost 3 weeks ago. For the sake of argument, let's say it was over Las Vegas which appeared out my window around 2 PM. That city, sitting there in the sun blasted rock desert was a complete contrast to all the sights that came before as I wound my way home.

We got off a bit late because the fuel truck ran out while it was filling us up. Only 30 minutes and not worth getting steamed about because it's kind of funny when you think about it.

The plane was about 1/2 full and so I ended up with an entire window row to myself. What a treat, to be able to stretch out and enjoy the view without being trapped in the window seat.

Taking off from Dublin always illustrates why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. Bright green patchwork fields and meadows stretched as far as I could see. It was quite beautiful, and as it faded into the clouds, I was sad to be leaving a place I have really come to love.

I busied myself with crosswords, music and a movie and was dozing off when the pilot came on the air. Normally I ignore the public service announcements but this time I listened - Iceland was out the left side of the plane. Reykjavik was visible, something the pilot said was rare indeed. What a wondrous, snow clad place, white in all directions, that monotony broken only by beaded rivers leading down to the sea. Quite amazing.

About this time I was beginning to notice an odor problem that I figured was emanating from the nearby lav. Except that it had a consistency that did not track with people using the facilities. Seems either the gent behind or the lady ahead was having a bit of a gas problem. I took it for as long as I could before I gathered my gear and moved to an empty row on the other side of the plane, wondering how a person could in any way think that was acceptable behavior.

By now, the sky had cleared and we were flying over the frozen expanse of the great boreal forest. Labrador or northern Ontario was my guess, but I sketched a few of the myriad lakes for future refrence. It all became moot in a second, because I instantly knew where we were when Hudson Bay came into view. What an incredibly, desolate place. Nothing but snow and ice all the way out to the curve of the Earth. The streets of a small town were scratched out on the tundra, perhaps Churchill, Manitoba? I'll have to check. Unlike out great west which appears quite desolate from the air, this great area was unbroken by even the most rudimentary road or track.
It clouded up again and so my sightseeing was at an end until the skies cleared again over the great basin and familiar territory was once again on hand.

We started to descend into LAX and the first thing I thought of was how radicallly different this was from what I had seen only mere hours ago. Vast untouched tracks versus a place where every square meter was consumed. Frozen wastes and the balmy desert. From this position, I could see the Pacific, and realized I had seen both oceans in the span of a single day. We landed, I cleared Customs and made my way to terminal 1 for my Southwest connection. And here I was faced with the gritty reality of air travel in the US. I started my day facing a bank of several dozen Aer Lingus check-in kiosks, all hoping to be the one I would pick. No queues, no "out of service" messages. At Southwest, of the 20 available, 2 were working and an agent was having to fight with one of those. The queue was 40 people long and not moving. When I finally got up there, the agent have me some lip because I had not requested a baggage tag. This having been called "sir" by the crew on my previous flight for 11 straight hours.

Once inside - 1 rest room for the entire concourse, the second one being closed with hazard tape. And a 25 minute delay for reasons unknown.

I flew 5 different airlines over the course of this little junket and the results were interesting to me. The US carriers, far below the comparative standards. Singapore, the legendary favorite, not significantly better. Lufthansa, great. Aer Lingus, exceptional in all ways and especially in the area of friendliness and legroom. My new favorite by a longshot.

And so here we are, almost done but not quite. Just another 2 hours, if we can only get off the ground.

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