Saturday, April 26, 2008

All the little things add up to a special experience, I guess

The long day it takes to travel home always has a variety of little things that often become a grand panorama of the human condition. Today was no different. It’s a long way from Dalian to Albuquerque and the day starts early. It began for me this morning at 6 AM in an unexpectedly long line to check out, one in which everyone in front of me had some sort of silly little problem that was important (I’m sure) to them and that vexed the hotel staff.

Prior to that I had another rotten night’s sleep, better though by way of my decision to strip the last of the down products off the bed. Waking up every day in a histamine coma takes its toll over the course of a week and I thought that one healthy night’s sleep warranted such drastic action. So I peeled off the sheets, removed the bed pad and the down mattress topper and rolled them up at the foot of the bed as though at camp. The topper did not inspire salubrity – it was old, yellow and covered with what appeared to be little gray pigeon feathers. At least they looked like the little pigeon feathers the lofted down from the eaves of all the old apartment buildings I’ve lived in.

That helped, but the improvement was diminished by the temperature which was still a toasty 78 degrees. In the middle of the night I got up and opened the little window and was immediately blasted with a gale force wind, so strong that the door in the room started whistling. Figuring that noise was better than an inferno, I slept fitfully that way until the wind managed to fill my room with the scent of the oil refinery across the bay and I decided that heat might be better than processed carbon carcinogens.

Looking on the bright side, sometimes it’s not so bad to start a long travel day exhausted, at least it helps you sleep on the plane. So I rolled out of bed, checked out of the hotel and took one of those great taxi rides to the airport with the trunk open due to excess luggage. The kind of ride where you expect to see your bag left behind on the road every time the driver hits one of those giant Chinese pot holes.

I know I’ve told this tale before, but checking in at the airport always is worth a mention. My flight never came up on the board at the check-in station so I just got in a line. An agent kept making announcements that caused people to scurry back and forth between lines, making me really understand how limiting it is to not have a strong grasp of the language. One of them looked at me after one of her pronouncements, smiled and laughed as we shared that realization that she could do nothing for me.

The review of my documents almost caused an international incident because the knucklehead travel agent did not book my ticket with my passport number. The agent read off what was used and I’d not heard it before, I showed her my itinerary which she pretended to read and in the end finally let me go thinking that perhaps it was enough that the name on the boarding pass matched the one on my passport.

From there it was through security where they decided to x-ray my passport (?) and off to kill some time in the gift shop where the saleswoman taught me how to say “sea cucumber” in Chinese and then went off on a 45 second dissertation in Chinese about the nature of such products. I nodded knowingly even though I did not understand 1% of what she was telling me.
Off to Beijing on a flight noteworthy only for the German sitting next to me in the center seat who was absolutely bathed in Cologne. His scent put me into yet another state of histamine shock.

The new airport was once again a marvel to look at and hard to get through in terms of timing. Much walking, long train rides and multiple passport stamps simply consume your layover. I had so little time that my lounge pass was worthless. I went straight to the gate and was told my Business Class upgrade was a pipe dream and that I was stuck in a window seat, neither being good news for someone who wants to control bathroom access.

The flight was as it was. I’d already seen Alvin in the Chipmunks twice this month so even that frothy little thing didn’t cheer me up. I just picked at my candy, ate the meals that were served and wondered when the guy in the aisle seat was going to wake up so that I could have a stretch. Eventually though it was over and landing along coastal California on a sunny day with Beethoven blasting in your ears is good enough medicine to drive you to forget even the stinkiest German.

So now I sit in the food court at SFO, polishing off my turkey and avocado on sourdough (only $8.95) and a Diet Coke (only $2.98) watching the people go buy (including one United flight attendant with purple hair) and staring at the clock, wishing that my boarding time of 11:11 would come a bit faster.

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