Friday, October 03, 2008

Reeling from one fist fight to another

I had this very strange dream the other night. I was heading to the airport with one of my co-workers and we caught a taxi. The driver took us a few blocks, stopped under an overpass, got out of the cab, opened the hood, messed around with the engine and then proceeded to lie down on the shoulder and go to sleep. I stood there in my dream for a bit, complaining about his service for a few minutes and went back out to the street to hail another cab. One came along within a few minutes and as we prepared to hop in, a Chinese gentleman stepped out of the shadows and said something unintelligible in his native tongue. Perplexed, I thanked him and climbed in. This driver took us on an unfamiliar route and pulled up in front of a house, apparently his as he invited us in. We followed, figuring he forgot something, like his taxi license, and we doubly surprised when he settled on the couch and went to sleep. We sat for a few minutes figuring this must be the custom of whatever city we were in. The dream then did a little fast forward and I was waking up in it, realizing that we too had drifted off and thus missed our flight. I was upset at this until I realized we were only flying to Phoenix and that there were dozens of flights per day.

What does all that mean? Who the heck knows!

The last couple of days were devoted to work and so there is not much to report. The overriding highlight was my ongoing game of chicken with the balance of my food service card and my desire to leave here with as little on it as possible. The café here is cashless; you have a debit card that you load up with Euros in order to pay for meals. Being a visitor in the possession of a permanent card (hence no refunds) I clearly don’t want to leave it too charged up with money, since it’s essentially a interest free savings account subject to fluctuating exchange rate. And, who knows when I am coming back. So I put a bit on and spend a bit off and try to get as low as possible without facing the ultimate embarrassment of being at the head of a line of hungry Irish but short 30 pence on the card. I had a good strategy and was heading in the right direction when the afternoon break from our meeting extended beyond the café closing time and I was left with €6.42. Oh well, a costly memento of my wonderful work time meals.

Our last night here we had a big team dinner at a local restaurant with difficult parking but a reputation for excellent duck. The latter turned out to be accurate, a great set meal consisting of cream of vegetable soup, two slices of duck sitting on a patty of sage dressing and covered in star anise sauce, and capped with a great vanilla pannacotta. Excellent meal and great conversation about our impending move and tales of travel gone badly in the past.

One of my pals was leaving the hotel for the airport at 4 AM today while I had made the wise choice of picking a 2:30 PM flight allowing me the opportunity to sleep in. Well, best laid plans and all that, my cruel mistress Jet Lag reared her shaggy head again and I was pretty much raring to go again at 3 AM. I heard many people slamming their doors about the same time as Kevin and once the Diaspora was over, I was able to fall asleep again, at least until late dawn when the Jackdaws on the roof started up with their bizarre, high-pitched corvine conversations. But I managed to zone out until 8:30 when I pulled on some temporary clothes and went down to the buffet.

I was surprised when I heard my name and looked and there sat Kevin, eating his breakfast. Turns out he had lost his rental car keys sometime in the last two days and was therefore unable to leave to catch his flight. Turns out all those people leaving the hotel earlier had been he and the hotel manager tossing his room in search of the errant keys. Now he was scheduled to leave with me and so we had a relaxing meal and planned to leave at 10:30.

We checked out and headed out to my car when I had a sort of tiny, timely vision concerning his lost article. I opened the passenger door and lo and behold, there they were – sitting on the seat just where they had fallen out of his pocket the morning prior. A hearty laugh was had by all, not a funny laugh but more of a “oh, brother” laugh. This discovery of course raised an interesting dilemma – do we throw the keys in the field and leave the car, as arrangements had been made with Hertz to come and retrieve it? Or should he drive it in and try to intercept the Hertz Vehicle Recovery Team before they drove all the way out to the middle of the island? We did a short analysis and decided he should return the car while having the front desk call Hertz in hope that they could head off the people driving out. So off we went down the motorways to the plane.

Dublin Airport is sort of in an ironic state. All the while the economy has been booming here, the quality of the facility has sorely lagged the needs and prestige of the Celtic Tiger. Just now they are beginning to do a major overhaul and simultaneously their economy has slipped into recession. And so the ebb and flow of municipal improvement projects and the stimuli that drive them. What this meant for me was that I over thought the entry to the airport and ended up going to the main Hertz rental area instead of the Gold Member lot that is closer in. I made the mistake of seeing a Hertz sign where there wasn’t one before. It didn’t really make a huge difference, it only meant waiting for an interminable traffic light and a ride on the rental car shuttle.

I parked and a young fellow came out to check the car in. Here, the agents do a thorough job of giving the exterior of the car a serious once over. Most of the rental cars in Ireland have minor to extensive damage, due to neophytes driving on the wrong side of the road and sideswiping rock walls and hedgerows. My car had a really ugly gash down the passenger side and I could not honestly say whether I took it out that way or if someone had done it to me while I had it. I did know I’d not done it as none of my driving had been through the thickets. He checked the piece of paper that describes the car’s departing condition in my rental jacket and it did not show it. I told him it wasn’t me, so he opened the trunk and lifted out the mat that covers the spare. I figured he was checking to see if I had stolen it but it was there, along with a label that listed all the major scars this car carried about. Sure enough, the damage was recorded and so I was off the hook. I boarded the shuttle figuring that Kevin was right behind me and was surprised when the driver close the door and drove off without him.

Aer Lingus check-in is the best in the business in my estimation. You get a boarding pass at a kiosk and then drop your bag at one of about a dozen bag check stations. There is no waiting and no frustration aside from being sent to a different location when I tried to check my bag into the station for Yemen.

Now it was just a matter of waiting. Here, all the gates departing to the US are clustered in a pod down in the basement. About two hours before departure, they open up a desk that leads downstairs to US Immigration. I handed my paperwork to the agent who asked for my US Customs Form. It was not filled out as the bag check girl had told me I didn’t need to do it until we landed (consistent with every other US port of entry I have used.) Well, no, I had to do it here so I got kicked to the side while I speed-scribbled my way through it. That done, I went downstairs, passed the Immigration desk and settled in for the wait.

Judging from the throngs in the waiting area my plan of hopping over to a window seat once aloft was going to come to naught. We boarded and took off on time, lucky once again to have and empty next to me and arced up and over the fields of Ireland. Behind me sat a couple of Grandparents and I knew I was in for it as Grandfather seemed to have a dire need to grab my seat and give it a good shake every 15 seconds or so. I looked back a couple of times but he didn’t get the message.

An hour or so into the flight I managed to doze off and was rudely awakened when he did it again. I took off my headphones and turned around and in my most diplomatic voice with plenty of “pleases” thrown in for good measure asked him to stop manhandling my seat. He wanted to argue, essentially saying he had no choice. I told him that every time he did it, it woke me up. He again stated that he had no choice, as there was no other way to test the hinges on his tray table. I just shook my head and turned around and turned the music up a bit.

Ten minutes or so later, I heard a conversation going on behind me and it seems that Grandfather had not only whipped his row mates up into a lynch mob but had summoned a flight attendant as well. I wasn’t hearing much of it, gladly, but eventually the attendant tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would like to move to a different seat. I told her I was fine and returned to my music, amazed that Grandfather had managed to get so worked up. Moments after the attendant left, Grandmother decided that she needed to get out of her aisle and being an ample woman had managed to wedge herself between my seat back and Grandfather. Now it was clear I was dealing with Grandparent Gangstas, intent on making my life miserable. When Grandfather began to loudly complain that it was impossible for Grandmother to escape while I rudely had my seat “so far back” I hit the button, brought it up and sank as far down as I could. Grandmother thanked me. Grandfather sat down and went on complaining to the woman across the aisle.

But he did stop messing with my chair for the next hour or so until he did a two-handed catapult off the back and woke me up for the last time.

At 4 PM we had a genuine Irish Tea in a small plastic tub – scone, jelly, tea – and thus my carbohydrate load for the day topped 500 grams.

As I said before, the beauty of a seven hour international flight is the fact that it’s so darn short. Just when you get really sick of the guy behind you playing the drum solo from In-a-gadda-da-vida on his tray table, it’s over and the pre-landing chaos ensues. Compared to the transcontinental trek in the other direction, this is a walk in the park. And making it better is the fact that traveling west from Europe with a reasonable departure time means it all takes place in the daylight. Yes, tea might have been at 10 PM in the departing time zone, but here, over Lake Michigan, it’s just late afternoon.

We had an early landing but made it to the gate late because an Air France jet was blocking the way. As we walked down the ramps to the baggage check, Grandfather and Grandmother took every opportunity to give me the evil eye. At the final escalator down customs, I saw Roderick, my friendly gate agent from last Sunday’s blog. He looked at me, did a double take and said “Short trip man.” A woman on the escalator said “You’re clearly traveling too much when the airport staff knows you by sight.” I finally lost the Gansta Grandparents in the crowd at baggage claim, got my bag (first one down the ramp, my bag karma has returned) and headed out to the train.

Arriving at Terminal 1 I headed down to the end and shot through Priority Security. Like Albuquerque, the long serpentine feeds into a couple of x-ray lines, and people, being people; everyone lines up in one of them and refuses to move to the other. I was right at the cusp and the second line had room for 10 people so I said excuse me to the guy in front of me in order to go around. He starts in on me about how he and the girl in front of them have not decided which line they wanted to be in and how I was very rude to even suggest that I should be allowed to head over there. I simply said “There’s room, let’s just go there” to which he replied “If you’d taken the time to count the people in the lines, you’d know that this line is shorter.” Taken the time to count the people? I mean really, what kind of dweeb counts the people in the security line? I just turned sideways and went.

Of course, we now had a competition, who was going to get through first. In reality, my motivation was not speed – I had 3 hours to kill – I just wanted to get out of the crush. Sure enough, Dweebie makes it through 1 person faster than I did and thus he had triumphed, mathematical precision over impetuous rudeness.


But, things are not as they seem. I collected my goods and as I stopped to tie my shoes I saw Dweebie pulled over for the full security screen, an agent had just swabbed his bag and dumped the contents out on the stainless steel table. I grabbed my gear and gave him a big smile and went on my way.

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