Thursday, March 24, 2011

Back on the road with after a not so brief hiatus

As I was pulling into the parking garage it dawned on me that I had not been to the airport for nearly 4 months. Well, discounting the trip I’d made over the weekend to deposit and collect My Lovely Wife. As a passenger though, this felt new, something I’d not experienced regularly since 2005. The airport had been such a regular part of my life during these intervening years that today felt like a homecoming. Of course I’d not yet had the regular set of experiences that made me wonder time after time why I regularly subjected myself to travel. True, it’s always fun to see new things and there is an inherent pleasure in being away that is undeniable. If only you could seal yourself in a comfortable environmental chamber and be delivered to your destination after a long peaceful nap. With filtered sunshine and a light, vanilla scented breeze.

It began as usual with the guy in front of me at security taking his laptop out of his bag and in doing so spilling a hundred loose pieces of paper on the carpet. A woman between us kindly helped him pick them up while I would have preferred to step on them and leave the telltale print of my Ecco shoes. Of course this flustered him enough to slow him down even further but eventually he recovered and moved down the line. It didn’t matter much because the belt was completely clogged up due to the delay they were having in reading the nude scans of the people ahead of us. We got through and he returned the favor of my patience by dropping the same batch on the floor a second time. This time no one helped him with the clean up.

A lot had changed in the airport since my last visit. New restaurants, re-arranged section, a whole new look. However, the one thing that remained constant was that the plane out of Albuquerque was of course the Barbie Jet. We had hoped to avoid that indignity by not taking that godforsaken 6AM flight on United, instead opting for a more civilized noon departure on US Air and a night in San Francisco. As this was vacation we thought it might be nice for a change to leave at a reasonable time and divide the trip in two. I must have known that the Ruler of the Universe does not allow such affronts to his plan and it should have been no surprise when we reached the gate and saw that tiny demonic aircraft smiling through the window. But it was nice to hope for a while

Being a tiny jet there was no room for our carryon bags and so we left them at the end of the ramp. Normally there is a person there to collect them but today – none. I didn’t like that one bit but after verifying this foolish arrangement with the flight attendant I left ours there and took my seat. I spent the rest of the time on the ground looking out the window hoping to see my bag loaded on the luggage cart. Eventually a couple of guys showed up and started throwing the bags down a ramp attached to the jet way stairs. Mine was the last one down.

Being an hour flight it went fast, faster even due to the great stories that some hillbilly in the seat behind me was relating to his row mate. I love traveling with My Lovely Wife, sometimes more than others because it countermands the Laws of Luck that normally rule my life. When I’m with her, I always find a good parking spot and I don’t end up sitting next to guys like this. His stories began with the service record of his father, an Army Ranger who did 5bparachute jumps in WWII, 3 in Korea and 5 more in Viet Nam. He ended with a recounting of the plot of the Stephen King thriller “Pet Sematery” and an observation that there was a cat in his neighborhood that was the spitting image of the evil feline in the book. I was glad when they told us to turn off our electronic devices and wished that we were also forced to sit quietly with our hands folded in our laps.

Our layover in Phoenix was uneventful aside from the fantastic people watching. It’s always amazing to think that people actually chose those clothes at the store and then chose them a second time when they put them on that morning. The plane was very full and lots of people from the front came back into steerage to steal the overhead space around us. One particularly special woman made it a point of blocking everyone by carrying on a phone conversation and sending email on her laptop while standing halfway in a row that she didn’t even belong in. When she excused herself the young man she’d been delaying said, “No problem, we’ll all just wait for you.” Good for him, if I could have reached over I would have given him a pat on the back. We left an hour late spending our time sitting on the runway waiting for the fog to clear in San Francisco. An easy flight a short shuttle ride to the hotel and our day was over. Dinner in the lounge and a stroll along the bay punctuated by rain showers put a nice cap on it.

It was raining like a son of a gun when we woke up with a prediction of flooding and high winds. I had no idea what this meant for our noon departure but it really didn’t matter. We had no connection on the other end to worry about. One additional nice thing about this being vacation and not that painful haul back to my (former) job in Dalian. The shuttle ride to the airport was entertaining due to a mother with four children who had just been evacuated from Japan due to the potential of radiation exposure. She told the story of her trials to a willing flight attendant who had apparently been on the plane with her the day before. Her children – all small – spent their time jumping up and down and yelling. Occasionally she would tell them to sit down in Spanish, perhaps some sort of life preparation home schooling. We wondered why she wasn’t using Japanese.

I’ve never arrived at the SFO International Terminal in any way other than via a plane. Today was a minor adventure when we got dropped off at a strange end of the place and I wasn’t sure where the United Airlines check in gates were. I pleaded with My Lovely Wife not to ask at the information desk, preferring to find them ourselves. But she did and the old guy there couldn’t simply tell us “Down there.” The young guy standing behind him pointed to the left, but he wasn’t wearing the regulation blue blazer so the old guy asked, “Are you checking in Coach, Business or 1st Class?” I snapped and said, “What does it matter, we just need to know where United is.” And he replied, “It does matter because if you’re flying coach you go to Row 1 but if you’re flying Business or 1st Class, you go to Row 2.” I asked again and he gave me a disapproving look and pointed to the left. Of course they were right next to each other and so the finer points of our ticket class didn’t really matter. Perhaps we were his only customers of the day and he was just trying to be helpful. But this is exactly why I hate asking questions.

After being shuffled between two or three different boarding pass checks (even though the lines were empty, they wanted to make sure I went the Business line) I wound my way through to the conveyor belt and got behind a guy who was putting his stuff in a bin for the check. Of course he could not use the 25 feet of empty counter space ahead of him, no, he had to use the very end which allowed me to put a single bin on the counter behind him. He must have had 800 things in 29 little pockets because the stuff just kept coming. Eventually he told me to go ahead and I told him that wasn’t the point. But I did anyway. And now once again I’m in the Lounge staring out the window.






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