Sunday, January 18, 2009

Travel Blog #2: Airports on New Year's Eve

I want to apologize. I had every intention of filing a blog each day I was away. But the internet on the ship, in addition to being about 40 cents a MINUTE, was very undependable and slower than most glaciers. So I blogged for you on my computer each day and will file them here one a day at a time as the events unfolded. Here's what happened on New Year's Eve at the airport:

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time. I was a happy camper. As a chronic watch-checker on trips, I knew we’d run the New Year’s eve gauntlet and were actually ahead of schedule. Our boarding passes were printed. Thus meant that we simply had to check our bags and lounge about at the gate.

Airports are ethereal places to me at the best of times. On New Year’s Eve they are even more “ethereal-er.” Planes are taking off for places all around the world. Tearful goodbyes and joyous reunions take place with numbingly intense regularity. I love airports, since nearly every trip we take starts with one of them.

The cab dropped us off at the Air Canada door and we saw an enormous line-up.

New Year’s Eve suckers, thought I. No line-ups for us. Nope. We were just going to cruise through the check-in process. We proceeded to the Baggage Check area and waited. Then we waited some more. I cleared my throat. The counter staff ignored us.

I stood in front of one of the desks, resting my hands on it. The woman didn’t look up. I cleared my throat and she still ignored me. I finally simply asked what they were doing with the “express boarding people.” She didn’t look up from her screen. She just jerked a thumb at the back of the lineup.

“We already have boarding passes,” I told her patiently. She was missing something, I thought. She looked haggard and probably needed just a little explanation.

She looked at me like I was something both unexpected and distasteful she had found on the bottom of her shoe.

“There are only three of us working tonight,” she said. “What do you want us to do?”

I nodded with what I sincerely hoped was a suitably sympathetic smile.

“So it’s just the three of you on tonight?” I observed shrewdly.

She looked even more tired (a thing I had not thought was possible) then without responding at all, turned back to her computer screen.

Great, I thought. I’ve been on vacation for exactly ten minutes and I’ve already made my first stupid observation. I turned to break the news to Sheree.

After I’d spoken, Sheree looked at me skeptically. I hate it when that happens.

“That makes no sense,” Sheree told me finally. “Go back and make yourself clear this time.”

We don’t need to go through the conversation that followed. It’s your standard “we’ve been married a long time and I remember every SINGLE time over the past twenty plus years when you were unclear in expressing yourself” stuff.

In the end I decided the safest course of action would be to to antagonize the haggard woman than to irritate my wife. So I went over and just sort of stood there until she looked up again.

“We already have tickets,” I explained again.

"Uh huh," she said.

"We printed them at home," I said with a suitably virtuous blush.

"Uh huh," she said. Again.

She jerked a very clear no-message-missed thumb at the back of the line.

“Is there usually someone to do the baggage tags?” I asked, knowing that I would really need something to take back to Sheree.

“Yes,” she said. “But as I have already told you,” she added with a don’t-piss-me-off-any-more-or-you-are-likely-to-find-my-pen-embedded-in-the-middle-of-your-forehead-you-dense-moron, “There are only three of us…Sir.”

I nodded and smiled in my very most understanding manner.

“We’ll just go to the back of the line-up,” I said cheerily.

“There’s a plan,” she muttered.

So we waited. And waited. After a period of time…a long period of time, we came right up to her again. I don’t think she recognized me. At least I hope she didn’t.

When we finally got on the plane, the flight attendant was counting down from ten to one. So we were making our way to the seats as 2008 died and 2009 was born. Then we sat some more. I started getting a little twitchy, because we had only an hour and ten minutes to make our connection in Toronto.

After fifteen precious minutes, the captain announced that we were waiting for a crew to come and de-ice the wings. I wondered why no one had noticed that there was ice on the wings over the previous half hour.

More time passed and, sitting there doing the math, I realized that we had exactly enough time to make the trip as we pulled away from the gate. The flight, which I think took eighty-nine hours, began with that most absurd of airplane rituals: the safety talk.

Does it strike anyone else as utterly ridiculous that the plane will get lost or crash if you listen to an iPod? (I have this vision of a wild eyed terrorist brandishing a Palm Pilot, screaming and threatening to turn it on in mid-taxi unless his demands are met.) Does the notion that you will survive a screaming plane crash if you lock your seat in an upright position seem ridiculous to you? The part of the film where the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling and the utterly calm people put them on always makes me smile. If a plane I am on ever falls out of the sky, I plan to cry like a little girl, make a point of reclining my seat and rearranging all the crap in the overhead bins.

We caught a headwind and got to Toronto with about half an hour to spare. Sheree, who is impervious to any time pressures, was calmly snapping pictures. I reminded her that we still had to get the suitcases, clear customs and get onto the plane all within half an hour.

She made a sound that indicated she’d heard me but planned to continue doing exactly what she’d started doing. I sighed and went ahead to get the bags.

We hit customs with twelve minutes to departure.

“Paging passengers Thiel and Zielke,” the announcement came.

“That’s us,” I observed.

“What is?” asked Sheree absently as she snapped a picture of something I couldn’t even see.

“That’s the moron announcement. They’re paging us.”

“Who is?”

I sighed. “The airline. They are paging the two morons who aren’t on the flight yet.”

“They’re paging us?”

“The flight leaves in just a few minutes,” I said as I threw my shoes into the little tray they provide.

“No they’re not,” she said.

“Can I look in your bag?” asked he sloth customs person.

“What? NOW?” I asked. It’s never ever a real question. You can’t say no. I would have. But if you fuss, they think you are trying to sneak a rocket launcher loaded with anthrax onto the plane.

I sighed.

“I have nine minutes to make my plane,” I said, wondering why they never ask to look in my bag when I have a six hour layover.

“Uh huh,” said the customs sloth.

She poked through my bag and precious seconds ticked by.

“This is the final call for flight…” our flight.


She very slooooowlllly put stuff back into my bag and I pulled it out of her hands and started rushing toward the gate. I have this image of myself, like one of those guys with crap hanging out of his suitcases, and flapping shirt tails, tripping through the hallways.

I looked around me, eyes wild and saw Sheree sauntering toward me.

“We have eight minutes,” I said.

She nodded. What is it with that woman? I wondered. Why isn’t she frantic?

“They won’t leave without us,” she said.

“Yes they will,” I protested, hopping on one foot as I tugged on the strap on my sandal.

“No they won’t,” insisted Sheree, who will generally argue about most things only at moments when it is least productive to argue.

I went ahead to the gate, told them who we were and insisted they wait for my wife.

“There was ice on the wings,” I explained. “We were really late leaving Edmonton.”

The gate attendant sprang into action and got on the radio with the plane. They waited for us. Just like Sheree said they would. Customs could use a good woman like that.

We made it.

Next stop: Fort Lauderdale.

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