05 July 2012

Travel Tomfoolery, Installment 1

Today I had the pleasure (and I use that term loosely) of once again joining thousands of other embattled airline travelers attempting to arrive unscathed at our various destinations.   In my case, the destination was New York to visit the girlie, who's been busy at college all summer doing an internship in medical physics (because she's just cool like that).  I'll also  get to join her at another of her SCA events, mostly because she didn't want to share her only weekend off from medievaling (which is next weekend) with me.   Hmph.  (To be fair, though, I did offer to go if she wanted a weekend off.   It's still fun to rag her about it, though...)

I made it to the airport in decent time, in spite of leaving a few minutes later than I'd planned and accidentally missing my usual exit, which necessitated me driving past Stone Mountain instead.   At least the view was okay, assuming one likes giant rock mountains. Once at the airport, I had to drive around a while to find an available parking spot.   This time I was clever enough to note the row in my iPhone so I could find my car after the return flight, since last time I didn't completely remember the number.

I unloaded my bags and started to look around for the shuttle (which I had just passed), but he was already long gone so I had to hoof it to the terminal from the back forty with all my stuff and a bum toe.  Still, I managed to walk at a pretty good clip, even in the blistering heat.   And while I may not have been able to channel my friend G's parking karma, I was able to call up a little baggage line karma instead, passing quickly through the baggage drop behind only a couple of other people.

My first priority after checking my bag was to find the nearest bathroom; after driving 90 minutes to get to the airport and then speed-walking through a 103 degree parking lot, it's a small miracle my bladder didn't explode before I ever reached the door.  And--can I just say--walking with very full bladder?  Not so much fun.  On my way to the facilities, I passed a man near the shoe-shine stands wearing a black suit, medium brown leather wingtips and green socks.  Um, okaaaaaaay...  Days like this make me love people-watching at the airport.  Everyone dresses so creatively and behaves so strangely when they think no one else is looking.  It can be highly entertaining.

I managed to pass through security fairly quickly as well--despite of a brief pause for TSA to quickly grope pat down my knees to ensure that the metal buttons on my capris were not, in fact, tiny land mines or high-tech spy transmission devices--complete with 7 dozen snickerdoodles (which I half-expected to be confiscated as a potential danger to society) for the girlie and her SCA friends.

After security, I stopped at a shop to grab a bottle of water for the flight and then waited for the tram next to an Indian family.   My plan was to nab the bench seat at the end of the tram car so I could rest my beleaguered toe, but the Indian family swooped in before I could limp over and sat 5 people down in short order.  I didn't have any problem with the seats being offered to the older couple of women in the entourage; I would have given up my seat for them anyway because I have good manners (most of the time).   What hacked me off was the 14ish-year-old boy sitting on his rear with other adults standing nearby, including members of his own family, never mind me and my giant Q-tip toe.   I just found it rather rude behavior--so much for youthful chivalry.   The family and I all exited at the first tram stop and headed off to our respective gates.   I reached mine 5-10 minutes before boarding was to begin so I didn't have any time to grab some lunch.   On the plus side, I  succeeded in keeping track of my iPad for a change on this excursion, not once accidentally abandoning it even momentarily in a bathroom stall, on a shop counter, etc.

When it was time to board the plane I walked down the skyway and, as usual, got held up at the plane door as the people in front of me tried to cram multiple carry-ons into overhead compartments.  This would not have been so bad had the skyway platform right next to the plane door not smelled distinctly and strongly of (frequently) used outhouse.  Once in the plane, I headed to my seat in 12D next to a woman already starting to deploy her little neck pillow.   I sat down, buckled up, and settled in.  Barely five minutes later, the woman was starting to complain that she thought she'd had an aisle seat and was feeling "claustrophobic" up next to the "wall."   I rolled my eyes and replied, "Yeah, that's why I always pick an aisle seat, too."   I suppose she was hoping I'd swap her seats (which I didn't), because the next time a flight attendant came by, she started asking if she could move to the aisle seat in front of me if no one else sat there.  The flight attendant must have been having a bad day because she got all snotty and snapped, "Can we just wait till the whole plane is boarded, please?"  The woman next to me retreated into her seat and sulked.

Meanwhile, the red-headed woman in front of her began talking in marital code to her husband, who was sitting a row up on the other side with their two small children.  Just as it was becoming obvious that no one else was going to take the seat next to her, she leaned back and "invited" me to move up beside her so that my seatmate could have an aisle seat as well (and hopefully get her panties out of the bunch they were in).   Because I do try to be nice and/or accommodating whenever possible, I went ahead and moved.  Whatever.   As I was doing so, the redhead leaned over and informed me that the other lady didn't "seem like she was being very nice and I'm much more fun." Um, okay.

 I wasn't in the aisle 2 minutes before the other woman had already scooted into my vacated seat.  I re-stowed my belongings around my new seat and tried to sit down but found the chair significantly tighter than the one I was in.  Nor could I fasten the seatbelt--by rather a lot.  Turns out my new seat had non-movable armrests, all of which also had solid walls (instead of just armrests) with those fold-up tray tables inside, therefore reducing the butt room of each seat by a good 2-3 inches--even though this seat and my previous seat were both considered the new "Economy Comfort" seats.   Oh, I still had more legroom, but that's about it.   And why the seatbelt was suddenly six inches shorter than in the seat behind me, I've no idea.  Needless to say, I found it rather frustrating, never mind uncomfortable.

I stopped the flight attendant on her next pass and quietly told her I needed an extender; she asked to see my ticket (which was inconveniently crammed in my cookie bag in the overhead compartment) so she could "see what I can do."   Now to me, this implied I was going to get bumped to first class for being so awesome and patient and for voluntarily moving to help accommodate whiny women who clearly can't read a plane diagram online when ordering tickets.  So for a split second, I was excited by the prospect.  Sadly, it didn't last long.   The redhead's husband reached over and handed me an extender he'd conjured up from God knows where because he saw I was "having some difficulties."  Well, yeah, dude--you would too if someone had whacked off an additional 6 inches of seat belt.  But it was kind of him just the same.  Shortly after I'd gotten myself buckled in between my sardine-can armrests with my two unwieldy seat clasps, the flight attendant came by and slipped me another extender.  So much for getting to move to first class.

Once established in my new seat, I settled in with a magazine in hand and my iPad at the ready to await the electronic ban being lifted on Flight Ginger.   Seriously--I saw no less than 5 redheads on the flight, not counting myself.  When I pointed this out to my new seatmate, she commented that she was "not natural."   I'm hoping she meant her hair color. Still, "natural" or not, she had red hair.   She introduced herself as April and introduced her husband across the aisle as Keith by yelling across my seat at him to tell me hi.   April then informed me that this was the first flight for all of them, and that she was nervous and was annoyed that her husband was being so calm.  Great.   An airplane virgin.  Because I needed to spend the next two hours next to someone who was going to be trying to climb out of the plane over me or screaming or whatever.

April was clearly nervous, though mercifully not manic, as we prepared to hit the tarmac.   She decided she needed some vodka to calm her nerves and asked if she could get some; I told her she'd have to wait for the beverage service to come around and that she'd have to pay for it.  She quickly replied, "I have money."  As we backed out of the gate April began asking how the pilots could see behind them--so I told her they have rear-view mirrors.  She believed me.   Then I pointed out that the airport had those guys with the vests and the glow-sticks to direct the pilots, and that since they did this several times per day, most of them were pretty good at it.   She still seemed tense.  Suddenly we stopped backing out and sat on the tarmac for a while.  April started asking her husband why we had to wait--like he knew.  She thought this might be because the plane was going to blow up.   I told her it wasn't.   Eventually we discovered the pause was because some woman was still in the bathroom and we had to wait for her to get out and buckled in before we could takeoff.  After she returned to her seat we got moving again and hit the runway. April noted that it was weird because the plane was driving all over the place like a giant car. When we actually lifted off, April looked out of the window at the rapidly receding landscape and squeaked "Oh. My. God."   Her children on the other side of the plane looked outside and decided it was "very cool."

For the next 15 minutes or so, April remained glued to the window with a blank look on her face in much the same way as a deer in headlights or like someone who can't look away from a grisly highway accident.   I told her that if it made her nervous she could always shut the shade, but she was so engrossed in her wonder and fear that she didn't even hear me.  Soon the plane leveled off, which seemed to snap April out of her trance, and she turned to me and noted that "we're up a really freaking long way."  I told her that we were probably up about 15,000 miles.   Her eyes goggled at me.  Didn't realize till tonight that I'd meant 15,000 feet and had misspoken. I felt bad, but I'm pretty sure that as far as April was concerned it didn't really matter, considering the whole thing made her twitchy enough either way that she had to whip out her inhaler and hit it twice after she broke contact with the window. Afterwards, April apologized to me for acting like a 10-year-old but I told her it was okay because everybody does that their first flight. Then I told her she when she landed, she'd no longer be a flight virgin. "You mean I still had another cherry to pop????" Oh, dear.

After we reached altitude, I tried to hook up to wifi but couldn't get any signal even after repeated attempts. (And yes, I am just that big of a nerd.)  So I started reading a book on my Kindle app instead, switching back and forth between it and the settings to see if the plane had achieved wifi yet.  Beside me April started fidgeting and asking "How can you get a drink around here???"   I told her the beverage service would start shortly because I could hear them hauling out the cart.  She grabbed a wad of money from her purse and sat on the edge of her seat like a kid desperate for the ice cream man to come...or like a kid doing the potty dance.  The cart finally came by and the attendant asked what we wanted to drink. April burst out with "I don't care, as long as it's got vodka in it!"  The attendant smirked and, after some minor negotiation, created a mixed drink of cranberry juice, orange juice, sprite, and an impressive quantity of vodka. She gave it to April to taste to make sure it was okay, to which April gave a thumbs-up.   I turned to her and asked if she could have vodka on top of the Abuterol or whatever was in her inhaler, but she just shrugged and said "One fixes a physical thing, the other fixes a mental thing."  Good to know.

April then told me that she was trying to avoid dipping into her anxiety meds (oh, holy crap) because she might need them later since she gets panic attacks.   That's partly what the inhaler is for, and also because she "smokes like a chimney."  She next told me that she sells sky diving lessons, which she is "really good at because she learned to lie well from a young age."   I gaped at her.  Someone who has never been on a plane sells sky diving lessons?  Irony alert, anyone?  While the attendant was getting our drinks, I asked her about the wifi. She promptly pulled her phone out of her bra and started booting it up. She hesitated, looking at all the other people she had to serve, then said she'd get back to me.   She never did.  Twenty minutes before the end of the flight I discovered that the wifi was finally accessible, but didn't see the point in paying full price for it with such a short time left in the flight.  Guess I didn't need to spend that $10 anyway.  I went back to reading, in between April's questions and entertaining observations such as "We're in a CLOUD...how can they see to drive through it??" "They can't--we're all gonna DIE!!!!" Just kidding--I didn't really tell her that.  Thought about it, though.  Don't poke the bear, Ginger...  Instead, I introduced her to the concept of "auto-pilot."  (As opposed to OTTO-pilot...)

On a side note, the book I just started reading on the plane was another of Diana Gabaldon's books from the Lord John series. As I was reading, Lord John came across a character named Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and I almost wet my pants with fangirl glee since Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart was the erstwhile Earth-bound companion of both Jon Pertwee's and Tom Baker's Doctor Who. I can't help wondering now if that was a freakish coincidence or if Gabaldon is a closet fan of the Whoniverse.  Anyway, as I sat reading, my toe started to burn painfully; apparently it's not any more fond of altitude than is April. It did really well with all the walking to the airport, but I suppose a pressurized cabin was too much to expect of a frostbitten digit. It's pretty sad when the part of my toe that hurts the most is not the site of the actual surgery/procedure but rather the skin significantly damaged by an overenthusiastic use of freeze spray at the podiatrist's office.

Around 2:30 April asked where I thought we were; I told her we weren't that far since most of the remaining 30 minutes would be spent circling, descending and taxiing to the gate. Ten minutes later, she decided she had to go to the bathroom and couldn't wait till we landed, so I had to pick everything up, put up the tray table, and unwedge myself from the tight seat. When I stood up to let her by, I noticed that the snotty lady behind us was now sitting in my old seat, fast asleep and with an empty chair next to her. How in the world is it fair that she gets my roomier chair and an empty companion seat while I'm up here crammed in with an extender and an anxiety-ridden air virgin, just because I tried to do a good deed? I'm thinking I deserve some serious karma points for this...

When April returned, she sat down and looked out the window.  She asked if we were flying over Buffalo because she thought she recognized a stadium below. I told her it was possible because it might either be in the flight path normally or might be because we were skirting some bad weather. Then she told me she was actually going to Buffalo but couldn't get on a direct flight because her family was flying standby and ended up getting routed into Rochester instead, where her father-in-law was going to pick them up. April then mentioned they were going to a family reunion, so I replied "coooool." But she said it was actually going to be GREAT, because they are "all Catholic so everyone will be drunk and there will be lots of liquor!" Well, okay, then. I asked if they were Irish, by any chance; not to cast racial aspersions at all, but I never thought of the average Catholic as a heavy drinker, unlike some Irish Catholic folks I know.  She informed me they were "Armenian. No, Iranian. No, Armenian. Or Italian. Armenian-Italian. Now my husband is pissed off at me..." I'm thinking the vodka did its job.

We continued descending and ultimately April survived her first-ever landing with little more than a tiny gasp. All things considered, she did quite well with her nerves and she made for an extremely entertaining seat companion, quite taking my mind off of my cramped quarters. Nor did she chat non-stop the entire way, which was also a big plus.  It was a good balance of quiet and crazy.

Once deplaned I acquired a sandwich from Subway for a late lunch, collected my luggage, and went to the curb to wait for my ride. I must say it was quite a weird sensation seeing my daughter, the one-time driving-phobe, happily waving at me as she pulled up to the curb.  In that moment, I could hear the audible "click" of our roles suddenly reversing.  Freaky.

The girlie took me to my hotel where we hung out for a bit while she opened her Harry Potter swag from Orlando.  Later, she drove me to Outback for dinner.  I still paid, of course, but she drove.  It was good to see her feeling more comfortable and confident behind the wheel of her car.  And, while we were tooling around town, I couldn't help but smirk at the memory of the highly colorful and vodka-fueled April.  So thanks, April, wherever you are, for making my flight much less boring than usual!

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