Monday, May 27th
A sad day leaving Emma and Nic behind and also marking the end our our three week gentlemen’s tour of the partial United States. Five thousand two hundred sixty four total miles driven through twenty states. We made a dent anyway. And here’s the really remarkable thing. No serious problems. The rental car was virtually hassle free and we had remarkably good luck with traffic, weather, mountain lions and rattlesnakes. Nobody got sick. Food and lodging were uniformly decent and so was the company. Bill and I traveled really well together and took turns with the driving and amusing each other. I did overpack, of course and I could have been in better shape for some of the tougher hikes. But I only drank too much once and neither of us got so much as a speeding ticket. So, really? The stars lined up for us. A pretty wonderful and, dare I say, unforgettable trip.
But then there was the flight home. I hate flying. As far as cross country aviation goes, our experience was above average in that we didn’t miss our connection and our luggage arrived at our final destination at the same time we did. That’s how low the bar is these days. And we were even twenty minutes early in the end.
But it was still typical of air travel in the United States. Which is just lousy. So because I don’t have anything else to complain about, I am going to take this opportunity to focus on and whine about a couple of petty annoyances at the end. Just because they contrasted so dramatically from the rest of the trip.
So the first issue is really my own fault because I packed like an idiot. I know a checked bag costs twenty five dollars and we had two so, that’s fifty (General Grant!) and that sucks. But pretty much everybody charges the same nowadays so…can’t really complain about that. Problem? Mine was eight pounds over the limit. Surcharge? Ninety bucks. I should have thrown away eight pounds of clothes and bought new stuff later. With my wardrobe it would have been cheaper. Or bought another bag somewhere, split up my crap and checked the new one for another thirty five. Which option the guy at the counter actually suggested to me and for which he earned my ultimate curse; may you have that exact same job forever. Including in Hell. Instead I was too anxious about getting on with the return so I paid the full penalty. Eleven twenty five a pound. I could have bought a lot of good steak for that. Now I’m mad at the gate agent and myself. But…onward.
Then there was the standard, degrading and unnecessary TSA nonsense. All I can say about U.S security is go travel in Europe. You get to keep your shoes on, they don’t confiscate your shampoo, the whole screening process takes less than two minutes and you don’t feel like any minute you’re going to be rendered off for an undocumented waterboarding session. On this continent the encounter with security seems geared to making you feel like either a victim or a perpetrator. Perhaps to soften you up so that the monumental discomfort of modern air travel will seem like a relief by comparison. Oh, and thanks for the x-ray machine cancer. Had to get it somewhere I guess.
So after that buzz kill, we boarded the plane in SFO and – Huzzah! – a little entertainment screen on the back of the seat in front of me! With movies and TV shows and games and music! Yay! I could feel the four and a half hour leg to Detroit melting away! Until I discovered that one had to pay for almost all of the content. Games? Five bucks. TV sitcoms? A dollar per twenty minute episode. Movies? Six bucks. Much hatred thereby engendered. Much, black hatred. They also had WiFi – twenty bucks for three hours. AYFKM. But I was already down ninety on the bag and dehumanized by Homeland Security so I went for it. So I could blog from thirty three thousand feet about what a chickenshit operation Delta Airlines is. Shame on them. Deep, burning shame.
And here’s a revealing feature of Delta’s in-flight entertainment. The music was free. I listened to three complete Beethoven symphonies (One, Two and Nine) for zero dollars. It says something about a vendor’s cynicism and a civilization’s priorities that there was a greater value placed on a single episode of the Kardashians. The sun cannot explode soon enough.
The plane for our first leg from San Francisco to Detroit, a 757, was packed tight. Three seats on each side in coach. Bill had window but swapped with the lady in the middle so he goes to heaven and her trip narrative is brighter than mine, probably. She was a lovely seat mate and now they’re facebook friends. I had the aisle but stuck out a good three inches into traffic. Over the course of a four hour flight I got hit in the right elbow and shoulder by the passing beverage cart several times. Pretty hard. I even stopped it cold once. Our passive aggressive flight attendants wheeled that goddamned thing up and down like an ore car in a mine shaft. No warning, no “excuse me sir, mind the cart”. Just wham. Nice. But, Beethoven was free and it didn’t hurt much so I didn’t complain. When I finally, actually wanted something to drink, and wasn’t getting slammed with the cart to remind me it was my turn to ask, I waddled back to the galley to petition for some black coffee. Where I found all three stewards splayed out in the prep area. I mean lying down on the floor. One did arise and poured me two cups not quite full. And then told me to be careful carrying them back or, what with unexpected turbulence, I might “be wearing them”. You mean you won’t just send the freight car down my way? No, really, I’ve got it. Just stay put. Sorry you had to get up. Jesus. And the coffee sucked too, of course.
And then there were the two hipsters directly in front of us in seats 40B & C. As soon as the plane was airborne they put their seats back all the way – Flag. We all know there is a reclining feature on seats in coach. And we also all know that option is only to be exercised on occasions so rare as to be virtually unheard of. As in never. For example, If you are pregnant and your contractions are less than one minute apart, you may invoke emergency recline. But even in that case, only half way back. If you are in end-stage labor and your baby is crowning, you may recline back all the way, but only until the baby is out. Then straight back up, please. And nobody that pregnant should ever be flying in the first place so…never. That’s how often a seat should go back in coach. QED. Anyway, the seat recline foul exacerbated my aisle exposure which magnified my cart target profile which increased the strike ratio…you get the idea. Misery.
We had a pretty substantial tail wind and were making nearly six hundred mph ground speed which got us to Detroit early. So we circled for awhile before landing. In the terminal, Bill made a bee-line for the outside so he could smoke and I went in search of alcohol. I located it in a little Irish pub facsimile a couple of gates down from our next departure. Bill found me and we killed an hour with dinner and a couple of surprisingly good local beers. And Red Wings v. Black Hawks on the telly. Original Six playoff hockey and beer – the cure for what ails you. Thus refreshed we boarded our next flight to Hartford, a little commuter job about the size of a syringe. Cozy. No inflight entertainment or internet larceny on this one. But the stewards were really friendly and when one of them gently moved my arm as the cart came through, I fell instantly in love with him. That’s how vulnerable I was by hour seven in transit.
And then we were home. Bill’s friend Chris dropped off a car for us in short term parking so we didn’t have to drag anybody out at midnight to pick us up. Our bags showed up – always a little miracle when that happens. Mine had been thoroughly rifled of course but nothing seemed to be missing (as opposed to last summer when an entrepreneurial inspector snagged forty bucks out of my shaving kit). Whoever rearranged my underwear this time left a nice note behind explaining why certain things might have been removed and turned over to the authorities and why they might have had to break in to my bag to do it. So comforting. And I felt so safe. Covenant Aviation Security, LLC. One of the myriad sub-contractors tapped in to the war on terror money vein. God Bless America.
But, home. Safe and sound. Home to a spotless house, a mowed lawn and the other half of our family whom we have been missing sorely. Now time to process this trip and see what the two of us have gleaned from it. Lots to think about and a lot of pictures to sort.
Random thoughts from Monday: See above.