Thursday, January 10, 2008

On Flights and Flying

Flying is hell.

Flying is more hell when you had been out drinking the entire night before and have not been asleep in over 28 hours.

Flying is even more hell when you have all of this, on top of grumpy officials and then find out you are in the middle seat because you forgot to ask.

Flaying is ever further hell when you are ravenously hungry because of your hangover but forgot to mention that you needed a vegetarian meal option for your flights.

So I'm on the plane to Japan. This end of the trip was not so bad as it's only about an hour and a half to Japan. They serve food in the flight but I'm not biting into a meat roll stuffed with meat served with extra meet if I don't need to do it. I can wait the hour and a half and eat in Japan, and that is what I did.

But then in Japan I had trouble locating a place to eat. The McDonald's was easy enough to find, but that would not satisfy. What I wanted at this point was cho-bop and oo-dong. Cho-bop is Korean for sushi rolls and oo-dong is delicious soup. I finally found a little restaurant and at this point was not feeling cosmopolitan enough to try any Japanese so I just asked in English if they had sushi, which they did not.

I settled for seafood oo-dong which might have been better had it not included one of the largest tentacles I've ever been asked to eat. But I ate because I was hungry. My stomach did not really feel better. At this point I had less then fifteen minutes before the boarding of my next plane. For this trip I was working on roughly one to one and a half hour layovers between trips, so I didn't have a lot of time to fool around. I was having trouble finding the gate though.

Finally I stopped and asked a nice assistant to show me the gate number. I pointed to the gate number on my ticket, knowing that I was in the right area. A29, that's me. I was somewhere around A28 but could not for the life of my figure out where A29 was.

"That's your seat number."


"That's not the gate number. That's your seat number. What is the gate number?"

I just kind of stared at her. This is probably where the bacchanalia that I had attended the night before became even more clearly a bad idea. I had no idea what my gate number was. And worse, I wasn't exactly sure how to figure it out all of the sudden. I had a cold weight of iron oo-dong in my stomach, but the attendant politely took my hand and lead me to a screen where I could find my gate number. Why I had not thought of that yet I blame on the vodka bleeding out of my system.

Gate number A5.

I'm on the wrong side of the airport. Yee-ha.

So I started to run down moving sidewalks and placated myself in the knowledge that at least I wouldn't be too unhappy about sitting for the next ten hours. I made the boarding call with a few minutes to spare and only as I boarded the plane did I realize that I had forgotten to get any food for the ten hour flight. I would have very little to eat on the plane, and now had nothing with me.

I got on the plane and found my seat. I was not surprised when it was a middle row seat. I was even less surprised when the rows was completely full. At this point, more than 32 hours after the beginning of my day, I was just too tired to argue about it. I put my stuff up and down, sat down, and prepared for the incredibly long flight. This was when I noticed something.

I was on an American flight. I had sworn after the last time I flew American that I would never do it again, but having been in a press to get tickets for this leg I took what I could get. My stewardess were all older American women, not the happy smiling bowing Asians that I usually saw on a flight. It's fine, I thought. At least it's not United. Cold comfort.

Again, my plan was sleeping so I tried my best to turn on, tune in, and drop out. After about two hours I woke from the stabbing pains. My back was killing me. This was highly unusual as the last few flights I had taken had not caused me so much back trouble. Sure, I'd be sore, but nothing like the pain I was feeling in my upper back. Towards my shoulders. Lots of pain. Pain that felt like muscle strain.

And then it hit me, I had lifted all those boxes up to my apartment in two trips. I had "put my back into it" a little too well. And now I was paying for it. The pain was intense and exquisite. Any thought I had about sleeping through the trip was quickly being chased from my mind. I took a couple of Tylenol as I always stow those in my bag. It help a bit. It thought about the hair of the dog until I realized that on this flight they expected you to pay extra for that.

What? This is a ten hour flight and I don't even get a complimentary wine? I've flown all the major Asian airlines at this point at least once; a few twice. On all of those flights there are certain things you can count on. Alcohol, water, and smiling pretty friendly attendants are on that list.

On this flight the attendants were gruff and surly, the food was abysmal, and the lack of alcohol was getting to me as it might have actually helped relax my back to have a bit of wine.

I tried to sleep and forget about it. I was bone tired and working on hour 36. It had only about five hours of flying left to go, but I was thirsty, so very, very thirsty. Finally I pushed the button. I needed to water. The red headed stewardess walked down the isle gruff and annoyed.


"May I have some water please?" I asked as politely as I could over my sleeping seat partners and the roar of the engine.


"May I have some water please?" I indicated what I wanted by making my hand into a cup and pretending to drink.

She got huffy and walked off to get water.

I'm trapped in a flying tin can somewhere over the pacific ocean, I'm tired, hung-over, smell bad, hungry, dry, and thirsty. All I wanted was some water.

It was a hellish flight. The red head stewardess has to be among one of the worst people in the service industry I have every met. But the experience was surreal. The attendants would stop in the isle over serving food and bitch about the flight, complain about the passengers, their job, the food. After the several times I've taken this trip it was a real shock to my system. Finally it dawned on me. This was stewardess purgatory. This is where bad stewardesses were sent to die; abandon hope, all ye who fly this way.

When the plane hit the ground I had never been so happy to disembark. And I still had one more connection to make to get to where I was going. Immigration in the US is always tight but this was starting to border on downright impossible. I had an hour and ten minutes before my next flight would leave. I was tired, bedraggled, and starved and standing in a line for immigration that was ten people deep. I thought I had plenty of time…

It's almost over, I swear.

I had been on the road now for about 36 hours without sleep.

I'm tired of it.

In the line at immigration I racially profiled. I couldn't help it, I had a connection to catch in T-minus 60 minutes. I needed to get out of there fast, grab my bag, go through customs, and get down the airport for the final leg of the trip. So I racially profiled my line. I looked for the line full of mid-westerns carrying American passports. The kind of line that will through up no red flags. Aside from the one Bhatai guy at the front of the line it looked like a good choice. That's what I thought, but apparently I am alone in distinguishing Bhatai from Terrorist.

So I'm in the line, I am, and I ask the nice gentleman in front of me for the time. It's about twenty minutes to the hour. No problem.

Until the line stops moving. Problems with our religious friend who ends up getting dragged off to a second check point. We wait for the official to come back. And wait, and wait some more. In the meantime two lines run by women run smoothly through. Note to self, next time seek out the female employee line.

I ask for the time again, it's getting closer to ten minutes before the hour. My connection boards in forty minutes.

Immigration guy comes back. Yeah, finally. The line moves, still slowly, but I pass the country zone at noon still confident I can make it. I hit the line for bags and see mine immediately. I whisper nice things to the merry goddess and make to go through customs, breezing down the hall to the connections.

At the line for connections I hit snag number two. The line is painfully long and I have to put my bag through to be scanned for the next plane. I run up to an airport official and show her my boarding pass for the next flight.

"It leaves in 30 minutes," I say.

"Yep, you have 30 minutes, plenty of time."

I kind of gape at her, but swallow my tongue and hope for the best.

"Line B," she points me to the longer of three lines. Of course.

I wait in line. Patiently at first, less so as the time rolls on by and I'm no closer to the end. It's fifteen minutes to boarding and I'm still waiting to get my bag checked onto the next plane. Finally I stand at the front of the line only to be stopped and have the smaller line waved through. I want to scream, howl, shout about the unfairness, but now, I wait. Again. I'm just too tired.

I dash through the check out, toss my bag at the person scanning and make a break for the final line. The one that allows me into the airport. How many freaking lines do I have to go through? I think as I run up. I have my pass out, I run to airport official.

"My plane boards in 10 minutes. Can I get passed through?"

"Well," says our ever helpful official, "If you're running late you need to ask everyone in front of you for permission to go to the front of the line."

Here is the thing. I'm not running late. My plane was in on time, I was were I was supposed to be, I had hustled my ass down to immigration not even stopping to go to the bathroom because I didn't want to lose any time and figured I could hit the restroom when I got to the gate for my last transfer. I had done nothing to make myself late.

So I go to the next person in line.

"Flight boards in 10 minutes, can I go ahead of you?"


"Flight boards in 10 minutes, can I go ahead of you?"

"No problem."

"Flight boards in 10 minutes, can I go ahead of you?"

"Go ahead."

"Flight boards in 10 minutes, can I go ahead of you?"

"Don't see why not."

I stop to ask the next woman. The kind of woman I don't see in Korea very often, strong confident sexy black woman built like a Nubian love goddess.

"Honey, just go to the front of the line, nobody here is goin' stop you." She smiled at me and I smiled back. She had my back. How long had it been since some had my back.

I jumped to the front. Did the shake out of my clothing dance for the last scanner into the airport. As usual I fly with a minimal on me. No jewelry, hair in braids, no bra, slip on shoes, empty backpack containing only laptop computer. It makes going through a scan a breeze. I wait hopping from foot to foot at the end for my bag.

They scan it once, it comes out and they hold it.

"Um, we have to scan this again, the scan cut off."

"Seriously?" This has become the buzz word for the moment. Seriously, I want to shout, just open the bag, it's empty, the scanner is fine, there is nothing in the bag. But I say nothing and continue to hop. The backpack comes down the scanner, I toss in computer, and I'm off.

I run down the hall, up the stairs, check the gate number twice to be sure I know where I'm going.

A5, no problem. I see the sign, A5-A75 says the sign. I ride of the escalator feeling the luck. Finally, the gate is right there at the top of the stairs.

And I get to the top.

And it says gate A75 with an arrow pointing down a long hall that never ends. A hall that is about a mile long, if not longer. A hall crowded and packed with people milling about on the 1st all thinking about why the thought traveling today would be a good idea.

It is 1:20 and I have ten minutes.

Of course.

I run. I run down the hall, run down the moving escalators, run and run and run and wish for a sports bra as my backpack slams into my back, and I run, and I run, and I run straight out like my mother is chasing me, oh do I run. I hit the gate with three minutes to spare, long enough to empty my now full bladder before boarding.

I made it, I think.

One more hour and touch down.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. The Russian cabbie picks me put to take me to my final destination. I tell him where I'm going.

"That's in the suburbs."

"No," I correct him. "It's in the city."

"No, no suburbs, I have to charge suburb rates."

"No, city."

"It's alright, I got it."

We start to drive. He talks the whole time to keep me awake because he is not quite sure were we are going. I let him, the entire time annoyed at the price. He takes the long way, it costs me twice what it should. I tip him anyway. Because I made it, because I don't have to spend the next twenty hours on a plane, because I can shower, and sleep and relax.

"Forget about it, Jake, it's Chicago."


Jill said...

YUM - tentacles!!!!! Oh no wait...

Seriously, I thought flying to NEW HAMPSHIRE from Texas was bad!!!! YIKE!!!!!! Glad you got that flight by the skin of your teeth...or maybe it was by the skin of that Nubian love goddesses teeth...

Saradevil said...

If it had been the skin of a nubian love goddess I would also not have complained. It was a very very very long long long painful painful painful flight. Hopefully I never have to repeat it. Oh wait, I have to repeat it in two weeks. Joy.