from Atatürk to JFK
Thursday, October 13 2005
setting: Old City, Istanbul, Turkey
Today Gretchen and I flew back to North America, and, because we were crossing seven times zones nearly as quickly as the sun, time would stand nearly still for nine hours. The day began bright and early with a wakeup call, and then ten minutes later we were down in the hotel lobby waiting for our ride, which, though being provided free by our hotel, was coming fifteen minutes sooner than we'd initially been told. When it did show up, we were hustled into it like a president fired upon from grassy knoll.
Security for our flight back to New York was like nothing we'd ever seen. We'd shown up fairly early, and, when we said we were flying Turkish Airlines to JFK, they told us to go to the other end of the terminal. There we were told to join a line that didn't seem to be going to anything except for a featureless wall. But then, over the course of a half hour or so, we saw airport employees bringing in floor-mounted rope poles for defining the edge of a queue. I joked to Gretchen that they had intentions of bringing in carpenters, electricians, and drywall subcontractors to build a whole ticket booth in the barren space while we waited. It didn't quite come to that; this was just a pre-security screening queue, in which we were quizzed about our origin and destination and our passports were carefully scrutinized. We were a fairly easy case, because we only had carry-on luggage. In the end we received little stickers to indicate that we'd made it through this checkpoint. These stickers were applied in a very specific way and were very important, because once we emerged from this checkpoint we were back in the same space from which we'd just come.
After a specific passport checkpoint we were within a reasonably secure area, but it doesn't quite have international-airport-grade security. It is nonetheless the biggest area in the airport and contains that hotel where one can rent a room by the minute. We spent some time in its lobby, taking advantage of an accidentally-open WiFi access point and a live electrical outlet, the latter of which was far enough away from furniture that we were forced to sit on the floor. While Gretchen was checking her email, I went off to buy a cup of coffee that ended up costing me six YTLs. That's more than $4, but there was no other option if I wanted caffeine. The injury of the six YTL price was augmented by the insult of the coffee's quality. It tasted terrible!
After about twenty minutes one of the hotel employees came over and told us we had to split; evidently she considered our sitting on the floor gauche, or whatever that translates to in Turkish.
As we'd noticed on our way through Istanbul two weeks before, Turkish authorities have separate ultra-security areas for each boarding gate. Approaching our gate, this last checkpoint was the most intense of any of the ones we'd been through. Not only did they xray our luggage and run us through a metal detector, but there was also a team of people with laptops entering the names of every passenger, probably to see if anyone was, like Edward Kennedy, on one of America's notoriously overbroad no-fly lists.
During the dull wait to board the plane, we wondered about the accommodations. Would we have individual monitors like we'd had on Air France and British Airways flights? Or would it be a strictly ghetto international flight, like the flights to and from Ecuador and our other Turkish Airways flight? And if there was a movie, what would it be? I joked that it would be Tom Hanks vehicle in the form of a sequel to Big called Too Big in which our hero grows to the size of Godzilla and then does the only thing a creature of that size ever does in movies: destroys cities.
There ended up being two movies, though the second one was an unwatchable teensploitation flick about a Volkswagen Beetle in NASCAR. I did actually watch the first one, Bewitched, which began as our plane flew over Ireland. For me, the key to surviving this flight was to always order white wine every time the drink guy came around. He always handed me a small bottle and a plastic cup, never once thinking me a lush. I know Gretchen pretty well at this point and I knew that last bottle I ordered would cross some sort of line and she'd complain, so I was sure to tell her of my intent long before the drink guy came through, so we'd have that conversation well out of his earshot. And it happened just as I expected it to, with her protesting that I'd need to be sober enough to drive once we landed. "That's two hours away," I pleaded.
Unlike the flight to Turkey, the one to New York was crowded with squalling little kids, some old enough to know better. The situation wasn't helped by the mother who kept dumping her baby on her grandmother (sitting across the aisle from us) and then vanishing. The baby screamed the entire time it was in her granny's custody.
At one point I went to take a leak and saw that someone had crapped an unflushable greyish-green coil of poo just in front of the little stainless steel flapper at the bottom of the toilet. I peed into the mess, hoping my urine would create enough mass to suck the whole monstrosity through, but it didn't. Lucky for me, there was no line of people waiting for the toilet as I emerged. Later I saw our flight attendant dude going in there repeatedly armed with a coffee urn full of water. That's a flight attendant duty that doesn't normally come to mind.
After landing we flew through passport control and customs without more than a couple minutes of delay. It seemed there was less paranoia from immigration about this flight than there had been about the flight we were riding on when we returned from Ecuador.
Our luck continued on the cab ride into Brooklyn, when our cabbie loaned Gretchen his cellphone and she discovered that the person who had been borrowing our car was already home from work. It was after 3pm and New York City rush hour should have already begun, but we managed to get out of the city without running into a single traffic jam. As we headed up the Palisades Parkway on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, Gretchen wondered if the reason there were so few cars was because fewer people were driving, what with higher gas prices and the resultant increased use of public transportation. Meanwhile, off in the distance, whatever there was of New York City's rush hour was crawling northward up the highways behind us, like a slow-motion movie of pieces of debris flung from a supernova. Happily, though, we were in no danger because we were traveling much faster than it was.
Oh, the sheer happiness of the dogs when we arrived! They read the layers of odors on our clothes and it told a far more fascinating tale than anything we would ever articulate to anyone in English. Oh, the vicarious adventure! Oh, the throwing of a whole body into the wagging of a tail!
Sundown had just happened here in Hurley but it was already 1:00am Turkish time and we were ready for bed. But before we called it a day, I happened to go into the laboratory and notice that water from nearly-ceaseless rains had been trickling through the roof at the site of my southwest solar deck pillar. It hadn't caused any damage, choosing just to leave watermarks on the support pillar that passes through the laboratory airspace. But I wasn't too happy at the prospect of climbing around on the steep part of the roof searching for leaks.
A last look at Istanbul from the plane.
It's good to see North America, in this case the southeast coast of Nova Scotia.
I didn't even mention the crappy food and punishing fragrances of this particular flight. Before and after each meal the staff would hand out these little packages of soapy water for people to use to clean their hands, and everyone would do as expected, opening the packages and cleansing their grubby booger-encrusted fingers. This would have been fine save for the fact that this particular soapy water smelled like the cheapest, most unpleasant bathroom deodorizer you can imagine. Let me tell you, it would be tough to eat good food while smelling that smell, let alone the crap they passed off as a "vegetarian meal."
This was one of the little ones on our flight. You might think him precious, but he was definitely old enough to know better than to make the continous squalling racket he made as we crossed the wide Atlantic Ocean.
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