seventeen and a half hours of travel
Saturday, December 28 2013
location: Room 208, Royal Sea Aquarium Resort, Curaçao
We got out of bed at around 6:30 this morning, loaded our things into the van, and Gretchen's father drove us north across the island to the airport. Customs and security in Curaçao were effortless, reminding me of the pre-9Eleven world, although (in a nod to the events of that tragic day), we were made to take off our shoes. (I was still wearing flip flops.) Gretchen had forgotten about a bottle of water in her bag (which could have been some sort of liquid explosive), but the person running the baggage xray didn't notice it.
Once we were in the airport, we found out that our flight to Charlotte had been delayed an hour to pick up some people from a connecting flight (though it's hard to imagine why someone would have a connecting flight in Curaçao). So there we were in the airport, passing the time any way we could. Gretchen's mother suggested I look at one of my nephew's books, one about the wildlife of Curaçao. It was written in three languages, and when I looked at the page about the Donkey Dung Sea Cucumber, I learned that the Papiamentu word for feces is "pupu."
The airplane flight to Charlotte was mostly uneventful. Gretchen and I had taken some sort of narcotic or muscle relaxer that made it seem more comfortable than it was, though it was early in the day and neither of us felt the need to sleep. Instead we read and dealt with a bitchy flight attendant who seemed perplexed at Gretchen's desire to speak Spanish with her. (She did get us extra peanuts and cashews, though.) Eventually our niece showed up with her My Little Pony (or some such mainstream anime-influenced brand) coloring book and showed us what she'd been doing. I was delighted to see that she'd followed my suggestion and colored one of the ponies with a psychedelic striped pattern.
After landing in Charlotte, there was a frantic scramble by Gretchen's parents to make their next flight (which was difficult given our hour delay in Curaçao. Fortunately, they were part of TSA Pre, a system that allows terrorists and others to get through security faster, without having to take off their shoes and submit to other ritualized humiliations. This allowed them to make their flight.
Meanwhile, the rest of us had to go through immigration, customs, and proper American airport security (because the United States doesn't trust the airport security conducted by other countries). All of these went quickly, though I've consistently noticed a deliberately-unhurried attitude among American immigration officials. Also, in their booths behind their plexiglass screens, they look a bit larger than life, as if they are being magnified by a snorkeling mask.
Once we were in the Charlotte airport, Gretchen tried to see if she could scare up a series of flights that would get us home faster. Our original flight from Charlotte to Albany had been canceled and we'd been reassigned to a two-legged flight involving National Airport in Washington, DC., and this also meant we'd be spending idle hours in Charlotte. This was how we found ourselves running all the way across the aiport from Concourse C to the farthest reach of Councourse E. Customer service had told us there were still seats available on a plane loading at gate E38. That gate proved an impossible distance away, down four or five separate moving sidewalks, down a flight of stairs, and around numerous corners. One of the moving sidewalks I jumped on took me too far past one of the corners and I had to double back, losing Gretchen in the process. Somehow, though, I remembered the destination: E38. By the time I caught up with her, I was completely exhausted from having run such a great distance wearing a heavy backpack and computer bag. (For her part, Gretchen had been wearing a backpack and carrying a suitcase.) It soon became clear that the ticketing agent at gate E38 was not going to let us board the flight. Though others were still boarding, she claimed there were "no seats available" for us, and nothing we could say would make her change her story. A ticketing agent has a lot of power in a situation like this, and she was choosing to use her power for bitchiness. Still coughing and staggering from our epic run through the airport, Gretchen sarcastically shouted, "Thank you so much!" [That burst of extreme exercise would make our legs sore for the next couple days.]
Gretchen found a refreshingly-nice ticketing agent in the E concourse who managed to find us another series of flights to Albany that would be faster than the one we knew about. This still gave us about an hour to kill, so we found our way to the Burger King, where we had veggie burgers & fries and drank Naked-brand orange-mango cocktail with the dregs of our Curaçaoan rum.
The flight to National (Gretchen refuses to prepend the name of the nation's 40th president) was uneventful, though we taxied to a place far from the terminal and had to be transported in a slow, overcrowded bus from some place far out on the tarmac. This wouldn't have normally been a problem, but our schedule was tight for catching the flight to Albany. When our bus finally disgorged us and someone opened the door to let us into the terminal, we ran around the slowpokes and up to the gate where our flight to Albany was already supposed to be loading. Wouldn't you know it, the damn flight had been post-poned an hour! Flying in airplanes in 2013 in the United States has become what riding Greyhound used to be back in 1987.
Defeated and demoralized, we dragged our asses into the nearest bar in the terminal, which happened to be Gordon Biersch, the douchiest chain of brewpubs in the United States (however, this wasn't the first time I'd patronized one since leaving San Diego). You'd think a westcoast-based brewpub in 2013 would have an IPA, but you'd think wrong if the brewpub was Gordon Biersch. They didn't even have an IPA in bottled form. I suppose this should make me happy; it's a little like going to see a show of your favorite band and not seeing anybody wearing baseball caps in the audience. Gretchen ordered a bloody mary and I ordered a jack on the rocks. "Single or double?" the nice bartender asked. "Double," I replied. Nearby a youngish woman was eating garlic fries, but a basket of such fries is well more than any one person can eat, so she invited us to have some. We got to talking in that awkward way one does when one doesn't know anything about the other person in the conversation (and they already have one strike against them for choosing to patronize a Gordon Biersch). She said something about her sister going to West Point and that she herself had considered going there. That seemed to be another strike against her. But when Gretchen said we were vegan, she didn't find that weird, and she also seemed interested in attending Gretchen's poetry reading at Bus Boys and Poets in May. She gave us her card, and it turned out she works for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in their Nuclear Policy program. After she left and we tired of the fries, we handed them off to some other youngish woman (who had just picked the nine ounce glass of red wine when given a choice between six or nine ounces).
There were a lot of open seats on the flight to Albany. I still had some 160 proof vodka, so I drank enough to get a good buzz going but not enough to keep me from being able to drive us home from the airport after we landed. During that drive, I decided that my progressive bifocals are dangerous for driving at night and I should only wear them when I'm in situations where I have to go back and forth between seeing into the distances and looking at very close objects.
Deborah had had our dogs for the final night of our vacation, but she'd returned them to our house at 8:00pm. They were, as always, beside themselves with joy when they saw us arrive. Most of the snow that had been on the ground had melted in our absence, replaced with a fresh light dusting. Marie (aka "the Baby") was still very much alive, reclined (as has been her habit of late) on the heating pad in front of the woodstove.
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