Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Journey on the Aeroplane

I wrote this on the plane yesterday morning:

"In the air from Chicago to Austin. Thirty-something thousand feet. They put us on standyby for the direct 9:05am flight. The alternative was to catch the 9:55am to St. Louis and then on to Austin by 4:30pm.

We should've been in Texas last night if everything had gone as expected. As Tom, the operational supervisor at American Airlines, said: 'it's an act of God so it's not our problem.' He pleaded with us to blame God for the weather delay, not him, and to feel free to take up any concerns with the big man or

We had to make a 12:00 flight from Krakow yesterday morning so we were up and out the door by 7:00am. The Hallo Taxi man was waiting cheerfully outside our door. This guy's one of my favorite drivers. I know most of them from my tri-weekly ventures to satellite schools and businesses.

Our train to Krakow was almost an hour late. Once in the Krakow airport, we waited and waited, three hours, in 'utter chaos' (as the flustered American couple put it). It really was utter chaos, although I prefer not to pass judgement on another culture for not being the same as my own. It's an easy outlet for disgruntlement, but it's unkind and unnecessary. I'll try to describe it as objectively as I can. Hundreds of people funnelling into a tiny space--the width of two, maybe three, people--to enter another area where you again had to squeeze into another section to wait. It felt like a sweaty and tense mirror maze. There was no tidy queue, no courtesies, just a mass of irritated travellers shoving for the best position and throwing angry glares at their new neighbors. It was all so primitive. It was survival.

As it turns out, it wasn't bad that our flight from Krakow was delayed as we learned once we passed through the hours of security. We wouldn't've made it to the plane on time anyway. But we were already tired and we hadn't even begun.

The flight was a-okay. There was no room in the first-class closet for my wedding dress or Bhad's suit, so we had to not-delicately-at-all cram them in the overhead compartment. The LOT stewardesses (I know it's politically incorrect, but I like the throw-back) were curt as usual, but we noticed major and recognizeable improvements in our Polish. The last trip we made on LOT airlines, we were struggling to keep the words for 'thank you' and 'good day' straight. Now we could communicate that we wanted tea with milk and no, no lemon thank you. We didn't get any cocked-head, confused looks, all was smooth as butter. Smooth as maslo. And Booster was a star. Didn't even make a whimper.

Our landing was delayed 30 minutes and it was terribly rocky. Tumultuous is the word. I was very nervous, I admit; the plane would drop and then seemingly catch itself every few seconds. 'What's the worst that could happen?' I kept asking myself. Oh, yes, we could all die. But we'll die anyway someday, right? So nothing we should worry about. I think I could do for better acceptance of death. It puts things into perspective and it's so real. It might sound obvious to say that death is real, but we do our best to ignore it everyday. But the reality is also that I like living, and conveniently we didn't die. The pilot got us on the ground and the passengers errupted in applause.

As we rushed off the plane that'd carried us across the Atlantic, the relief of the safe landing didn't last long. We immediately started to feel the urgency once again. We had to make our connection to Austin in just 40 minutes! The health and safety inspector needed to take a look at the pup's papers, but they took about 15 minutes trying to page an officer authorized to do it. We shot off towards the AA check-in area in terminal five the moment he cleared us to go.

When we arrived at the check-in, the man directing the people traffic said 'this line please, oh, I think that flight is cancelled,' as if someone had just asked him if he wanted sugar in his coffee and he'd responded 'sure.' I had the fantasy of him saying all of these traumatic or drastically exciting things in the same ambivilent tone. But the novelty of it dissapated into annoyance quickly. We were to meet this man, our buddy Tom, at the counter 30 minutes later.

As warned, our flight was cancelled. Due to weather, apparently. Every potential flight out of Chicago aimed at Texas--even one to D.C (?!)--were cancelled for the night. Tom offered with his broad, toothy smile 'if we wanted, we'd be more than welcome to stay in the public terminal overnight. The seats out there are quite comfy and there's a food court just upstairs [insert automatic smile here].' He also gave us the option, as he put it, of taking an indirect flight from Chicago to St. Louis to Austin, arriving at 4:30 in the afternoon the following day. We made the argument that our original flight was direct and we were not exactly happy with the exchange. Insert smile, shake head, sing-songy Chicago accent, and his power phrase: well, that's your opinion. He apologized for the inconvenience and said 'well, if there's nothing more I can do for you...' The word 'more' rallied every emotion in my body for battle and set me off. More you can do? More? But you would've had to do something in order to offer us more! 'That's all I can offer you, ma'am. I'm very sorry.' Smile, bigger smile.

I had to muster all the sense I had left to not start making wild judgements about Americans again. The saccarine sweet attitude Tom gave us, never giving us a direct answer but twisting it to make it look like it was the best situation possible for us, disgusted me. Why not just be honest and treat your customers, although they're customers, like humans? The toothy grins and chipper nods he perpetuated when he gave us the bad news was totally unbelievable. Unbelievable. What world are we in? What's wrong with him?

I was upset and exhausted and totally unable to make a clear decision. Bhads took charge and bought a hotel room at the Radisson with a discount voucher from the airline. It was still $80 (240pln!!!) and on principal I disagreed, but we really needed the rest.

The hotel was as comfy as a cloud. There was a nice clean bathtub with hot water in the pipes just asking to be released, internet access, TV showcasing a baseball game in all it's American glory. Booster let loose after being in his bag all day, I jumped into the bath, and Bhads ordered us a deep dish Chicago pizza from the famous Giordano's. I don't know if they're really famous, but they claimed to be so on the box. One third crust and sauce, two thirds cheeeeeese. There was so much cheese, I was almost grossed out. I love cheese. It's my favorite food. Practically any type of cheese. I'll eat it alone, with other foods, hot or cold. I could eat cheese for every meal. But this was almost too much. The call was simple, no language challenges. And we sipped on water from the tap--what a luxury!

Ah hah, descending into Austin now. Oh, hello cabin pressure and nausea...

We ate some of the left over pizza for breakfast and hopped the shuttle back to the airport to try to get a standby seat on the direct 9:05 flight. We got seriously lucky. Out of 39 people waiting on standby for an open seat, we were numbers one and two! We got seats next to each other without a problem. And they even had a closet to hang our wedding wares.

Oh, bumpy clouds. Maybe clouds aren't so comfy. We'll be in Austin in minutes. 95 degrees, clear skies and humid? Oh, the journey continues and it's time for a nap."

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