Wednesday, June 15, 2005 Washington DC, Dulles Airport
All bright eyed and bushy tailed we arrive at the airport 3 hours early, nearly all the painting done, and two major school meetings cut. Feeling very powerful we get to create much of the next 2 months with no timetables except the airlines. On an aircraft, too small for our bags and to stand up in, to be told that there is no room in Washington DC for us to land. So we wait, with our glass of tomato juice with no ice.
Meanwhile our plans of heading straight on to Europe slowly fade, as I text message Brendan to prepare him, hoping that this does not jinx it. Well it did, we rush into the Dulles terminal, me running ahead, Terrell collecting those heavy, ‘we always travel light’ backbacks. And can you believe it, the jet to Frankfurt sits there, behind closed doors. No one will open them. Blimey. It could be worse. We could still be back home painting, or trying to ring plumbers and painters who only answer with answering machines, like the rest of America. Not that it matters much, I like America for many other reasons. Perhaps one day we’ll make some money off our house, despite the slowest and most expensive tradesmen the world has ever seen.
And here I sit at Starbucks in the airport again for our rescheduled flight, five and a half paranoid hours early, and a short night’s sleep behind us. It’s still fun. It’s always fun with Terrell, really.
At Albany airport we were asked to ‘move along’ and rather quickly too - so we could “leave as soon as possible”. Those “leave as soon as possible” words had harmonious movement in them, there was no reason to question or try and put any meaning other than “leave as soon as possible” to them.
Of course, we did not know that she, our airline steward, knew what we did not know and she knew that “leave as soon as possible” did mean that and furthermore that there were layers also to the meaning. It is safe to say there may have been dimensions that we mere passengers were not aware of. We were entering three-dimensional meaning. Narda claims I use far too many words to say what others say in much less words. Our stewardess was my verbiage opposite; she used far too few words to say way far too much; “leave as soon as possible”.
Our jet fighter plane, well that is a slight exaggeration, perhaps we were on the United States Presidential Air Force One, closed her genderless doors and we were racing down on the way to months of global trotting. We received the safety tour, being notified where the exits were, and yes there was a toilet – at the back of the plane and learning that our flight attendant had a name of Carol and that she would be there for us. Through thick and thin we had Carol reassuring us that our future was secure.
Re-assured that we were safely on our way, Narda opened her book for the blissful reading experience ahead and I began reading my short guide to a new software program that I had just installed. There was no thought of taking my laptop on board as it would not be worth starting it up and using any of the four-hour battery power that I would need in a few hours as we headed over the Atlantic bound for endless pleasures and perhaps some sleep. Narda and I were tired to begin with. We had little sleep the night before due to the hot and humid night without air conditioning at home. And to further my tiredness I was just getting over a week’s bout of the flu.
Now we had a fifty-minute flight ahead and I had a fifty page book, surely I would have the program figured out by the time we got to DC and I would tryout my new found knowledge on the flight; DC to Hamburg. We got to the end of the runway and that was it. After sitting for ten-minutes, it was now 7.10 PM and by my calculations we would be at Dulles Airport at 8.05, plenty of time to catch our departing flight scheduled to leave at 9.35.
Carol passed on the unfortunate news that we would now be departing at 9 pm, two-hours past our original time and that would mean we would not be able to make our connection. The reason, she passed on, was that we had not been assigned a landing slip at Dulles Airport yet. We of course went into panic mode ringing United Airlines and Narda texted messaged Brendan to say we would not make the flight. At 7.20 Carol gave us the encouraging news that we would be leaving shortly only to deny us any hope a few minutes later when she said we would leave at eight, then there was another nine pm departure time announced and I think there was a nine-thirty departure time thrown in at some point. A lady several rows behind us said she had just found out that there were no hotel rooms available anywhere near the airport and United was not going to put up the people who would miss their flight.
There was this agonizing announcement and that negative comment and claims of leaving soon and I am sure there was a ‘you will never leave this aircraft’ tossed in, no doubt subliminally through the air conditioning unit. We asked if we could leave the plane and try our luck at getting a flight to Chicago and a connection to Europe but at the end of a runway on the beginning of our flight to Australia in the middle of June on a hot summer evening we weren’t goin’ nowhere. To cut to the chase we got into the air at 8.30 plus, only one and a half hour late.
Narda got off first and ran to the end of the concourse to gate C7 in hopes of our still getting onto our plane. It was due to leave at 9.35 and it was now 9.32. I carried our carryon bags heading toward a rendezvous with Narda at a gate that would soon swallow us and toss us out at the other end somewhere in Germany. But the cell-phone call was not promising. Narda said the plane was there but they would not open the door for us.
We got in the rapidly growing line at ‘customer service’. There were seven terminals and three girls looking very uncaring and even less helpfully shaking their heads ‘no’ from customer to customer. Soon the line had at least a hundred agitated people in it. Not only was there no way anyone was going anywhere but United was not going to help anyone find a place to sleep. The man in front of us, arriving from some city in Ohio several hours later than he was suppose to have landed in order to get his family’s connecting flight had two small children and he told us that his family was told they could get on a flight but they would be on standby. After discovering that the flight was full he was back in line for the second time at the ‘customer service’. He did get his family on a flight for the next day but United would not help them find a place to stay.
We were told we would be put on standby for a flight for the next day at 5.30 PM. We pushed and pushed until we got the ticket agent to change our ‘standby’ flight to a confirmed booking. She told us to keep it to ourselves that we had a confirmed booking as there was a long and growing line of agro customers wanting a confirmed flight to Europe on the next day.
We left the ticket counter at 11.30 PM. We were lucky we had confirmed tickets. There was still the long line behind us and the United staff were acting far from friendly. One of the ticketing girls said she was leaving at midnight no matter at how many people were in line. United told us the reason we missed our flight was ‘weather related’ meaning they no long were responsible for anything. United airlines is in bankruptcy protection and if they run their airline the way we witnessed, being rude to customers, not taking responsibility for missed connections, not providing for the comfort and care for its customers then I can see why. We are on our third around-the-world ticket, and it is clear that our mistake was going with United airlines on our latest around-the-world ticket. We have had a lot better service with Qantas and its partners and that will be our airline of choice in the future, unless of course we change our mind which we do at the drop of a hat or a good deal. We are the archetypical fickle tourist.
At 12.30 AM, June 15th, we found ourselves in the bowels (or is that the rectum?) at the baggage section only to be told we could not have our baggage. At one AM we rang every hotel-motel listed in the airport directory. Out of approximately fifteen places only one had a room at the midnight price of $315 plus $45 each way for a taxi. We decided to hire a car and took the shuttle bus to Dollar car rental. The people working there were the first pleasant employees we had encountered since getting on the plane at 6.30 the night before.
The Dollar car rental manager rang several hotels from the Yellow pages and rented us the last vehicle they had available. Fifteen minutes later we were driving a new van (it had two-miles on it) along the Beltway, Rout 495, I think, (a six-lane freeway that circles the nation’s capital) trying to find a Red Roof Inn somewhere along a maze of interwoven freeways. We eventually found Route 95 and the correct exit and by 2 AM we were at in our room and by 2.15 I had my earplugs shoved in to the middle of my head and my eye patch safely in place. Five hours later, tired, but feeling better than if we had slept in a chair at the airport like many others had to, we were up and trying to cancel our hotel in Amsterdam to no avail.
Of course why should we complain? There were a lot of people who either had no connecting flight for the next day or who were in the ‘standby’ category; which really meant ‘wait-another-day’. There was the young mother, child in a pram, crying on the shuttle bus as she spoke on her cell phone, and a teenage girl very upset she had to spend the night at the airport and a man trying to get to Hamburg for the ‘most important meeting of his life’ but the story I found absolutely strangest was one flight where the pilot walked off the plane and left his passengers on the runway without the plane going anywhere. The man at the baggage counter said he could have driven home in two-hours but had decided to fly wherever he was going and now his luggage was stuck on a plane with no pilot. He said when the passengers saw the pilot leave they all got off. United airlines – you suck. Of course why should we complain? There are many people who have not traveled much in life at least physically and this is my eleventh jaunt between East Coast America and Australia; six times via the Atlantic and five over the Pacific.
It is now 2.30 PM, Wednesday and hopefully we will get on the flight direct to Amsterdam in another three hours.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Here we are in Utrecht. Sitting in Rienk’s apartment. Narda, Rieke, Brendan and Kylie. 6:43:20 PM. Narda and Brendan and Kylie went for a bike ride to the old town and I took a nap and now Narda and I are boring everyone with our home videos.
Amsterdam is a rapidly changing city. I judge cities by how many building cranes in the air and Amsterdam has about the most, year after year. Albany, New York has one or two every few years. Last year we did a couple of day trips from Utrecht. There was the drive there when we were out of petrol and after filling up and going inside to pay realized that we did not have any cash or credit cards and the attendant did not speak English and Narda’s Dutch got us through the moment. I left my driver’s license and we went back to Utrecht and got our credit cards. We lost a camera on that visit to Amsterdam, the only thing we remember losing on any trip anywhere in the world. The year before I sent Leigh a copy of a National Geographic that we once owned, it was a 1983 edition that had a story of minor league baseball clubs in America. I had found the magazine in my father’s collection of National Geographics that he had collected from 1921 to some current date. Leigh and I had borrowed that edition once in Victor Harbor when he was about ten-years old and we talked daily of his future when he would be a major league ball player. I mailed that copy in Amsterdam as a birthday card/present in mid-June 2004, two-months later he would be dead.
On the flight across the Atlantic, on United, even the airline stewards were grumpy and there was no free alcohol as there was on every other international flight I had ever been on. Being tired did not help. But as one does in these situations I thought of my past ten international trips and in comparison was already determining this as being the worst flight.
10. December 2004: New York (Newark) – London – Singapore – Melbourne and back the same way January 05; uneventful trip Downunder for Christmas.
9. June 2004: Albany – Chicago – Dublin – Amsterdam – Hong Kong – Sydney – Hawaii – Albany
8. June 2003: Albany – Chicago – Miami – Barcelona – Hamburg – Seoul - Hong Kong – Sydney – Albany
7. March 2002: Adelaide – Orlando, Florida to see Leigh, Clifton Park to see father
6. March 1992: with Sacha (age 11) and Leigh (eight), Adelaide, Oregon, LA, upstate New York and NYC, and a long fourteen hour flight; LA – Hamburg during which time I drank too much free alcohol, Paris, London and etc.
5. January 1985 with Sacha (turned 4 somewhere between Honolulu and Baltimore) and Leigh (one and a half); Hawaii, LA, Baltimore, upstate New York and back to Adelaide
4. December 1984: two-months after separation leading to divorce, by myself on a round-the-world ‘yeah I am free’ trip; Adelaide, Hawaii, LA, NYC, upstate New York, London, Germany, Rome, Athens, Bangkok, Perth, Adelaide
3. October 1982 with Lesia and Sacha (age one and a half); Hawaii, LA, upstate New York
2. June 1981; Hawaii to Adelaide with Lesia and Sacha (age six months)
1. December 1980; Baltimore – Auckland – Sydney – Baltimore
Now I get to read my primary reading: Radical Evolution (The promise and pearl of enhancing our minds, our bodies – and what it means to be human) by Joel Garreau
Friday, June 17, 2005
Finally feel alive after almost twelve hours of sleep. Hello Holland.