Monday, August 07, 2006

Chapter 2, in which I actually leave!

I went home, had a screwdriver, and slept. My phone rang. I looked at the number, which started with +46.


I picked up the phone and leaped out of bed. Phone calls are better standing up. Shut up, they totally are. Especially at 4am. Yes, oh yes, it was 4am. I should be at the Stockholm airport. Oh god, they're probably at the airport waiting for me. They didn't get my message!

The woman on the phone was very kind and asked if I was still coming. Yes, yes, I said. "I emailed! I emailed. And the rain! Oh, the rain and the waiting! I missed my flight." She was confused: someone else had come through on the Newark-Stockholm flight (oh, thank god she didn't drive all the way out to the airport just for me). Yes! I exclaimed! I never made it out of Greensboro. Ahh, she said. I gave her my new information, finally confident that I would indeed be picked up when I got there, and went back to bed.

In the morning DJ picked me up and drove me to the airport in his Massive Van. At first he gave me a bit of flack for my giant bag, and then praise when he found out it was full of camping stuff.

I went, as I do, to the self check-in, a little gun shy now. And it didn't find my reservation. My heart seized even as I read that it might be because my tickets had been changed so much. All I had to show for my tickets was a bit of paper from a dot matrix printer with a slew of characters that made no sense to me but theoretically meant I was getting to Sweden. Right? RIGHT?

I handed the bit of paper (complete with holes on the sides! Remember that? Aw, memories...) and he got on the phone and talked very quietly to someone. So quietly I couldn't hear him. Breathing, breathing. "It's going to work out, right?" I asked him. "It should," he replied.

It should?!

In the end I got my tickets and went through security (a different terminal this time! What fun!), and managed to get on the plane and off to Philadelphia. Step one was finally completed, and it only took me two days.

Finally in the air!

I realized that I hadn't told Andrea that she shouldn't pick me up on Friday, so I called her and related my Tragic Tale of Woe, and asked if she could switch the pickup date to Saturday, knowing that since she had family in town, the answer was likely no. She couldn't, and that was fine. So I called Kate and we talked for ages, and if you were in the Philadelphia airport last Sunday and saw a woman doubled over with laughter in the magazine store, hi, that was me.

And I decided that since it was after noon, and since I had been so harangued (har!) by the elements, I deserved this:

I chatted with a nice punk couple and another gentleman at the bar. We were all on the same flight. Punk couple was going on a whim for his birthday present (she was a modern dancer -- didn't see that one coming), other gentleman was catching up with his fiancee who performs on cruises. He'd catch the cruise and tool around the ocean with her. Neat.

It's possible I also had a beer in addition to the martini.

They squeezed us on the plane, and I found myself in an aisle seat. Ick. I tried to get comfortable enough to sleep, but HAH!, I laugh! Yes. I laugh.

There were movies, though! "Firewall" and "The Shaggy Dog." Dear god. I watched more of them than I'd care to admit. Why would they show those? I mean for serious. On British Air we got our own screen and a selection of movies. Not so much on US Air. Bah.

And dinner! There was dinner. I chose the beef instead of the pasta, because I am incredibly stupid. The "meal" consisted of this:

(Pardon the blur: the woman next to me was sleeping and I didn't want to wake her). Let's explore this meal, shall we? Up at the top left you'll see, sitting at an angle, a sponge, or what US Air likes to call "bread." It came with butter, which had melted in the bottom of the tray. Underneath that you'll see two crackers which came with a slice of cheese, packaged in indestructible plastic.

The top right corner contains a "salad" (unseen), which, as I can recall, consisted of iceburg lettuce and carrot bits. For your eating pleasure, there was some kind of dressing provided, pictured middle. I don't remember what variety it was, but I do remember it was "lite."

And now, the -- ah ha, ah hahaha -- meat of the matter. Let's take a closer look:

To your left, modeled by the beautiful spork, we have canned green beans and corn, which wouldn't be crisp if you froze them. To the right we have shredded beef in brown goo. And the middle! Well, that's my favorite. That, my friends, is a mashed potato log. It was cylindrical. Yes it was. I imagine that it also came out of a can.

Apparently US Air is catered by Schoolroom Lunches, Inc.

I couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep, since I had nothing to lean on, and the space in front of me was too small to put the tray table down and rest on that. Can you imagine? Too small to lean forward!

So I alternated between resting my head on the seat in front of me, twisting left, twisting right, giving up on sleeping, watching the movies, feeling pain from said movies, and repeating. It wasn't until an hour before we landed that I got comfortable enough to sleep. Isn't that funny? I also was laughing.

Upon landing I breezed through customs (the Swedes are so civilized -- the one line I had to wait in was only two people deep), found my bag and my ride, got exceptionally confused at the ATM (7 kr to the dollar -- you have ten seconds to try and figure out how much you'll need for a week. Go!), and set off for camp!

There wasn't much to say about the ride except that 1. a half of a bee flew in through my window almost immediately upon leaving the airport (fiddle de dum, a-fiddle dee dee, Eric the half a bee), and 2. it mostly looked like this:

But I'd made it. It took me three days, but I made it to Sweden. The end. For now.
Herrang was a very surreal experience. I slept three times a day, saw some intermingling of Edinburgh, Greensboro, and Raleigh friends, enjoyed 19 hours of sunlight, always caught sunup AND sundown, camped alone for the first time (as alone as you can be with 50 other tents packed around yours) -- it was a strange and generally wonderful time.

Since it was such a dream-like trip (you don't try to explain it, you just stand back and watch) and since I seem to have lost my Magic Free Internet at home I'm going to update with little vignettes, as much as I can write at work. And then update somewhere else, as I would prefer to not get fired for blogging at work.

I have never had so much trouble getting somewhere. The intention, back in the good old days, was to leave on Saturday (Greensboro - Newark - Stockholm) and then return Friday (Stockholm - Newark - Greensboro) in the horribly early morning. Kate and her mom dropped me off, and I tripped prettily into the airport with no idea of the Stupid that lay ahead.

As predicted I got my tickets easily and breezed through security, leaving a solid hour-and-some before boarding. But what's this? Flight delayed? Eep. There didn't seem to be anyone from Continental in the terminal, so I waited. And waited. Finally a woman showed up and I asked how long the delay was. She didn't know. Storms in Newark. BIG storms. Would I would still make my connecting flight? Maybe not, she said. You should go check at the ticket counter.

I booked it back to the ticket counter, where there was a line (excellent). I waited more in the long, slow, jumbled line to talk to one of the two people at the counter. When I finally got to the front, near tears that I might miss my flight and miss my trip to Sweden because the camp is only open for another week and I only have a week off work and it's already a short trip as it is and do you know what a miracle it was that I could take this trip at all and COME ON, PEOPLE, I NEED SOME ASSISTANCE HERE AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP BEING SO PERKY WHEN I AM SO CLEARLY UPSET.

A friendly gentleman assured me that I had plenty of time to catch my flight, and that I may indeed stop freaking out now.

So BACK through security, back to my gate. And at, oh, 4pm (a mere two hours after we were supposed to leave, and enough time where if-we-left-right-then-I-could-still-make-my-flight!) we got to board the plane and we taxied out -- and we waited. And waited. For an hour and a quarter. I missed my chance to make the Sweden flight in Newark. I called to see if it was still running on time, what with the storms and all, and it did. It left on time. Without me.

When we returned to the terminal I returned one more time to the ticket counter to see what they could do, and hello, freaking out some more! I needed to contact Herrang and let them know I wouldn't be on the flight, but I didn't know how because I didn't have a way to call internationally and I didn't have email access! I needed to GET TO SWEDEN, DAMMIT!

So near tears! So very near tears. I started wrapping a bit of elastic around my fingers so that I wouldn't start bawling in front of the Continental counter. When I was finally linked up with someone who worked there I started chatting with a couple who were on a later flight to Newark which had been cancelled. They sympathized with me as I waited for the Continental woman to search for ways to get me overseas. A friend of theirs was dying and so they were going to go visit him. Now they couldn't get there (and didn't want to drive). "This is going to kill him," she'd said.

Ha HA ha ha, I said, in the most awkward way possible.

She decided to keep me on the flight to Newark (which hadn't been cancelled), then they'd put me up in a hotel in NJ (super awesome of them, since they're not required to do anything for me as it's a weather problem), and I'd take the same flight out the next day, and she even changed my return date to Saturday so I didn't lose any Sweden time. This was pretty groovy. I asked if she had internet, and she let me go behind the Official Counter and use theirs. I emailed the camp saying hi! Not going to make it tomorrow, but look for me on Monday, please! Please dear god I hope you get this email!

And so it was that I went through security for the third time, and returned to the gate. Every once in a while they would announce one of two things over the loudspeaker:
1. We'll have an update in an hour, or
2. We'll have an update in a half-hour.

They wouldn't cancel, but eternally promised updates. Little by little people drifted away to take different flights. I stuck around, because so long as I got to Newark by 5:35pm the next day I was sorted. But I wondered if there was there any other option.

I checked to see if they could get me to Newark on another flight/airline/ANYTHING PLS -- or even to Sweden in a different way, but there was just nothing. Apparently there was a storm over every international airport on the east coast, and since it was Saturday there weren't many flights anyway. They could send me Greensboro - Detroit - Amsterdam - Stockholm, which would still have me leaving on Sunday, and would still get me into Stockholm on Monday, at 9am instead of 8:45am. I declined for now, in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, the flight would go out.

But the stress was so bad that I went into the bathroom and I cried. I cried hard. Tears dripped down my nose and landed between my feet -- it was all very melodramatic. But it'd been hours of waiting on tenterhooks -- are we going to go, would I make the flight, how would I get there, how do I let them know, would I make it at all, and GOD I just realized how much this trip means to me -- and it was just completely miserable.

When I finally emerged I found the cleaning woman standing outside the door to the bathroom, waiting patiently for me to be finished. Oops. Hi!

At least the sky was pretty.

The problem with this flight was that we had to be "wheels in the belly" (i.e. in the air) by 8:58pm or we weren't going. If we left after that then the pilot, who had come out to chat with us, would have "gone pumpkining."

Travel factoid!
Pilots have a set number of hours they can fly. If they don't take off in that time (and they mean off the ground), then they're flying illegally, which is going pumpkining. Because after midnight you turn into a pumpkin. Like the story. Get it? Right.

The pilot was based in Newark, so he was keen to go, which is likely why they wouldn't cancel. And then, at around 7:30pm, it started to rain. And rain.

See the sheets of rain? Well, I could.

Blurry rain!

And this little girl was very cute and well-behaved:

I think she was watching "Finding Nemo."

I talked to my parents for a long time as they bolstered my confidence about the damn flight. Sobbing helped calm me down a bit, and I got back in line to see if there were any other options for flights. She found me a Greensboro - Philadelphia - Stockholm US Air flight leaving Sunday around 11am, getting in around 8am Monday. Also a relief, though I'd wait to see what happened.

Cut to 8:30pm. There were a dozen of us left, optimistic to the end. It was pouring rain, with thunder and lightning, but it looked like we might be able to make it! We gathered around the desk and joked around, full of anticipation, as the Continental women (one of whom had been there since 4:30am -- give that woman a medal) and the pilot called a thousand Airline people, begging them to let us go.

One guy who was in a set of teens who gave me zero hope for the future said it'd been the worst day of his life. I looked at him, aghast. "This is the worst day of your life? This?" I asked. "Boy are you lucky." "Yeah," he said.

I don't think he got what I was trying to say.

I started to give up the ghost, and the Continental woman started setting up my flight through Philadelphia, when the metaphorical winds started to change!

It was 8:45 and they looked like they might be able to sneak us out! But we had five minutes to board! "We can board that quickly!" we cried. "In fact, we're already on the plane!" Continental woman promised to fix my tickets -- I should just go and she'd take care of it all. And we raced out, threw ourselves in seats, and got the safety lecture. The Continental women waved and gave thumbs-up as the boarding ramp pulled away, and I pulled out Sky Mall magazine and buzzed with excitement and a little worry that HELLO, GIANT LIGHTNING STORM, but whatever!

You have to wonder when to take so many disasters as a hint. Perhaps the universe is trying to say something.

But us! On the plane! All of us! Seatbelts and everything!

And then the ramp pulled back. Oh dear. Yup. Cancelled. That was it. We were so close. So very, very close.

Continental woman fixed my tickets for GSO-PHL-STO for Sunday, and I trudged back past security one last time. In the end it's for the best. I could sleep in my own bed, I still got the same amount of time in Sweden, and I wouldn't have to fly through lightning storms. So okay.

I called Pete, got my bag, and went home. DJ would give me a ride in the morning, and thus it was that the number of people driving me to/from the airport was up to 5.

In our next episode, I actually get farther than spitting distance from my apartment! Stay tuned.

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