Part One: Getting to Chicago
I have tended to have a few ‘interesting’ travel ventures in my time. This one may take the biscuit.
Almost everyone has experienced the ‘rush and wait’ feeling that you have when you travel. You may worry about getting to the airport early enough, only to wait at the gate for a couple of hours. My trip was the extreme of this.
It started off innocently enough. I was ready to head to the in-laws, who were scheduled to take me to the airport. Then I realised something. My coat was in the back of my car. That wouldn’t be so bad, however, ‘my car’ was sitting at Emily’s school. So, my first ‘rush’ was to get over there, open the boot, and grab the coat, before sneaking over to the in-laws.
A minor issue. Not a big deal. I wished that would be the worst part of the trip. Of course I was very wrong :)
It turned out that my sister-in-law was able to take me to the airport, which gave us a bit of time to catch up which was nice. I was at the airport a couple of hours before my flight, which is especially plenty for the airport in Madison. You see, you could sneeze from where you pick up your tickets, and give the flu to the person at your gate.
Ahh, it is so nice to walk into the terminal and go straight up to the desk. Noone in line at all. What a pleasure. However, here the rushing commenced again. It turned out that Chicago was having trouble today… something to do with it being the windy city. My flight was delayed, enough to be in a situation where I would miss my flight to europe. Not good. There was some fortune however, in that an earlier flight was also delayed, and they were frantically calling the gate to see if they could wait for me to get on.
I quickly handed over my paper tickets (which is very strange. For some reason travelocity.com insisted). It took them awhile to realise what these were, but then I was on my way. I ran through security (again: no line at all) and headed to my gate. Noone was there. I knocked on the door. Nothing.
I then saw a glimpse of a cheese-head down the way, so I chased it. They came over to help, and talked on the walkie talkie for awhile, before letting me on the plane. When I was at the gate alone, I had actually felt tempted to take the walkie-talkie which was laying in front of me. It was so tempting :)
I got on the plane and smiled. I had made it. Just in time. Now there was time for some waiting. We sat on the tarmack for quite some time before the pilot kindly announced that we were going to have to wait 15 minutes for take-off. 15 minutes later. Nothing. “Sorry again folks. We will just have to sit here for another 30 minutes. No biggy”.
Now, I am not a huge fan of flying in the best of times, but I really hate NOT moving at all. It just feels wrong. I was especially happy to finally get in the air. I calculated that since I was on an early flight, even with the delays, I was looking good. I would have plenty of time to enjoy the splenders of Chicago O’Hare. This included getting a bite to eat, as I hadn’t had anything yet.
My throat felt like Ghandi’s flip flop (as a friend would say), so I looked forward to a drink coming down the aisle of the plane. Just as I was deciding between a Sprite and an Orange Juice, the flight attendent got on the blower to tell us that this was a NO service flight. SO WHAT IS SHE GETTING PAID TO DO. Oh, the security. This naturally made me more thirsty than ever.
Oh well, this is just a 30 minute flight anyway, so it isn’t like I will have to wait long. You guessed it, 30 minutes passed and as soon as I looked outside of the window, I gasped. I could still see Madison! Enter the pilot: “As you may have noticed, we have been circling for some time now. We expect to actually move in a straight line soon”.
Let’s skip ahead to landing in Chicago. Due to the whole paper ticket / international flight thing, I had to go to the international terminal (via a slow train) and re-check in. It was refreshing to get into the international terminal as it was so quiet. No lines anywhere. Until, I got to KLM. Here the line went around the building. It was longer than the line I was in to see Al Franken at the student union.
When waiting in these lines you are always in a frustrating position. How close do you stand to the person in front of you? I personally prefer to give them (and myself) a bit of room, however this always backfires via:
- Some idiot wanting to just jump in line
- One person every 2 minutes wanting to get through the line using your gap as the passage
So, I tried to dance the ‘not quite enough room here’ game, with varied results. It didn’t help that there was a family in front of me. There were parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles, and the paper boy there, all in line. Of course, only 2 people were ACTUALLY flying. The rest were there for the fun of it.
I got to the front of the line with about 30 minutes before my flight left. I got my ticket, and ran for the security line which had quadrupled in the time that I was there. Now, I was faced with another dilema. I hate to be a barger, but people on my flight kept jumping to the front of the line demanding to get through quick. It was working, so I decided I had to do the same else I wouldn’t move. I was told: “no”. I was going to miss my flight. In a nice change in fate, the lady then came up and said “oh go on then” and I jumped through.
Laptop out. Coat and shoes. Let’s go. I got through the metal detector to be stuck with a malfunction in the scanner machine for the person behind me. This meant that my belongings were also stuck, in site, but not through the machine. My foot tapping started as I eyed the clock. When my belongings finally made it through, I chucked on my shoes and made a run for it. The ‘last call’ was overhead as I reached the gate. I made it.
Little did I know that the worst part was to come.
Part Two: Teanage years
Although I was starving and thirsty (having had no time at all to grab anything), I was happy to be on board the KLM flight to Amsterdam. I was sitting next to a stereotpical young hippie, who seemed nice enough. He was in the middle seat, but I hoped that the window would remain free so he could move over and room could be had. When stuck in a trans-atlantic flight, it is nice to be able to flex a muscle here or there.
My luck held out. Every passenger who was even later than I, that came on, walked on past. I was holding my breath. But, the doors closed and I hinted that he bloody move over already.
I was ready to read a bit, watch the movie: “Deckchair Danny” (a real classic), and then try to fall asleep. It was all going nicely until the d00d next to me kept talking to the bird in the row behind me. She was dressed like a modern Janis Joplin, and was raving about how:
- She has been a veggie for almost a year
- She has taken up the guitar and plays all the time
- She loves pot
- She really loves pot
- And other drugs
This started a great yabbering between them as they talked vices. He happened to have some hash in his pocket and wondered if they should take some.
Then the inevitable happened:
“Hey, dood. Do you mind if she sits here?”
Before I could answer she was on top of me, falling into the seat in between us. I was edged out, and the beginning of the left-lean began. They started to talk more about Really Deep Shit ™. He was in a band. He would make it big. She thought: Rock On. I tried hard to turn up my headphones loud enough to drown them out, but it just wouldn’t happen.
Dinner came, which I ate with one hand (as that was all the room I had thanks to her huge coats). It was also quite hard to eat the chicken as they talked about how evil it was to eat meat. “I want to go vegan, man”. At least the crackers were top notch.
Before I got to the inevitable worst part, the ironic thing about me writing this is that I was reading Bill Bryson’s: The Lost Continent on the trip. That has rubbed off in such a way that I feel like I have to take the mickey out of travel.
Back to the nightmare. Have you guess it yet?
Well, “Deckchair Danny” started up. It is a harmless, goofy, Aussie movie about a bloke who floats out of town and becomes a hero. Corny, but for some reason I couldn’t sleep anyway. As soon as the lights went dim, the new couple got comfy. This is where I felt like being a kid again. When I was ~14 I frequented a certain ice rink in Romford (for a few weeks). For some boys who went to an all lads school, this was a place where we could see some ladies. And, some of us actually pulled. The sad part was that one time I ended up at the local cinema with two mates, and two birds. My friend, Elliott, leaned over to tell me “Sorry mate” as he then leaned the other way and started to get hold of the Essex girl to his right.
History was repeating itself again, but now I was nearing 30, and I didn’t bloody know the people who 5 cms from me were going at it.
It was a long. long. long. long. flight.
Part Three: Finally there, now for the last leg
I was out of the plane in a flash. Now I had to find a ‘Transfer Desk’ in the Amsterdam airport, to get my boarding pass for Antwerp. I got to the desk, and soon the one person helping me became two. They had never seen a situation like mine. It turned out that I was not getting a flight to Antwerp, but a train. KLM had a fake flight number for a train transfer. Oh well, so I will see some sites on the way. Not so bad!
The problem was that this had also confused the great minds of American Airlines in Madison. They had checked my luggage to Antwerp, even though there was no way it could get there. I had to run down to the baggage department to see if they could dig up my bags.
The kind lady there was very helpful. She got me my ‘boarding pass’ of sorts for the train, and called in the problem. An hour went by and they couldn’t find the bags. I had to fill out a form, and they would hopefully get me my bags tomorrow morning at the earliest. They did kindly give me some toiletries to get me by!
I went off to find out where the hell to go: train wise, and to finally get some brekkie + more liquids. I worked it all out, and the train was delayed for 15 minutes. For some reason, I thought I should ‘check back’ on the baggage situation. Loe and behold, the words I wanted to hear: ‘WE FOUND IT’. I was rushed to the delayed baggage department, grabbed my bags, and just made it in time for my train ride.
That is where I am right now. I just passed the Feyernood football stadium. It was hard to see as it is so foggy here you can barely see your hand in front of your face.
Anyway, hopefully I will pull into Antwerp station in about an hour, and then I can get a cab to the hotel. Hopefully the JavaPolis chaps have got the rooms all setup. I am going to need one pretty quickly.