Thursday, August 23, 2007

We're Back!!!

If it is almost 6 a.m. in Portland, then I must have really slept in if I was in Paris, but we're not there, so what time is it really? Wait, it's a work day! Damn! It's 6 a.m. And I guess champagne for breakfast is right out as well.

The flight was smooth, though there were two problems, well actually, three. The first two were that we should have checked our legs at Heathrow. British Airways (or "the BA" as I like to think of them), which a number of years ago had a great coach class seating where you actually had room for things like, well, your legs, have opted for "maximizing capacity". They have brought "new improved" - super coach "Plus" seating (we've heard the same joke from US airlines, but at least you're not flying for nine hours) which has the same leg room that all coach used to have only it cost more. For those people who opt for regular coach well, "what you do with your legs is your problem, not ours".

The BA does have a sense of humor, though. They give you a nice little packet that includes a cute mask to keep out the light, headphones to hear the entertainment system, a toothbrush so as not to offend your seatmates in the 7th or 8th hour of the flight, and socks. The socks are great, except, unless you are a Neanderthal with arms extending to your ankles, you need to BEND OVER to reach your feet. And, since they have moved the seat in front of you up to your knees (you do get an incredibly good view of the screen in the seat in front of you, particularly if that person leans back, I didn't even need my glasses), you cannot bend over, I tried it. From the perspective of the BA, if you come with a head, neck, torso and legs, you simply have too many parts for standard coach, which the BA jokingly refers to as "World Traveler", which is pretty close, they just left out the words "Stiff and Weary".

They do have an excellent entertainment system with a vast array of movies all for free. Of course, on the way to London, they had very similar system which had a fair amount of entertainment and movies which you could have for an extra charge. I wonder which plane was part of the newer fleet?

Still, they fed us (for free, not little boxes of odd combinations of wheat thins, beef jerkey, jalapeno cheese whiz and jelly beans that they try and sell you in the US) - of course, it is "airplane food", so don't get your hopes to high, and plied us with drink (which worked very well on the way to London, but we had a three-hour drive waiting us in the US, so we had a "don't drink after Iceland" rule - now, where the hell was Iceland?).

The other problem was air, pesky thing, that. They had a hard time keeping the airconditioning system working. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time when they have a hard time with ANYTHING not working on a plane. Anyway, we felt like it was a true historical Atlantic crossing, a large group of tired, distraught people sitting for what seemed like days in an incredibly small hot holding area. I think I heard singing and champagne bottles popping up in first class.

Eventually, we made it to Seattle, sat around the aircraft for what seemed like days while people unfolded themselves, pulled out their overhead sea chests, cuddled their little children while unfolding baby carriages, doddered around like village idiots looking for a way out of an open field . . . Is it just me, or have people simply lost their minds now-a-days about how to exit a vehicle? I mean, there you are, there is a door, it should be a simple process.

So, then we rushed (just kidding, we were still behind large groups of people, some who would periodically stop in their tracks in the corridors to drool) to the US border guards. The three guards who were checking the hundreds of people were very friendly. I'd love to have had a chance to spend more time with them, but the hour or so we had seemed pretty sufficient.

Made it through that process and started walking to the "baggage claim". I have thought it would be nice if they gave us mile posts for places like that in airports, like, "baggage claim, 3 miles", then again, it might be too depressing. We made it to baggage claim in time (from the point where the plane landed to the point where we finally made it to the baggage claim) for the handlers to unload all the bags, sort through them, repack and send them on a separate trip somewhere. Of course, when we made it to the baggage "carousel" (at least it sounds like the bags are having fun) there was that typical "baggage claim" scene, hundreds of people standing around the carousel (looking vaguely like extras from "Dawn of the Dead") and the same luggage, circling, unclaimed by anyone, around and around, while we wait for the real bags to arrive. Do you ever wonder what is actually in those fake bags that the airlines put out there for show?

I can't complain though, all three of our bags ultimately (and I mean, ULTIMATELY) showed up, happy to see us and relatively unscathed. Of course, I could take the view that, even in the one place where the BA really outshines all other European airlines (lost luggage, International Business Times, 4/7/07), they failed us - and we are grateful.

We packed our luggage on a Free Luggage Cart - amazing! Walked the 20 yards to Customs, nothing to declare and 20 yards later there was another luggage conveyor belt. I naturally assumed it was for people who had not yet had sufficient airline abuse and we're looking to fly somewhere else, but nope, it was for everybody. They stopped us and told us to put the bags back on the belt. Fortunately (or I might be in a holding tank somewhere at the airport), only Karen heard my comment "J---- C______!, is this f____ing stupid or what?"). In the end, I complied, though it was painful, after being away from each other for so long and just being reunited, to have to give our luggage up to another conveyor. Oh, and after the 40 yards, you had to give up your free luggage cart.

We got on a train with a nice sweet quaint older English woman, who also thought the conveyor thing was "f____ing stupid".

We found our luggage - again - went trodding off in search of the rental car and, "Thank You, Hertz Gold Club", our huge American Car with marvelous air conditiioning, comfortable seats and a walk-in trunk was waiting for us, expectantly. We then headed down the Great American Highway (I-5) with plenty of shoulder room, huge lanes, looking for Starbucks and flying home at 60 - 70 miles an hour (slowing down to 45, officer, at the occassional construction site, i.e., every 1/2 mile or so).

Since it took us almost two hours to get out of the airport, our energy started to flag when we were about 35 miles from home, before which I had Karen recite the entire plots to the three movies she watched on the plane ("keep talking, say anything"). Karen, who had less sleep, said she was feeling fine ("Are you Positive? Maybe we should just go to a motel?"). She was fine, for about ten miles. We pulled over to a mega-mall parking lot, parked the car and went to sleep. I think we could have slept until morning, but we did awake, I was feeling pretty refreshed and we made the last 25 miles (except for the 23 1/2 miles of construction) fairly smoothly.

So, here we are, clicking our heels and holding our Yorkie, Penny, saying "there's no place like home, there's no place like home".

Love from LO,

Gary & Karen

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