Sunday, 9 March 2014

Blue Chip

 The flight was scheduled for 6:00 p.m. so we arrived at the airport at 4:00. I had slept badly the night before because of a cold and was in that worst phase when you can hardly breathe, your nose is running, you’re coughing and your throat is starting to hurt. All I wanted to do was sleep, but instead we began the process of lugging suitcases, backpacks and my purse that held the vital travel documents through check-in, luggage-drop and American customs. I kept drinking water and coughing and rummaging for more kleenex.

We thought we knew the tiresome routine. Quelle surprise! Our dear neighbours to the south have instituted an extra treat for visitors to their country. After check-in, American customs now includes waiting for an available computer kiosk where you insert your passport, opened to your photo, and stare at a camera that takes a new photo and prints it out.  With print-out (and passport and boarding pass) in hand, you then haul yourself and your carry-ons over to the next official who looks at your print-out and your passport to see if they match, before discarding the printout into a garbage can and waving you wordlessly on to the next part of security. Just what we needed, one more step in the tedious process. 

Next you must take off your shoes, empty your pockets, remove your belts and, like half-dressed children, listen to loudly repeated instructions and threats by the adults in uniform.
“Any liquids should be discarded or consumed or you may be taken aside to have your luggage searched... Any liquids should be disc…”
In sock feet you nervously shuffle through an x-ray doorway, your eyes glued on the stern guard who stares impassively at you and then checks her screen. Will she nod her permission to proceed or send you back to try again for entrance to paradise? Given the go-ahead, you feel pressed by the huddled masses behind you to get out of the way quickly. You hurriedly grab up armfuls of your scattered possessions and hop on one foot in order to put on your shoes on and feel like a grown-up again.
No one offered a smiling, “Welcome to America.” 

We finally made it onto the plane just after 6:00, and dutifully strapped ourselves into the tiny padded cells where we would be confined for our five hour trip from Toronto to California.
Oh, how friendly the "Captain" sounded as he welcomed us and thanked us for choosing Air Canada.
 “We will be taking off shortly after a quick stop for de-icing.” Having never been de-iced before, I believed him.
Yes, it was snowing in Toronto and we were grateful that our flight hadn’t been cancelled. That’s the last moment I can remember having a warm feeling of gratitude.
From then on I quoted to myself, through gritted teeth, bible verses about joy and peace.
Time passed in the cramped and over-heated plane. As usual I had turned on every air-vent I could reach, desperate for a calming breeze. More time passed and our plane continued to sit at the de-icing station. I drank water to soothe my throat, sucked on cough drops, and blew my nose, cough, cough. An hour passed and the plane's wheels didn’t move an inch but could we use the toilets? No, we could not. The seat belt lights were still on. 

“Do not lose your inward peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.” St. Frances de Salles
You know, at my age, I’m fed up with the fact that every bit of good advice is easier said than done.

Eventually the trucks surrounded our plane and sprayed it with something green. 
We’re moving! Of course the seat belt lights stayed on for take-off and ascent to “cruising” level. I calculated that by now it had been two hours between the last opportunity passengers had had to use the washrooms in the airport lounge and the moment when the seat belt lights first dinged off.
 You should have seen the stampede! It was a race to unclip seatbelts and line up in the aisle for the measly two washrooms provided for us plebs. Instead of politely asking her to move, I climbed rapidly and apologetically over the poor woman who was sitting in the aisle seat of my row and managed to be third in line at the “Occupied” door. Luckily for me, I was heading back to my seat past the rest of the anxious line-up when I heard a “ding”. 
“The Captain has turned the seat belt lights on. Would all passengers please return to their seats” 
Are you kidding? What were those poor people supposed to do? Amazingly, they dutifully left the washroom line-up and returned to pull a seat belt across their distended bladders and wait until the evil lights went off again. 

For the next five hours it was like every slapstick comedy – funny to watch but miserable to experience. Desperate passengers would stand up to head for relief and an announcement would start, “Would all passengers please return to their seats until the Captain turns off the seat belt lights?” I silently cheered one elderly man when he defied the command by continuing toward the washrooms past the flight attendants who were happily strapped in, doing nothing for most of the flight except telling passengers to go back and sit down. Mercifully they allowed him to use the bathroom despite the Captain's orders.
Every time the lights turned off there would be another rush to the aisle and a few lucky souls could take their turn squeezing into a cubicle before the now-hated Captain’s voice would start again, “Sorry folks, we’re experiencing more turbulence. Please return to your …”
I started fantasizing about the turbulence I’d like to cause by storming the cockpit and demanding entrance to the flight crew’s washroom. 

Meanwhile, the cabin was stifling. Furthermore, the movies and TV shows offered were feeble and few, half of the screen's "menu" unavailable. I was tired and I was ill. By the time we arrived at San Diego airport I had prepared a short speech for the Captain, but he was nowhere to be found as we exited the plane.

It was midnight, Toronto time. We trudged though another airport and after the excitement of finding our luggage on the carousel, hauled it outside to wait for a shuttle bus to the car rental location.
“There’s a Thrifty’s van! Oh, it’s already full and pulling away.” 
When we jostled with other arrivees to get on the next shuttle I felt bad for those with children, but not quite bad enough to let them take the last seats on the van. For hours I’d been praying like Ann Lamott, “Help me, please”, so that I didn’t murder anyone (the Captain in particular). I was a wreck.

After a short, bumpy ride, twenty of us were about to leap from the shuttle and form yet another line (at midnight, mind you) for our rental cars. My husband and I strategized, having lost all compassion for other human beings.
 “I’ll get the luggage. You run to the Blue Chip desk.”
I'm proud that I beat everyone else, especially those with little kids, to the First Class, Blue Chip desk, and shamelessly called out, “Is anyone serving the Blue Chip?” as the crowd stared at me through bleary eyes.
Sure enough, Thrifty staff snapped to and we were in our rental car and pulling out of the driveway while those other people were still standing in line with their exhausted children and luggage, waiting for their turn at the NOT-Blue-Chip counter.

How sorry I felt for them all as we drove away. How happy I was that we had filled in the free registration forms for Blue Chip service at Thrifty’s. How much more I loved my sick and tired self than I cared about anyone else in the world. How fervently I vowed never to fly Air Canada again. How grateful I was for an ordinary bedroom at a nearby Best Western hotel as I lay down at 2:00 a.m.
Sad but true.