Thursday, December 20, 2007

travel time

We got to NAIA just after 3AM and proceeded to do all the necessary pre-departure things - paying for the travel tax (since our tickets were purchased online and not locally - I'm just happy that Sage's tax is half mine, but still P5k right off the bat is dizzying), lining up for confirmation and baggage, paying the terminal fee (another P2.25k right there - ay naku), removing shoes twice before getting to the pre-departure area (sadly, the smoking lounge Nikki and I usually visit was still closed, and the only other option was to pay $10 each for access to another one, no thanks). Another Northwest flight was cancelled, so NW tried to fill up our plane with the unfornature souls, which made for delays as people hustled for space. Finally though, we left Manila for Nagoya, Japan, arriving after almost 4 hours.

The stopover at Japan is always irritating since we deplane and reboard in heartbeats, with barely enough time to find the smoking room (Japan is always smoker friendly, thank goodness). The stress begins when I realize that our boarding passes are missing, necessitating interaction with the Japanese folk that would have been funny if I were not so harassed. But things went well and we got on board for the longhaul.

Somewhere halfway through the almost 12 hours of crossing the Pacific, my nicotine craving brain tells me, like it does every time I travel to the US, that this is definitely the last time we're doing this. Apart from the lack of cigarettes, the interminable travel is not helped by the exhausted batteries of my iPod (I must find a battery that lasts for days), my laptop (ditto) and my O2 (safely on flight mode but really, hours of solitaire and the jewel game have a deleterious effect) and the lack of anything good to watch. I tried reading but the book I brought did not engage me (my bad, should have selected something better) and I amused myself by waiting for the horrible airline food. This time, to make things interesting, Nikki ordered lactose-intolerant meals for me (which meant I got fish and vegetables) and children's meals for Sage (which meant she got hamburgers and other fun stuff). I will never be lactose-intolerant again, I swear. The sheer tastelessness of what was served made even my ameoba overlords sigh in despair. Sage was fantastic the entire longhaul, cringing at the other children who'd cry once in a while and entertaining herself with the gazillion provocative activities that Nikki prepared for her. Nikki, of course, was the best traveler among us, able to sleep at will (damn her eyes), but had issue with a bloodthirsty pair of earphones which stabbed her. I walked around the plane a lot, cursing my lack of foresight (I have enough miles to upgrade all of us to business class, I think), thinking about people who died after sitting for too long, and raiding the galley for orange juice (I was dehydrated as hell).

When we finally reached Detroit, it was snowing or sleeting, and while it was initally quite a thrill for Sage, the winter wonderland could only spell more delays. We had less than 2 hours after deplaning to catch our connecting flight to Jacksonville, so we rushed down to immigration where hordes of people stood waiting to be let in America. Our visas and passports were good, so our next rush was to baggage claim were we wasted so much time just waiting for our luggage. Then it was through customs, after which we realized we had only 15 minutes left before our flight departed - and we hadn't even gone through homeland security yet. I explained our predicament to someone who pointed me to someone else and we lined up to talk to another someone while the last of 15 minutes evaporated. By the time we got to speak to a woman, she told us that it was impossible for us to get on the plane since it would leave on time - but that she'd book for Memphis. Memphis? Suddenly, Alex's "Walking in Memphis" resounds in my head as the rest of her news filters in: no flight today, maybe tomorrow. No, no, no. Another passenger freaks out and summons her manager and we tagteam them under a barrage of very polite almost-but-not-quite imprecations intimating doom if we did not get to board the plane. Finally, she called the gate, then turned to us and said "You have 5 minutes."

Detroit airport is sprawling, but we're game. Sage zips ahead with Nikki as I deal with everything a pack mule must contend with, and I remember thinking somehow we'll make it until we hit the human wall of homeland security. We lose precious time waiting for our turn. When it comes to me, I expertly kick off my shoes, remove my belt, produce the laptop and dump everything into every available basket on the conveyor belt to be x-rayed. Then, in our best Amazing Race mode, the three of us rushed to the gate. There we found a mass of very irritated people. It turns out that the flight to Jacksonville was delayed because of the snow and because a flight attendant was missing, and they were just about to board. Which meant we miraculously made it, 40 minutes after the plane wsa supposed to have left. Inside, we buckled up and watched our plane sprayed with de-icing solution (which looked like reddish fuel) before we finally took off.

Hours later, we were in Jacksonville searching for our missing luggage. The evil woman in Detroit that I harassed had a degree of vengeance, it seemed, as one of bags was somewhere it was not supposed to be. We found Nikki's mom and together we waited at the Northwest office to demand satisfaction (all of Sage's clothes and our pasalubong and gifts were in the missing bag). Instead, the woman there (who appeared almost an hour later) told us that she'd somehow find the bag for us and have it delivered to our doorstep and offered us toiletries (siyempre, the Filipino in me was thrilled to get something for free, though I wanted money, money, money). We were too tired to fight anymore and accepted her terms, boarded the car and drove to Palm Coast with a pit stop for dinner along the way.

When we got home, it was all we could do to crawl into bed and collapse. Of course, this was only for a moment, as the luxury of bathrooms where one could shower and brush teeth beckoned. Finally, after I was clean, there was only one last decision: sleep or smoke.

I happily sat in the cold darkness, looking at the almost invisible lake outside, and smoked a cigarette, almost human again.



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