Day 45: Home

Last night when I went out with Jonathan and Samaneh I think I left out an important detail regarding just how much wine drank. I had the best intentions yesterday evening. I was pretty tired from getting up so early, so packing my bag and going to bed early seemed like an absolutely fantastic idea.

…Then on the way back from Mobile World Congress Jonathan suggested that we swing by the wine shop and pick up a good bottle of white to enjoy on the terrace. This seemed like a great plan. When I went out top run some last minute Barcelona errands it only was appropriate that I snatch a bottle of my favorite Rioja from the corner store. THEN when we went out for pizza we ordered a 750ml carafe of wine1, again, also a great idea. Oh, and then we topped that off with some sort of shot, another great idea.

This put us back home at around 1:00 AM, and I finished packing and was ready for bed by around 2:30 AM. Realistically, I probably went to bed around a hour later since I’ve gotten myself so used to staying up to get my body on American time. Waking up at 6:00 AM to get in the shower and catch my flight might be the hardest thing I’ve done in Spain.

I woke up with the sweats and the spins, brushing my teeth was completely out of the question. Even putting on Chapstick was an overwhelming feat. At around 7:00 AM I humped my suit case down the stairs and went to go snatch a cab. The cab driver probably thought I was days riding the whole way in the cold with the window down, but this was mandatory.

We made fabulous time getting to the airport and I was standing in line at the easyJet check-in completely unaware of just how horrible this airline is. First off, there was two people working a line of what must have been over a hundred people. I figure, that’s OK, maybe the rest of the people who were supposed to be working just hadn’t shown up yet.

I flew through security with the most nonchalant once over I’ve ever experienced, and then I tried to make it to the gate. The way the non-international terminals in Barcelona are set up is pretty confusing. You just go to a large hub area, in my case, M1, and then watch the screen for what actual gate your plane will be at. Unlike most airports where you can just go to the gate and space out, this requires constant monitoring.

The second time I checked the board my flight was delayed one hour, and the second time it was delayed two hours. That was cutting it close, but I still figured I had plenty of time in Paris to get on my proper plane. My sweats and spins at this point had progressed to the cold shakes, which I believe is an improvement, but who knows.

In the process of looking confused I ran in to some equally confused Asian tourists who were also on their way to Paris. I felt shockingly useful being able to give them all sorts of tips on what to see and what to do when they were there. In true Asian tourist tradition, this ended with them taking my photo.

When the boarding process actually started, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was like the worst of Black Friday mad rushes, combined with lots of foreign people.

There was one point where the entire line was being shoved forward by people in the back. Mind you, this was before the passengers from the previous flight even finished deplaning. This caused this massive people jam on the jetway, and the dude at the gate just kept letting more people through. It was unbelievable. Totally disorganized and uncivilized.

Once I was on the actual plane, things were fine. I sat in the second row, as apparently everyone was rushing to get to the back of the plane which makes no sense to me. The guy sitting next to me actually chatted me up the whole way after I asked him about his Samsung Galaxy Note that he had.

Turned out he was at MWC too and was an executive in this up and coming next-generation telco in Saudi Arabia. They are backed by some insanely rich conglomeration of even more insanely rich Saudi oil barons and are wiring the city he lives in, which I can’t remember for the life of me but it’s the capitol, with ultra-high speed fiber optics.

He was an incredibly interesting guy. It seemed like he was totally torn between the traditional Saudi Arabian cultural lifestyle, but traveled to the US so much that he has started to become Americanized. I imagine that’s sort of difficult, as how do you reconcile things like the Saudi religious police when you’ve experienced Las Vegas?

Either way, I now have a solid contact in Saudi Arabia, as he seemed really insistent and willing to set me up with all the cool conventions and other places to go. So, who knows what will come of that. I guess the mobile industry there is just crazy, especially as they blanket the country in LTR cell towers.

I was happy to arrive in Paris, but everything quickly went pear shaped. I had to recheck my luggage since I was switching airlines. Getting my bag took forever, and I was already sort of running behind. I asked the woman at the nearby information desk how to get to my terminal, and she gave me the wrong directions so I rolled my big huge bag quite literally from one side of the airport to the other and back again.

From there, I attempted to redeem my tax free vouchers which was a proper fiasco on every level. After waiting in line for a half hour I find out that since I wrote my passport number wrong on them and scratched it out to write it again they were apparently “no longer valid” according to the French girl behind the counter. That’s easy enough to write off, I figured I don’t really need an extra €40,00 or so Euros sitting on my desk at home anyway.

The truly irritating part of all this is that waiting in this line had me cutting it really close to make my flight. I rush to get my boarding pass and check my bag. They weigh it and it’s barely one kilogram over the limit. Overweight luggage incurs a €75,00 fee, which made that €40,00 I could have gotten from the tax free jerks sting ever so slightly more. But, whatever, at this point I just want to go home. I flip out my credit card and the dude tells me “Sorry, you need to pay at the Delta ticketing counter.” Mind you, I already waited in a substantial line just to check my bag to begin with.

With no other options, I head over to the Delta ticketing counter, wait in another line, and pay the absolute slowest old French man his €75,00. Now, off to customs. At this point I’m running really low on time. I ask the person directing traffic if I could go through the first class line since I was pretty late and the normal line was insane.

One derisive “Haw, haw, Amerricahns!” later and I was in a line that would put Disney World on a hot and sunny summer day just after summer break started to shame. I grinned and beared it, thinking I was almost home so who cares about all this junk.

The customs agent let me through with no problem, and then it was on to security. I don’t know if the woman manning the lane I went through was just having an especially bad day or what but I was bearing the brunt of it. This eventually culminated in being taken aside and getting my bag completely dumped out by them, at height, on to a metal table. But really, what can you even say about this to them? You’re totally at the mercy of the security people.

With that final delay out of the way, I was running to my gate to catch my flight. Annoyingly enough, I didn’t even have time to buy a bottle of water. After a long run to the complete end of the terminal I was on my plane and totally done with France.

I’ve never been so happy to see a bunch of Americans.

On the plane, I sat next to this very chatty guy named Tom with a thick southern accent. He quickly starts telling me his life story, and then after we take off eventually gets to the good part in that he works for an oil company in Algiers and his job is to “manage the locals while everyone else works,” as he put it. It sounded like there was a strong mutual hatred between te Algerians and the Americans who are building some sort of oil pipeline.

This guy is responsible for keeping them at bay so construction could continue. It sounds like an insanely stressful job, but he said he makes crazy cash which makes it all worth it. Also, he works two months wherever in Africa they send him, then has an entire month off at home. That sounds like a pretty sweet deal, actually.

But before we took off, there was some substantial drama on the plane that delayed us even further. Apparently a woman got separated from her husband, who was left behind in the Paris airport after we had already pulled away from the gate. We were quite literally on the runway when this came out, she freaked, and we ended up pulling off while the non-French speaking flight attendants tried to figure out what to do with this French woman. Fifteen minutes later the solution was that her husband was going to get a second flight and be in Atlanta in a few hours after her, but still.

Who gets on a plane without their significant other? That seems crazy.

The flight back to the states was woefully uneventful. We were flying too early in the day for the eternal sunset phenomenon that I love so much in flying west. This also made the whole plane way too bright to sleep, not that I can really sleep on planes anyway. I watched Midnight in Paris on my iPad, which was a pretty typical Woody Allen movie. One thing that I think he totally nailed though is the first scene where Owen Wilson first gets picked up by the car. That scene is exactly how it feels to be alone in a foreign city.

Other than that, I played some games, listened to some music, and just generally spaced out. Flying over northern Canada is really cool, as from overhead you can see all the ice rivers and such. Other than that, pretty standard international flight and we were landing in Atlanta before I knew it.

With all this travel drama today, surely being back on the States would result in smooth sailing to my connection to Chicago, right? Wrong.

When you first enter the US you’ve got to pick up your bag, and take it through customs to potentially be inspected. Normally this isn’t a big deal, as you do the same silly paperwork and everything else, unless, of course, they lose your bag. Everyone else on my flight save maybe a dozen people had picked up their luggage immediately, and we were standing around asking the one dude from Delta meandering around what the deal was. Ten minutes later, he comes back and tells us to just go through customs and our bags will be forwarded to if/when they’re found.

No bueno, I say, as I’m not leaving Atlanta until I at least know where my suitcase with thousands of dollars of electronics, most of the non-fat clothes I own, and other things I need for next week at least is. Fifteen or so minutes later they “found more bags on the plane,” the baggage carousel pooped out my suit case, and I was on my way to wait in another line. Being an English speaking white American male, I sailed through Homeland Security like usual, re-checked my bag, and cruised through the TSA checkpoint.

I’d have missed my flight if it wasn’t for this cool system at the Atlanta airport where you take this high speed train thing between terminals. My connecting flight was all the way on the other side of the airport, and I made it there in about five minutes on this train. They closed the door behind me, and I was on my way to Chicago.

The flight from Atlanta was the most turbulent flight I’ve ever been on. We were flying on one of those tiny commuter jets, which I only imagine amplified the whole problem. The pilot explained on the intercom that we were going to be around an hour and a half late because we had to fly so low and slow to make it through the storms, which is a disconcerting announcement to hear.

After a scary landing, I was at O’Hare, ran to get my bag, and went home to sleep.

What a day.

  1. I think what we got was actually closer to 1.5L []