Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ell Ayy

I love flying. I'll ride in airplanes all day long. There's nothing I don't love about it, except for the part when you're squished into a seat that's 12 sizes too small with no legroom, and the guy behind you is coughing so hard it's messing up your hair, and the lady in front insists on fully reclining while your oversize laptop is folding on your meaty fingers... But other than that, it's a wonderful way to spend a day. The best part for me is the takeoff: The massive engines roaring to full throttle and taking me with them, hurtling down a runway with a definite finish line, pressing my back into the seat and then flinging me into glossy smooth air. The clunk of landing gear folding neatly into the plane's belly. The sinking feeling when the pilot retracts the flaps, and watching houses become smaller by the second. Graceful banks and turns, the shadows playing across disinterested passengers. Breaking through clouds and into a spotless blue sky. I love it. It's fully 3/4 of the excitement of any trip for me. In fact, someday when I have more money than bills, I may take myself and maybe Boy on a flying vacation. Just a weekend going from city to city, sampling the various airport Cinnabons and souvenir shops. This trip was worthy of excitement. It was to be a weekend in Long Beach, a leadership conference for a training organization we're part of. This group of people is worth the trip to visit, because they are smart, diverse, visionary, and passionate about people. More on that at another time. Before we even got close though, there were adventures. Oh yes. I took Friday off, even though technically I could have worked in the morning. But then I wouldn't get to sleep in and have breakfast at home. And that would be silly. After the Kid Drop, we meandered to the airport way in the sticks east of Grand Rapids. It's supposedly an international airport, because I think sometimes planes get diverted from Canada. We got there ridiculously early, for I am compulsive about not missing flights, and I happen to like Cinnabon. Plenty of time to finish some incredibly tasty and obviously unhealthy snacks and a large coffee, which is important since the TSA thinks coffee can bring down an airliner and won't allow it past security. Finally, it was time to board the plane and settle in for the long trip to Detroit. Why would we go to Detroit, when it's the other direction from LA? Because it's Northwest's hub in this area, and according to them, all roads lead to Detroit. It's a 3-hour drive from my home, or a 20-minute flight with another 2 hours 40 minutes in taxiing, de-icing, security, and shuffling along concourses. Seems about a wash, but hey, it's another airplane ride. Plus, whatever Lady Jane Scarlett may say about Detroit's scenery, the airport is the very nicest part of the city. For the life of me I can't figure out why anyone lives there, but that's just me. Our flight from Grand Rapids was delayed so we sprinted the 1.4 miles from people-mover to people-mover to the departing gate. It's a long, straight airport. I nearly knocked over a family of Chinese tourists, bursting through them like a running back to a chorus of screeching foreign gibberish. It was awesome. We made it onto the shiny new 757 just in time, and settled in next to a very large, very tattooed woman. She was very pleasant but tired and had the aroma of one who had been traveling a very long time. This was a very full but enjoyable flight, loaded with business people, families, and small children. There were so many questions: "Is that normal? Is it supposed to be tipping like this? The pilots are smart, right? What was that noise?" After about 2 hours, I was able to reassure Mrs. Spiffy that everything would be OK. We arrived in good shape at LAX, and took the yellow shuttle to the rental car joint. This looked like a foam-padded bomb shelter from the 1940's, with fire-proofed ceilings and lamps hanging from cords all over. It was packed, and since we're not VIP members, there was a long wait in line. I set Mrs. Spiffy to waiting while I tried to look up our hotel on one of their convenient direction-finding-machines. It didn't show up on their list of hotels. Anywhere. Oh crap. Turns out the meeting place was half the distance to the hotel, and the stories I'd heard about The 405 had me worked into a clammy little fit. I returned to the line to find the heavily accented and earnestly smiling desk clerk trying to sell insurance to Mrs. Spiffy. "It's LA, you know. You'd be stupid not to buy it, after all, your deductible is hundreds, and this will only cost you $11 a day, that's like (pause to do the math) only $63 for peace of mind..." On and on he went. Would NOT take 'no' for an answer. Or even a hint. Then the gas - we could fill it up ourselves on the Mean Streets of LA, or pay them $6 per gallon after the fact - or pay him $60 up front. After that, it was an upgrade. He practically begged us to get a better car. We steadfastly refused, and he gave us an upgrade anyway. Apparently they were out of Ford Focuses (Foci?). We wound up with a zippy little Mazda that was far too responsive for my tastes. I prefer a car with roar, not zing. I'd twitch and the car would wind up in the next lane. It was exciting, but not what I'm used to at all. I eased us onto The 405, and gritted my teeth for what was certain to be a dreadful experience of gridlock and road rage. It turned out to be 6 lanes of smooth sailing. We got there early enough to duck into an office building's restrooms to change out of our travel clothes and into 'reception wear.' The weekend was a disappointing 65-70 degrees during the day; it turns out the ocean was a little cool for even hardy Michigan folks. The hardcore local surfers were prepared with dry suits. We saw dozens on Sunday morning, all struggling to ride weak little waves for even a half minute. The rest of the story to come, as Charter has chosen to not come through as hoped. They'll get their own story. I'm gonna find something warm and smooth to drink and get back to ya soon.

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