Sunday, January 04, 2009

Don't Cry for Me Argentina, Part Five

I wish I could say it was all plain sailing from then on.

Things seemed to be falling into place and the flight from Vancouver to LA was all on time and I had the good news that I was on standby for a business class upgrade to Washington. The room service club sandwich and half bottle of champagne that I toasted my (belated) birthday with were well deserved and the king size bed with six pillows and very, very soft, high thread-count sheets gave me the best nights sleep I think I’ve ever had.

A six am automated flight update message from United was the first indication that things might not run smoothly. We’d booked the flight with a five and half layover in Washington, because it was Christmas Eve and we were expecting delays. I truly never believed that there would be a chance I could miss the flight from Washington to Buenos Aires. But as United called every 15 minutes, adding an extra 30 minutes delay to my departure time from LAX, that five and a half window was disappearing. Eventually it happened. My flight was so delayed there was no way I could make the connecting flight.

I had my first gin and tonic at 12.04 and continued with an hourly topical application until I fell asleep. United put me on stand-by for another flight to Washington that wasn’t showing a delay and which would give me 25 minutes to get to the gate for the flight to BA. I was number two (of 28) on the standby list. The flight was showing 14 spare seats. Then 10. Then seven. And then two. Where it remained, for the next 30 minutes as I obliterated my manicure. They asked if any passengers might like compensation to take a later flight. Each area boarded. They closed the flight. I was still standing at the gate, like the runt of the litter waiting to be picked. Finally; “Will passengers Goncalves and Edwards please come to the podium.” They shut the door after me and started to taxi a picosecond later.

I’m still trying to work out what the lesson of all of this is. At first I was saying that the universe didn’t want me to go to Buenos Aires; that it was keeping me away for a reason. That something bad would happen if I went. I have never been as nervous as I was when waiting for that standby flight to Washington, and this is from a woman who can be as neurotic as a champion Weimaramer on the morning of Crufts. The hope that I felt when I thought I saw my passport in a snowdrift outside of the office was overwhelming, as was the disappointment when it turned out it was a piece of ice.

I called a friend for some advice and talked through the Universe is against me theory. He asked if perhaps the Universe wasn’t just throwing some challenges for me to sashay over, which I thought was a superb way of looking at it. I don’t want to end this with some sort of “Little House on the Prairie” homily, but the whole thing has changed my world view. Now, can you go and check that you know where your passport is?

Normal food blogging service will resume shortly.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Don't Cry for Me Argentina, Part Four

There were many people who wouldn’t usually take a Greyhound at the bus station. The canceled flights meant that a lot of people, who would prefer not to be stranded in Calgary for Christmas, were seeking alternative means of transportation.

You could see who had taken the bus before. They had bags of food, blankets, many layers of warm clothing and pillows. Me? A tube of Nicorette lozenges and my iPod. You see, I’d been hoodwinked by the Greyhound website, with its talk of reclining seats, heating, entertainment and refreshments.

What followed was the most uncomfortable 16.5 hours of my life. The coach alternated between freezing cold and the burning pit of Gehenna. My seat didn’t recline properly, or much at all to be honest, and there was no entertainment other than the stories of the woman in front of me, who was travelling from Winnipeg to Vancouver, on the Greyhound, entirely of her own volition. For the second time this year. I finally managed to fall asleep, but was shaken ruthlessly awake at Kamloops because we had to change coaches. Finally, I knew what it felt like to be a veal calf in the 1980s, being crated across Europe. Although I am not sure a veal calf was ever as depressed as I was as I realized the new coach had no heating at all and was being warmed by the slowly condensing breath of my fellow passengers.

There was quite a lot of grumbling. People had already been questioning how they were going to match us with our luggage, as there appeared to be little organisation about which of the two coaches making the journey we were on, and which our belongings. For those people used to airtravel, the lack of any sort of automated luggage tracking system (or in my case, the actual lack of an official tag, other than one the security guy made with my name and final destination on it) was an especial concern.

So you probably won’t be surprised to read that when I arrived in Vancouver, two and a half hours later than expected and with a window of an hour to get to the Consulate, I discovered that my luggage was missing.

The Greyhound employees couldn’t have been less helpful. They had no idea when my luggage might arrive, because they didn’t actually know where it was. They thought it might be on the other even more delayed coach, which they thought might get to Vancouver in the next hour or so. They weren’t sure. I tried to explain my situation to a teenager with a singularly bored expression than can only come from being terminally moronic, who just shrugged. If I were to go to the consulate and my luggage did arrive, they would take no responsibility for it and it would be just left out at the station.

I eventually found a Greyhound employee who was willing to take responsibility and if my luggage was on the coach, keep it in their office until I got back. So off I went to the consulate to get my passport. They were the epitome of British steadfastness in the face of adversity and I had my temporary passport in 90 minutes.

When I got back to the Greyhound bus station, they insisted on seeing some ID before they would release my luggage to me. I smiled as I produced my passport from my handbag.

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