mardi, novembre 14, 2006

Hawaii, by way of hell

Oy. Travel, she is a cruel mistress.

I got up at 6am to put myself together (hastily), make a final check that everything important was with me, and then head off to the airport. My flight was at 9h55, so I headed out around 7h30 in the morning so that I could get to the airport by métro/RER (public transport). I stopped at my boulangerie for a quick coffee and pain au chocolat, and then I was off. Thankfully, I was traveling against the flow of rush hour, so the RER train from Châtelet to the Charles de Gaulle airport was sparsely populated.

When I got to the airport, I went up to the surface and waited for the shuttle bus that takes you around the terminal. There are at least five different buses that run between the terminals, and I saw on the map that more than one of them went past my destination, Terminal 2A. When a bus finally pulled up, everybody piled on and I noticed that the bus number matched a route that passed by my terminal, so I followed everyone else. As it turns out, I took the wrong bus. It eventually did get to Terminal 2A, but only after passing the rest of Terminal 2, then the remote parking, then Terminal 1.

Thankfully, I had arrived early enough that this small detour didn't eat into my schedule. On the other hand, I realized as I was checking in that Continental airlines had only given me 1 hour to connect from my Paris-Newark flight to my Newark-Honolulu flight. Now, that is a tight connection in any case, but that was especially distressing for me, since it was clear that I would have to arrive in Newark as a foreign arrival, pass immigration, claim my luggage, pass customs, re-check my luggage, re-pass security, and then find and run to my gate. And to top it off, we took off about 15 minutes late. I had asked the man at the check-in what Continental could do if I miss my flight, and he said that there were no later flights to Honolulu. I would have to overnight in Newark (scenic Newark!) and then fly out the next night, thus losing a night of my hotel stay in Honolulu.

So, I got to enjoy the nearly 8-hour flight to Newark in a constant state of worry and distress, obsessively watching the flight-progress display, in the hopes that the "estimated arrival time" would roll back as we picked up speed over the ocean.

It seemed as if we would arrive about 15 minutes early, but by the time I had gotten off the plane, we were back to about 10 minutes late. From here, everything was a blur. I sprinted as best as I could (after 8 sleepless and uncomfortable hours) along an endless series of corridors until I arrived at the US Immigration desks. Of course, there were already a big mess of lines from other flights, and they didn't separate out Canadian and American travelers from others, which meant that I had to wait in line while everybody in front of me had their fingers scanned and their pictures taken. Of course, two of the people in front of me had to have complicated cases that required a lot of explanation, so I had to stand there and tap my foot impatiently while people I had outrun in the corridors passed me in other lines. When I finally got to the US Immigration desk, the guy didn't quite know what to do with me. I have an F-1 US student visa, but I'm living in France, so my visit to the US shouldn't prompt all of the visa arrival paperwork, but instead the standard tourist visa for Canadians (which involves no paperwork). All of this added more time, as he had to ponder the various options; in the meanwhile, I had to do my best to suppress my impatience, since he might mistake it for impatience with his job (which it was, anyway), which could result in him arbitrarily detaining me or ordering some invasive body cavity search. When you're crossing immigration borders, you're at the complete, potentially sadistic mercy of the border guard.

Finally, the paperwork was taken care of and I rushed over to the luggage claim area to get my bags. Of course, my luggage was one of the last to come out of the plane. Still more panicked, I accosted a nearby Continental employee and told her that I was supposed to make a connection in less than 20 minutes. She told me that the flight had been delayed by 40 minutes, which means that I might still make the flight if I run like crazy. Newly inspired, I ran across the luggage claim area and through Customs (mercifully brief) and then tried to re-check my luggage for my connection. When I entered the connecting luggage area, the place was a zoo. There was a huge line of people waiting to leave their luggage, and everybody's luggage was being tossed into piles, the conveyor belt obviously overwhelmed. Clearly, I was going to miss my flight. A small latino man walked by, carting some luggage from one pile to another. I quickly accosted him, speaking Spanish to him, and telling him my tale of woe. He directed me towards another, less visible and much shorter line, and in a few seconds my luggage was in one of those piles, hopefully heading with me to Hawaii.

Next, to pass security. The nature of the luggage claim system requires that you effectively exit the secure zone and then re-enter it. So, off I run to the nearest security checkpoint. Obviously, I wasn't the only one trying to catch a connecting flight, because there was a cluster of worried, impatient people waiting in line. I ws eventually sent to a line that was being manned by the angriest woman in the airport. She yelled at everybody to have their boarding pass and ID in their hands, and had no patience for the international travelers that couldn't parse her thick NJ-black vernacular accent. As I was putting my laptop and shoes and jacket and backpack into separate boxes, I put my passport and boarding pass on the table next to the boxes. What I didn't see was that a flight crew member (a pilot, I think), jumped ahead in line, stood behind me, grabbed another plastic box, and put it down on top of my passport and boarding pass. When I reached the metal detector, the woman shouted at me "WHERE IS YOUR PASS?!!!" Looking at my empty hands, I apologized and ran back to the table. My passport and boarding pass were gone! I looked around the table, sure that I had kept it in my hand. Eventually, the woman let me pass without the documentation, presuming that it had passed through in my bag along with everything else. Of course, she didn't fail to humiliate me like all those who had gone before, yelling "Next time, you will LISTEN and REMEMBER!!" while jerking her finger towards her head, as if I was severely mentally handicapped. I made it through to the other side, but couldn't find my boarding pass among my items. Panicking, I look back to see the flight crew guy passing through and the couple behind him holding my passport and boarding pass, looking confused and asking other folks if this was theirs. Over shriek of the guard woman, I yelled, "Hey! That's mine!" The woman presumed I was talking to her and said "That's nice. Next time you'll reMEMber!" and turned her back to me, presumably pleased that she had forced me to leave a personal object behind. The couple walked through with my passport and boarding pass bundled with their passports. For whatever reason, the woman at the metal detector didn't notice this, and then the couple passed through, similarly harassed, and quietly handed my documentation to me. I thank them quietly but profusely, gritting my teeth at the thought that this woman will spend her day being similarly sadistic to all who pass by.

I sprint to my gate and behold! The plane is still there. I wait until they call my row and then run onto the plane, coated in sweat. As I sit down and take a closer look at my boarding pass, I realize that I am in for an 11-hour flight, in clothes that I have been wearing for more than 18 hours and a layer of sweat. Hooray.

The final 11 hours of flight were uncomfortable to say the least. To top it off, there was a couple across the aisle with two little kids (about 9 and 12 years) who were not very well-controlled. They were understandably restless after the first few hours of flight, but the parents were also surprisingly unresponsive and passive; one of the kids would throw a tantrum or make noise, and the parents would just say "Sssh! Quiet honey!" I know that the US is so anti-corporal punishment that a parent can't even give their child a sharp look, but they need to figure out some way to assert control. A family is NOT a liberal democracy; there's a reason many fascist regimes were modeled on "the family."

Mercifully, there was this adorable pair of older ladies sitting near me that were endlessly entertaining. One was Chinese, the other NJ-Jewish, and the two were heading off to a bridge tournament in Honolulu. They spent the entire time gossiping with each other, with heavy accents, about their various bridge partners and opponents. "Did you hear that Ari dumped Gertrude? Shameful. That's the 4th wife he's left." "I don't like that Sophie, she thinks she's so special, with the money and the private bridge lessons. Feh." It was awesome.

We finally arrived in Honolulu and I had never been so glad to leave a plane (and that's saying something). I staggered off and headed for the luggage claim, nearly missing the beautiful airport. A walk from the gate to the luggage claim brought us through an open-air breezeway and past their gardens. It was night by this point, so all you could see were silhouettes and tiki torches, but it was a wonderful way to welcome a weary traveler. That and the 25C warm breeze. (UPDATE: See some pics of this here.)

I half expected my luggage to be missing. After all, I barely made my connection. Thankfully, it was there, and it was one of the first bags out, so I was doing OK. I was supposed to meet one of my roommates, Greg (not the same one as the Greg in Paris), who was supposed to arrive on a flight 10 minutes before me. I couldn't find him anywhere, not even at the luggage claim for his flight. After calling his number and getting redirected to his answering service, I presumed he had been bumped to a later flight and headed over to the hotel.

I didn't realize how far Waikiki was from the airport (not that far, but I expected/hoped the distance would be shorter on a tiny island) and taxi fare is EXPENSIVE, so a 15-minute ride to the hotel cost me $38 USD. It was pretty nuts. I checked in, took a shower and put on fresh clothes and—despite the fact that I had been awake for more than 24 hours now—lurched down to the front desk to ask for nearby sushi restaurants. The concierge directed me towards the sushi bar in the Mariott hotel (the conference site, where I would be staying after tonight) called Sansei (Japanese for third-generation, apparently). I headed over and ordered a few rolls from the bar and a beer. The sushi was great, if a bit expensive. However, I had been told that the sushi was %50-off after 10pm on fridays and saturdays, so I made plans to return friday and saturday for a late dinner. I was really impressed with the inventive sushi rolls and the freshness of the fish, but what really blew me away was the maguro (tuna): it was ruby-red, shiny, lustrous and it melted in your mouth. Soooo good.

The beer did the trick of knocking me out pretty well, so I staggered back to the hotel ready to sleep like a mo'fo. Greg arrived a bit later; he had apparently missed his connection in L.A. and had to take a later flight. Off he went to forage for food, while I pretty much fell into bed and fell asleep. At some point, I recall Greg asking "Do you mind if I watch a bit of TV as I fall asleep?" Hah.

4 commentaires:

Kate Galloway a dit…

It was great to see you in Hawaii.... have a great time in Paris until I see you back in Toronto soon for Dec. Turns out I might be visiting Martha in Chicago over UofT reading week but alas you won't be there.

- Kate -

P.S. as usual I screwed up with technology and already posted this in the wrong place :P ooops. talk soon

Hannah a dit…

Phew! I was on the edge of my seat for that account! I'm glad that you made it, and just what are you doing in Hawaii? I'm busying working on my c.v. (stretching out just exactly what I've done with my time and making it sound vaguely artsy) for my application package to the M.A. program at the University of Victoria. The chances of acceptance are slim (nay, anorexic). I received a message from your future sister-in-law! I've agreed to make the bridesmaid gowns! Looking forward to more details on your excursion...

LMGM a dit…

Yay! Good luck with the MA program at UVic. You WILL be a librarian, dammit! And I'm glad to hear that you'll be doing the bridesmaids dresses for my bro's fiancée. Make sure you demand early warning on the design and sizes, so that you're not forced to do everything at the last minute! I'll be your enforcer...

Hannah a dit…

I won't be a librarian. I've applied to Department of History in Art, instead!