Sunday night before I “left” for New Zealand I was spending some pre-departure time with friends and realized I was supposed to leave the country in 19 hours for about a year (?) and hadn’t packed my bag yet. Hm, interesting. With this realization I got slightly panicked and decided that staying up all night was a pretty good idea, not just for packing but also because New Zealand is around 14 hours off from US Eastern Standard Time, depending on whether or not either country is on Daylight Savings Time (NZ currently is, since it’s summer). I figured if I turned my body clock upside down before I left, it would be spot-on down under. Well obviously I didn’t finish packing Sunday night, but got it pretty well done. On Monday I needed to be at BWI around 4pm to catch my flight and I spent most of the day gathering all the things I hadn’t thought of in the last 2 weeks and re-packing my bag, since the plan was to have only 1 big pack. Let’s take a look at the checklist:
- 5 T-shirts, check
- 2 pairs shorts, check
- 1 pair pants. wearing them, check
- tent, check
- sleeping bag, check
- camera, check
- laptop, check
- compass, check
- binoculars, check
- assorted carabiners, check
- a copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, check
After a thorough pat-down and subsequent rummage through all pockets had been done, I saw it. Just sitting there. Sitting there on the glass of the color copier at Staples...in Alexandria...as we were at cruising speed up to BWI. This is not good. This is the thing that does not, is supposed to not happen to real people. It felt like Home Alone and I had left Kevin McCallister there all by himself. How could I have done that? Really it didn’t matter and we just needed to go get it. With great skill (i.e. several wrong exits taken and illegal U-turns made) my Dad maneuvered us back to Staples. Just as I walk through the automatic-open doors I hear “Trevor, I have something for you.” It was the same guy that helped me make the copies and I knew he was probably laughing inside. No time!
The traffic wasn’t bad for a late Monday afternoon up to BWI and I made it with a solid hour to check in and do the security hokey-pokey. Amazing. I said goodbye to my Dad and the airport process was flawless. There was all kinds of time to spare. I ate a big plate of oily Manchu Wok chinese food to tide me over for LA (and so that I was doing something besides thinking about how nervous I was). Then I decided to start off on the right jounal-writing foot by pulling out the empty journal Mark and Lisa gave me. After a couple pages, a man at the United counter came on the microphone with a normal, muffled, barely discernible, “Ladies and gentlemen,” and I thought, “Yes, boarding time.” But he spoke in a very awkward way. He continued with a slow, confused sounding, “There appears to be something wrong with the plane...aaaand we don’t know what it is...”
Hm, that’s not the normal thing you hear before boarding a plane. This got all the anxious passengers in a stir but we were at the mercy of United Airlines. Back to the journal (which is not this, by the way). Sometime later the same all-knowing employee came back on and said something to the effect of, “We’re going to be doing a standard repair and checkout process that will take at least an hour and fifteen minutes, so the plane won’t leave any earlier than that. Take the opportunity to go walk around or eat and we’ll keep you updated as we can.” Thanks. Actually that did help me, since earlier when I was already on a roll with the passport thing, I had another “goof-up” (for lack of a better four-letter word to precede “-up”). In dumping out my pocket contents for them to be medically X-rayed, I realized with slight horror that I was putting my full set of keys into the grey plastic bin. I was fairly certain that these keys did not open or start anything in the South Pacific and wasn’t sure why I had them in my pocket. This would have been okay with the exception of a BMW key belonging to someone named “T” (hence the TSBMW plate). My dad was supposed to sell it for me (another thing I failed to do before leaving) and that would be hard to do if it couldn’t be opened or driven. I took this hour and fifteen minute golden opportunity to go back out to the main terminal and try to mail it, rather than sending it from LA or Fiji or New Zealand. I found a FedEx box that I could use. I had never used one of these magic boxes that only requires you to fill out an envelope with which you soon part. Feeling a little suspect about the whole thing, I did the deed and left. Upon return to the gate, I had enough time to settle into my seat when I heard those awful words. “Ladies and gentlemen, United Airlines will be canceling flight 307 to LA.” Fantastic.
Not knowing what this meant for me I did as I was told and went to the main ticketing/check-in desk in the main terminal to get a new replacement flight. But, like an old dog that has died, the replacement is somehow never really as good as the original. The man “helping” me said he was having trouble confirming the new trans-Pacific flights, but in the end had just moved all my flights just one day. That’s okay, I will still get in in time for the Big Day Out Festival on Friday. Instead of the 2-day buffer I had originally planned, it was just one. This was fine. I got a $135 taxi voucher to take me to Dulles, since I got an earlier flight to LA from there and it’s closer, fully knowing I was going home, not to Dulles. My major problem at the moment was that I was going home to a BMW whose key was now in an impenetrable FedEx fortress just a few hundred feet away. After speaking with official airport personnel (old lady at an Info Desk) and a sympathetic yet helpless FedEx employee on the phone, I determined it was impossible to retrieve the key unless I stood guard at the box until the next day’s pickup. Whatever, I’ll just pay for the delivery and the key will go where it needs to (hopefully).
It just seemed like a security flaw that no one at the airport could open this box. What if there were a bomb in there? I feel fairly comfortable mentioning “bomb” and “airport” in the same sentence, knowing the Department of Homeland Security is probably scanning this blog, because they can’t get me in New Zealand. Anyway, I’m sure they would be able to open the box. I suppose that ruins the plot a bit, mentioning that I am in New Zealand (for all you know). But I guess that is okay since you’ve been wondering that the whole time and this entry is getting pretty out of control in terms of length and detail. But it’s entertainment for me since I’m sitting in my hostel next to the kitchen where an older lady with some kind of unidentified leg sores is playing an out of tune piano while a young Japanese girl wearing a faded and authentic-looking “Michael Jackson Japan Tour ’88” T-shirt is singing along in an equally out of tune fashion to a song I don’t know. So I listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with my Icelandic Secret Service style headphones on my Macbook Pro and continue writing a blog that will later be posted at an internet cafe for three New Zealand dollars per hour. If nothing else, it should be good entertainment for my friends who are paid to play on the internet half the day because they have no other tasks at hand. If you think this is you and you are being singled out, sadly that is not the case, this refers to quite a few people I know. Why don’t you just move to New Zealand?
On the cab ride to Alexandria (thanks United), I try to chat it up with the driver. I guessed he was from Kenya and this turned out to be correct. Guessing nationalities of cabbies and chatting it up with them is a skill I learned from my friend Mohammed and which I am still perfecting. Apparently the election violence in Kenya is really not as bad as the media makes it out to be, and is mostly just in Nairobi (he knows, he was just there). Also I was informed that the man who lost the election had actually been telling people to strike out in violence. Good thing he lost. When I asked him about the upcoming US election, he said he favored Hilary but wasn’t eligible to vote. I told him I would vote for Ron Paul if he was by some chance the Republican candidate. He had never heard of Dr. Paul.
Back at home, my Dad was pretty surprised to see me, since I should have been halfway to LA by that time. Turns out AT&T hadn’t suspended my phone service yet, so I took the rare opportunity to non-prank prank text some friends about the fact that I was available to hang out. I got some confused half-angry texts back about the fact that that wasn’t funny. Ashley came over and invited me to dinner with her and Ben the next night just in time for me to realize I had voicemail...“This is Kathy from United Airlines in Chicago. You were booked for some flights tomorrow due to a mechanical failure of your plane, but I am calling to tell you you should NOT get on your plane at Dulles Airport tomorrow. It appears Air Pacific can’t get you a flight out of LAX until the 20th...” Air Pacific, if you are reading this: you are the bane of my existence. I will attempt to avoid too much detail on what actually happened with the entire airline situation, as it was very painful and confusing and that generally reduces entertainment value, as you can see below.
It turns out the guy at the airport who booked my flights to all be bumped one day was not allowed to do that because the second two flights were Air Pacific, not United. Calling them back, I was told there was not a single flight I could take before the 20th, thereby missing the Big Day Out, around which I had planned my flight and for which I already bought a ticket. It turns out I was eligible for a full refund from CheapTickets.com since my initial outbound flight had a mechanical failure and I hadn’t been on a plane yet. I could buy a new ticket for later in February and save about $300, more than making up for the price of the concert ticket. But I wasn’t obligated to do anything, and I could go at anytime (just not before the 20th). I could wait awhile. I didn’t even have to go to New Zealand. Why was I going again? I don’t need to go, I can just stay. And do what? No I have to go, my friends threw a surprise going away party for me. That means I have to go. I’ll sleep on it.
Tuesday I was very useless and woke up late. After all, I wasn’t even planning on the being in the country and had idea what I was doing, so no big deal. Plus my body clock was supposed to be 14 hours ahead...right. I spent a good portion of the day explaining over Gmail chat to friends at work that I was indeed still in the country and in fact not a Gmail ghost. I still didn’t know what I was doing about the situation until I talked to Ben. Ben was excited for me to go because he knew I really wanted to, plus he wants to quit Bechtel and move to New Zealand too. At least he can live vicariously through me. Also Ben felt that a great injustice had been dealt from somewhere in the direction of the airline industry. Let me tell you a couple things about Ben: 1) he has a burning passion for justice and b) he can do amazing things with customer service, dealing with companies, shopping around, policies, etc. Please get ahold of him if you ever need to:
buy a camera do anything on eBay handle relationship problems get paid more by the same people to do the same thing because you are somehow living in many places at the same time get free breakfast at a hotel because there was a fire while you were eating and the staff told you not to leave be in another country on the other side of the world in less than 36 hours
Wednesday morning I showed up extra early to Dulles to avoid any problems and get my new paper tickets printed out. Condensing further desk-front airline problems, it turns out that Jackie, the United employee who I (Ben) talked to the previous day, was not allowed to do what she did, which was put me on an Air New Zealand flight that was direct from LA to Auckland that day. This incorrectness was confirmed by the Dulles United manager who called Jackie and told her this. Whoops, sorry Jackie. I did lots of haggling and finally told them to just send me to LA, I’ll figure it out there. The original woman I was working with felt sorry for me by this point and decided she could do something to help. “OK here is what I’m going to do: I will print you a boarding pass for the Air New Zealand flight, and staple it to the back of your original ticket. I can’t print you a ticket for that flight because Air Pacific hasn’t paid us for it. They won’t look at the ticket when you go in, especially if it’s busy. So go fast! They will scan the boarding pass and not look at the ticket until the plane takes off.” “Is that illegal?” “No.” Not really caring whether it was or not, I asked some clarification questions then thanked her profusely. I headed for my LA flight, not sure if I was really going to New Zealand in the next 24 hours, or if I’d spend a few nights in Hotel California.
The first flight was easy and went by surprisingly fast. My bag was supposed to automatically go through, but that just made me think it was going to New Zealand without me. LAX is a bit difficult to navigate, as they try to cope with ever increasing demand, so I had to shuttle to a totally different area. I had at least 5 hours to kill though, just more time to wonder whether or not I would make it with my counterfeit boarding pass. I did other things like reading and email to avoid sitting there thinking, “I am trying to get on a plane, and I don’t have a ticket for it.” When the time finally came around to board, it was very crowded. This was a 100% capacity 777 flight. I thought this was to my advantage, because they would check the boarding passes quickly. Surrounded by Kiwis and potential Kiwis, I anxiously approached the front. They were boarding through 4 desks. Which was the best? Could I even choose? Were they using magnifying glasses and X-rays and valid-ticket-sniffing-dogs on the person in front of me? I couldn’t see. My turn. Just the usual polite hellos and whatnot, and a brief look at the boarding pass. This will be fine. Oh no. Oh no! She’s turning it over! “Let’s see. Hmm...oh. Oh. We’re going to have a problem here.” Heart stops slightly. “Ahem, really? What seems to be the problem?” “This is an Air Pacific ticket for another flight.” “Oh yeah, my flight got cancelled and they put me on this one. They said it would be fine.” I could feel the long line of passengers behind me thinking, “C’mon man, what’s the holdup!?” or, “Oh great, this guy is taking forever.” The desk attendant flipped out a cell phone and made a call, eyes sweeping the crowd. “I’m going to have to call somebody on this one.” Pause. “Hi Leonard, I’ve got a guy here with an Air Pacific ticket that needs to be signed over. What are we going to do about that?” Long Pause. Head nodding. “Can we get them to endorse [pay for] it now?” I had been previously told Air Pacific will not, WILL NOT endorse it. “Can they do it later? Mh-hm. Okay. Okay? Okay.” Turning to me and looking surprised, she said, “They don’t usually do this, but Leonard said okay. You’re lucky.” Leonard said okay. Leonard said okay!!!
Leonard, I don’t know you, but if you are reading this, you are the coolest. Thank you, I will sing your praises. Let it be known that Leonard is the man in a box somewhere who will get you onto a plane for which you have no ticket. Yes! I grabbed my things, said thanks, and quickly went down the airplane boarding chute that reminds me of a tube in a fancy hamster cage. Except the hamster can go all over the place and see through the orange plastic. I can’t see through it and I can only go on the plane. But that’s okay, that’s where I want to go. I imagined the lady with my ticket coming to get me, because there was some mistake. “Leonard called back. You’re not getting on this plane.” Or armed guards. TSA officers with guns. “Sir you’re going to have to come with us.” I would tell them, “but Leonard said okay!” as they dragged me away. But that didn’t happen. I found my way to 44E and sat, trying to look nondescript, so they wouldn’t find the guy with no ticket who wasn’t supposed to be on the plane. I waited for an overhead announcement that the plane was overbooked and someone wasn’t supposed to be here. When they made the door closing announcement I knew I was set. FAA rules prohibited them from opening the door again. I was home free.
I made a polite “Hi” to the guy next to me. He was a Kiwi, but neither one of us were feeling chatty. Not like the lady across the aisle. But it wasn’t annoying, so I played along when she aimed her chatter at me. Laughing and making stupid comments about the blankets. I was entertained by the accent. The 777 back-of-seat-TVs were great, especially because of their programming. They had travel shows that guided you around major New Zealand cities and points of interest, movies, games, TV, etc. Somehow I didn’t feel like a movie even though they had good new ones I hadn’t seen. I wanted to dive into Kiwi culture, so I watched the tour shows, then the 2005 Rugby World Cup final. If you haven’t seen the synchronized dancing, yelling, and chest-beating that the All Blacks team does before a match, it’s really pretty amazing. It really says, “You’re not just going to lose to us, you’re going to die.” Then I switched over to some Flight of the Conchords. I had the first season DVDs that Noah gave me, but it was much easier to look at the back of the seat rather than break out my laptop. I had some good (also free) New Zealand white wine while I watched. Reading a book felt taboo, since they turned off the cabin lights and each person’s reading light spilled onto the passengers around them. So I decided I should get my sleep, tomorrow’s going to be a long day. I drifted off, thinking about the fact that when I wake up, I will be a lot closer to that little island called New Zealand.