A Really Fun Thing I’d Love to Do Again – Day 1

Tuesday, September 20, 2011.

My morning began with a ringing doorbell at 5am.  In all my OCD checking and rechecking to make sure I had everything ready for my trip, I failed to see that my alarm was set for 4:30pm instead of am.  The doorbell woke me out of a pretty sound sleep and sent the adrenaline coursing through my veins.  I hurriedly threw on the clothes I had set out for the day and was out the door with my luggage to meet my father-in-law who was waiting for me in the car.  The adrenaline rush finally settled down and I gained full alertness at about the 118 – 405 interchange.

The early morning drive to the airport was quick and smooth, as was – surprisingly – my passage through security.  I was not selected for the privilege of one of the infamous full-body scans, thank God.[1]  After quickly clearing the TSA check-point, I now had about a two hour wait before my flight boarded.

Breakfast that morning consisted of an iced white chocolate mocha – decaf[2], of course – and a plain bagel with cream cheese from the Starbucks in the terminal.  Not bad, but about the best of the options available.  Setting up camp in an empty seat in Gate 22, I mooched the free wifi service in the airport to check my email, post a few tweets, and catch up on the morning’s Facebook news.  And a quick call home allowed me to say “hi” to my wife and girls before they headed off to school.

I’m not really one for flying[3], but I was rather impressed with the smoothness and efficiency of my connecting flight to Montreal.  Not only was the trip free from annoying teenagers in the seats directly in front of or behind me, but I particularly enjoyed the personal touch-screen monitors on the backs of the seats and the wide variety of films, TV shows, and music available.[4]  On this first leg of my journey I watched Super 8, which seemed to me to be the “bad ass” remake of E.T.  Like E.T., this alien creature is stuck on earth and wants to go home, but unlike E.T. he wasn’t content with just a handful of Reese’s Pieces.  This alien goes all disgruntled-postal-worker on a small town in his effort to get home, but of course is really upset because it is not properly understood by the military officials trying to contain it.  It was a pretty good flick, but I was left with a couple hours to go before we landed, so I watched a couple rerun episodes of The Big Bang Theory, and then kept an eye on the flight tracker as we made our approach.

Montreal – at least what I could see of it from the airplane’s tiny windows – was a beautiful city.  But there was no time for gazing out the enormous windows in the gate; priority one after landing and clearing customs was finding something to eat.  I had not eaten for close to eight hours and I was now feeling the effects pretty severely.  Not wanting to upset my delicate gastrointestinal system with any of my numerous mild-to-moderate food allergens, I went for the day-old-cellophane-wrapped ham and cheese sandwich, a bag of roasted peanuts, and a bottle of water from one of the grab-and-go food counters in the terminal.  As I munched on the rather dry sandwich, I once again mooched the free wifi to check my email and post to Twitter that I had arrived safely in Montreal.[5]  I tried texting my wife, but it didn’t go through, so I bit the $1.59/minute to call her.  Man, it was good to hear her voice even though it had only been about six hours since I talked to her last.  After a short conversation with her, I went for a walk to get another snack and another bottle of water – I fear dehydration might be a concern on this trip – and settled in at the gate to wait another hour or two until the plane boarded.

The mob had gathered at the check-in desk well before the actual boarding call was given.  I joined the herd when the call was made – in French first, and then in English – and slowly shuffled my way to the desk and then into the boarding tunnel toward the aircraft.  We were obviously riding on a much larger plane as there were at least twice as many people at the gate as at LAX.  It also concerned me a bit how many infants and toddlers were in the loosely formed queue.  That many young children in a confined space at 38,000 feet for 7+ hours seemed like a recipe for a long, sleepless night.

I boarded the plane and found my seat, on the aisle right in front of the lavatory.  Good news: no one bumping the back of my chair all throughout the overnight flight.  Bad news: the sound of suction-flushing every fifteen minutes or so.  The babies on board cried as we taxied, but all seemed to settle down within half an hour or so.

The movie selection on this flight was only slightly different from the first, although the flight attendants were giving away for free the same earphones that I paid $3 Canadian for on the first flight.  I settled on Source Code for my in-flight entertainment, which I found slightly disturbingly ironic that they were showing a film about a terror attack on a train during the flight.  But that aside, I was pleasantly surprised by it.[6]

After dinner service[7], I tried to get comfortable enough to get some sleep.  Not very successful.  I would doze off of ten or fifteen minutes, and then need to reposition to get comfortable again.  I sincerely hope I didn’t keep my row-mate awake with all my tossing and turning.  After who knows how long of this, I did manage about an hour-long stretch of shut-eye.

I finally just gave up on sleeping just in time for the crew to turn the lights on and serve muffins – I think they were blueberry – for “breakfast.”  I munched away on this as the sun rose out the windows and I watched a rather fascinating documentary on the bitter rivalry between two early American paleontologists.  By the time the program was over, we were beginning our descent and flying over some very lush, beautiful countryside.  After a smooth landing, we taxied to the rather congested terminal and disembarked the plane.

Passing through customs was a horrendously slow process.  Not because of any security problems – thank God – but because there were far too many passengers for the far too few check-in stations.  Thankfully the security officers kept opening new stations, but the mass shuffling and reshuffling didn’t seem to make it faster for anyone.  It took nearly an hour to get to the front of the line, which made me late for baggage claim, where I stood around for another half an hour not finding my suitcase.  When the conveyor belt stopped completely, I went over to the help desk to inquire about my seemingly missing luggage.  Fortunately, they had it stashed in some back room.  Apparently they only keep the conveyor belt running for so long before they take it away and hide it from those who take too long getting through customs.

Once I gathered all my belongings, I dragged my very hungry, sleep-deprived self down to the bus terminal to catch a ride to Antwerp.  Unfortunately I neglected to exchange my currency first, so correcting that technicality caused me to miss the 10am bus, so I had to sit around the airport for another hour to wait for the next bus to arrive.

[1] At least I don’t have to worry about lewd pictures of me surfacing on the internet.  I do hope to be famous some day, but I’d prefer a more dignified route.

[2] I have not intentionally had a caffeinated beverage since October 16, 2009.  The reason being that caffeine seems to be a contributor to the chronic migraines I have suffered from for the past two years.  A small sacrifice in the grand scheme of things.

[3] I’m pretty sure I can count on both hands – with a few fingers left over – the number of times I have travelled somewhere via plane.  I don’t know whether it’s a control issue, a fear of heights, or an aversion to high-stress encounters with armed security agents, but I really prefer driving to my destination whenever possible.  Unfortunately, not really an option for travel to a different continent.

[4] Plus, the trip-tracker was a pretty cool feature.  It plotted the planes progress to its destination, showing where it was on a map as well as travelling speed, altitude, and estimated time of arrival.

[5] Once I reached Belgium, I found that I lost cell phone service so email and Twitter updates were my only contact with friends and loved ones back home.

[6] That’s two-for-two for Air Canada’s in-flight entertainment.

[7] The options were chicken or pasta.  I went with the chicken since tomato sauce can sometimes upset my sensitive stomach.  But the small slice of chicken – which was itself delicious – was on a bed of rice, which I am allergic to.  So I had to slice and eat very carefully so as to not eat any of the rice with the meat.  With the entrée came some corn relish – also a no-no for me – a dinner roll, and a chocolate brownie for dessert (which likely used corn syrup or corn starch as a sweetener instead of real sugar, so I avoided it as well).  So my dinner consisted of a meager piece of chicken and a buttered dinner roll.  I was left rather hungry, but better that than the scratchy throat and heartburn that comes with exposure to any of my many allergens.

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