Monday, 1 February 2010

Travel Expectations

Free airport WiFi is usually too much to hope for so I’m not disappointed. Why should this day get any better?

Yesterday started off okay. I bid farewell to the Canadian crew that had become my companions and friends over the past month. Nice bunch of lads. Josh drove me up to Quebec City airport. A bit early as it turned out but no matter: Mike and Josh had an initial two-day drive ahead of them which would become a week if the equipment had to be delivered immediately to Alberta.

I have to admit that it was with a slightly sinking heart that I viewed the large group of high-school teenagers that proceeded before me onto the aircraft but my fears were unfounded. They were well behaved. Unlike the flight steward stationed at the back of the aircraft who was flirting with me almost from the start. It is said that the one who is asking the questions is the one in pursuit and was this boy inquisitive. It was perfectly clear that he was off duty after this flight and had a place in Toronto. Nice to the fancied, I suppose. Anyway, at the end of the flight he gave me a knowing smile and told me that after resting this afternoon, he was sure to get into all kinds of trouble that night. I would say it was a certainty.

Fortunately I had other arrangements that afternoon which was in the form of meeting one of my wife’s oldest childhood friends. Marina, husband Ted and their youngest daughter were at the airport to meet me and it was a real pleasure from the start. I had spoken to Marina many times over the years, usually even if it was just to say that Masha wasn’t in. It was a surreal experience to finally meet all the same. And surreal that childhood friends from St.Petersburg should end up so far from home. When the city was called Leningrad, it was impossible to even imagine such eventualities.

Marina’s oldest daughter, Dasha, had recommended an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant. Her account of the place was that waiters would be hovering to ensure one’s plate was never empty. What none of us realised that was the level of service commanded by pretty eighteen-year -old girls. The rest of us did not attract such attention. Service was slow, the waiters offered no advice on portions and still could not count when Marina and Ted were getting the numbers right. Portions were systematically smaller than requested. So I can recommend Maki Japanese Sushi restaurant if one is on a diet. Which, in all honesty, after a month of hotel food, I need to be. That had to wait however as we stopped off on the way back for cream cakes. The first portion, a small building of an affair, wiped me out completely and I had to finally draw the line when Ted offered slices of cheesecake as a follow up.

All too quickly it was time to get back to the airport. A shame because it felt like I had known them both for years. I certainly hope they can make it to Scotland.

With perfect timing I was swiftly through security (despite meriting special attention from the guards. Was it my aftershave?) and through to the gate. The flight was pretty full. After takeoff the lady I was sitting next to spotted a couple of empty seat and was off. Fair enough. Since my light didn’t work, I thought I could use her vacated place to read. And it would have been a fine scheme if the two men in the row ahead of me had not both decided to recline their seats back to the maximum. I could already feel the feet of the young woman sitting behind me through my chair. Beside her was a large lady of a certain age. It would not have been possible in all good conscience to recline the seat down on her. I was trapped. I turned sideways to read but when the cabin-lights went down, that was no possible either. The one available light to me meant that the book would have been six inches from my nose. I called the steward.

“Are you able to fix this light?”
He smiled pityingly at me. “No sir. We don’t carry any repair materials. It would be very dangerous to attempt to fix the plane while in flight.”
“Of course. I understand. It’s not like changing a light bulb I’m sure. Are you able to find me another seat?”
“No sir, the flight is very full.”

And that was that. For that time at least. I was not happy but tried to sleep. I turned full sideways, curling up on both chairs with the heavy central armrest raised but pressing on my torso. Just as I was dozing off, I was tapped on the back. It was the big toe of the girl behind, whose foot had slipped around the side of the chair. I was fucking awake now.

In a cold anger, I rose none-too-gently and had a walk around the aircraft. There were empty chairs but these had already been spread into by other passengers. Too angry to sleep and not possible to read. Then I remembered the l.e.d. flashlight that was in my coat pocket. I went to the overhead locker, unfortunately right above the two gentlemen ahead of me, and I got the torch. Its blue-white light is actually very good to read by. Eventually though I just needed more space. Another walk and then the toilet. Hmmm. Plenty of space here. Nobody waiting. I’ll just take a piss for now.

“Attention please. We are experiencing turbulence. Please return to your seat and put your seat belt on.”

I’ll have my piss first, if you don’t mind.

Bang bang bang. “Sir, you need to return to your seat.” It was a stewardess.

After adjusting my dress and washing my hands I came out. “I would, if I had a seat that was fit for a human being to sit in.”

I resumed my coiled position, buckled up and started to read again. As she passed, I saw surprise register on the face of the stewardess as she spotted the torch.

“Sir, is there a problem with the light?”

“Yes there is. I can’t sit in the other chair to read because the gentleman ahead has the seat fully reclined and it forces the book into my face. I cannot recline my own seat although I tried because the legs of the girl behind are already sticking in my back and as you can see, I cannot recline the other seat either.”

“Would you like me to look for another seat for you?”

“That,” I replied. “Would be delightful.”

The stewardess returned within five minutes. In an apologetic tone, I told her I would not have been so upset except I had raised the matter with her colleague several hours before.

The seat was with the babies at the front of the bulkhead. Asking whether the light would disturb the baby and being reassured it would not, I settled down. Even with the occasional waft of an overfull nappy, it was still more conformable that the rabbit-hutch that had been created for me by my fellow passengers. I even managed an hour’s sleep.

I returned to my original seat for landing. After the plane had come to a final halt I rose. I had to say something.

“Please, you two gentlemen had both your seats fully reclined last night. It made sitting behind you impossible. I had to ask for a new seat.”

“Why didn’t you just recline your seat?”

“So everybody behind you have to recline their seats to the maximum? Where does it end?”

“So I am responsible for last night?”

“Partly, yes.”

“What, you don’t want me to sleep? Am I to stay awake?”

I could see where this was going, it was clear that nothing matter to him except his own needs and either it was the full half hour telling the whole story or:

“I have nothing more to say to you.”

“It is better that you have nothing more to say.”

Since I was already up, I joined the queue to exist ahead of them both. I also took my time letting the people ahead out of their chairs.

Passive aggression on my part? Probably. Like any situation, it is a culmination of small events that can lead to a large incidence. I didn’t have to go there. Point made.

And to put it all into perspective, the title of the book I am reading is “The Worst Journey in The World.”

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