12 September 2008

My Orginal BLOG FOUND after 10 years

I wrote this 10 years ago for a company Intranet site - still relevant.

THE MEANDERINGS OF A WAYWARD TRAVELER - Part I

I have a confession to make – I am a passport “stamp-a-holic”. I’ve lived with this problem since early childhood, around the time I received my first passport. During those early days I was able to handle my obsession, but after High School, I was hooked. My behaviour manifest itself in strange bouts of purposeful trip manipulation. Travel agents would book me on direct flights and I would subvert their work by demanding the most stops possible. I actually booked a flight to Kathmandu on Biman Airways JUST so I could get a Bangladeshi stamp in my book with complete disregard for my own personal safety given the safety record of Biman Airways. I once bubbled over in pride the day I received a 20-page extension for my old passport while on a stopover in Bangkok. Even greater pride when I filled up those pages. I also tend to cherish my previous passports like some men cherish old T-shirts with which they are reluctant to part, despite gaping holes. I believe that in some ways I even molded my career around the attainment of passport stamps – International Development. One knows they are obsessed when they try to match stamp colours within their passport….no, I am not really that bad, but it does bring to mind another story.

Undesired Stamp…

I lied. As much as I like to accumulate stamps in my passport, I recently prayed that the great passport God would pass me by during my recent visit to Cuba. I have wanted to go to Cuba all my life driven by an almost weekly statement made to me by my Mother – “Cuba is one of the most interesting and beautiful places in the world”. She spent a good part of her early life there, and transferred her fixation with Cuba to me. I have been working on a project in Jamaica and became familiar with a package deal that flew you to Havana for the weekend. No fuss, no muss I thought. I went to the travel agent and she said that entry into Cuba was safe for Americans because they don’t stamp your passport. DON’T STAMP YOUR PASSPORT – THEN WHAT’S THE REASON FOR GOING? I don’t believe she heard my thoughts and she continued on. She explained to me that technically, Americans can enter Cuba, they just can’t spend any money when they are there. She pointed out that by purchasing their package deal I would avoid spending any money while in Cuba. Made sense to me, but I was still stuck on the Passport stamp thing. “Oh yes, you simply fill out a visa card which they stamp when you enter the country and your passport is safe”. Safe from what I asked? When you return to the United States they will never know you went to Cuba and you will avoid the risk of any penalty.

So off I went to Havana seeking the beauty my mother had spoken about. Upon entry I gave the Visa card instead of my passport and paid no attention to the clerk behind the counter. Within 30 seconds I was on my way to Old Havana. Suffice to say it was a beautiful place, which I will discuss more, at a later time. Sunday came quickly, and it was time to depart. I stood in front of the Immigration official and handed him my papers including my passport. He asked me something, and wrote a number on a piece of paper. I quickly determined that he had written the number ten and a $ sign preceded it. I momentarily asked myself what Fidel would think about such behaviour. I also did not have $10 in U.S. currency, so I shook my head in a negative manner. In less time than you can say $55,000 fine, he stamped page 16 of my U.S. passport. Let’s look on the bright side of this I thought – now I can show people my Cuban passport stamp but then my thoughts went to having to explain the stamp to Customs Officials in Miami. I spent the next few days pondering my fate.

I had it all worked out. If they questioned me in Miami I was going to tell them about how Jack Nicholson, Matt Dillon and Cameron Diaz were in Cuba at the same time. My theory was that I was just a small fish by comparison. My next idea was to place little papers between each page of my passport in an effort to distract the Customs person. I figured as they began paging towards the page number that matched the birth date of Jose Marti, the savoir of Cuba, (page 16) that a number of slips would fall out and they would simply pass over the Cuban stamp. That was the best thought I could come up with while flying towards Miami. The flight between Kingston and Miami is 585 miles or just over 1 hour in duration – too short for coming up with anything original. I decided to just face the music if caught and say I had a great time.

I arrived in Miami at 1:10 P.M. – so did seven other planes. The passage way to the Customs was jammed with a sea of humanity. I saw the blue line – you know that line that Americans are supposed to follow when they return to the U.S. I followed it until an official was yelling to every American the following advice – “If you have a Passport open to your picture – hold it up to your face – walk through the gates”.

Needless to say, I was the American with the smile that went from one ear to the other.

Has Anyone Seen My Passport???

The Meanderings of a Wayward Traveler – Part 2

I love airports!

There, I said it loud, and I said it proud. I realize that this probably places me in distinct minority group of perhaps 50 people in the entire world, but I just can’t help myself – I was raised to love airports.

When I was a young boy, let’s say 35-40 years ago, when flying was not as commonplace, my father was constantly going off to the airport to fly somewhere. At the time, all I knew was that this was a special place and that I enjoyed being there. I am the first to admit that traveling with my parents wasn’t the most enjoyable pursuit, but traveling on an airplane made up for it, and more.

As I grew older, and I began to fly on my own, I found myself looking forward to spending time in the airport before the flight. I still love finding a seat that permits me to watch people come, and go. I used to go to gates where the plane was scheduled to fly to some far flung destination – London, Delhi or Hong Kong – just to see the people getting on the plane and imagining going where they were going. To this day I enjoy seeing gateway reunions where everyone is genuinely happy. I also feel the pain of the people being departed from, as they strain for that last glance of a loved one.

Most of the time, I just enjoy doing NOTHING.

At this present point in life, I feel that I never have any free time – what with two young children, a full-time job – yada yada yada. So any opportunity for relaxation is a Godsend. As I write this, I am sitting on a plane bound for the West Coast. In my head I calculate 1.5 hours of airport time plus 7 hours of travel time. I know that this next line is going to seem odd, but that’s 8.5 hours to do whatever I want to do without feeling like I should be doing something else.

Oddly enough, there are people who hate airports for the exact reason I love them. They wait as long as possible before departing for the airport leaving just enough time to check in and board the plane. When on the plane, they can’t wait for the journey to be over. When they get off the plane they wait for the luggage to arrive on the carousel with the same level of patience that most people have sitting on the beltway during rush hour. After getting the bags they are ready to attack the rental car agent until finally they are seated in the car and the airport is but a fleeting image in the rear view mirror. I have embellished this characterization somewhat, but not by much.

I Love Flying Too

During the past 25 years I am certain that I have flown on at least 1000 flights, if not more. I once had a job that flew me to work at 6:10 a.m. in the morning and returned me the same day at 6:50 p.m.. I did that 3 days a week for 7 months. That totals at least 168 flights. I became so familiar to the flight crew that they called me by my first name. The airline had a 750 minimal frequent flyer mileage guarantee which for me garnered 126,000 miles with a whole bunch of double, and then triple mileage bonuses. Needless to say, I had a lot of flights courtesy of Continental Airlines. The point of all this minutiae is to point out that I am somewhat of an expert when it comes to airports.

I have also learned a few tricks that sometimes really do work.

Upgrades

One time I was standing behind someone in line who was totally angered by his travel experience. There was one attendant at the ticket counter, and this person went on for at least 15 minutes. When he left, I stepped forward, and began to console the ticket person. I pointed out that I am never in a rush and tend to take things as they come when I am at an airport. This person gave me a First Class upgrade without my even asking. You’re now asking, “Was this an isolated case?”. Next time you go to an airport, look at all the frenzied people around you. This condition becomes especially true when there is bad weather somewhere in the United States (9 months of the year). It is not rare to find yourself behind someone who is upset. A few kind words will go a long way – I know because I have been upgraded to First Class more times than you can imagine.

Free Tickets

When I travel I also stay close to the gate ticket counter. WHY? I want to be the first one in line when they announce that the flight has been overbooked and they are seeking volunteers to either take a later flight, or stay over another night and leave in the morning. In about a week I will be traveling for free, with my family, to Southern California using tickets provided to me by USAIR. Give it a try.

When will it be my turn?

It has been suggested that flying is far safer than driving in your own car. Let’s just say the odds are 20 million to 1 that you will be in a plane crash. Does this mean that every time I fly the odds remain the same, or should I divide 20 million by 1000?? There have been two times when I thought the odds had caught up with me.

Carriacou – this is a tiny little island just off the coast of Grenada, in the West Indies. While working in Grenada, I was required to fly to Carriacou at least once every two weeks. The only planes that flew to this island had either 4 or 6 seats. This day, I was on the 4 seater version and the weather was somewhat questionable. Soon after taking off, the weather became downright awful. The pilot decided to press on. Imagine the worst roller coaster ride in the world and then triple the feeling your stomach goes through when you have that weightless experience. I remember looking at the pilot and noticing that he was sweating – not a good sign. We finally sighted our objective and approached the landing strip. I had already exhausted all my prayers and entered into many bargains in exchange for not crashing. As the plane finally found itself over the landing strip, and about to put down, a wind shear dropped us, and the plane, the final 20 feet. We landed with a real thud, and ruined the landing gear but we were safe. The pilot turned to me and said “Welcome to Carriacou”. I stayed the night rather than return the same day. I later saw the Pilot hoisting a beer recounting is worst flight ever.

Chengdu – I once caught a flight from Shang Hai to Chengdu using CAAC, the domestic airline of China. As I boarded the plane I saw that it was a Boeing 707, the oldest commercial jet in service. Since I have never flown on a 707, I thought it would be fun. Little did I know.

In certain countries within Asia, unlike in America, people are allowed to bring anything on-board – and they do. On this flight, there were chickens, pigs and even a goat, bound by its legs. I could deal with the animals, but they were all located in front of the emergency exits – not a good idea in any country. I forget the actual estimated time for the flight, it might have been 4 hours. All seemed fine towards what I thought to be the end of the flight. The plane began to descend, the wing tabs were extended, and the wheels were lowered. They are all events that take place prior to landing. The catch with this flight is that we did for over one hour. Worse than dragging the wheels, and everything else, was the fact that the plane kept descending than climbing. This happened over and over again. What you must know about Chengdu is that it is located in a mountainous region and the airport itself is 5200’ above sea level. My thoughts centered around a belief that we were going to crash into a mountain. I said my prayers, I even wrote out some notes just in case we did go down.

We finally did land and I was able to find out what had happened. The airport radar and landing systems had broken down, and the pilot was trying to find the airport without benefit of any support. One of the bargains I made with God during this flight was that I would never again fly inside of China. I left Cheng Du by train bound for Ghangzhou a week later.

1 comment:

Single said...

I would love to crawl inside your head just to see the memories of the places you have been. Sounds as though you have a greater case of Wanderlust than myself! and I too would cherish the passports ...