Sunday, August 23, 2009

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

After an insanely busy week of 9 hour workdays, training my replacement, moving out of my apartment, moving everything to storage in Orange County, and saying some difficult goodbyes, I arrived at LAX's American Airlines terminal at 6:15 AM to find it already in complete shit-storm mode. I waited in line for about 20 minutes, watching impatiently as the line to my right blazed past at factory efficiency. When it finally came time to place my checked luggage on the scale, I was overjoyed to see that, at 48 pounds, I had just barely made it within the allowable luggage weight. The AA employee congratulated me, then looked at the scales again as the number gradually continued to rise to 54 pounds. I'd have to remove some items or pay $50. I frantically tore open my suitcase, pulling out a few books and shoving them in my already-full messenger bag. 52 pounds. Realizing there wasn't any room left in my carry on I made the quick decision to change out of my Chucks and into the hiking boots I'd packed, then tied the laces of the Chucks together and hung them from the strap of my messenger bag. This seemed like a good idea at the time, and I'm not sure how else I'd have lost the 2 pounds without throwing something away, but for the next 15 hours I was the guy on the plane(s) with stinky shoes hanging from his bag by their laces.

I flew to Dallas and got to sit in an exit row, soaking up the sensation of being able to move my legs as much as I could before the next flight, where such luxuries were reserved for the assholes up front with beds for seats. Flying into or out of Frankfurt is always interesting because of the high number of US military personnel onboard, and this was especially true flying to Frankfurt from Dallas. Big muscly southern guys with camo backpacks were everywhere, apparently pretty pumped for whatever they were headed to.

The flight was probably the most enjoyable transatlantic flight I've ever been on, which isn't saying much. AA for as long as I can remember has been the one airline that simply refuses to upgrade its fleet with the entertainment features Virgin and every other airline has had standard for ten years. BUT this time around they were sort of up to date (seatback tv and movies but terrible selection and unresponsive interface with a remote on the armrest that changed the channel any time I rested my arms). I watched "The Hangover" again and was absolutely amazed at how real Ken Jeung's cgi underwear looks when he jumps out of the trunk of the car. I watched a few other things but ran out of options there, so I pulled out this week's Rolling Stone and read the best and most enlightening article on the Beatles breakup ever (it was 100% John and Yoko's fault). I caught a few winks here and there and the time passed quicker than it usually does for me on a plane. I also never experienced more than a second or two of brutal airplane anxiety, something that usually dogs me for the whole time there's nothing but ocean below. It helps that there wasn't really any turbulence the whole way. It didn't help that there was a little girl a few seats away from me screaming bloody murder for about a third of the trip.

We landed in Frankfurt and the plane just sat there for 10 minutes. When the pilot announced that they were "just about ready" to let us get up and out, the entire plane took this as a cue to get up and start grabbing their stuff from the overhead compartments. A stewardess then repeatedly asked everyone to remain seated to no avail. People finally got the idea when three German Federal Police came through the plane to apparently arrest some dude in the back for god knows what. Awkward.

We finally got let off the plane and got into an insanely long customs line that stretched all the way to a Singapore airlines check-in desk. I then realized that literally every other American on the flight had US military IDs, including the children. I'm gonna assume they're the children of military personnel and not part of some secret child soldier program. I finally got to the customs desk and when they asked if I'm here on business I lied and said I'm visiting friends in Bonn (my visa isn't set up yet and I was told to avoid starting that process at the airport...).

My luggage appeared on the conveyor quicker than I've ever experienced and I put the Converse shoes back in my suitcase. I got the hell out of there and went outside to have my first cigarette in about 24 hours. I then entered the terminal with the train station in it and went into an internet cafe to check my email and make sure Olaf was available to pick me up from the train station in Bonn.

Then I went into complete panic when I couldn't find my passport anywhere in my bag or in my pockets. I've done a solid amount of international travel and I've never lost a passport, much less while still at the airport, 10 minutes after going through customs. I dragged my giant suitcase and hardshell guitar case back to the terminal I came out of. I realized I couldn't get back into the baggage claim area so quickly dragged everything back to the other terminal and went to the lost and found. They hadn't found anything but they gave me a business card and said to call later. I resigned myself to the fact that it was beyond my control and went to buy a train ticket.

After booking a train to Bonn for 9:55, I called Olaf and told him when and where to meet me, and told him I'd lost my passport. "That is not good" was his very German response. I hauled my bags down a few flights of stairs to the train tracks and waited for about a half hour before a train arrived. The sign said that the train was heading to Koln and Dusseldorf so I assumed it was my train. After boarding I quickly realized it wasn't the right train, and it was too late to exit because I was already barricaded in by other travelers and my own luggage.

I went to the food car and ordered a cup of coffee, as I was completely exhausted in addition to feeling like a moron. The ticket checker came by and I told him I screwed up and got on the wrong train. He stamped my ticket anyway and pulled out a schedule pamphlet, underlining where I should get off and which train to board to get to Bonn. I might have to pay for a new ticket, he told me. And who says Germans have no customer service skills?

I got off at Koln Central and rushed down a flight of stairs and up another carrying 70 pounds of luggage. I watched as woman backpacker sprinted up the stairs only to fall flat on her face once she reached the top. Sometimes other people's misfortunes make everything feel a little less shitty. I took the recommended train to Bonn and got there 35 minutes before my real train would have gotten there. I read a Wired article on faking one's own death while I waited for Olaf. He eventually arrived with his pug Cosimo, and we took a cab to where I'd be living.

The apartment building I live in was previously occupied by the German parliament back when Bonn was the capital. That sounds kind of cool but the place is nothing special architectually. My room is very large. There are three beds in here, as it's usually used for 2 or 3 students. I think I'll try each of them once before I pick a permanent sleep spot. Or just rotate indefinitely. I settled in, unpacked, and found my passport tucked between the pages of a hardcover book. So who's dumber, the guy who loses his passport at the airport or the one who falsely thinks he did? I guess it doesn't matter which is dumber, it matters which has the passport. I still feel like an idiot though.

I slept most of the day, woke up around 9pm, Skyped my mother and then Kate, then decided I should probably go on a long walk to tire myself out enough to actually go to bed and wake up for work the next day. I walked a few miles along the Rhein river, which at night is very poorly lit. I would not have walked this path in LA. I eventually got to the city center, where I decided to pick up an Altbier (Dusseldorf Beer) and a Kolsch (Koln Beer) so that I could compare the tastes of the two rivals. Public drinking is perfectly legal so I enjoyed my beverages while walking back home. The Kolsch was better but the one Alt they had was Diebels, so the comparison was not fair. I'll have to visit Dusseldorf to make an accurate decision on the matter. Maybe a documentary is in the works...