All good things must come to an end, and so too my vacation. So it was with heavy heart I awoke on my last day of vacation. True, with the time change the day will be something like thirty consecutive hours of waiting, flying, and security probings, so it's more like two days than one, but you get my meaning.
We ate a light breakfast and packed the bags. In order to do this, I had to bring all the luggage inside to weigh it on the bathroom scale at Aunt Awesome's house. Because with airlines looking to cut costs, I didn't want to show up with an overweight suitcase and have to pay the exorbitant fine to get it on the plane.
Here's what we finally ended up with: two hard-sided suitcases weighing 45 pounds each, two big red suitcases that came in right at 50 pounds, the purple vomit case weighing 49 pounds, a medium red suitcase at 30 pounds, and a smallish duffel bag that was more strained than the seat of Michael Moore's pants that weighed only 25 pounds.
And how did it feel to lift each of the seven suitcases up and down repeatedly despite having a burgeoning hernia? Not so great, thanks. But in order to look tough to Wifey I had to gut it out.
She was particularly not interested in any suffering on my part because she'd re-sunburned her back and arms yesterday at the pool, and since it had been my fooling around that led to my injury.
Once the suitcases were weighed and stowed back into the car, we bid a fond goodbye to Aunt Awesome, who insisted that next time we needed to come stay longer so we can visit their cabin in Northern Georgia.
"Why, you need to cash in the insurance money on it?" I asked as the fallen tree outside trembled in the wind and the roof quivered underneath.
Then we were off! We had a 5:15 flight scheduled, and it was 1:20. Plenty of time, right?
We punched in Atlanta-Hartsfield to the GPS, a Tom-Tom, which has flawlessly led us across the US. After all, you can't go wrong with Tom-Tom! It's Wifey's, and she chose the English Female's voice for it, so we call her Tommy. She's like a family member now.
She decided to take us through the most convoluted string of streets to get to the interstate, which is okay: Tommy knows best. At 1:35 we stopped along the way to grab a quick bite at McDonald's.
Because I am absolutely insanely anal about airport time, I suggested getting food to go. Wifey hates to eat on the run, so she said this in response to me:
"I think we've got enough time, but if you think that would be better, then that's okay."
Here's what that means once you've passed it through your husband decoder ring: "If you make me eat in the car and then we end up sitting in the airport twiddling our thumbs for thirty minutes waiting for the plane, I will hold it against you for a minimum of three months and remind you of it in perpetuity."
I decided to stop and eat in Mickey D's. Thirty minutes later, we were back on the road.
Atlanta traffic is unpredictable, but thanks to HOV lanes and my blatant disregard for posted speed limits, we made good time to the airport and arrived at the Hertz return area around 3:05.
T-2:10 and counting. No problem. Sure, they tell you to be three hours early, but that's a conspiracy between the gift shops and the TSA to force you to buy airport porn after you've gotten in a fight with your wife because the kids drove you both crazy by bouncing off the walls for two hours because there's absolutely nothing for them to do.
When I turned in the keys to the nice lady at the car return, the first thing she did was point out that I didn't have a license plate. I showed her the small piece of paper taped to the tinted window that served as a temporary plate for the van, and she was happy.
Then she read my mileage. 5,548 miles, on a car that I picked up with 6 miles.
"Oh my gosh!" she said. "You put a lot of miles on this car!"
"Well, I have had it for a month, and I did pick it up in Salt Lake City," I said.
"That's true," she admitted, but still gave me the stinkeye.
Fine, I won't tell her about the key fob that I dunked in water. That'll learn her.
Once the car was paid for (and it cost less than I expected: yay!), we had to make it to the airport shuttle, which is located at the other end of the giant concrete desert that is the car return.
Why do car rental companies do this? You return the car at point A, then you have to walk across the entire lot to Point B, where the bus is. Then, just to make things extra-super-difficult, they put all the luggage carts at Point B. Now, really, does that make any sense? Who's gonna walk from A to B to A to B? Fools, that's who.
Is it really so hard to stick the luggage carts at A? Well, it is if you're a car rental place. Forget all the other slogans; I'll rent from any car rental company that advertises "Our busses aren't in BFE!"
So I quickly arranged the bags in perfect order, strapping them together into a massive behemoth that weighed somewhere around 400 pounds and required sixty newtons of force simply to get underway.
Wifey looked at Mount Samsonite dubiously. "I'm not pushing that," she said.
"I will," I said. "And I'll carry those other two bags and wear all the backpacks so your sunburn doesn't hurt."
Apparently, her sarcasm detector had been damaged in the pool, because she only shrugged and said, "Okay. You're a sweetheart."
So we took the luggage over in shifts, me dragging the giant pile once, then carrying the two big hard-sided suitcases over. But in order to help my children darted back and forth and filled me with dread that they'd get run over in the parking lot by lazy Hertz attendants who weren't paying a bit of attention to where they were going.
However, soon we were safely on the bus and whisked quickly over to the airport terminal. Time? 3:20.
T-1:55. No problem.
I don't know if every US airport has these, but Delta in Atlanta has a system where you sign in for all flights via Kiosks. At these machines you scan a piece of ID (credit card or passport) and it finds your reservation. Then it prints out your boarding passes, and you go turn your luggage over to an attendant who sticks the bag tags on it (which print out automatically) and sends it on its way.
I've used it without trouble the past 2 or 3 years, and I have to say that I'm a fan. And they have about 100 of these things, so one is always open. It is, for airlines, surprisingly efficient.
So I scanned my passport and it told me I didn't have any reservations that day. No problem; I whipped out my E-Ticket and punched in the digits and soon had my reservation. Whew.
After entering all sorts of information, I had to scan the passports for the entire family. First, me. No problem. Then, Wifey. No problem. Then, the girl.
"Passport is about to expire. Please see attendant. Check-in terminated."
Problem. It was 3:25.
So I quickly managed to locate the line that said "Kiosk Help." There were only two people in line in front of me, and there were three people being helped, so odds were good we'd have this little problem sorted out in no time.
See, it turns out that I knew all about this problem. The kids' passports expire in September. So before I left Europe, I called the consulate and asked them if that would be a problem to re-enter the country, because some countries say if your passport is within six months of expiring you can't enter.
"No, not in the EU," the helpful lady told me. "You can come and go right up until it expires."
I jumped in line and began to wait.
At 3:40, there were still two people in front of me in line, but now there were lots and lots of people behind me. The three people who were still being helped fell into three categories:
1) The man who wanted to ship a large, suspiciously-packaged box marked "FRAGILE" on a flight he wasn't on.
2) A couple that didn't have the proper documentation.
3) The man for whom there was no reservation, but who insisted he had a reservation based on (and I kid you not) a series of illegible numbers scrawled on a napkin. Better, he was dressed in a suit that Sonny Crockett would have found a little garish.
Finally, the couple left and the head of the line (another couple, as it turns out) took their place. Then, right after, the guy with the suspicious package left. I was next!
It was then that Wifey approached me. "We've got a problem," she said.
"No, it's the boy. He has to pee."
Nearest bathroom? The other side of the airport. The question? What to do with the luggage mountain?
"Just leave the girl in charge," I said. "I can kind of see her all the way over there on the other side of the kiosk forest." She looked at me a moment, as if to ask me something, and I silenced her with this comment: " I will not leave this line for anything short of a fire in the terminal."
So off she went, the boy in tow. And, amazingly, the couple was finished quickly and I quickly reached an attendant. It was 3:45.
As a side note, the man with the napkin refused to leave, despite the fact that his nonexistence in their system meant the airline could do nothing for him. And Delta, in their wisdom, did not open another Kiosk Help Lane despite the 30 or so people waiting in line.
I'm guessing there were some missed flights in there somewhere.
"Hi," I said cheerily to the lady at the desk. "I am an American but I live in Europe and I am flying back there on the 5:15, but my children's passports expire in September so the kiosk won't check me in. I called the consulate before I left in July, and they assured me that this wasn't a problem and I could go back home."
"Oh, yeah, don't worry," said the agent next to her working with the family that didn't have passports for everybody. "You're going home."
Unfortunately, my agent was much more suspicious. She picked up a piece of paper and proceeded to read it for five minutes. We did not say a single word to one another. I have no idea what was on the paper. Instructions? A love note? Garfield Cartoons?
Couldn't tell you. Eventually Wifey came back. "What's the problem?"
This snapped the agent out of her trance. "Do you have any proof you live over there?"
"What difference does that make?" Wifey asked.
Now, listen, I know this much about airport security: even the appearance of giving anybody any lip whatsoever will get you not only thrown off the flight but banned from ever going in the airline again and put on the terrorist watch list and cavity searched by gate agents with cold, meaty hands.
So I shushed Wifey. "Here's my identity card and driver's license," I said, holding them out.
The agent did not so much as look down, concentrating on her piece of paper. "I gotta go check with somebody,"
Then she wandered off.
And did not come back for 15 minutes. It was a little after 4:00.
Wifey was getting angrier and angrier, probably because somebody had snored all night and she hadn't gotten any sleep. I blame the tree.
"Why don't you go keep an eye on the kids?" I asked.
"I want to know how this turns out!" she said.
"I'll tell you everything," I promised. "Don't sweat it."
So she went back to the children. Eventually, the agent came back.
"How are you gonna renew these passports from over there?" she challenged me.
"I'll just go to the consulate in the embassy and have them renewed, like I did with my passport two years ago when it got mangled."
"Oh," she said. "Do you have any bags to check?"
Now, since I am over here and safe from airline repercussions, I would like to officially say: what the fuck? I mean, seriously, that's it? I wasted a good thirty minutes of my life because you're so damned stupid you don't know that the US government has overseas offices that can help me with this kind of thing?
Geez, when you fell out of the stupid tree you hit every branch on the way down, didn't you?
So I came back with this clever retort: "I have seven bags. Let me go get them!"
I put the first bag up on the scale: 51 pounds.
"It costs 80 dollars for an overweight bag," she said.
"I just want to pay it," I said. "And get on the plane."
"Okay," she said.
I put the second bag up on the scale: 54 pounds.
I frowned. Third bag: 30 pounds. Duffel bag trying to pop free: 25 pounds. Hard-sided suitcases: 48 and 49 pounds.
Big red bag? 57 POUNDS!
"What the hell did you do when you weighed these?" Wifey asked me.
We decided to stop for ice cream, and we each got our favorite flavor: the girl go Reese's Pieces and Oreo, Wifey got a chocolate shake, and I got Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.
The boy? Plain vanilla, in a cup, with a plain spoon. It's the only ice cream he likes. He only ate two bites of it, too, then declared himself done. Sometimes I worry about him.
As chance would have it, I ran into a co-worker who had spent his vacation in Canada in the dining area. We chatted a moment, which was a good reminder to me of why I keep him at Acquaintance instead of upgrading him to Friend.
"Who's that?" Wifey said when I sat down.
"Nobody you want to know," I said.
At 4:45 we headed over to the boarding area. When we got there, it was empty and they were just making the final boarding call for the flight.
"Wow, you guys boarded early!" I said.
The flight attendant became incensed. "We always board this flight an hour early!"
Now, listen, I've taken this particular flight six times. It has never boarded early, and usually boards late. So I didn't buy her BS. But, knowing that if you sass a flight attendant it's worse than if you sass a desk attendant, I let it slide. "Okay," I said. "But we're here on time."
"5:15 is the time in the air," she insisted. "We will close those doors at 5:00!"
"Okay!" I said, rushing into the tunnel with my hand clamped over everyone in my family's mouths.
For the record: the doors closed at 5:30, and the plane took off at 5:50. And that's all I'll say about that, since the TSA may be reading my blog even as we speak.
On the airplane it was pretty standard, although this time we didn’t have any personal movie devices, so Wifey’s super power didn’t come into play. The plane wasn’t full, so we ended up with an extra seat. Wifey sat alone on the far side, with the kids and I sitting in the middle three seats.
This turned out to be a good thing, because the jerkoffs in the seat in front of Wifey decided that they needed to recline the seat as far back as possible. When jerkoff #2 shoved his seat back, he crashed into Wifey’s knees.
“OW!” she said, and turned around and looked at her.
He then proceeded to shove his seat back not once, not twice, not thrice, but five times, crashing into her over and over and over again.
Wifey was now at what I like to call the “cover your crotch and get out of town” phase, where she is about to snap. I kind of wished there was more than a whole aisle between me and her.
Mt. Wifey finally died down, and I was thinking all was well and good. Jerkoff #2 drifted off to sleep, and an hour passed with no issue.
Then she struck, like a rusty bed spring erupting from beneath to rupture your nut sack without warning. What she did (and I admired the evil cleverness of this) was to reach down and grab her backpack, then lift it up. We were, at the time, going through a bit of turbulence.
And she proceeded to hit the seat in front of her so hard with the backpack that Jerkoff #2 fell into the aisle, whereupon his hand was crushed beneath a passing trash cart.
“AAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!” he yelled, waking everyone in the plane.
“Oh my God!” she leapt up out of her seat and helped him to his feet. “I am so sorry, sir, I accidentally hit your seat. Are you all right?”
“You….you…” he glared at her a moment.
“You really should have had your seat belt fastened,” she said. “Airplanes are dangerous places, especially if you sleep.” Then (and I am not making this up) she rubbed her hands together and let out a Mwu-ha-ha chuckle that would have sent chills down the spine of Vincent Price.
Jerkoff #2 spent the rest of the flight wide-eyed awake in terror flinching every time the plane so much as jostled.
Wifey slept like a baby.
The rest of the flight passed quickly and without event, which was probably because everyone within a ten-row radius was terrified of the crazy lady in 39B. I played it off like I didn’t know her.
We found nothing but luck back home, not only getting all our luggage quickly but also finding that the cab that awaited us was a van and that traffic was light, and the house still intact when we arrived.
And you can't ask for more than that, can you?
I'm already thinking about where I want to go next year…
[Author's Note: Thanks to everybody for reading this, and I hope you enjoyed it. I appreciate all the comments, good and bad. And don't worry: I'll keep blogging as per usual, and I'm sure something worth reading about will happen!]