The Switch

The game for this post will be to decide which switch was most profound. In the past few days I have switched continents, hemispheres, time zones, cultures, qualities of life, those who I have surrounded myself with, haircuts, diets, and a few more things that I’ll let you pleasurably discover over the course of this post.

But first we have to get there!

How many people can honestly say that they have been on three different continents and in two separate hemispheres in a 24 hour period? I can confidently say that I might be the most bad ass jet setter of all time 🙂 I got to the Marrakech airport 3 hours early like a good little international traveler and found myself waiting for a solid hour for Iberia (a Spanish Airline that I strongly suggest you never chose to fly with) to figure out how to set up their check in station. I was at the front of the line so I was not worried about getting on the plane in time. The manager began to sweat as the employees fumbled with boarding pass printers and weigh stations. He nervously checked his watch, there were a solid hundred behind me in line. Finally he seems to break under the pressure and pats me on the back, sending me over to an unidentified desk. I appreciated his touch.

The woman checking me in had a remarkably familiar electric orange scarf tucked into her suspiciously tightly zipped jacket. I failed to mention that I have (at my leisure and opportunity) somehow honed my observation skills to that of a first class spy. It seems that, in the lack of the rat race, I have amplified my attention to details like accents, dress, and ethnic facial recognition.

I hope whoever I end up marrying (in a million years) never reads this confession, but I notice everything. I have for a long time (truth be told) but now it is becoming scary. I notice when someone has taken something out of their pockets from the difference in how their pants fit. I notice when someone is lying, based on a bunch of things (that I won’t share). Most of all, I can look into someone’s eyes and realize if they believe the statement they just gave to me. I have found that people often say something and then in a split second give a look of “Did he buy it?” These are usually the people who don’t believe in themselves one bit.

What a judge? Right? Well, no one ever said I was right all the time……(did you buy it?)

Back to the woman in orange. She was not an employee of Iberia at all. She worked for Easy Jet (hence the scarf). Did I trust that she knew how to work with the Iberia system? Maybe all of the check in systems were standardised by airport. As I would learn in the next 24 hours, being an Easy Jet employee was a step in the right direction.

I passed though Moroccan customs and the security guard frisked me. He felt my crotch for longer than any other security guard (in any country) had ever done. I didn’t appreciate his touch!

My first flight was just an easy 2 hour one to Madrid. The first plane was smaller than the full sized, trans continental monsters that I would be taking from Madrid to Buenos Aires. It was stripped, I looked like an Easy Jet plane, but older. I thought “no big deal, the big new one will be the next one I get stuck on for 13 hours.” I had a 7 hour layover in the Madrid airport in which I spent some time talking to a South African who said that she rode with Iberia for 9 hours without a movie. She said that the only form of entertainment was the radio.

Keep in mind that this is now the standard for flights that are sub 3 hour ranges. Typically now, airlines don’t even offer peanuts (unless you are ready to pay) for these domestic length flights. But I was going to be stuck in this next bird for 13 hours. The best flight I ever had was Qantas from Sydney to Bangkok. It was the definition of a perfect flight. Keep me well entertained, fed, and distracted and I can sit in a chair for 80 hours.

The first flight yielded two (that I know of) occasions of a seat being sold to more than one person. The equation of two people and just one seat leads to two upset people (as you may have guessed). This was a bad omen indeed.

As I approached the terminal for the 13 hour flight, there were already 100 people forming a line over an hour before the plane was scheduled to board. I decided to get in line and happily saw the line push out another 300 behind me in the course of the next half hour. The time had come. The flight attendant made the announcement “now boarding” and the neatly formed line of 400 instantly dissolved into a gelatinous blob of frantic pushing. Something, unfortunately, broke.

Fingers crossed, I made my way down the gang way, but when I saw the plane, it looked old. It looked as though it was just some outdated, skinny, metal snake that belonged in a musty bowling alley. Come to think of it, it would have made an excellent bowling alley. But as far as planes go, now a days, I am looking for something puffy and bloated. Something with two stories of neatly formed windows on the side. Those are the types of planes that will ensure proper entertainment, food, and distraction.

As I boarded the plane, I made my way down earth tone rows of carpeted seats. There weren’t quite chickens in the overhead compartment, but it was definitely a depressing downgrade from Qantas’s flag ship. I quickly found that there were no screens in my seat back. There was only one 12 inch screen every 30 feet or so. This means that we are at the mercy of watching what the flight attendant pops in on their time.

Yuck. Suddenly my life doesn’t feet glamorous at all. But it gets worse. They announce that there will be two movies during the course of the flight. Thats right, 13 hours in the air and only 3 of them might provide sufficient distraction, if I can even see the screen from my spot on the plane. The movies to show, two that must have been designed to put one to sleep. The plane is 15 minutes to take off. I take it as a tip. Three people (that I know of) have been sold the same seat.

Over the course of the next 3 hours, the crew manage to get around to serving us a meal. This would be followed by 9 hours of them literally sitting in lawn chairs in the food area and waiting for people to come to them to request periodic refreshments. They literally sat in lawn chairs, like unemployed donkeys and waited.

On a plus, the passengers were a lively bunch (presumably the parents of the Spanish boys I met in Rome a few months back). They used the food area as a sort of lounge. I have never seen such social plane in my life.

The one upside to this plane was that the seats had serious side bolsters up at the head. When I bent the flaps inward to cradle my upright neck I found that my head could not move more than a few centimeters to either side without hitting the padded walls. This might seem claustrophobic to some of you, but it turns out that I slept for 6 hours.

It must have been the side bolsters. It was either that or that Iberia in their infinite wisdom have elected to slip a roofy in my food. Either way, I slept for 6 more hours than I ever have on a plane. Was this an adaptation to sleeping abroad for 10 months?

During the flight (when the two gloriously boring movies were not playing) the screens cycled through cheesy power-point slides that promoted how spectacular Iberia is. It was so Spanish of them. Always taking themselves so seriously, implying that they were a big deal, or somehow ahead of the curve. This attitude is evident in everything from the Spanish train system to their lack of enthusiasm to learn and speak a second language (I know what you are thinking. But when we aren’t the largest economy in the world, we too will learn a second language.)

But look! Mira! We can put a little icon of a plane ON TOP of a MAP that indicates where we are in the flight!!!!! That was impressive 15 years ago. How about a camera on the tail of the plane? Nope, thats worthless as your 15th pair of shoes.

Getting off the plain and into the customs line literally took an extra hour. Put it this way, My parents were scheduled to land 2 hours after me and they were through to the outside of the airport before me.

Did I mention that I was meeting them? Anticipating them, I wondered if I would notice any changes they had gone through. Looking for them at the head of the airport, my mom snuck through the crowd and popped out to give me a huge hug. He face flushed, sadly I noticed 10 more wrinkles than how I left her only ten months ago. It was evident that she took her mothers passing with heavy heart. I didn’t want to see this pain. It was like a president in their second term. The weight of the world had been firmly on her shoulders for about a year now. Bud, her husband had gained weight in the face, but didn’t seem to have aged a day. It looked like she was part of some movie magic or something out of a sitcom when they want to turn someone into a grandma.

I’m officially dead when she reads that last paragraph by the way 🙂 But I was already killed by that pain she wore on her face just moments before. To be fair, it was the flush in her face and the night of lost sleep that gave her this affect. Now, spending time with her, she still has the same glow I remembered. My Mom, for all of you who have never met her, is a beautiful woman. How do you think I got so good looking?

Taking a cab to our hotel, we chatted like we were at home again. It wasn’t weird. It was much the same as walking down the streets of Sydney with Pat, or Bangkok with Ryan, or London with Christina.

We arrived at our hotel to an incompetent hostess. My Mother had spent weeks researching the perfect hotel to spend a week in Buenos Aires in. She decided to go with one that demanded Paypal as part of the reservation process. When going back and forth with an inconsistent and unresponsive staff for the weeks before, she asked me for advice. I replied with “find a different hotel.” It was the same as interviewing a prospective employee with a perfect resume, but then she shows up late and drunk to the interview. Find another.

We are now 6 days into our stay in Buenos Aires and the Paypal issue is not yet resolved. I’ll spare you the specifics. This was the first sign that I was in possession of a skill that I have been largely taking for granted. Early on, I found myself internally saying “But you’ve had 10 months to figure all of this out. It’s not obvious to everyone.” to about 20 decisions per day. Little dos and don’ts have been filling into my brain for the past 10 months now.

Also, for the most part, I’ve been traveling alone for the past 10 months, and those who I have traveled with are of the independent nature to the point that decisions are casually muttered in passing, only once, when it is relevant. For instance, my previous traveling partners would not speak of what we would eat for dinner until we were in front of a menu. My Mother (bless her beloved heart) somehow finds a way to discuss this type of detail during breakfast.

It was just a different style than I was used to and I think that considering I went from 10 months of limited long distance contact, to 24/7 we are doing pretty damn well as a cohesive unit (best run on sentence of the day). There were moments when I wanted to just tell them to sit back and let me make all of the decisions for the day because I knew all of the eventual outcomes of the proposed dialogues, but I thought it would appear brash. My patience for these day to day travel situations had evaporated to the same level that we all share for computers and the Internet at home.

I had just been doing it for too long to be at all confused. I landed in a huge city that I had never seen and I knew exactly what to do, but I had to slow down because my parents had a different style.

Let’s clarify, before going on any further. My Mom, bless her beloved heart, is a huge reason I am traveling today. It was her ambition that dragged me to 12 countries before I was even 18. She isn’t some honky. She’s ultra well read, educated, traveled, and cultured. And Bud the same, but to make things even more impressive, he rode a motor cycle through Europe with his buddy for 6 months when he was 22 years old. He gets the backpacker lifestyle. Hell, We’ve been trading stories of Europe for months now.

I had warned my Mother that I had changed forever a few months ago in an email. Jokingly after the first day together again, I asked her what she had noticed has changed. She said “Well, for one thing, I used to worry and watch over you, and now I find that as I have stopped worrying about you, you have started to worry about me. You seem to be looking over your shoulder every few moments to to see if I am alright.”

This is exactly right. My Mom inherited the worry bug from her late Mother (My favorite Grandma of all time), I also had this bug until about, well, 10 months ago. I haven’t had anything so colossally important in my reach to worry about since then. That is, of course, until my beloved Mother came to visit.

She took a spill a few years ago over a half step in the front walk way of the house that I grew up in. Since then, she was been more than cautious about unstable and less than flat surfaces. Her Mother, by the way, fell over that same step only a few years before her. I was the only to witness my Grandma fall. If you have never seen this yourself, believe me, its and experience you hope to miss. The front walk way is being resurfaced as I type this post (and I hope that half step burns in hell BTW).

By the way, Buenos Aires is full of two things: uneven tiled sidewalks, and drippy air conditioners. My Mom walks these streets like she is planning every step out, one at a time. And when it comes to crossing a street (often more torn up than the sidewalks) it’s like she is walking on ice. This freaks me out as one can imagine.

But it’s not all worries now that I am back on the company payroll. It’s restaurants and hotels for the next two weeks. And Buenos Aires is the perfect place for this to happen because the steak here is said to be some of the finest in the world. I am the first to say that the hype to true. The steaks are cut about twice as thick as at home and are wonderfully seasoned. I am being fattened up every day now with meals I won’t ever forget! Pretty soon I’ll look American 🙂

The people here are wonderfully seasoned as well. They usually speak Spanish slowly and clearly (unlike the Spanish spoken in Spain). As my Mom will attest, Buenos Aires is one of the more beautiful cities that either of us have been to. Unfortunately, the infrastructure is shot here with the poor sidewalks and inefficient air conditioners, but there are monuments that look like they belong in Europe. The air here is fresh (when there isn’t a car driving by). There don’t appear to be any emission’s standards here.

We are soon headed to Mendoza, but not before popping over to Uruguay (one hour away by boat)

Tune in for the second half of this article when I write it!

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