With about 48 hours separating the time we left our cozy little home and our eventual arrival in Thailand, this is the longest point to point trip I have ever taken. In the interest of posterity and fighting the mind numbing boredom that is the Beijing International Airport, here is a blow by blow account of how it all went down.
1:45 We leave home full of hope and dreams of tropical paradise. Forty eight hours of travel isn’t so bad, right?
2:00 Arrive at Guadalupe train station. Many hugs given to gaggle of family who is seeing us off.
2:36 Train is now late, wouldn’t be Amtrak if it was on time.
2:45 Train arrives, more hugs for our entourage
2:46 We thought taking the train would be a great way to avoid traffic. So did a trainload of other people. No window seats, no seats together, bummer.
4:30 Two hours after we were supposed to leave, we finally reach Goleta. Traffic on the 101 has been disappointingly light.
4:31 “There might be a mob at Goleta,” says the conductor. “I sure hope we don’t go to standing room only.” Me too.
4:35 Not quite standing room but the selection of open seats has dwindled to one or two.
4:40 Reflect on conductor’s use of words like “mob,” wonder if that is in the official Amtrak employee vocabulary guide.
5:30 Train stops in Oxnard, starts moving, stops again. The conductor broadcasts a message over the loudspeaker “Okay people, it’s not that hard. When the train stops find the door with the conductor or you won’t be getting off.”
5:45 Conductor comes on the speakers again. “We’re running a little behind, but don’t worry we’ll pick up time at each station. We don’t have to stop for anymore northbound trains from here on out.”
6:00 Stop and wait for northbound train to pass.
7:00 Conductor again. “Look people, we’re all just trying to get to LA. So you can stop crowding around your conductor and asking stupid questions like ‘when are we going to get there?’ We’ll get there when we get there.”
8:00 We arrive at Union Station. Our friendly conductor advises those with close connections to stop talking to him and start running.
8:15 Decide the metro line through Compton might not be the best route to LAX. Look for bus instead.
8:30 Bus zips out of Union Station, traffic is light.
8:45 Traffic is still light. Bus takes exit to LAX into a sea of taillights that floods every inch of roadway. Driver pretends he’s leaving the airport and then at the last minute forces his way into the torrent. The bus passengers are happy, the drivers behind us are not. Repeats tactic until we arrive at Terminal 2.
9:00 Clear security in record time, only to remember that we now have nothing to do for three hours.
9:30 Finish looking at every shelf in every shop in the terminal.
9:45 Slip in bathroom puddle. Hope that it was just mop water.
10:00 Buy a copy of Vanity Fair. Meticulously tear out every page with an advertisement on both sides. Five minutes later I have a rather slim magazine and a rather long time left to wait.
10:15 Use butchered Spanish to help an older gentleman find his gate. Mostly just point.
Midnight: We’re boarding! Lose Sonya in a bustling, pushing, and shoving crowd of people half my size.
12:10 The overhead bins are filling up quick. Apparently there are people who actually buy things from those duty free shops, and they’re all on this plane.
12:15 With the carry-on space stuffed with untaxed cigarettes, a man behind me attempts to shove his suitcase under my seat. He spends at least five minutes using, what I will call the “battering ram technique,” to no avail.
12:30 The guy across the aisle has, on multiple occasions, spent an inordinate amount of time staring at me. I pretend not to notice. The staring continues for the rest of the flight.
12:40 Liftoff! Now there’s only thirteen hours of flying left…
Hour One: I notice that we have not been placed in the tourist ghetto, or at least there isn’t a blond lock of hair or syllable of english to be heard for at least 15 rows. Thinking myself a “hardcore” traveler, this pleases me. That is, it pleases me until I realize that I’ve been put in the jet setting business meeting ghetto. A discussion in none-too-soft tones ebbs and flows for much of the flight.
Hour Two: One of the aforementioned business men seems to be coughing up his lung. Another answers with an equally wet wheeze and a few lugies are hocked in phlegmy harmony. I wonder if this has anything to do with all that Beijing pollution I keep hearing about.
Hour Three: Dinner time. The options are marinated chicken, rice and broccoli or something only described as “beef.” I stick to my time tested method of only eating chicken on airplanes. I don’t regret it.
Hour Four: I decide it’s time to sleep and this time I’ve come prepared. I pop a melatonin pill, jam a couple of foam plugs into my ear canals, and inflate my neck pillow. In a few minutes I’m lulled into blissful sleep.
Hour Five: “Is there are doctor or nurse abroad this flight?” comes an announcement that wrests me from my slumber. Two or three people in my immediate area get up and move toward the front of the plane. I don’t find out why they were needed. My head slumps against the seat in front of me.
Hour Nine: Smack! I’m slammed into consciousness as someone uses my new headrest to steady themselves as they make a break for the bathroom. So ends my somewhat peaceful sleep over the Pacific. Sonya is not sympathetic. She’s barely slept on this flight, thanks in part to a man whose been asleep since he got on the plane. His log sawing and the repeated invasions of his personal protuberances across her armrest, have left her eyes very red.
Hour Ten: Sleep deprivation, coupled with claustrophobic seating and recycled air have made me irritable. Currently the target of my ire is a man a few seats forward watching Casa Blanca on his laptop. He keeps adjusting his screen and making it harder for me to see the subtitles. I wonder if I should say something.
Hour Eleven: It’s meal time again. I’m sticking to my guns and getting the chicken.
Hour Eleven and a Half: The gurgling in my stomach is making me question this whole “chicken is a safe bet” theory.
Landing: Because our seats are in the very last row, I decide the best bet is to sit back and wait for the crowd to thin. I stand behind my seat in an open area but soon feel someone’s hand moving down my thigh. Thinking someone just bumped me, I look behind me only to see the guy who stuffed his bag under my seat fully reaching between my legs to grab it. I step to the side.
Bored in Beijing
5:30 Been traveling for nearly 24 hours. Blasts of freezing air slice through the seams where airplane meets boarding gate.
6:00 Realize I’ve had the rather daft notion that someone around here would speak English. No one does.
6:30 Security takes a while to clear but at least it’s something to do.
6:45 Looking forward to my first sunrise in Asia but it never comes. Sky turns from black to brown and stays that way for the rest of the day. Never have I seen pollution this bad.
7:30 Begin what will be hours of wandering this massive, Y-shaped terminal.
9:00 Keep smelling something vaguely reminiscent of a fallowing broccoli field. After short investigation I narrow it down to jet fuel or the cleaner an army of janitorial staff is constantly applying to every surface in sight.
10:00 Complete first full lap around the terminal. Almost two and a half miles of walking. Almost ten hours of waiting left.
11:00 Nearly run down by one of many speeding golf carts while staring at a lady balancing on top of a ladder to clean a kiosk while her colleague keeps the perch steady. Maybe there is some value in this whole OSHA thing after all.
12:00 Decide all airport food is bad so there is no shame in eating at Pizza Hut for our first meal in Asia. Wind up in the nicest Pizza Hut I have ever seen. White plates, modern decor, wine on the menu, and even a bunch of vases full of pasta. Now that’s class. This place makes Wolfgang Puck’s LAX pizza joint look like… well… Pizza Hut.
3:00 Decide to make a funny list of all the things that have happened so far. Feel my body swaying as I type. I think I might be tired.
4:00 Watch in horror as a big 747 with Air China markings billows clouds of smoke right in front of the terminal. Try to remember tail number and pray it isn’t ours. Was it A49-598 or A98-549? Oh no!
5:00 The airport fluctuates from bustling to abandoned depending on the time of day. When it’s empty, I entertain myself by running down the moving walkways with a baggage cart.
6:00 For the umpteenth time I smack my shins on the baggage cart. This isn’t so fun anymore.
7:15 Board flight for Thailand. Listen to humorous geriatric Canadian talk about government conspiracies and what a hardcore traveler he is. Watch as he tries to convince a middle-aged Russian woman to do some tandem stretching with him.
7:50 Fly to Thailand.
1:00 Clear Thai customs. Wait for guesthouse shuttle while browsing a 7-11.
1:05 Walk out of airport and are almost bowled over by a wet and oppressive heat.
1:10 Speed down freeway past golden statues and under a gilded arch. Starting to feel like we are really on the other side of the world.
1:15 Pull off of freeway onto a narrow road that twists through pylons under an overpass. Hmmm… didn’t plan on getting murdered this early in the trip.
1:16 Back on a main road.
1:20 Pull up at hotel located off of a narrow street.
1:30 Take shower
2:00 Collapse into bed.