Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Jet Lag, Lag, Lag, Lag

I'm not exactly sure just how to place my foot on this escalator that is my "normal life." A vacation, especially one that involves lonnnnng plane flights and the biologic chaos of many time zones, disorients and confuses, and I'm not quite ready to take that last sliding step back into reality. I have, in fact, spent the last two days in the land of JetLag, where jammies are the national uniform, 3:30 a.m. is the perfect time for tuna and noodles, and where there isn't enough Xanax to recover from the flight home.

Short version: The trip to Europe was completely fabulous... and flying completely sucks.

Longer version:
I found it so ironic that Monday's online news' lead story was of the unfortunate woman who died in custody after being a little too uppity about getting bumped from a flight. How easily that could have been me in either Miami or Dallas on Sunday.

International travel security and U.S. Customs make it almost impossible to get to a connecting flight unless you have at least a three-hour interval AND nothing unexpected encroaches on those hours. After a "security breach" in Miami delayed our flight for an hour, I raised a little ruckus about the five whole minutes I would have in Dallas to go from one concourse to its diagonal twin (at least a 20-minute walk), but the sweet voice of reason whispered in my ear to restrain myself and my demands... the demands were falling on deaf ears, anyway.

The TSA and the airlines themselves are perhaps the most rigid authoritative bodies we will encounter in our normal American lives. It's abundantly clear they're not kidding about their mission, and none of them offer any illusions that they are serving customers. Every passenger is clearly suspect, simply an inconvenient annoyance cluttering up their day. Southwest Airlines was recently profiled on CBS Sunday Morning for their legendary customer service...maybe they could loan a few mentors to American Airlines and the personnel at the Dallas and Miami terminals.

Enough bitching -- let's just say I won't be nominating anyone connected to aviation for employee of the month...and if you wondered where the power-mad characters from movies like "Cool Hand Luke" have gone... they are alive and well, working for the TSA in Miami.

Excepting one day where I ended up ass over teakettle, face down on the sidewalk in front of Carfax Tower, "The Centre of Oxford," our trip couldn't have been better. (The fall was the fault of an insidious, vicious map. Maps hate me and are clearly out to kill me. This map only managed to inflict several bruises and a possible broken toe, but I didn't let it ruin my day... I braved on at a snail's pace, and the foolish, feckless map ended up in the trash!)

Oxford, while beautiful and crammed full of history with a capital aitch, is also crammed with buses and traffic worthy of a much larger town. London is first and foremost a city -- not unlike New York or San Francisco (well, except for those thousand years of history and all that impeccable civility, of course). But Paris......ahhh, Paris!

I'm sure the crowds are as fierce, the traffic as crazy and the prices as high as in London, but in that setting, surrounded by all that tranquil beauty, who really cares? In fact, who even notices?

I'm going to deck the first person who asks me about the "rude French." We encountered only one grump (a late-night taxi driver) and everyone else was as friendly and helpful as we could have hoped for. Not speaking fluent French may be a tiny handicap, but everyone we met made a tremendous effort to communicate, and their "little bit of English" was almost always perfect. One fellow traveler at Charles de Gaulle airport even gave us a primer on using the automated ticket machines for the RER trains then personally shepherded us to the correct track -- he struggling with English, we lost in our primitive French, but connecting through his courtesy and charm.

Even in the midst of an urban area filled with 11 million people, about 2.5 million in Paris proper, there is an ambiance, a relaxation, even a peace that permeates each experience. Where life could be frantic, it's instead leisurely...somehow time is stretched, expanded, and the days seem long enough, deep enough to accommodate any possibility.

I'm not naive enough to think Europe and the UK have all the answers to modern living, but from my perspective they have made a few better choices than we have in some important areas, including lifestyle. I'm using my soapbox on "Blog Action Day," October 15th, to rant about these differences. For today, let's just say it's nice to be home AND I wish I were still in Paris...not an easy conflict to resolve.

The last item on my "to do for trip" list is to "get back to work." I guess I should.

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For Margie: ------- A Flight Over Lake Tahoe ------