punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Sweden - The journey home

Karin, Sven, CR, and I
Originally uploaded by punkwalrus.
Dear God, what a tiring journey. And to be fair, what could have gone horribly wrong didn't, but when you have to sit in cars, trains, and planes for that long... even minor crap seems horrible.

I got up early, was ready, and a little sad. Sven and Karin gave us thank you gifts (I brought them Kona coffee), and I tried to hide my sadness by being funny, but I was sad to leave. I tried to think of home and my own bed and cats and dogs and the humidity and TSA and dumbassery in US TV and that didn't help.

I missed Christine a LOT, though. I am such a dork.

Sven drove us to the train station, and we left Sundsvall at 6:15 am. That's when stuff started to go wrong.

I couldn't sleep, so I did some 20 minute catnaps here and there, but there was a rock band of some kind around us, and one of them was having an argument with his girlfriend over the cell phone. One of those quiet yet intensive things that used words from both ends of the spectrum like, "lille gummen" (my dear) and "Hevelte," (fuck it).

We were supposed to get off at Arlanda, but the doors on our car did not open, and when we tried to go to another car, the doors slammed... and the train moved on. The conductor didn't believe me when I said the doors did not open, telling me I had to use the large handles labeled, "Open." No duh, the door did NOT open when I tried that. Oh well, no damage, right? Next (and last) stop was Stockholm, and there are regular busses FROM there to Arlanda. But now I had 15 minutes out of my way, plus bus wait time, plus bus travel BACK to Arlanda. Not a good thing, although I had a 3 hour buffer until the plane left at 11:55.

We had to take a cab, because the next bus was at 11. Grrr. So we got a cab where an Iraqi driver sped like a madman down the highway. I don't know how fast we were going, but it felt like we were going 90mph on a US highway. He weaved, passed everyone to the right, and at one straghtaway actually fell asleep and ran off the road! At 160kph, I think, was what the speedometer said when he woke up rumbling along the grass. Holy crap. I don't want to know what mph that was... don't convert it for me. He got us there quickly, though. Yeah. We had 2 hours to spare despite the delay.

There was a line for British Air, and some confusion, but we all got sorted out in time to browse the stores, exit Passport Control, and sit next to some guy from Ohio who confused me with someone who wanted to talk about America. This was the first time I heard about flooding in DC. All other news was the FIFA 2006.

The plane taxied around a lot, but we made good time. I sat next a Swedish-speaking 5 year old who was terrified at the prospect of sitting next to such a huge guy. I was grateful (to the Gods) I could invade his armrest because these seats (a 3 and 3) were THIN... man. And you could tell the seats used to be 2 by 2, because there were still rails on the floor where the old seats used to hook onto. But the kid was quiet, and her older sister (maybe 7 or 8) had an overbite and was learning English well enough to read one of my favorite books, Burnett's "The Secret Garden," in English. I am guessing she thought I didn't speak English, because she made some comments about me in English (to her mother a few rows back) which... you know, I can't take seriously because of her age. Or the fact I am fat. But I have this hecklers's thing, and wanted to make a comment about her overbite. But I didn't, I mean, she's a kid. Her mother did warn her back, in Swedish, that people on the plane spoke English (I think, I heard the word "tala," "flygen," and "engelska"). All I did was to say to the little girl, as we were exiting the plane, "I hope your family has fun in London. I plan to visit one day." She immediately looked to the floor. HAH!

Anyway, Heathrow was HOT. Not like sexy or party hot, but overheated. And the rest of the trip, I was sweating like a prostitute in church. Heathrow was hot, the plane was hot, JFK was hot, the NY -> CD flight was hot, DC was hot and humid, and the Metro ride how was hot and humid. But Heathrow was so hot, and it must have been a problem they were aware of because they had huge oscillating fans and AC units at Her Majesty's Customs. We bought stuff at some huge Brit touristy store, wandered around the Sony store, and got English candy.

Keep in mind, my experience with English candy is hit or miss. The good stuff is awesome. The bad stuff is nauseating ("Joyjoy Flavorbar: Now with more Iodine!"). What made it bad was while I was in Sweden, Cadbury had a HUGE recall due to concerns of salmonella, like over a million bars... so the hell with them. I stuck with Nestle, which had two wonderful bars called "Aero" and "Yorkie: Not for Girls." No, really. The Yorkie was like any other chocolate bar I have had, and maybe a little... well, it's like the chocolate you get with Easter candy from a company that doesn't specialize in chocolate. It tasted a little funny, but was okay. Areo was a flavored foam that was coated with chocolate. The chocolate was good, but the mint was awesome.

Sony had the World's cup playing several huge HDTVs and I watched England play Ecuador while we ate some English candy and drank Volvic in the humid misery that was Heathrow. They won 1 - 0, and for the first time ever, I understood sports. It was light some childhood black core had a light on for the first time, and some veil had been lifted... if only for a moment, and I understood. I watched England play, and suddenly knew what they were doing right and what Ecuador was doing wrong. I understood some strategy, and I knew England would win not because of some 6th sense, but because I could SEE they were playing better. What the hell? You guys don't understand, I am sure, but for me, it was like I suddenly understood another language. For a brief moment, I understood why sports might be interesting.

Anyway, we got on the plane, which was late taking off, which was a problem because my layover in JFK to DC was only a little over an hour. I watched "Date Movie," which was sort of funny, but that was 2 hours. I catnapped a little, but after sitting so much for the last 8 hours, my back and butt was in pain. I took Tylenol, and that didn't help. The air on the plane was stale, CR's seatbelt got caught in the tray hinge (don't ask), and our seats were in close enough to the lavatory that people kept bumping into me and stepping on my feet.

The plane landed at 7:30, but it took until 7:45 to get off the plane. My next plane, and last plane out of JFK to DC for the day was boarding at 8:08, with it taking off at 8:38. In that time, we had to go through passport control, get our bags, go through Customs, recheck the bag, and go to the domestic terminal, and get on the plane. JFK is no small airport.

We made it. We had to run most of the way (I swear, it must have been a mile... we were the last gate at each end at separate terminals - 10b to 31a), and the flight was delayed until 9:15, but we actually made it to the gate at 8:50... only for the flight to be delayed even more because it was the SAME bitch from the FIRST flight (the one who yelled at the Greeks?). This time, she had issues with CR being in the exit row because he was 15. "I'll be 16 in 20 days," he said, and she said it didn't matter, and he could not be on this flight until someone agreed to exchange a seat with him. Thanks to the Asian gentleman in the seat across from us, he saw the flight instruction card said, "Under 15 years of age." "Did they change it on me?" she asked, and thanked me for pointing this out to her with invisible gritted teeth. I did not point out the card had copyright 2001 for that aircraft. She then asked, several times, to CR if he was was prepared to deal with the exit row and so on. Trying to scare him, obviously, but she did not know CR's strength.

"Ma'am," I did not say, but thought, "in the event of most crashes, there are little to no survivors. More than 90% of all airplane disasters occur during takeoff and landing. Most of the issues on this card and your pre-recorded announcement cannot possibly help under a majority of the situations that occur. The number one thing that can choose whether people survive or die in complications of an aircraft is the attendant. You are a bitch. You confuse controlling with leadership, and I now feel a stronger need to be by the exit row because I think, in the event we survived a crash, you would be useless, and I would take over. No, they did not 'change the rules' on you. If you seriously believe this, I am worried you'd spend the whole time during a crisis thinking that the crash was not a textbook example, and how the crash did not go according to some plan." I was tired, soaked in about 12 hours of sweat, having run around in 2 airports that had poor air conditioning, and this is the second plane I have been in where the air was as stale as a desert basement. I was so close to "making a situation," but I decided against it. Boy, the temptation to be rude back to people and make a scene gets worse with age, I tell you. But I decided temper tantrums was a sign of weakness, and I did not want thrown out of the plane unless she had to directly lie about it. She almost threw out those Greek men AND their translator over a week before just for not speaking English.

We then taxied on the runway for about an hour because there was a traffic jam taking off which was made worse by a drizzle and hazy conditions at 10pm. We landed in DC at 11:30pm US time, which was 5:30am Swedish time. I had been traveling for 24 hours and 15 minutes.

But it wasn't over.

We got our luggage after a long delay, and around 12:15, we got our luggage and I hoped Metro would still be running. It was, and we got the Blue line to Rosslyn, and the Orange line... the LAST Orange line car of the night, which was really packed, to Vienna. We had to stand the rest of the way home with all our luggage among drunken Yuppies.

Somewhere around the Virginia Square stop, a woman fainted. The car was rank hot, so I am guessing either heat exhaustion or drunkenness. Tourists and people not used to the Metro freaked out looking for the emergency intercom, only to find out no one answered it. Then some people jammed the doors open and dragged the woman out. I felt like as someone who had first aid training, I should have done something but I was exhausted, and could only manager to croak out that you should not carry an unconscious body, but no one listened, and they dragged her out to a stone bench and sat her upright. I couldn't see what was going on, but I decided to stay out of it. The Metro doors finally closed, and we continued on home. We arrived at about 1am, and they had already closed most of the station, and some bitchy-assed Metro cop was telling everyone to hurry up and get out. The fact half the people were too out of it to get their Metro cards working made it worse.

Christine picked us up. We stopped by 7-11, which was no Stockholm, and exchanged gifts. I fell asleep at 2:30ish. I had been awake 28 hours; 26 of them traveling. But the "suffering," and that is entirely relative, was well, well worth it.

Summary to follow.
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