March 3, 2013, Tbilisi, Georgia
Historically travel has always been arduous. But for a brief period, for a certain social class, travel was glamorous. “Getting there is half the fun” Cunard crowed in mid-century ads. Flying, jet setting had a certain cache. Super Graphics from the airports in early 70’s had fashionable young people in shades and Italian designer cloths smiling as they walked to planes. Today, at SeaTac there is the graphic of a cartoon character, sweating, lugging a suitcase, looking completely harried. It’s an honest, and funny, presentation of flying today and brought more than a few chuckles. The first time I flew Pop told me to put on a sports coat and tie. Now it is whatever is comfortable, for me it’s crocs and jeans. An international flight, especially on Pan Am, was an occasion. OK, no streamers flying from the windows of the plane, but, as I remember, there was even takeoff theme music (“Come Fly With Me.”) That brief period of glamour in travel is over. Travel, again, is arduous, although nothing like the privations faced by travelers in the past. There are fewer hijackers now than there were highwaymen then, and travel is a whole lot safer, and shorter, which limits the misery. But the stress level is high and constant.
I was hoping to pick up some of the past glamor of travel this trip because, for the first time since 2005, I was upgraded to business class on the whole itinerary, including the trans-Atlantic leg. Flying in the front did have its advantages and overall it was an easy trip. But even an easy trip has its tales, and at the end of my journey I ended up with a whopper of a cold. So you will not read much of interesting things I am doing in Tbilisi. For me it has been travel, work, a walk to the pharmacy, (the ladies are out selling mimosa, a sign of spring) a coffee with a friend who is leaving Tbilisi tomorrow, (he found some nice Art Nouveau buildings that I had not noticed before on our walk to a new coffee house) several hot showers, and bed. Oh yes, and soup.
Being mostly hotel bound this weekend has meant that I have spent a lot of time this weekend listening to the stations I am advising. I’m liking what I hear, although it is odd to hear my voice do the promos for the English language NPR programming on Radio GIPA. I hope my voice is back by Monday because I need to cut new spots to warn listeners of changes in schedule prompted by the US going to Daylight time.
But back to the flight, we were 45 minutes late leaving Seattle for Chicago because of a snowstorm in Denver, where the plane came in from. With the delay I would have 40 minutes to go between concourses to catch my plane to Munich. I would have to hustle but because I was in row three, I could get out fairly quickly. About an hour into the flight an announcement came over the PA system asking for medical personnel to identify themselves. One of the passengers, traveling from cancer treatment in Seattle, had a seizure and blood pressure that was unstable. We were flying over a blizzard so the pilot decided to push on, especially after the passenger had stabilized. (Being up front I could listen in on the conversations between flight attendants in the galley.) But as we approached Chicago the patient got worse. We were cleared to land immediately. No circles, no holding patterns, straight in, and fast. It was a hard landing that, I suspect, blew tires because we thumped to the closest concourse, straight line, everything stopped for us.
The pilot asked us all to remain seated until the paramedics were on board. They came rushing in. The pilot decided that once the medics were on board he should try to empty the plane in front of the patient without creating a clog in the isles. He went to the first row, “Where’s your stuff?” The flight attendant helped get every one’s bags and row one cleared. Then row two. I was in row three. As I was rushing from the plane a Chicago cop came in and screamed, just screamed, in my face. “Who do you think you are? We have a medical emergency here, sit down you selfish…” I was curious about what would follow “selfish” but the pilot intervened. “I am clearing the isles one by one so there are fewer obstacles in the plane when the patient is stable and we can move her. I have this under control.” In other words; “I am the captain and this is my airplane.” On the way out I thanked the captain for his professionalism. The rest of the day images of Chicago cop cars crashing into each other from the Blues Brothers movie ran through my head although I recognize that cop was doing her job, looking, first, after the patient’s welfare.
I made the connection in a mild trot just a little winded. Lufthansa had a hand scale and weighed the carry-ons of passengers coming from connecting flights and forcing people to check bags heavier than 8 KG. Be warned if you are flying on Lufthansa. The overnight business class flight was not glamorous but it was more comfortable than sleeping in the back of the plane.
Because I had another overnight to Tbilisi I opted to break the trip in Munich. I decided not to go into Munich itself but stay at a hotel near the airport about a 10 minute walk from the town of Freising which is equipped with a castle, a cathedral, a town square, Germany’s oldest working brewery, a nice café and even the mortal remains of a dead Pope (Alexander I). What else could you ask for? It was a good choice. I had a nice swim, shower, and on both Monday afternoon in the bright sun and Tuesday afternoon in a gentle snow, walked through this charming Bavarian town full of brightly colored houses, stopping for a coffee at the same place, it overlooked the main square through plate glass windows. The second day I was greeted as an old friend. It was the travel break I needed.
At security in Munich airport my bag caused some concern. I had a three month supply of hearing aid batteries which needed closer examination. On top of that I carried a spare watch. The lady in security asked me why I carried a second watch. I told her that I had lost a watch in security at Aswan Airport in Egypt and so always carried a spare. She wanted to know more. I told her it was a long story. “Tell it to me.” So I did. She listened to every word, encouraging me to elaborate. It was a most pleasant interrogation. (It kind of reminds me of the question you ask when the police call you in for a talk in some of the countries where I work. “Is this an interrogation or just a coffee?”) She actually seemed to enjoy our talk although she did not offer me coffee. I was plenty early to the airport so why not?
I was released and went to get my computer which, because of the concern over my hearing aid batteries and extra Timex had gotten a second run through the x-ray machine. My Lenovo Think Pad was sitting in a tray next to another, identical, Lenovo Think Pad. A German man and I each opened a computer. He noted “We are both cat lovers.” Both keyboards had long cat hair between the keys. The only way we could be sure whose computer was whose was to boot up both computers. One asked for the password in English and one in German. With the right computer I headed for the boarding lounge thinking I need to buy some nail polish to put a little red slash on the corner of my computer for future identification.
Partway to Tbilisi the pilot came on and told us that Tbilisi had less than 650 meters visibility so we may have to land at “plan B.” He did not tell us if plan B was Baku or Batumi. I was rooting for Baku; I hadn’t been there for a while, why not? But after circling a bit visibility came up to 650 meters and we landed a little late, sometime after 4 in the morning. My bag was the third on the belt so I quickly walked into the Georgian Zero Dark Early, was greeted by Givi and had a comfortable ride to my hotel. He told me I didn’t need to be at the office until 2 PM so he would see me in 8 hours. My workweek was about to start.