Airports are fun

The following post was written onboard a flight a few weeks ago.

You can attribute any typos in this post to my shaky ride through the turbulence high above the Pennsylvania countryside. I’m just returning after a long trip that ended in Philadelphia for the first-ever WordCamp US.

Airports are Fun-003
Excersize is cut short by moving sidewalks at the Philadelphia airport.

My original flight was scheduled to leave at 1:45pm to Phoenix, where I would layover and then catch a second flight to Tucson. Just before boarding, the gate agents announced that they would be offering a $500 voucher and a later journey for anyone willing to give up their seat on the flight. I’ve been given this offer a few times, but usually I’m rearing to get home or on a deadline. Today, however, I was in no rush and immediately jumped at the opportunity. Now I’m still getting home on the same day, but I’ll take the shuttle from Phoenix to Tucson instead of flying and I have an extra $500 to spend on a flight within the next year (the catch is that I have to buy the ticket at the American Airlines desk inside an airport).

Henceforth, instead of leaving at 1:45pm I left at 6:10pm and had the rest of the afternoon to wait in the airport. Years ago this would have been quite a deal: free WiFi was basically non-existent (it wouldn’t have mattered much because I didn’t have a smartphone and I didn’t carry around my laptop – I couldn’t easily carry it around and its battery didn’t last very long); I didn’t have much flexibility in my travel so I was always rushed in the airport (travel time was wasted time); I didn’t have much real experience at airports.

Airports are Fun-004
Artists make otherwise unremarkable infrastructure creative at the Philadelphia airport.

As times have changed, I’ve grown to enjoy the airport more and more. Today I sat around at a sit-stand shelf at Starbucks and worked on my laptop while planes taxied behind the floor-to-ceiling windows. After a while a small band setup next to the Christmas trees, Menorahs, and lights and started playing smooth Jazz. Like my last layover in San Francisco, it was simply a peaceful time. Despite the rush and chaos, I had the most focused work session I think I’ve had in three weeks.

I’ve come to learn that although airports can seem pretty scary and unfamiliar, they are a warm home to frequent travelers. They’re clean, safe, and have just about everything you could need. I’ve spent time alone in airport yoga rooms and prayer rooms, washed my face and put on a refreshingly clean change of chothes in the bathroom, stared out the windows at things passing by, and sipped plenty a capuccino while calmly working at the gates.

We don’t always have the luxury of time and flexibility, but we always have the choice of how to make use of our circumstances. Travel was always hectic growing up and coincidentally was never considered part of our vacation or part of our journey. Mandi and I have always tried to make the ride special: by stopping in the middle of a long drive to go hiking; by trying to walk around the entire airport during a layover; or simply by finding a place to get comfortable and work.

Shakes

I wrote the following post over a week ago while returning home from a conference in Philadelphia, but neglected to post in a timely manner.

My flight home today was both one of the shakiest and most-consistently shaky flights I’ve been on. The pilot announced that we would likely experience more turbulence than normal “for a long while.” Not exactly the usual reassurance that it will be short-lived. The flight crew has been amazing tonight though. I couldn’t rate this particular experience with American Airlines highly enough.

When I finally arrived at home and laid down to sleep, I could still feel the turbulence just as feeling the rolling of the waves after spending a day on a boat.

Since that time…

All the shakes were pretty bad on me. After having broken a rib a week earlier, the rocking and bumping and shuffles wore me out. The night after the flight too, I could still feel the turbulence just like you can feel the rocking of the waves after a day on a boat.

It’s all good though, one more adventure in the journey book.

Sometimes it goes well

When you travel frequently you accrue lots of experiences, both good and bad (although the bad ones tend to stick out).

This morning I am very happy and wanted to share my joy because the guy at the airberlin checkin counter took my suitcase and my backpack. They were both marginally over the weight limit which made me nervous, but he passed on the suitcase and then asked if I wanted to checkin my backpack for free.

It was his first day and I think he was somewhat nervous, especially with the trainer standing above him with a critical look, telling him everything he was doing wrong.

This single act means that instead of being burdened and stressed through the airport both here and in Chicago, I should have a carefree transit. Thanks airberlin!

Travel Tip: Hygiene

This one comes from the I’ve-been-taking-too-many-trans-oceanic-flights department.

Taking a long flight? I find that one of the things that most fatigues me is feeling gross after sitting for hours on end. Though I would recommend you bring a change of clothes with your carry-on in any case (what do you do if your luggage gets lost on the way?), I make it a regular habit now when traveling for more than a few hours: bus, train, plane, car, etc…

On my recent trip from Orlando to Dublin I had a direct flight and then a bus ride to Cork, Ireland. Since I had been up all day in the same clothes before my 8:20 pm flight, I changed into comfy shorts and a tee just before boarding and felt all refreshed before the long haul. It made a whopper of a difference in how I felt sitting in the cramped seat. Additionally, take your toothbrush and toothpaste with you so you can brush on the plane if the meal leaves a less-than-satisfying taste (or stench 😵) in your mouth.

If only I had done this on all those hot summer trips to Kansas growing up…

Uber

Another journey, another airport. This time I’m leaving Orlando and headed to Dublin where I’ll meet a friend or two in Cork.

In an effort to save a few hundred dollars for my team in car rental, I chose to return our van near where we stayed instead of at the airport (it worked, by the way). The guy at the return office really wanted me to ride an Uber back to the airport, but that was going to take at least thirty minutes and cost around $15. My other option was to catch a bus a few blocks away for an hour ride at $2. After failing to persuade me, he wished me luck and commented that I could have some interesting covnersations with the bus people, as if I were embarking on a deep sea dive into the low class.

The joke was on him because I did end up having a couple of lovely chats: one at the bus station with a woman whose daughter is vacationing in Paris; and one with a woman who recently lost her daughter to cancer. “No one should have to burry their own children, but the big man upstairs has her now.” It was a tragedy for this half-centry-old grandmother and I felt her grief while she worried about her six grandchildren who are missing their mother.

We did all worry for a minute if we would make it to the airport because the driver pulled over inexplicably alongside the road beside the runway. She never did tell, but after shutting down the bus completely, radioing, figeting with some kind of tool around the front, then hopping back in, we were on our way as if nothing happened. I suspect this is a common occurrance, the kind that the bus drivers half-joke half-complain about in the breakroom. “Oh yeah, that there number eleven. She always breaks down by the landing strip. I think she’s jealous of the planes as they sail across the sky.”

You don’t fabricate experiences. They grow over time and get passed down through the generations. There’s hardly a way to put a dollar value on their worth, but I ended up saving a few bucks to listen to these women and we all benefited from the sharing of these stories. Not persuaded and less persuaded on every encounter.

Asian Winter Sunset

Thanks for following all my adventures over the past month. I’m arriving home soon and wanted to give everyone an update and summary.

It all began in the middle of December when my dear friend Joseph casually mentioned that he was getting married in Singapore in the middle of January. Of course, we were already planning on being in the States over Christmas, so I was definitely conflicted in scheduling more travel, but I knew I couldn’t miss his wedding.

Dennis shares in the joy of Joseph and Serena's wedding.
Dennis shares in the joy of Joseph and Serena’s wedding.

With Mandi’s support and encouragement, I made the choice to have an Asian expedition. My ルームメイト Drew lives in Tokyo and we both needed the chance to spend some time together. Therefore, with my mobile office packed and having spent too many hours planning my travels, I set out for Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and finally back home (though due to a cancelled flight I ended up cutting out the stopover in Abu Dhabi).

Just look at that wing - so graceful and so powerful!
Just look at that wing – so graceful and so powerful!

Joseph’s wedding was special and he and his wife have an exciting year ahead of them. Singapore was an awesome country to visit with a strange mix of traditional Chinese sights and modern English sounds. Coming from a law-loving country like Germany, the hyper-strict rules of that small island nation seemed rather status-quo if not a bit light-hearted (Singaporeans have some great cartoon art urging you to be nice). In the week we shared together, Joseph and I finally had the opportunity to catch up on a few years’ worth of life that has passed.

My home in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong (yeah, all three belong - city, island, special district of China)
My home in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong (yeah, all three belong – city, island, special district of China)

The stop in Hong Kong was somewhat a disaster, but the kind of disaster you learn from. Catalogued in my earlier post, I ran out of money while I was there and spent way too long on the phone trying to make a withdrawal. Contrary to Singapore, Japan, and Germany, Hong Kong was a city of chaos and the people seemed darn proud of it. I stayed in a tent on the roof of a falling-apart highrise after a night-walk through the lights on the streets below.

The Bank of China building stands proud in the middle of the financial district, making its stripes to reflect their blinking and colorful patterns off the neighboring buildings.
The Bank of China building stands proud in the middle of the financial district, making its stripes to reflect their blinking and colorful patterns off the neighboring buildings.

Getting to Japan was kind of like coming home in a way. After moving around constantly, I would finally stay put for two whole weeks with my dear friend. When I was there in June I was still pretty new to my job and didn’t have the whole mobile-workforce thing figured out either. This time, a veteran at finding great places in the city to sit at for the day, I explored parts of Tokyo I hadn’t seen before: Harajuku, Shibuya, Takaosanguchi, Asakusa. Drew and I maximized our time together (there’s not much free time in Japanese daily life) and explored Yokohama and Kawaguchiko, a small town on the edge of Mt. Fuji. We had a blast and bonded like two close brothers should. His wife Seiko was incredibly kind and hospitable and it was great to get to know her since I was unable to really do so when they started dating in Chicago.

Dennis and Drew in Kawaguchiko in front of Mt. Fuji, the iconic volcano on the outskirts of Tokyo.
Dennis and Drew in Kawaguchiko in front of Mt. Fuji, the iconic volcano on the outskirts of Tokyo.

Now I am back at home with Mandi and it’s good to be home. Home is a fluid term, but I reflected on this particular truth about it: It doesn’t matter where home is: you know when you aren’t there; and the closer you are to returning, the greater you long to be there.

KLM 862

I had a great flight into Amsterdam. Though I was originally disappointed that the jet was an old 747-400, the situation was redeemed by the fact that it was a combination passenger-jet and freighter, making this my first cargo flight. It’s pretty incredible, actually, because KLM has chosen to go ahead and offer routes that aren’t as busy (such as from Narita to Amsterdam) and makes up for the loss on tickets by hauling freight on the same flights. There were all of the comforts of a jumbo-jet with all the benefits of having fewer passengers: snappy boarding and disembarking, smooth flight, great amenities in the air.

Are they supposed to move like that? A few more degrees to the left and I bet those engines would fly away on their own.
Are they supposed to move like that? A few more degrees to the left and I bet those engines would fly away on their own.

The wings did seem a bit shaky which unnerved me a bit. Maybe it was because I’m not used to sitting that far forward in the plane, but when I looked out the window and saw the engines bouncing around and the wings flexing I had to remind myself of the safety and track-record of the 747. Also, no AC power and no Internet access meant that I was pretty limited in what I could do, so I basically watched movies the whole time while I wrote some documentation for work.

Siberia may be a wasteland, but it's a darn pretty one.
Siberia may be a wasteland, but it’s a darn pretty one.

It’s always incredible to fly up north – above the Arctic Circle. Things are so dreamy up there with the glaciers, snow, and mountains. Really makes you consider just how big Earth is and how little of it we occupy or live in.

The sun set and rose during my journey westward. Here it was just popping up above the horizon to welcome us to Europe.
The sun set and rose during my journey westward. Here it was just popping up above the horizon to welcome us to Europe.

The real treat this trip, however, was the descent into Amsterdam (no, not a moral descent). There were rainstorms around the area and we had a beautiful view of them: the thunderhead clouds (they look like anvils), the walls of water falling, and the glimmer of the sun through the distant showers.

Flying can be fun. Now where was I? Oh yeah – one more flight, three trains, and one lightrail before I’m home.