Travel Jitters

I never sleep well the night before an early morning flight. It isn’t the travel that keeps me awake; it’s the fear that something will go wrong in the long list of things that could go wrong. The night is fraught with anxiety, driven by the awareness that I have to get up early, shower, shave, and dress, make a final check of the bags, travel to the airport, find a baggage cart, schlep the bags to the counter, check-in, go through security, and maybe get a latte before boarding begins. The process is even more stressful when the airport and check-in are new or unfamiliar.

Cut to the last day in May as we prepare to leave Paris after our two-months of living life as Parisians. Air travel these days requires a lot of prep and patience, a sense of humor, and a reset of expectations to the lowest possible level. It is never, in my recent experience, what I hope it will be. It is almost always a stress ridden, anxiety filled disappointment.

Because we’re in Paris and I am not fluent in French I’m concerned that there will be a mix up and misunderstanding. On our way over to Paris we hired a car service to meet us and deliver us to the apartment where the agent met us and let us into our new home. When I mentioned the price ($100) my friends who live in Paris they told me the cost was outrageous and that we should use their discount taxi service that charges about half that amount. It sounded good to me since they were essentially “local” folks and since they offered to help with the arrangements.

Paris Taxi

So, a week before departure I order the taxi, give them our information, and arrange the pick up for 7:30AM on the 31st. There is a flurry of email traffic between my friend, the discount taxi provider, and me, as a third-party beneficiary. Numbers are exchanged and a confirmation requested. I’m still nervous even though it is established that the taxi company reps spoke English.

Paris UberIn the days running up to the departure date my anxiety increases because I haven’t received confirmation of the date, time, and address of the pick up. We do a test run on Uber as a back up just in case the other arrangement fails, and Uber works flawlessly. Marilynn is big on backup whether it’s peanut butter or taxis. Nevertheless, finally, on the 30th I finally get a confirmation call from the discount taxi on my mobile. My anxiety subsides and I feet better about the arrangement. In the meantime my friends leave town – not that they could have do anything for me if the plan fails – but there was a certain amount of reassurance in their local presence. Now they are gone.

At this point I’d give anything to be able to channel Dave Barry or Nora Ephron. There is a lot of black humor in the misery of international travel and its chain reaction fuck-ups and miscues.

On the morning of the 31st everything starts out perfectly. There is plenty of time to get it all together; eat our last containers of yoghurt, check and recheck the apartment for left items, strip the sheets, start the dishwasher, empty the garbage, and schlepp the bags, including my guitar, down the 81 steps, through the courtyard and two security doors, to the sidewalk in front of 40 Avenue Junot. The last irrevocable act is to leave the keys to the apartment on the table inside the door for the agent to pick up later that day.

At 7:25AM we’re outside the front door on Avenue Junot,. We’re neurotic about being on time but we make it with time to spare this morning. And then – we wait… and wait… and at 7:40 prodded by M I call the discount taxi number. My heart rate climbs appreciably when I detect a sleepy voice on the other end. Does discount taxi have an office or is it someone’s apartment? I listen more closely. I’m right, she is sleepy and it takes a minute for her to understand that I am her client waiting for a pre-arranged taxi. Mais oui, she says. She will “call” the driver and get back to me. I have a dark suspicion that the driver is in the bed beside her, maybe even pulling on his pants as we speak. I picture him looking for his keys as the “dispatcher” stalls for time.

At 7:45 she calls back to tell me the driver is on his way. I ask how long it will take to get and she tells me about 15 minutes. M and I are now freaking out, and she signals that she’s going to cross the square to look for a taxi on Rue Caulincort, the busy street just across from the apartment. Uber is not an option. It requires an Internet connection and because we’re outside the apartment we have no Internet – even though we have emergency phone service. We’re never doing this again without full on wireless – Google Maps, Uber, restaurants, Metro and bus maps – we need it more than ever as my brain shrivels and the bucket overflows with information.

Meanwhile back on the street; it’s Saturday morning and thanks to light traffic there is a notable increase in the number of available taxis. Within a minute M has flagged one down. It’s a minivan and just right for us and the number of bags we have.

We’re still OK because of our on-time neurosis. We’ve given ourselves an hour for the drive to CDG and two hours for check in. The driver of the minivan-taxi pulls over and jumps out to assist. He’s the energizer bunny, a small, smiling Frenchman in a nice sport coat and slacks who loads our bags effortlessly and, when we’re blocked by a garbage truck, enlists the help of the driver to lift our heavy bag over the barrier. Then he gets the driver to back up and let us out. M and I look at each other, astonished that a garbage truck driver would not only help us but also accommodate us by moving his truck. Vive la France.

Traffic is light, which helps us relax. Meanwhile, the energizer bunny is smiling, talking, and gesticulating as he regales us with a rapid fire French monologue about how much he loves Amerique, Las Vegas (ooh la la), and Vallee des Morts (tres chaud, n’est pas?). The energizer bunny loves Death Valley. How lucky could we get? We might have ended up with an Algerian freedom fighter just back from Syria but we end up with a happy go lucky Frenchman who loves America.

Paris CDGWe direct the energizer bunny to Terminal 2F where the boarding pass tells us we check in. As we pull up to the terminal the meter clicks over to 44 Euros – 5 less than the mythic discount taxi – and 66 less than the car service we used on arrival. Meanwhile the energizer bunny has hopped out of the driver’s seat, retrieved a baggage cart, and loaded our bags for the terminal. When I hand him the 44 Euros plus a 10 Euro tip. I think he’s going to hug me. Merci, merci, merci. Bon voyage. Bonne journee. J’aime l’amerique. J’aime la Vallee des Morts. J’aime Las Vegas. C’est incroyable. Formidable. Au revoir, Messiur Dame. Au revoir.

Next up is the check-in. Smooth as silk. Friendly, smiling, welcoming agent who tags our bags (more about that later) and sends us off to the gate. She has written L45 on the boarding pass and we head in the well-signed direction of F21 –55. Gate 45 on the other side of security is in a newer part of the airport. We find some seats in the boarding area and I get us a couple of very good lattes. We have an hour and a half until departure time, but with about an hour remaining we comment that there are no other people in the boarding area, so off I go to ask why. Well, of course, L45 is not a mistake. L45 is our departure gate, but L45 is in Terminal E and Terminal E is a good half-mile from where we are in Terminal F. So, we pack up and head downstairs through a tunnel-like corridor to L45 in Terminal E. Now why would they ask us to check in at Terminal F if we’re departing from Terminal E? And why didn’t the friendly, welcoming agent who checked us in give us that information along with directions to Terminal E where Gate L45 was located? Beats me, but we did ask in a timely manner and are able to make the trek to L45, through Pass Controlee and another security checkpoint in time to board the Boeing 777ER 30 with time to spare.

We were devastated when our connecting flight to San Francisco was canceled causing us to miss our Air France A380 flight on the way over to Paris – especially since we ended up on our much-hated Delta again. Still, we managed to actually get Air France on the way home and the ride to Houston was great. The crew was professional and attractive. The food was good, and the restrooms were surprisingly clean. 9 hours and 45 minutes from Paris to Houston was tolerable if not fun. I watched four movies; Casablanca, Chicago, The Artist, and A Winter’s Tale and the trip to that point was tolerable.

The taxi and CDG terminal snafus notwithstanding, everything worked out and we were OK when we landed in Houston. The heartbeat was back to normal and two glasses of Bordeaux and a chunk of Roquefort eased the pain of the small seat and long haul. But what do you get when you arrive in Houston?

An airport that bears George Bush’s name is highly suspect. Hell, he couldn’t even find the airport after he finished flight training. Attaching his name to an airport almost insures poor design, poor planning, poor execution, poor signage, and poor attention to detail. That was all true in our experience. But that’s another story…

To be continued.

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