PROLOGUE. Picture it. The end of March. A desperate effort to escape Dodge and finagle a spot on the family tour of Dutch Country… but not the Amish part of Steelers territory, as Compton half-suspected, but the real Dutch… I’m talking about a little place called Amsterdamia
…At long last, the Amsterdam blog!
DESTINATION: DUTCH COUNTRY
“Huh? Oh, I gotta fart, too.” an employee at the BWI airport said so matter-of-factly as she whizzed past me into the ladies bathroom to stand against the wall, continuing her conversation on the telephone. I was on my way to Philly, Rendezvous Position A. An Express-length flight from Baltimore that isn’t even long enough to dip into REM sleep.
The Express planes are small. I took a similar one to Boston last year. Everyone apologizes to each other a thousand times because there’s no elbow room, no chance of keeping that comfortable social distance. No chance of not banging your head on the overhead compartments either.
I sat in the seat in front of the chubby young yuppie who was cursing into his iPhone and sweating profusely as were boarding. He sat next to what I assumed was his business partner, another young, loud yuppie. Chubby Yuppie didn’t want to hang up his phone until the very last minute, desperate to tell Kevin on the other end about this great piece of business theater he’d seen the night before. Something about Under Armor logo becoming the new Nike Swoosh for universally recognized sports merchandising. Where does one even see business theater? I couldn’t imagine a bunch of suits being willing thespians, but rather, pictured something more like those stupid “awareness” skits all us out of control teenagers were forced to endure during high school assemblies.
As we taxied down the runway on that warm, gray Friday morning in March, the Yuppie Partners enthusiastically boasted about their success at some meeting. Then, when the impersonal conversation of name dropping and general financial strategies had no real need to continue, Chubby Yuppie asked Hip Yuppie (he kind of looked like that guy that hosts the home makeover show on ABC, but with bleached out hair and soul patch) whether he’d expect to have a grand weekend plan, which segued into Hip Yuppie groaning about how his wife went to lunch with some old male friend and was really “enthusiastic,” which bothered Hip Yuppie, who didn’t trust the guy and worried he’d go all Continental sleaze on his wife.
How do business-minded people handle the situation?
Business Speak. Chubby Yuppie, in this moment of more intimate conversation, offered an entire imaginary run-down of the conversation Hip Yuppie could have with his wife about the situation. Careful, Chubby Yuppie warned, not to get defensive, but instead, address it all according to his feelings.
Sure, I saw this in a few movies about California suburbanites in therapy.
Chubby Yuppie, on the other hand, explained that he learned all of this from a book on management called Difficult Conversations. It was getting harder to stifle my laughs as I was overhearing this. Even Hip Yuppie thought it was ridiculous (he couldn’t stifle his first chuckle), but eventually, he started taking crib notes, writing down exact quotes from the hypothetical conversation Chubby Yuppie played out.
Jesus… I hope this plane lands soon!
WELCOME TO THE CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE, WE HOPE YOU ENJOY YOUR NEXT FIVE HOURS HERE.
International flights get me nervous. You get held up in one spot, you could miss a whole day of your trip before you can get flights out wherever your going. So when I jumped the shuttle and headed to the gate where Tom and Matt were supposed to arrive on their Orlando to Philly flight, only to find a lot of angry passengers walking in and out of the airplane corridor hoping the malfunction keeping their plane grounded at the gate wouldn’t delay their commute to LA that long, I was worried their plane was some place other than where it should be. In five hours we were suppo0sed to be boarding a plane to Germany as the second third of the commute. But, in the East Coast – West Coast rivalry, East Coast won out and Tom and Matt’s plane was redirected to the next available gate. I sat, a little nervous still, when loads of overweight tourists in Disney ears and golf brand shirts poured out of the gate door and there was no sight of Tom and Matt. Eventually, the came at the end of the line.
Now came the hard part… finding the international terminal and figuring out how to pass 5 hours in the layover without going mad, knowing we’d be on a plane for another 8 hours after that. And still another 2 after that. The thought of jet lag already made me tired.
Ugh… are we there yet?!
The walk to the international terminal was a long one, marked by the confusing lack of signs to point us in the right direction which was, initially, a non-existing gate, according to the departure monitors. Conversation about the homogeneity of the airports filled the time. The Philly airport, right down to the glass walls and yellow painted curved beams and and birds-in-flight motif was just the same as the Dulles airport in Virginia or the Indianapolis airport where Phil and I had been a few weeks earlier. Plus the airport art displays. The airport in Orlando has gnarley David Hockney sculptures. Baltimore has these giant crab-themed things. Philly has… the Lego Liberty Bell! Also, the moving walkway is lined with a lot of film posters of movies shot in Philly.
The better to distract you with!
There are also walls of musicians who made some substantial part of their career performing in Philly. Even DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were given a spot on the wall.
Soon enough, the boarding area was getting crowded with already-weary passengers and I made the last of my in-country calls before shutting off my cell phone for trip. We boarded a giant plane bound for Germany and I struggled to shove my bag into the overhead bins that were so high above us. A man dressed in military fatigues, likely bound for a base and probably the start of a deployment, reached out so nonchalantly to give my bag the extra few inches boost. I sat in the aisle row across from Tom and Matt and next to a row full of German friends. They swapped greetings with another German man who sat on the opposite end of the aisle row. I could only assume they had been sharing brief mentions about the State-side destination they were coming from and the hotels they stayed in. The word Bellagio was crystal clear.
As the pilots prepared to taxi down the runway, the flight crew took their positions at the three doorways that divided each section of seats. Planes for the international flights are so big, it seems like it wouldn’t be that unusual to find a curtained balcony like they have in the movies and old television shows. The stewardess closest to me was burly. She demonstrated the safety features as a woman on the opposite side, dressed in what must have been a training uniform, tried to emulate her movements. It was the first time I noticed a magazine rack hanging on the wall next to the toilets. Why the hell would anyone want to sit around in an airplane restroom reading a magazine? Or sharing a magazine that others took into the bathroom. More importantly, how could you get much done in such a cramped little space?
The rest of the flight was considerably uninteresting. Matt and Tom kept dozing off, so it was hard to lean over the aisle passing jokes. For a while, everyone was tuned to The Dark Knight, probably watching it for a third or fourth time. I tried watching a rugby drama, something with Sean Astin as some sort of minister/youth counselor like Art Carney’s character in that 80s movie about Boy’s Town. But there were too many laughable moments in the movie to tolerate the lousy audio quality. When the sun finally set and the plane quieted, I tried to sleep off the last couple of hours of the flight. The German friends had already been asleep for hours.
GUTEN TAG! ENJOY YOUR NEXT TWO HOURS IN GERMANY
We landed at the airport in Frankfurt around 5 in the morning and were hustled along with the rest of the weary passengers down a series of hallways towards Customs. I just wanted a shower and to pass out in a bed for a few hours, but we still had one more flight ahead of us. A short one, luckily.
Along the halls, we passed smoking booths and Tom criticized us for stopping to take pictures of the smokers. How often do you get to see anyone smoking in national and federal buildings anymore? Hell, in any business establishments, come to think of it. They reminded me of the rooms the public library in downtown Orlando used to have. One big room enclosed in glass that was officially designated “The Smoker’s Room.” But as Matt pointed out, the smoking rooms at the Frankfurt airport weren’t lined to keep the smoke from penetrating them.
But, it was funny to see this in Germany. In the duty free shop at Athens when we were there a few summers back, we found cartons of cigarettes with giant warnings about the carcinogenic content and possibility of birth defects. They were all labeled so ferociously, and some so simply. “Smoking kills!” If anyone was still smoking, it wasn’t out of concern for their health. And, despite Tom’s objections, the smoker’s didn’t seem to mind us recording their desperation to fulfill a habit.
When we passed inspection, we made our way through the corridors down to the Luftansa desk agents where a polite blond girl with big blue eyes patiently assisted impatient customers, switching languages with each one that approached the desk with a new query. The airport in Frankfurt looked even more like a shopping mall than any American airport I’d seen. There were models of shiny, white compact sporty cars stationed around. There were jewelry shops and clothing stores. And everything was just like something out of an IKEA ad: clean minimalism and bright colors. Sterile in a sense that it was another ode to the ultra-modern fad and had no personality.
It was perfect that we were flying Luftansa so early in the morning because they stocked the corners behind the attendant’s desk with complimentary coffee, tea and newspapers. Though Matt and I couldn’t figure out the purpose for the clandestine microphones hidden in the rafters above the waiting area at the gate. The blonde girl at the Luftansa desk quickly checked me in and assigned me a seat. Tom and Matt already had theirs. None of us were sitting together on this last flight. Not that it mattered, we were all likely to just fall asleep as soon as we boarded and plopped down in our seats, not to wake again until someone bumped us in the elbows with the service carts.