🛫 The Great France Art Tour of 2017
We departed Newark airport on a regular and frequently used Delta flight, leaving in the late afternoon. I was familiar with the routine. I had taken many similar flights to Frankfurt in 2015 to participate in the slow motion collapse of my career at the conquering and unappreciative German pharma and chemical giant, Merck.
Summer air travel has a reputation for delays, but passing through airport security with the “TSA Pre” checkmark on my electronic ticket was quick, even with the pat down I received when a sensor set off an alarm for no apparent reason. (After running his hands down the inside of my legs to my ankles, the TSA agent waved me through without comment. Despite my opinion to the contrary, my package is apparently not that notable!)
But that unbelievably long walk to the very last gate, then sitting, sitting, sitting through the noise and bustle, passengers gushing forth, crews leaving, arriving, checking in, and so on, until you can’t take it anymore, and instead of grumbling or screaming, you get up, walk around, find another seat– blah! Time spent in the terminal is tedious! Writing about it is nearly as tedious as the real thing–which is why we should skip it–and so we will. When I retype this, perhaps a heavy edit can reduce it to a line or two? Or maybe nothing?
Got on the plane.
Deb had upgraded our economy tickets to “Delta Comfort”, which guarantees ‘Overhead storage’ and an additional 6 inches (who wouldn’t want that?). If you have flown at all in the last 20 years, you know that besides the seat shrinkage issue, nobody wants to check their bags. Every passenger is in an ugly rush to get on board as quickly as possible to stow his bag overhead, preferably over his own seat, before anyone else usurps that valuable location. Failure means finding overhead space back—toward the tail of the plane—the worst place for your bag to be after the plane lands and everyone is surging and shoving ruthlessly to the front to get God-knows-where, but definitely off the plane, past you. In that unlucky situation, you’ll likely have to wait until the plane is empty–or if you’re lucky, if someone further back has the same situation and manages to stanch the flow of the herd long enough for you to make a run against the stream and grab your bag. If you have endured this ordeal in the past you will appreciate the “Delta Comfort” guarantee that your luggage, and only your luggage goes in that special place.
💺Hooray! We find our seats (with the six extra inches), stow our bags overhead and get settled in.
Moments later, directly across the aisle, a middle-aged, clean shaven, blond guy in a guayabera and shorts starts cramming and shoving and moving his bag, and another bag that is already there, grumbling, and trying to slam the hatch on the bag that is clearly and obviously too big. I think this is his bag. He sighs loudly and grumbles loudly to the person next to him (who is his wife, trying hard to pretend that he is a stranger to her). He rearranges the bag with much slamming and complaining and sighing and noise. Deb and I both glance his way with the same thought, at the same time, and yes, tied to his bag is the same yellow Arawjo Tours tag that identifies our bags. We turn face-to-face at the same instant, with the same horrified look of recognition. This is the man we shall call “Donald”, who will be spending the next ten days traveling around France with us. Need I say, we do not introduce ourselves.
On the plane they feed us. Better than no food, by my account anyway. Deb has standards for food, the main one being that it is actually food. As opposed to chemicals and sugar variants. She leaves the butter, bread, cookies, chocolate, and other suspect quasi-food items on her tray. I follow her lead sometimes, and other times over the next five hours, I eat the butter, bread, cookies, and chocolate. Although our special “Delta Comfort” seats entitle us to alcoholic beverages, neither of us drinks alcohol on the plane.
We watch movies. It’s a chance to watch something, not as a couple! Violent Jason Bourne movies, stupid super-hero movies, sexy vampires, for me these are the things that are best watched with your children, but not usually, with your life partner. I happily indulge in a movie I have been anticipating for awhile, the latest Wolverine movie: “Logan“. Although my reputation as the “non-exemplary English Major” plus my ability to recite the Green Lantern’s oath, is well-known, the truth is, I never read Marvel comics until I was an adult.
I was much more fond of DC’s Superman, Batman, and yes, the Green Lantern, than of Marvel’s “X-Men”. The X-Men were difficult to follow, with their multitude of mutational powers and Marvel’s penchant for endlessly serialized stories. Heck, when I spent 12 cents, then 15 cents, and eventually 25 cents for a comic, . Not a soap opera of agonizing super-hero self-examination and drama that only moved the story along a smidge and compelled me to buy the next issue! Criminy.
Nevertheless, as an adult, watching with my pre-teen son, I came to enjoy the X-Men, mostly because of the movies with Patrick Stewart as “Doctor Xavier”. I especially liked “the Wolverine” (portrayed by Hugh Jackman) with his Dorian Grey/vampire-tormented-by-immortality issues as seen in several confusing time-shifting films. So I was primed and ready for the new film, “Logan”.
** Spoiler Alert!! ** This one is more than a little dark. Really. Everyone gets killed. All the friendly helpful non-mutant civilians, Logan, and even Dr. Xavier. Snuffed. Not very uplifting; true to the Marvel tradition.
The normal healthy person might sleep through the rest of the flight. That would be Deb. Without my CPAP I can’t sleep, and though I have a portable unit, it’s too much trouble to break it out, even with Delta Comfort’s extra six inches.
The giant 747, 767, or seven-something-or-other-seven variant growled its way over the Atlantic all night—a night shortened by our Eastward travel toward the rising sun. Pushed by the Gulf stream and the heavy hand of our pilot, the plane touched down at Charles De Gaulle airport an hour early!!
🇫🇷 It was Tuesday morning in Paris. In heels, sporty trousers and a matching jacket, of medium height, middle-aged, with mid-length black hair on a round head, and a pleasant face with just enough makeup on her lips and eyes, our truly French guide, Christine, met us in the luggage area. We had shuffled through the long winding passport control/immigration line, and piled up, thirty-five tourists with yellow Arawjo tags on their bags, ready to take the coach to the hotel.
I took this moment to observe the full group: Mostly couples. One or two singles, both male and female. We are not the youngest. We are not the oldest.
But wait!! Where were the two round, blond ladies who introduced themselves as we snaked through the long immigration line?? Steve, our friendly and easy-going tour manager, (Who we met at Newark airport—but I cut that part of the narrative out, didn’t I?) gathers us together closer and after roll call, confirms the absence of the two indistinguishable blondes, who we begin to refer to as “the Bobbsey Twins”. “Donald” uses this pause to jump to the front of the line, dragging his wife behind him, a scene repeated throughout the trip. We take a few anxious moments pondering the fate of our comrades, lost so early in the journey, imagining them waiting somewhere near a baggage carousel far away, staring at the portal over an endless conveyor that spews out suitcases and bags of all sorts, but never theirs, never theirs! Interrupting this reverie, a sharp-eyed scout points them out, standing outside on the curb, shiny heads barely visible through a huge swirling blue grey cloud of their own cigarette smoke.
Led by Christine on a short march through the airport, picking up our delinquent charges on the way, we hop in the large charter bus. At last.