Saturday, October 06, 2007

A Texas in Italy - 17 Curious Days

Over the next several days I will be telling you about my recent challenging, weird and wonderful 17 days in Italy. However, in the peculiar world of blogging that means the first story is on the bottom! So, if you want to begin at the first, go to the bottom. This is Day 2 - Part 1.

Day 2 - September 4, 2007; Part 1

Once in the Amsterdam airport I made a straight course for a Continental agent. Good fortune placed him in my view almost immediately. Actually it was more likely good airport planning since he was just outside Continental’s only two gates. The line to talk with the agent was 7 deep. Twenty four hours into my trip we no longer had a quarrel with waiting; it had become the norm for us. I remain impressed with the Continental agent and simultaneously furious with the constraints he operated underneath. Impressed, because in the time I stood in line he conversed with passengers in Dutch, French, German, Spanish and ultimately spoke English with me. That’s very impressive indeed in a Jackie Kennedy sort of way. I remain furious right up to today because I had a simple request of him. It went like this, “Sir, I am almost certain our luggage is still in Houston. It was only checked to Houston you see, and then I was put on this flight as a secondary measure, and I could tell the agents in Houston weren’t listening to me……so, anyway, I am wondering if you could give a ring to Houston and have our luggage sent to Bologna? With a small smile that indicated he had heard such a story a million times he told me “No can do. The luggage will be the responsibility of KLM Airlines since your next and final flight will be with them.” I stalled hoping for common sense to take effect using the following logic. “But the bags are in Houston. I’m sure of it. KLM doesn’t operate out of Houston, which means Continental has to fly the bags somewhere for KLM. It gets back charged to KLM either way, so why not just send them to Bologna?” The agent began to repeat himself instead of dealing with my straightforward logic which upset me a great deal since I had heard him the first time. Additionally he told me that if he ordered the bags from Houston they would end up in Amsterdam. I innocently asked why, since it seemed easy enough to tell them to send them to Bologna. After all, language barriers seemed non-existent to him. Apparently common sense was not as universal a talent for him. He went on and on about the rules and he said with finality, “That’s just the way it is in the airline world. Tell the folks in the lost baggage office in Bologna to have KLM order them from Houston. I surrendered. The line behind us was growing restless in three or four different languages.

I walked to a TravelEx currency exchange window. I handed the young girl 500 US dollars. She gave me back 335 Euros. Bad deal in my mind, but I was growing passive to injury at that point.

I was really tired and I could tell I was operating at a mental disadvantage. Nevertheless as it turned out my now 25 hour day was actually quite young at that point. More work awaited. My next task was to find out if we could go stand-by on the 2:30 pm flight, now approximately 3 hours away from its scheduled departure. Overhead the intercom system was a beehive of verbal activity, every message read in Dutch and then in English. I searched for a KLM logo and any symbol of KLM ticketing to make the inquiry about the 2:30 flight. Finally, after inquiring at an information booth I was directed to the other end of the very big airport. At one point BEG and I walked through a food court where we were met face on by a gray cloud of cigarette smoke. Unlike the US, cigarettes are still in vogue in the Netherlands and smoking them is permissible in designated areas in the Airport. Not small out of the way places mind you, but places you have no choice but to trespass. We both coughed and put our hands over our noses. It has been only a few years of smoke-free environments in the US but the recognition that this was not a healthy area was immediate for us both. So the Netherlands has smokers that will tax the health system with lung diseases and America has obesity with similar negative effects on the health system and health care costs. Pick your poison. Smoke yourself to death or eat yourself to death. Either way, those healthy by choice will pay the unfair tax generated by the addicted.

We found the KLM ticketing area, but not until we took a long walk through the very modern and perhaps even elegant airport. (Some photos provided herein) The KLM ticket area operated on a ‘take a number’ basis’, so I did just that, sat down on a provided waiting bench and closed my eyes. I was so very weary and sleepy. I prayed. I prayed for the 2:30 flight to have 2 seats. When my number popped up on the overhead board I went and stood in front of a 20 something KLM agent that was wearing a yellow blazer just like the one worn by the other 12 female agents. Not a male agent in sight. Maybe they don’t like yellow blazers. Atop her head perched a baby blue beret nestled in a head of dark brown hair. Her lips were painted up with a dark red lipstick. She smiled and said ‘whasssup’ in Dutch. I guess that is what she said…..I told her English please and she smiled the same smile again and said “how can I help you sir?” I asked about the flight. She turned to her keyboard and worked it with professional ease. She smiled (wrong reaction) and told me I had as much chance as an ice cube in Houston in July. Actually what she really said was “I’m sorry sir the flight is overbooked. There is a standby list of 11 persons in front of you, and I can promise you that you won’t be able to get on. But I can put you on the list if you want,” she added brightly at the end. I turned and looked at BEG. She could tell from the expression on my face. I asked the ticketing agent to confirm that we were booked on the 9pm flight to Bologna. She worked the keyboard expertly again and rendered an affirmative answer this time. I explained I had not slept in a while and asked her if there was anywhere to sleep while we waited the 8 hours. She advised not only was there no place to sleep, but the police commonly remove people from the airport if they are caught sleeping in a horizontal position. Well, damn it to hell, that just happens to be the ONLY way I CAN sleep!

I turned to BEG. She picked up her camera backpack and purse and trudged behind me. I had no idea where we were going from there. The flight to Bologna was 8 hours away. It appeared the Amsterdam airport would be our home for awhile. I thought about Tom Hanks in the movie ‘Terminal’. However, as I recall, Tom did have his bags in the movie.

(To Be Continued)


Lynilu said...

I'm feeling weary and have an anxiety lump in my throat from just reading this! OK, I concede!! It is only day 2 of your trip, and I'm struggling with the idea that all my travel woes over 4 decades (which I previously thought were significant!!) don't even tip the scales.

I can't imagine what happens next!

kathi said...

So after a few (okay, several) sleepless hours of not knowing where your luggage is and feeling that your life is completely out of your're not so much a people person, huh? ;) Yeah, slap me now.

Seven said...

What happens next even surprises me.

In day 2 I am my normal self. Challenging yet respectful. It's later that I jump right off the bow of the USS Civility.