Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Your Friendly Skies

ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE...January 7, 4am, Spokane, WA: We screeched to a halt in 48 inches of dirty slush, and I opened the door of our SUV to reveal my wife, two screaming babies, 5 pieces of luggage, and a bike case.

The friendly United Airlines porter took one look at us and shook his head, "You'll have to take it all inside if that's a bike." With that, he turned around and walked away, offering us no hand with a fold-up stroller, duffel bag, two baby seats, two car-bases for the baby seats, a giant black suitcase, a backpack and a briefcase.

I'm sure he had something important to do. I'll have to get him a Karma t-shirt when I get back into town.

Ten minutes later, we had finally hauled everything inside the airport. For those of you who haven't flown lately, most airlines are now charging for *every* additional checked bag. Although we had four carry-ons, they proposed to charge us an additional $250 for A) a bike case that was 16lbs over; B) the black suitcase that was 12lbs over.

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MATH WHIZ...January 7, 5:45am, Spokane, WA: Using a big plastic bag, we transferred 28lbs of random shoes, energy bars, and books and saved ourselves $90. The entire United airline staff graciously offered no hand or advice with this endeavor, and when I turned in the stuffed plastic bag, the lady at the ticket counter kindly said, "You know TSA is going to be ripping into this, right?"

"*Ripping* into it?"

"Yes, sir, they need to inspect the bag."

"OK," I continued, disregarding her violent verbage, "So just to verify, this is going to be $125 for the bike and $15 for the suitcase?"

"No, sir, it is going to be $140."

"Yes, $125 for the bike and $15 for the bag, right?"

"No, the total is $140, sir."

Are you kidding me? And this is why it takes so long to get through an airport...

She then proceeded to hand me two separate receipts. One for $125 and one for $15. Brilliant.

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THIRTY-TWO STEPS TO SUCCESS...6am, Spokane, WA: After the re-packing fiasco, we raced through security to catch our flight, which was scheduled to leave at 6am. Procedure is as follows:

1) Park stroller next to security bins.

2) Remove shoes, laptop, ziplock bag of fluids, place in bins. HERE'S WHERE IT GETS DIFFERENT.

3) Remove one baby from carseat.

4) Hand baby to wife.

5) Remove carseat from stroller.

6) Attach to carseat to carseat base.

7) Remove second baby from carseat.

8) Hand second baby to wife.

9) Remove second carseat from stroller.

10) Attach second carseat to second carseat base.

11) Fold up stroller.

12) Take one baby from wife.

13) Walk through security holding baby.

14) Hand baby back to wife.

15) Re-assemble stroller.

16) Remove carseats from carseat bases.

17) Re-attach carseats to stroller.

18) Take first baby from wife, place into carseat.

19) Take second baby from wife, place into carseat.

20) Put on shoes, re-stow laptop, ziplock bag of fluids.

Following this scenario, we rushed to our gate to discover that the flight had been DELAYED 30 MINUTES, giving us time to plan Phase II, which was:

21) Get tags for stroller, carseat, carseat bases.

22) Push stroller down boarding tunnel.

23) Remove first baby, hand to wife.

24) Remove first carseat from stroller, attach to carseat base.

25) Remove second baby, hand to wife.

26) Remove second carseat from stroller, attach to second carseat base.

27) Pick up briefcase, backpack, duffel bag and take 1 baby from wife.

28) Board plane.

29) Hand baby back to wife.

30) Stow all bags.

31) Take baby back from wife.

32) Sit with baby and wait for take-off.

And we're off.

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LAME BIRD: January 7, 4pm, Washington, DC: After landing in Denver (and reversing steps 21-32 prior to de-boarding the aircraft), we re-boarded another aircraft after initiating steps 21-32 and headed for Washington, DC.

By the way, Itz-a-wrap/Itz-a-bowl offers the healthiest, tastiest meal in Denver. Get the "Colorado Sunshine", with feta cheese. If, after reading the rest of this post, you trust anything I ever have to say again about healthy nutrition.

Unfortunately, after we boarded our plane in Washington, DC, we were informed by the pilot that it had blown a fuse minutes earlier (his exact words were more along the delicate lines of "electrical issues"). With no air conditioning or air circulation on board, the only thing missing from the stifling cabin was mosquitoes and snakes. The pilot said 45 minutes. Sixty minutes later, we were still waiting, comforting two screaming, sweating babies.

Finally, they allowed us to de-board the plane, since apparently replacing a fuse is quite a process. So we reversed steps 21-32 and went to find a bite to eat.

We ordered a $9.99 mini-salad from a Mexican joint, and just at that exact moment a voice came over the terminal loudspeaker ordering us back to the plane. You just can't leave a ten dollar salad behind. You never know, maybe there's a gold nugget hidden inside the tiny, solo tomato wedge. So Jessa rushed back to the plane with the babies while I waited for our precious salad.

In was in this way that we discovered another protocol: The steps to successfully sharing a salad on an airplane while juggling twins:

1) Get one baby to fall asleep. Make it snort Baby Benadryl if that helps. One parent eats half the salad quickly (the kids only sleep in 10-15 minute segments on the plane, even with the help of drugs).

2) Realize that the second baby is not going to sleep. Husband hand-feeds wife salad with bite-by-bite fork handoffs across the aisle of the plane while she comforts struggling baby.

Via this method, we actually managed to eat the entire salad, and while no gold nuggets were found, it was a truly bonding experience that I'm certain must have warmed the hearts of those around us ("Hey, look, that man is stabbing his wife with a fork while she tries to care for his child.")

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LOST BAGS: January 7, 10:30pm, Miami: We had been scheduled to arrive at 8pm, but due to headwinds and a 2 hour flight delay, we rolled in an hour-and-a-half prior to midnight. The plan was to leave Jessa with the babies and bags at baggage claim while I caught a shuttle 3 miles down the road to the Thrifty car rental.

Thirty minutes later, my phone rang as I was driving the Thrifty rental car back to the airport. Over the screaming babies, Jessa informed me that they had lost our duffel bag with all the baby formula, food, diapers, and clothes.

About this time, I started to become mildly frustrated with United Airlines. When I arrived back at the airport, I left Jessa with the rental car and stormed into the United Airlines office, exhausted from 18 hours of travel.

I pulled aside the nearest agent, shoved our claim ticket into his hand, and hissed, "I've got TWO screaming babies, you've got us to our destination almost THREE hours behind schedule, AND YOU'VE LOST OUR MOST IMPORTANT BAG. I want that bag NOW."

He took out a piece of paper and began to scribble on it. I snatched it out of his hand.

"GO LOOK FOR OUR BAG NOW."

Ten minutes later, he came back. No dice.

I gave him my cell phone number and told him we needed to see the bag by the morning or I would have to take my kids to the hospital for their medication. Yes, I made that last part up. Nonetheless, 30 minutes later, as we drove to Ft. Lauderdale, he called me on the phone, informing me that our bag had been found and a delivery truck would have it to our address in Ft. Lauderdale within 4 hours.

And so, we continued down the expressway to Ft. Lauderdale in our shiny, white Chrysler, which was stuffed to the gills with all the aforementioned luggage, including an oversized bike case hanging out of an open trunk.

January 8, 1am, Ft. Lauderdale, FL: We finally arrived at our Florida destination: Will Smith's champagne buffet, where thirty bikini-clad women on a yacht off South Beach warmly greeted us.

Or maybe that was a song.

Actually, it was Grandma's house, where we had a midnight feast of chicken, baby potatoes, baked vegetables, and chocolate chip cookies. Bien venido a Miami.

MIAMI: January 9-11, Sun, pool, R&R, and accidentally swam with and destroyed my Motorola Razr. That's OK. Just pushing my date with an iPhone a little bit closer...

YUM: January 11, 2pm, Two days before our departure for Chili, and it's time to enjoy the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles playoff game! After a 50 mile morning bike ride up and down the giant hilly overpasses of Florida, I rummaged through Grandma's kitchen, famished for some tasty hoeur d' oeuvres to enjoy during the televised game. I creatively assembled a tasty plate of:

-Garlic Stuffed Olives

-Goat Cheese

-Sundried Tomatoes in Olive Oil

-Avocado with Black Pepper

-Mango Slices

Oh yeah, baby. Buffalo wings are for un-sophisticated brutes. I licked the platter clean.

YUK: January 11, 7pm, Five hours later, I was curled into a fetal position on our bed. I spent the next ten hours rushing from the bed to the toilet, hurling my guts out and crapping with both legs up in the air just like Dumb and Dumber. Somewhere, Jim Carrey was laughing.

At one point, I even passed out on the bathroom floor, with my cheek gently nestled into the fluffly toilet mat.

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THE AFTERMATH: January 12: 10am. I woke. I felt like a little grape that someone had sucked all the water and sugar and salt out of with a giant syringe, and turned into an shriveled, dry, tiny insty-raisin.

That was me, Raisin-man.

I couldn't move.

My stomach hurt.

My breath smelled like dog.

And the though of sundried tomatoes made me want to hurl, which I would've done if anything had been left inside me. But you can't squeeze much out of a raisin.

AND I HAD TO FLY TO CHILE THE NEXT DAY AND RACE IN JUST 5 DAYS!

That night, after I lay in bed moaning and groaning for hours, Jessa and I had a very serious discussion about not even going to South America. If I felt like this, there was no way I would have the strength for steps 1-32. We decided to wait it out until the morning.

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GOODBYE AMERICA: January 13, 1pm. I felt about 75%. Good enough, even if I ended up needing a diaper on the flight. We decided to head out for our 4:30pm departure.

So why did we arrive, OJ Simpson Style, at the airplane as they were *closing the doors* to the plane (not the White Bronco/murder OJ...the TV commercial OJ)?

-"Road Closed" on the official Google Directions route. I thought Google knew everything and I was very proud of my "Avoid All Tolls" back-roads route, which figured on the map to be only an additional 3 minutes. Make that 30 minutes.

-Stopped at the gas station to fill up the rental car, and decided to snag $100.00 from the ATM. It spit out...$60.00, and a receipt for $101.50. After our previous frustrations with travel, I was not about to take any crap. I brought the receipt and the three twenty-dollar bills to the clerk. He fumbled with his phone for nearly 10 minutes in an attempt to call the ATM company. Finally, I slammed my fist on his counter,

"I HAVE AN INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT THAT LEAVES IN 60 MINUTES. I WANT MY MONEY NOW OR I AM CALLING THE POLICE."

Not knowing that my cell phone was floating in a pool back at Grandma's house, he immediately took $40 from his cash register and handed it over.

I think I just hatched an idea for a really good scam operation.

-Pulled up to the Miami departure gate. Where I unloaded my bicycle, which I had plastered with "MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS FRAGILE" home-made stickers. I slipped the porter 20 bucks and he...let the bike through as a non-oversized ($150 savings), musical instrument ($125 savings) and gave us a $50 break on the black suitcase with weighed in over fifty pounds. Twenty bucks well spent, but this took nearly twenty minutes to work out...

-Drove quickly to return the rental car, as my stomach rumbled. The 24 hour diarrhea fun-fest the day prior had left me walking like I had a quarter squeezed between my butt cheeks. This muscle-clinch turned out to be necessary in order to hold back the floodgates. It was either that, or the little Dutch boy with the finger trick. Didn't have enough twenties left to hire any Dutch boys.

-For time efficiency, Jessa took care of getting us checked-in while I returned the rental car. When I got back, I found out that despite me paying $750 in international kid-taxes 48 hours prior, they decided to bill Jessa another $800 at the gate because she did not have a receipt, which was in my bag. I had no time to resolve the situation, and we made a mad-dash through steps 1-32 in a final attempt to catch our flight, which I was sure we had missed.

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ARE YOU KIDDING ME? January 13, 4:30pm. We hadn't put this much into getting to the airport to miss our first flight to Lima, Peru. We raced through the airport, jumping into shuttles and trains towards the far-reaches of International Terminal E. We arrived breathless at the boarding gate to find only a single, narrow escalator leading down into the plane entrance. I grabbed a carseat, baby, duffel bag, and briefcase and squeezed onto the escalator. With Jessa close behind, I ran, peering over my full arms and literally leaping into the airplane as the doors were closing.

But at this very same last minute, someone became very ill on the plane and decided not to fly. In this situation, it is policy for the airlines, in their infinite wisdom, to empty all bags from the belly of the plane, remove this person's bags, and reload all the bags. I suppose this is maybe because someone could take a bomb into the plane, fake-sick, and then get off. Which I think ruins the whole purpose of Jihad, but maybe people were trying to play the system.

Or maybe they just ate some sundried tomatoes.

So during our ensuing 60 minute delay, with the help of Baby-Benadryl, I wrote this first blog article of our trip to Pucon, Chile to race in a Half-Ironman Triathlon. The baby's metabolism eats up Benadryl like a high-speed motorcyle, and he's already stirring, so I promise another blog post before the race...

So far it has been just another big adventure. Just remember, when life throws you lemons, make lemon-aid. Or I'm thinking in my case, maybe a lemon enema.

Over and out.

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UPDATE: I JUST POSTED THIS. WE ARE CURRENTLY STRANDED IN LIMA PERU WITH NO BAGS (BAGS WERE SENT TO CHILE). THEY WILL NOT LET US ONTO THE FLIGHT WITH INFANTS, DESPITE US HAVING EMPTIED OUR BANK ACCOUNT TO TRY TO PAY FOR THE KIDS TO GET ON THE FLIGHT. THEY HAVE INFORMED US THAT THE KIDS WERE SOMEHOW ISSUED PAPER TICKETS WHILE WE WERE ISSUED ELECTRONIC TICKETS, BUT THE AIRLINE DID NOT REALIZE THE MISTAKE UNTIL AFTER SHIPPING ALL OF US TO PERU. I AM TRYING TO DO BANK TRANSFERS RIGHTNOW BUT HAVE NO CASH LEFT IN THE ACCOUNT TO GET TO MIAMI OR TO CHILE. THEY ARE NOT TAKING VISA CREDIT CARD. PLEASE PRAY FOR US.

BEN
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