I read once that women can’t remember the pain of childbirth. They remember that there was pain, but they don’t really remember the pain. If not for this mechanism, I read, women would be “one and done” with childbirth. I believe this to be true. If a mechanism such as this didn’t exist we wouldn’t go on vacation again.
I don’t mean to say that our vacations are physically painful, I’m just making the point that our brains tend to gloss over the stress and angst produced by the actual air travel experience. We take about two vacations per year and during each there are moments much like those in the delivery room. There are similarities in the two experiences. As the vacation travel starts we swear “Never Again!” and blame each other with “You did this to me!” There is a crescendo of discomfort and at the end we have a beautiful bouncing vacation. A few months after we are considering having another one.
We went into labor with our latest bundle of travel joy December 28. We packed up the three boys and headed to Florida. Like most other flights we take outside, we connected through Seattle. There are two major barriers when it comes to air travel from Alaska to anywhere.
1. If you plan on catching a connecting flight out of Seattle you have to leave late at night or early in the morning. That is a problem for any person, but especially for families with youngsters.
2. If you plan on connecting out of Seattle to anywhere south and east of Portland then plan on spending your children’s college fund. If you plan on connecting without a layover that would allow you to view an entire Ken Burn’s documentary series between flights then be prepared to spend roughly the gross national product of Ghana.
It’s a pick your poison situation. Either torture by layover or not having food money at your destination. We choose to feed ourselves on vacation and embrace the layover experience fully. In years past we have left Fairbanks in the evening and stayed over night in Seattle. We caught a flight east the next day. This made it more bearable for Charlie and Eli. Two lengthy flights back-to-back are too much for them. We came upon this solution out of desperation. We had to do something. Both our younger boys travel hard. Charlie is a legend. Northwest retired his seat number after a performance on a Northwest flight that culminated with a flight attendant physically covering Charlie’s mouth with her hand. That wasn’t effective. Mommy’s, big brothers and grandmothers take an exception to strangers touching baby’s mouth. Eli doesn’t have his brothers natural abilities but works hard and has better lateral movement. Eli has this move where he grabs gray grandma hair over the seat in front of him. He is tricky that way.
When we were planning this trip our normal flights were pretty spendy so my wife looked around. We settled, with some trepidation, on a plan that called for us to leave very early in the morning and spend all day in Seattle in a hotel room where the boys can watch TV and nap until our flight east late in the evening. A problem with the plan was that it required us to get up at For-The-Love-Of-God early to fly to Seattle and leave at Are-You-Kidding-Me late to arrive in Orlando at half past WTF? in the morning. Bottom line is that is what we had to do to save $500 per ticket.
The alarm went off at a quarter to For-The-Love-Of-God. I pried myself out of the fetal position and got dressed. My wife was up quicker and excited. She is always pumped up for a trip. I went to the boy’s room and turned on the light. Eli hissed at me like Carlisle Cullen’s love child. Charlie muttered sailor talk into his pillow. The unfettered joy of a Disney vacation was wilting in the face of sleep deprivation. My wife dressed Eli Cullen’s limp hissing body while I coaxed Charlie into his clothes. My oldest son, Parker, was going with us. He got in the shower and just pretty much stayed quiet.
We got to the airport with the help of my mother-in-law and a cab. The baggage check process and security clearance are always fun for us. We managed to win the Is-My-Bag-Too-Heavy? sweepstakes all five times. Packing the bags is another entire column. We made a concentrated effort to cut down on luggage this time and we still looked like the baggage train from one of Teddy Roosevelt’s African Safaris.
The agent looked at our identification and made seemingly random marks on our boarding passes. She asked the children their names. Charlie responded correctly. Bonus. Excellent. He once responded with “George” when asked what his name was. We got our boarding passes and we took our carry-on bags and headed for security. Eli only softly hissed at the officer that looked at our documents. The young man wasn’t fazed. This obviously wasn’t his first F0r-The-Love-Of-God shift. TSA thought that they were helping by making it so children don’t have to take off their shoes. Eli sees it as an infringement on his constitutional right to remove his footwear. Nobody is going to tread on his rights. Those shoes come off.
We boarded early and found our seats. We walked by the people in first class. They were acting all superior and snotty and stuff. That is only acceptable when I am first class. It seems like airlines are boarding sooner and sooner these days. Now they have managed to time it so Eli gets completely irritated with sitting between mommy and daddy and having his seat belt on at precisely the time the crew wants to take off. We managed to keep Eli in his seat for takeoff. By we I mean my wife. I was asleep. I don’t remember takeoff.
I should explain. I spent almost 20 years as a crew chief on KC-135 aircraft in the Air National Guard. I flew a lot. When we took trips away from base our days started four or five hours before takeoff and ended several hours after landing. As a crew chief my chance to sleep was while we were flying. I was, and still am, conditioned to go to sleep once I sit down in an airplane. My wife understands this. It makes no difference. When I came to she was looking at me like I ate the last chocolate chip cookie.
I looked around. Parker was reading. Charlie was watching a movie. It is funny. As hard as he was to travel with when he was a baby, he is a cinch now. Give him a movie player and a Sprite and he could go on an Apollo mission. Well, he would definitely want one of those cool helmets too, but you know what I mean. Eli was playing with Margey’s iPad. Parenting by electronic technology. Don’t judge.
We bought and finished our tasty and nutritious airline breakfasts washed down with ginger ale. I almost never drink ginger ale. Only on airplanes. I think I drink it because the air is stale and ginger ale tastes all sparkly. I don’t need sparkly when I am not on an airplane. The garbage was cleared and my wife and Eli were watching a movie on the iPad when the person in front of her reclined into her lap. Eli hissed as the iPad was knocked askew and my wife tried to stare a hole into the seat. She doesn’t like recliners.
The flight was otherwise uneventful. We landed in Seattle and made our way through the airport. We caught a shuttle to a nearby hotel and were actually granted an early check in. Our plan was looking pretty good. We grabbed lunch and put on a movie. My wife managed to attend a hearing telephonically and we all managed to nap. Parenting win. Our happy family left for the airport about 2 hours before Are-You-Kidding-Me o’clock and made our way through security.
My wife and I were looking like travel geniuses while we waited at the gate. Charlie and Parker goofed around and Eli played quietly. We quietly boarded and found our seats. Parker and Charlie sat across the aisle from us. Charlie had the aisle and Parker had the window. The middle seat was given to a standby passenger. Charlie slid to the middle and gave the aisle to the lady. She had two carry on bags and a purse. On this flight alone I must have heard 30 times how we could only have one carry on and a small personal item. Yet here she stood in blatant violation of airline regulations with two ugly paisley carry ons and a purse. I once tried to take a carry on, a messenger bag (no it is not a purse) and a plastic bag with souvenirs in it. I was stopped, detained, questioned and blacklisted for having too many carry on items. My wife remembers it differently. She seems to think that I was simply asked to put the souvenir bag in my man purse . . . I mean my messenger bag. Whatever . . . she is probably still traumatized from having to watch me get detained.
Not only did she have too many, they were too large. They were the kind with rollers on the bottom. I dislike roller bags. That isn’t completely true. I dislike the average person using a roller bag. A license should be required to operate one. My problem is that people dragging those things aren’t always smart enough to remember they are dragging a trailer when they try to maneuver the concourses. They squeeze through spaces that their bodies can get through then don’t compensate for the trailers. I can’t count how many times my feet and my children have been run over by these people. They aren’t all bad I guess. Probably just a few bad apples.
The lady tried to load her giant carry-ons into the overhead bin. She grabbed the first one and clean and jerked it and tried to raise it over her head. She failed. She looked like the video clip ABC Sports used to use of the Hungarian weightlifter who falls under the bar. The agony of defeat. A nice young man grabbed her bag and placed it in the bin. Then he put away her second bag and her purse. She was blatantly ignoring the flight attendant’s instructions to place her first carry-on under the seat in front of her. Shameless.
I managed to stay awake for this take off. We levelled off and Charlie got a video player. Parker was reading a Christmas book. Eli was looking out the window at blackness. So far so good. I was wearing a Nebraska Cornhusker sweatshirt that Parker gave me for Christmas. The lady across the aisle stared at my chest, actually leaning forward to look at me. Awkward.
“Nebraska,” she said.
I stared at her. I didn’t know if it was a statement, a question or a product of skipped medication. I am normally a friendly outgoing guy, not overly chatty but not unfriendly. However, I am not really a big airplane talker. I guess don’t like the captive audience factor. I smiled as much as I could.
“Are you from Nebraska?” she asked. I explained that my mom was born there and I lived there as a child.
“I was born there, too!” she said excitedly. “My brother is still there. His name is (insert random lady’s brother’s name here). Do you know him?”
Nebraska is not densely populated. I don’t know for sure but I would be surprised if the population goes more than 2 million. That isn’t a lot for a state population, but is much higher than my social circle. Add to that the fact that I left 37 years ago and have visited maybe eight times since I then and the odds that I know this man drop from winning the lottery to alien abduction on my birthday after winning the lottery.
I thought for a moment. “Name doesn’t ring a bell. Sorry.”
The flight was actually pretty pleasant for the first few hours. Eli watched the iPad and chatted. One of the selling factors for these flights was the thought that the boys would sleep on the overnight leg. Not so much. With about two hours left Eli started slumping lower in his seat. We hit a little turbulence and the seat belt sign came on. Eli got in a fight with his seat belt. He couldn’t get comfortable. He turned side ways. He put his feet on me. He kicked the seat in front of him. He became infatuated with the hair sticking up over the seat in front me. He didn’t really melt down, he just cried that miserable-for-no-specific-reason cry.
Eventually he gave up his struggles and slumped in his seat. He moaned a little and sob-grunted occasionally. I glanced over at Parker and Charlie. Parker had been sleeping for a few minutes and Charlie was just putting his video player and started to bed down. Eli leaned against his mom and dozed off. I looked at her and smiled. She was exhausted and closed her eyes. At that precise moment we started our descent into Orlando.
We landed 10 minutes early at 20 past WTF? o’clock. The boys slept through the landing and taxi to the gate. We parked. If there is anything grumpier than a child with no sleep, it is a child with 35 minutes of sleep. Parker moved Charlie and he made an angry goat noise. The noise that came out of Eli was a cross between the sound made when you chew sand and fingernails on a chalk board. We made our way off the airplane and did the “Night of the Living Dead” zombie march to the baggage claim area. Charlie rallied. He loves getting bags off the conveyor. It’s his thing. We gathered our baggage train and we went to get our rental car.
The man behind the counter told us that our car wasn’t ready. My wife spoke to him in low tones and measured sentences. He nodded. His sense of self-preservation and sympathy must have kicked in because a big shiny SUV appeared magically where there was none before.
Other than the screaming match I got into with Siri over directions, the drive to Vero Beach was uneventful. Is my Siri the only one that exhales in irritation and calls you a moron when you miss a turn? Must be a glitch in the programming. Oh yeah, one more thing. When you take a toll road, you should have change. Another tip: a paper dollar tossed into the change basket in the “exact change” line at the toll booth doesn’t work. Lesson learned.
We pulled into the parking lot at our hotel about midmorning and walked in. Disney’s Vero Beach Resort is a Vacation Club Resort. I mention that because their slogan for the vacation club is “Welcome Home.” The implication being that this is your second home or other home or whatever. It’s cute. You walk in and a stranger opens the door and says “Welcome Home.” The are all in very good moods. It is kind of cool under most circumstances but after 24 hours of travel with almost no sleep and Siri mad at you it gets a bit creepy. You remember the last scene of “Titanic” where Rose dies and in her mind she walks back into the Grand Staircase on the ship and all the dead people are smiling at her and applauding? That kind of creepy.
We were 6 hours early for check-in and hoped we could store our luggage in the lobby. We then planned to drive into Vero for shopping and lunch. To our surprise and joy, our room was ready. We took our keys and got directions to our building. “Welcome Home,” the clerk smiled. As we were walking back to the car I looked at my wife. “This went pretty well, all things considered,” I told her. “Maybe we should have another one.”
We have been at Vero for a few days and we are having a great time. We leave soon for Orlando and the Disney parks soon. I will keep you updated once in awhile. Thanks for reading and here’s wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year. We’ll see you soon on This Side of the Diaper.