160630 – The Game’s Afoot

I spent yesterday evening chatting with three women at the hostel – Sam, Laura, and Lila. All three work different shifts at the hostel, and work there as part of workaway.info, a website where they volunteer at the hostel for a place to stay. Laura spent the evening interacting on blahblahcar.com, a ride-sharing tool, trying to get away for a vacation on the southern coast of Portugal.

With my flight at 10:45 am, I had previously requested the hostel arrange a taxi (capable of carrying a bicycle) at 7:00 am. I also asked Sam for the phone number of the taxi company, in case no taxi appeared. Sam also pointed out the nearest taxi gathering point as a third alternative.

Unsurprisingly, I slept horribly. I set three alarms to make sure I work up, but woke before all of them to catch an early shower and finish packing up the things still in use. At 6:30 am I grabbed my gear and my large box, headed outside to wait for the taxi, and encountered a locked door I couldn’t open.

Yesterday the hostel host requested that I leave the key on the counter when I left. Given my storied history with hostel keys, I left the key on the counter yesterday, and told Sam I’d left it there so I wouldn’t forget, but so it was available if I needed it again. Not there this morning! After confirming I could find no way to get the door open, I woke Sam to set me free. Cranky at me initially, when she realized I in fact had been locked in she redirected her ire elsewhere.

Outside a taxi sedan pulled up just down the street. Concerned, I started to walk that way to talk to that driver, when a second taxi/van pulled up. The driver spoke little English, but her native language was Eastern European. We loaded everything and set forth for the airport following, for some reason, the other taxi.

Ready to start today’s scheduled airport adventure, I located the American Airlines check-in counter, still not open at 8:00 am. After pondering circumstance, I worked my box around to the front of the (currently non-existent) line to avoid dragging my box back and forth through the queue. I settled in to wait, talking with Steve, an American perigrino also on his way home. As the American Airlines staff showed up and noticed my large box, I was told to move it. Mulling over their response to my query “to where?”, they said I should leave it where it was. I repeated that process about 15 minutes later.

When check-in opened at 9:00 am, they decided I would be first. Standing in-line, a staff member started what initially seemed like a polite series of questions that I realized was a security check asking me to detail my trip. She expressed surprise when I pointed out the bicycle – the staff had been assuming I had a large television! Yes, that’s right. If you need a good deal on a TV, fly to Lisbon and pick out a good 65″ TV.

Before they would accept the bicycle, they required me to open the carefully-packed and massively-taped box to prove that the tires were semi-deflated. Pointing out I couldn’t open the box because, after all, I’m not allowed to have anything sharp, they wandered off to eventually return with a box cutter and tape. After some disagreement on how deflated the tires needed to be, I let the remaining air out, only to be told they needed to be deflated more. It took a surprising amount of convincing to point out the impossibility of that request. While he’d brought over tape, I carry tape for just such a circumstance and repacked the box. On the bright side, they forgot to charge me the luggage fee for the bicycle.

Navigating over to Oversize Luggage, we learned the bicycle JUST wouldn’t fit into the X-ray machine. I was informed I should unpack the bicycle, and they would scan everything separately. I had some concerns about that plan, because I knew the bicycle would end up going through more machines. He’d provided (yet another) box cutter to open the box, and I conveyed I would cut the box smaller.  By this point it’s about 9:15 am, and I’m not through airport security yet. I’m starting to rush. Another person at the X-ray machine asks when my flight is, and which gate. Answering her, she tells me that gate is very far away, with that look of, “and you’re not going to make it.” I cut the box down as much as I can, and quickly tape it back up. They manage to get the box through the machine by pushing it through, only to have it jam on a corner on the other side. But at that point I can head to Security. As I leave I realize I left the helmet out of the box with all the unpacking and repacking, but at least I noticed. No time to repack, I clip it onto my handlebar bag. As I leave they ask for their box cutter back, that I’d tucked into a pocket.

That could have gone horribly wrong.

So a few days ago, as I realized the time change in Portugal, I tried to change the time on my watch only to realize the watch stem had broken and I can no longer change the time. I updated the phone, and have just been remembering that the watch was off by an hour. As I headed to security I realized I’d been using the time as displayed on my watch! Fortunately, this meant I had an extra hour instead of being an hour behind. Now suddenly only about 8:45 am, I had plenty of time I make it through security and to my gate.  I ran back into Steve, and we chatted about his trip walking the Camino.

When selecting my seat for the flight, I’d gambled on a far back seat in the middle of the row, hoping to end up with the entire row to myself. With a full plane, no such luck, but I had two quiet companions, an architecture student on his way home after a month of classes in Rome and touring and then touring around Europe, and a kid focused on games on his iPad. The kid made out like a bandit; I kept handing him the desserts they’d serve me I couldn’t eat. As we deplaned, I let the couple sitting across from me out first. She thanked me for feeding her son and we both laughed.

Landing in Philly, I passed through the first stage of Customs quickly. I headed to baggage claim, where I would reclaim the bicycle, pass through the second stage of Customs, and then recheck my bag. Having played the “Where’s my Bicycle” game many times, I asked for oversize baggage claim, and was told that my bicycle would come through the normal baggage claim. I looked at him with some skepticism at the carousel, and asked for oversize baggage claim. He told me over to my left, but that the bicycle would certainly come through the conveyor.

That’s not going to go well.

I wandered over to the left, with no obvious place for the bicycle to arrive. Waiting at the conveyor until all baggage from my flight came through, I asked someone else where my bicycle could be. After the same response, I wandered further afield to ask someone else, then directed me over to my far right (the complete opposite direction of where I’d been pointed to earlier). He walked with me to the Oversize Bag claim counter. As the counter was closed, he grabbed a cart and headed off to look for my bicycle (now substantially more vulnerable to theft as an oversize TV!). After a long delay, he returned with my bicycle! With my bicycle and (free) cart I worked my way through the next stage of Customs, and then after more direction through the airport checked the bicycle back in.

From there I flew from Philly to home. My box waited for me at baggage claim. It took Marnie and I a bit to find each other, but now I’m home.

That about wraps that up except for some post-trip math. Time to unpack so I can pack for my kayaking trip in a couple of days.