Day 23: IL SCIOPERO STRIKES AT LAST
This should have been an uneventful travel day, and all things initially pointed to it being that way. I thought I wouldn’t have to write up anything concerning today, but then some strange things happened that ended up delaying us and then we were perhaps on one of the longest 13-hour flights that I could remember.
Things started off innocently enough when we woke up at 5:15am in the morning so we could eat our boxed colazione (brekkie) and be out the door by 6:15am when we agreed to arrange with the family for a car ride to the airport. We figured around three hours prior to the flight should be plenty of time to catch it, and since we were the first flight of the day, we figured there really shouldn’t be a reason for the flight to be delayed due to a contingent flight prior to it.
So Julie and I were chomping at the bit to get home finally and re-experience the diversity that somehow tends to be missing on just almost all of our trips (with the exception of possibly Australia).
During the short drive, I made some small talk with the man who answered the phone last night at the airport. He was driving us, and he only spoke Italian though he seemed to have some understanding of English. He seemed to enjoy talking to me in Italian.
In our conversation, I asked about the beach (since it was mentioned by the young guy yesterday during our drive from the airport to the B&B). The driver then told me that it was literally a few minutes walk from the B&B to the beach! So basically the planning snafu that resulted in the awkward logistics from Milan to Fiumicino without taking the more flexible train option essentially costed us a possible trip to the beach at Fiumicino for one last go of enjoying la dolce vita. I guess that’s life.
In any case, most of the next three hours was pretty much spent checking in, getting our boarding passes, finding a place in the airport that was open so we could have something a little more substantial for breakfast, and then wait at the gate.
All signs pointed to it being pretty uneventful as we saw the plane sitting there just as we arrived at the gate. And as it came time to board at around 8:25am for our 9:15am flight, we thought all was gonna be hunky dory as the gate started to fill with lots of people either going home to LA, catching a connecting flight in LAX, or just visiting.
But then we learned that the flight was to be delayed 40 minutes. It wasn’t clear why it was the case, but we thought, ok, 9:55am flight so we could see be in LAX around 2:30pm instead of 1:40pm. No big deal.
Then, when the 40 minutes extra wait rolled around, we learned that the flight was delayed until 10:30am. Something wasn’t right. So naturally, we started to hear through the grapevine (as people started demanding answers) that the cleaning crew was on strike.
That was strange since there were other flights from Alitalia that were taking off (one to New York, another to Miami, etc.) so how was it that they were able to take off while we were stuck with the cleaning crew snafu?
Then, I recalled in my language lessons that one guy had to take a train a day later than anticipated because there was a strike. I guess since it showed up on the language lesson, it kind of underscored just how frequent these strikes tended to occur!
By the way, the point of the language lesson was to emphasize how Italian words change when you go from singular to plural as he said, “Grr, un’altro sciopero! Ci sono sempre scioperi!” (Another strike! There’s always strikes!)
I guess the silver lining was that the sciopero (strike) was at the very end of the trip and not anywhere else during the trip where we had to rely on contingencies. Nonetheless, there were people who were offering to clean the plane themselves, but the grapevine said that the supervisor was already busy doing the cleaning himself while il sciopero from the cleaning crew was going on.
Eventually at 11am, we started to see the wheelchair passengers board the plane. That was a good sign. However, the official flight time got changed to 11:30am in the process. We figured that was the ultimate official departure time. So it would be about 2.5 hours delay once all was said and done because we didn’t actually take off until well after 11:30am.
Once we got all settled on the plane, it turned out that I was sitting next to this rather tall, but older Italian guy who got the unfortunate window seat. It was unfortunate because the seat design was such that there was a box right where his foot was supposed to be so he really had no leg room. He had to pretty much go into my space as I sat in the middle next to him.
That made for a rather uncomfortable flight right off the bat (plus the headphone’s jack wasn’t mating well with the armrest) so I started to look around for empty seats when the plane started moving.
When I found one across the aisle from Julie next to this fairly heavy-set American lady where it appeared that her and her husband had the entire row to themselves, I figured I mind as well go there.
So I made my move as the plane started to taxi, and to the shock of the lady sitting next to me, she said, “Uh, we paid for that seat!”
I somehow couldn’t believe that two people bought four seats on an expensive international flight without going for first class or business class first, so I called her bluff. But I replied by saying that the headphone jack wasn’t working on my seat.
She grumbled and didn’t say anything afterwards (though she would ultimately stew and start getting racial by calling me banana as well as name-calling with “jerk off” and other things). I guess my move turned out to not be a very worthwhile move as I came to realize. So I had to take the high road and not get into a full on conflict with this person that I was perceiving to be the stereotypical “ugly American” (though if she did indeed buy all the seats, then I was in the wrong; but then why didn’t she show her ticket to either me nor the stewards/stewardesses on the flight?).
Anyways, after explaining in Italian (as my confidence in Italian must’ve grown enough to compel me to do this) what was going on to the steward while she was pretty much complaining to no one in particular at this point, he offered to sit both Julie and I together in a different part of the plane. I appreciated the gesture, but I knew I’d ultimately get back to the seat I was assigned and let her have her way as those empty seats would’ve surely been filled by now. And when I did that, it seemed to finally pacify her.
So from that point on, I crowded between the old Italian man and my wife. The man didn’t seem to enjoy the fact that he was back to his limited leg room again, but I explained to him that I was going back to my own seat.
And so the next 11 hours or so was pretty much spent uncomfortably getting an hour or so worth of sleep while watching several movies (which would frequently pause unexpectedly so I figured out that you’d have to hit pause then start during those times to “wake up” the machine) such as “Silver Linings Playbook”, “Lincoln”, and part of “Arbitrage” (which I should’ve watched earlier but ran out of time when the flight landed).
I also played some games of Tetris (though no one wanted to play competitively) and also some Berlitz language games (where I tried to pick up German since I kept running into it on this trip). I probably shouldn’t have played these games so long because I didn’t know what happened in the end of Arbitrage.
And when all was said and done, we finally got to LAX at around 3:15pm, did the usual passport control, baggage claim, customs, airport shuttles, etc. Then, in the Friday rush hour, we then went to King Taco to have something besides Italian (we were quite sick of Italian food at this point) so we detoured to King Taco for some pretty authentic Mexican burritos.
Then, we faced more Friday rush hour traffic so it wasn’t until around 5:30pm when we were finally home. That was when we eagerly woke up Tahia from her nap, and hugged and kissed her over and over again. Indeed, it was home sweet home. But on this trip, we were particularly “Europed-out” and homesick probably because we realized that we could finally enjoy the diversity we are spoiled with at home (not just Italian or Austrian food all the time) and we could finally watch our daughter develop before our eyes once again.
I’m sure our food poisoning spell didn’t help with the food experience, but also the overall cost of this trip (plus the hidden costs like cover charges, bread (which we never ask for), lack of tap water (always having to buy bottled water), etc. just kept adding up and making me feel like I was nothing more than a walking cash register for much of the trip. Plus, the persistent bad weather also didn’t help.
So rather than singing to myself, “Back to life, back to reality…”, I was now thinking of Best Coast’s “The Only Place” for indeed, we’ve come to realize more and more that when all was said and done, LA really was “the only place for me!”