Saturday, October 31, 2009

I'm in Paris

Leaving Alaska

I'm writing this in Paris. But my journey had quite a rocky start. Rewinding to last Tuesday evening: Three hours before my flight out of Homer to Anchorage I got a phone call from US Airways telling me that my flight out of Anchorage would be delayed by an hour and a half ! That meant I wasn't going to be able to catch my flight from NYC to Paris. I nearly flipped out! I was just doing the last minute chores around the cabin. I'd said good-bye to all and sundry, packed up my desk at Alaska Boats & Permits, had my farewell lunch with the boys, dinner at Lora's, and was practically out the door. And now at virtually the 11th hour, I find myself with no way to get to Paris except by purchasing a new ticket out of NYC for $3,000. I won't bore you with the sordid details of the desperate and sweaty 2 hours spent on the phone with Air France,, and the insurance company. (Yep, I had purchased flight insurance. But never again. Useless, totally useless.)

Finally I got back to US Airways and somehow reached a sympathetic booking agent, Rhonda, who agreed it was US Airways' fault that I was getting screwed and that she would make it right. She went ahead and promptly, as if by magic, booked me on a Delta flight that was actually better than the one I had originally. For a long moment I sat there simply stunned at how easily she had solved my problem. After thanking her profusely she replied, "don't worry, we'll get you there in plenty of time." I'm saying it again now, Thank you, thank you, Rhonda whomever and wherever you are. I owe you a big one.

I missed my flight out of Heathrow because I thought my suitcase was lost. I spent an hour or so trying to locate it. Eventually the Delta baggage clerk in London told me he was pretty sure my bag had been sent on to Paris. Oh sure, I thought. But by that time it was too late to make my scheduled flight. And what with all the foul-ups already tossed my way I wasn't really in a trusting mood. The Air France desk clerk, after hearing my story, issued me a ticket on the next flight gratis. Another big thank you goes out to Bernadette in London. By the time I arrived at Chas de Gaulle airport in Paris I was sure my bag was hung up somewhere, New York probably, London possibly, but I certainly didn't expect it to be in Paris. After going through immigration I made my way to the baggage carousel of the flight I had been on. I spotted an Air France guy standing nearby and asked him where the claims office was located. Now get this: he asked for my name and when I replied he told me, Oh yes Mr Swarthout, (he mangled the name but I wasn't offended), your bag will be here in 10 minutes on Carousel 40. And by god if it didn't appear there a few minutes later. It had come on a different flight but it was there! I quickly grabbed it. Waves of relief flooded through me. My luggage and I had miraculously arrived in Paris at practically the same moment.

Dragging my roller suitcase with GPS in hand, I navigated through the crowded streets from Gare de Lyon to Thea and Arnaud's apartment on the Rue Trousseau, arriving about 6 pm Paris time. They had gone to the airport to meet me (another foul-up but this one was mine), so it took a bit of time to connect. I arranged to meet them at a little bar down the street from their place. I sat at an outdoor table afraid to go inside for fear I'd miss them when they showed up. All the while I sat there I was bathed in a continuous thick cloud of cigarette smoke. I'm suddenly convinced that nobody in Paris has read the Surgeon General's report. Don't they know how bad smoking cigarettes is? The joke was on me — as it happens it's now illegal to smoke inside of public places in Paris, just like Anchorage, so all smokers must sit outside. DOH! Eventually Thea and Arnaud arrived to rescue me. My long, arduous journey had come to a very welcome conclusion.

Stay tuned....