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Door to Door

By Dave Fox
Stockholm, Sweden

Disclaimer: I have written the following article in the midst of severe jetlag. I am not currently in control of my thoughts, and therefore accept no responsibility for grammatical flaws, aimless rambling, or pizza stains contained herein.If you are a salmon, this article will offend you.

This article will also offend you if you work for the airline industry. To file a complaint, please go stand in a very long line similar to the ones you always make me stand in.

Saturday morning: I call my friend Susan to beg for a ride to the airport. I know I can count on Susan because she, like me, is a freelance writer. As my neighbors will confirm, we freelance writers don’t really work, and have endless free time to do people favors.

Susan checks her calendar. She is scheduled to do important freelance writer work such as munching bonbons and sipping martinis. But she offers to rearrange her day. She picks me up on Monday afternoon and shuttles me through Seattle’s rush hour.

At the airport, a lady with a Russian accent checks me in for my flight. She says something about my name and laughs.

“What?” I ask.

“Mr. Fox Mrrrbllff,” I hear her say.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand that.”

“Mr. Fox Mulder,” she repeats. “Do you watch that show ‘X-Files?'”

“Oh!” I shout. I double over in boisterous laughter.

I can barely breathe, I am laughing so hard. “That’s a good one,” I gasp. “That’s brilliant!” I tell her she should be on Letterman.

I don’t really think her joke is funny. I am schmoozing for an upgrade.

“Hey,” I say after I compose myself, “I don’t suppose you have any better seats available on today’s flight?”

“Why yes, we do,” she tells me. “I can upgrade you to Economy Plus if you like.”

It’s not business class, but I’m happy. Economy Plus gives you an extra 0.6 inches of leg room.

“Wonderful!” I say. “Yes, please upgrade Mr. Fox Mulder to Economy Plus! Haha!”

“I’ll be happy to,” she smiles. “That will be 250 dollars.”

Oh.

I should have laughed harder.

I’m doing the math. Do I want to spend 250 dollars just to have a place to put my knees for 10 hours?

“That’s okay,” I tell her. “Once my legs go numb, I won’t really notice the pain.”

The good news is this pain will not begin as soon as I expect it to. My flight is delayed two hours. Making good use of this time, I pace and grumble. Finally, at 8:30 p.m., it’s time to board.

Katie is in the seat next to me. She’s a college student traveling to Zürich for a week before she starts a semester abroad in Copenhagen. It’s her first trip to Western Europe and she’s excited. We compare jetlag strategies.

“Am I supposed to take one Melotonin or two?” she asks after she pops her second tablet.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I use a different technique.”

“What’s that?” she asks.

“I follow a special jetlag diet.”

She asks what my special jetlag diet consists of.

“As much free alcohol as they’ll give you. And a sleeping pill. You can also eat the salmon pasta if you like.”

Katie looks skeptical. “I thought alcohol makes jetlag worse,” she says.

“It does,” I explain. “But the alternative is being awake for ten hours while your knees ache.”

Katie orders another glass of water.

Dinner arrives. It’s salmon pasta. It’s always salmon pasta. I hate salmon. On every single SAS trans-Atlantic flight, this is what they serve. It didn’t used to be this way. You used to get a choice — usually between artificial beef and artificial chicken. Then 9/11 happened and airlines had to cut costs.

So what appears to have transpired is in October of 2001, SAS placed a bulk discount order for a 27-year supply of salmon pasta. I’ve heard rumors that you get a double portion in business class.

* * *

At 3 a.m., I wake up. Only it’s not really 3 a.m. It’s already lunch time in Europe. I look at the in-flight map on the video screen. We are zooming over Reykjavík.

The video map is a relatively new invention. It shows where in the world you are, and offers statistics such as your speed, how much time is remaining in your flight, and how many feet you will plummet to your death if the engines fail.

Breakfast is served. It includes the most delicious ham I have ever tasted. But that’s all psychological. Anything tastes good after the salmon pasta.

In Copenhagen, we are greeted with chaos. Hundreds of passengers have missed connecting flights due to the delay in Seattle. There’s a long line at the customer service desk.

I spot Katie and pull her out of the line. “Follow me,” I say. “I know another place in the airport where the line won’t be so bad.”

We get there, and there is no line at all. This is because this other desk is closed. A sign instructs us to hike 17 miles through the airport to a third desk.

CPH is a sprawling airport with a shopping mall, a mini hotel, a sauna, and a prayer room where you can ask the deity of your choice to please create some better airline food. The airport is so big, employees cruise from one end to the other on scooters, occasionally flattening a tourist.

Katie and I make the trek on foot. A man books me on a new flight to Stockholm, departing at 5 p.m.

At quarter to six, the pilot announces we will be landing soon. I am happy to hear this because I have resorted to drinking water — lots of it — and my bladder is beginning to ache. Fifteen more minutes. I can hang on that long.

But something is wrong. We are not descending. We are circling — doing laps, around and around the same cloud. Earlier thunderstorms in Stockholm have caused a traffic jam in the sky. We are seventh in line to land.

“Please remain seated with your seatbelts fastened,” the pilot announces over the loudspeaker. “And no, Mr. Fox Mulder, you may not go to the lavatory.”

Forty-five minutes and a bladder infection later, I am on the ground in Sweden. I just need to collect my bags.

I find the conveyor belt and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Nothing is happening. Twenty minutes pass. No bags arrive. Thirty minutes pass. Forty minutes. A lady comes and asks me what is taking so long.

I’m not sure why she is asking me. My suspicion, however, is that she has noticed how exhausted I look, and thinks it will be fun to ask me irritating questions… in Italian.

“I don’t know,” is all the Italian I can muster. “There is a problem.”

She proceeds to tell me her entire life story. Every few minutes, I smile and tell her, “I don’t understand,” so she knows I am paying attention.

After an hour and ten minutes, the bags arrive. At 8:30 I am at the Hotel Wellington, my home in Stockholm.

stockholm-night-skylineGunhilla, my favorite receptionist, is waiting for me at the desk. “You made it!” she smiles.

Lightning has zapped part of the hotel’s wiring. “There’s only one room on the top floor that has electricity,” Gunhilla tells me. “But we saved it for you because we know you like it up there.”

Dizzy from exhaustion, I take a hot shower. I’m too tired to go out for dinner. Instead, I go to the hotel bar for pizza.

“Is everything functioning okay in your room?” Gunhilla asks as she hands me a menu.

“Yes,” I tell her. “Everything but me.”

As I look over the menu though, I realize I have finally arrived in a happy place. There are dozens of pizza toppings to choose from. And none of them are salmon.

Published on Wednesday, August 13, 2003

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