Sunday, December 28, 2008

December 1995 South Africa trip, take 2

Um, so this is a bit embarrassing... turns out I also had written a journal entry (in prose) in the same book for my 1995 trip. What I typed up earlier was just my bullet-points list. So I'm going to try again.

13 December 1995
7:42 pm Seattle time [written while in an airplane]

Well, here I am on my way to a new continent: S. America! São Paulo, Brazil, to be exact. I am $400 richer, have a $14 airport meal in my stomach, but am losing at least 15 hours of precious time with friends and relatives in South Africa. 

My story of the last 48 hours is enough to write a short story on. I will start 48 hours ago: I was in Seattle, in my apartment, recovering from my Microbiology final exam and thinking about getting down to studying for my Physics final. The rest of the night was fairly uneventful. My roommate, Jason, brought a few (female) friends over, and Genevieve and I ended up keeping two of them company while Jason flirted and had chocolate syrup fights in his room with the third young woman. [G and I shared a 3-bedroom apartment with Jason, who I think we had met in the dorms the previous year, for two quarters. Then G moved out and joined a sorority for half a day, but that's a different story, and maybe G should tell it :-) ]

On the morning of the 12th of December, at 8:30 am, I started writing my Physics final. At 10:30 am, I was done. I went and accepted gifts from my work colleagues and shared a grad. student's birthday cake with the lab. By 12:30 pm, I was on the Ave depositing a paycheck and finally, after literally months of looking, buying myself a new pair of athletic shoes and they were on sale [note to Samantha of the past... you should have spent more on athletic shoes, and you should have bought new ones more often... those shoes wound up causing you a lot of foot problems when you took up running a couple of years later].

At 2:30 pm when I returned to me apartment with the rain and wind just starting ahead of the major wind storm, the fire alarms had just started to go off. We all evacuated the building; Genevieve had been in the shower when the alarms went off, and so had to walk outside with conditioner still in her hair. [G, do you remember that? I didn't.]

Eventually, that was over too. At 3 pm, my dad was supposed to pick us up to take us down to Olympia. At 4 pm he still hadn't arrived but we got a phone call from my mother: my dad had been in a car accident. His car had been hit from behind and he hit the person in front of him, who hit the person in front of him, who hit the person in front of him-->5 cars! [hmmn, this sounds familiar. Didn't I just write that?] My dad's car was the only one with major damage. He has a large triangular dent in the back of his car, so his boot (trunk) doesn't close and his back bumper is now held on with bungie cords [I totally forgot about the damage to the boot... I think he managed to "fix" that and get the boot closed by drilling holes in the back of the car, attaching a piece of wood or something from behind it with screws, then attaching that to a rope attached to my mother's car... then he drove my mother's car slowly forward to pull the bent metal on his car out... clever dad! Another problems was that the back driver's side door was a bit tight... and he fixed that my adjusting the hinge. Good as new! Except for the accordian-like scrunched metal under the carpet in the boot.] His front bumper is slighted damaged. He was jolted hard enough that he broke his seat and his neck was hurting him. However, he tied up the car and came to pick us up at 5 pm [I'm impressed!].

When we got to Olympia, we found that the power at my parents' house had been out since 3 pm that afternoon. Luckily, we had a little propane car-camping stove, so we had warm canned corn, some rice, and spinach for supper. Then I remembered--I had 2.5 weeks' worth of dirty laundry that I wanted to do so I could take some clean clothes and underwear to South Africa with me. But, there was no power. So, by the light of a propane lantern, I packed my dirty clothes into a suitcase. Our water heater was well enough insulated that there was warm water for a shower [thank goodness! Imagine starting a holiday with a suitcase of dirty clothes AND no shower!].

After waking at 5 am this morning (Wednesday of finals week), we headed off to SeaTac. There was a lot of tree debris in the road from the windstorm, but luckily nothing to prevent us from getting to SeaTac. Our plane left only 30 minutes late, and we had a pleasant surprise when we found our assigned seats in the business section--yes! There was SO much leg room! The flight to New York was about 4.5 hours and was uneventful. We could see the Cascades as we flew over them and they were beautiful!

We arrived at JFK airport in New York at 1:55 pm Seattle time. Our next plane was supposed to take off at 3:20 pm Seattle time, so we didn't have long. Genevieve and I ran to catch a shuttle bus to our terminal in 29 degree icy New York weather. We got to the South African Airways (SAA) counter at about 2:20 pm, Seattle time. They told us they were still processing seats so we would have to wait. (Dude, fly American Airways--they give you the whole can of whatever you are drinking--TWA only gave us a cupful! [Well, the mention of TWA (that we took for the Seattle-NY leg) dates this a bit, doesn't it! And I've since discovered that getting the whole can is a hit-and-miss thing in general]). So, wait we did... with about 50 other people. Now is a good time to mention that we booked our tickets from New York to Johannesburg 8 months ago. Two months ago, we confirmed the tickets and my South African grandmother paid for them in full [sweet Ouma].

The story behind our wait started to emerge: the plane sitting at the gate was smaller than they had expected it would be, so there wasn't enough room on the plane for all of us [I now wonder if that was really true, or if they had simply overbooked]. They were taking us in order of check in and handing out boarding passes. Our pack of milling, angry, frustrated and frazzled people thinned down with time: at 3:30 pm Seattle time, there were 16 of us left. Sixteen people who had bought tickets, but for whom there was no space on the plane.

We were told that we were each going to be compensated $400 and they had got us onto the next-quickest set of plane flights to Johannesburg. We were each given a free phone card--we used the 3 minutes of international calls on one to phone our friend in South Africa who was supposed to pick us up at the airport, and the 12 minutes of domestic calls on the other to phone my mom, as we had promised. Anyway, so at 7 pm Seattle time, we were told there was a flight to São Paulo, Brazil, and after a 5 hour layover there, a flight to Johannesburg. Total extra time: 15 hours. 

In May of this year, when I was registering for my fall classes, I registered for an 8:30 am Physics class that messed up my day by meaning I had to insert work [as an assistant in a research lab... I worked ~20 hours a week during the quarter there, and full time in the summers I didn't take classes] between classes, just so that I would finish my exams two days earlier so we could get on the Wednesday flight to Johannesburg. And then, I didn't even get the flight. But, look on the bright side: $400 compensation (the whole trip, 6 flights, cost $2300 each [YIKES! I didn't remember that it was that much. My flights this year, also 6, cost $1600. So much for flying getting more expensive]). I get to see South America for the first time, albeit from an airport window (if I leave, I would have to go through customs). They also gave us a voucher worth $15 at a deli down the hallway. You don't get change for what you don't use, so I got a $6 sandwich (you wouldn't have known by looking at it), two $1.50 bottles of mineral water, a $2 pecan roll, a banana (I don't know the price) and a $1.50 apple/cranberry drink--just short of $15! [Is it just me, or do those prices sound like they're not that much less than what you'd pay now?]. We also found out how rude and unhelpful New Yorkers (at least those working at the airport) are.

Now, here I sit on the plane to Brazil, in economy class but with a seat free next to me, and a window to sleep against when I need it. Genevieve has the same (she was assigned the seat next to me, but there were two seats two rows back that were open, and the nice steward invited her to move there).

So anyway, I have one less night in South Africa now, and another 5 hour (PS turned out to be 7) wait in an airport coming up tomorrow morning (and even more airline food--yuck!). Oh! And on this flight, they gave us a toothbrush, a little bit of toothpaste, a hair comb AND the movie is going to be "A walk in the clouds", which I have wanted to see for a while (edit: it was "Free Willy" [and "A walk in the clouds," which I must have seen some other time was pretty silly anyway]). AND I get to listen to a lot of Portugese being spoken. Ooh--turbulence.

Signing off, Sam, 8:40 pm Seattle time.

[Strange... I think I write essentially the same now as I did then.]


1 comment:

Genevieve said...

Thanks for posting this Foof. I sure had forgotten about most of this stuff and how the car accident was right before all the plane mess.