In Just About Everywhere
Amsterdam was the best. That’s where I slept with two colleagues.
But “best” really isn’t the right adjective. Maybe I should say “least miserable.”
Sleeping in airports is usually the result of an exhaustion that borders on despair. The most you can hope for is to wake up not feeling worse—you’ll never actually feel better. You’ll also have to accept the fact that you wouldn’t even be there were it not for
1. bad planning on your part;
2. poor execution by the carrier;
3. both of the above; or
4. the fact that God hates you.
If you live in the Northeast United States, you undoubtedly recall last February’s weather. Me too. However, while you were thinking of trading your Toyota for a team of Malamutes, I was in the Dominican Republic.
This is not to say that I didn’t suffer as well. A couple of times I had to cross the street in the rain to get fresh bananas for my smoothies.
You may also recall that things started to get better in March. If the groundhog had surfaced then he might not have mistaken his shadow for a chocolate Popsicle.
Unfortunately, I headed home a day too soon.
Getting from Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic to JFK wasn’t the problem. We actually landed a few minutes early. That meant plenty of time for supper before my next flight. Good thing, too. I hit the salad bar just in time to head off an attack of scurvy. Or pellagra. Why? Well, how often do you feel like dining Dominican? We’re talking about people who put oil in the pan to cook bacon and who serve chopped pigs’ ears. Don’t ask me about mondongo. It’s even less appetizing than it sounds.
Revitalized, and revitaminized by a twelve-dollar heap of greens, I went off to the gate for Boston, where, it turned out, my plane would be late. No problem. I immediately scoped a suitable spot. Carpeted, behind a row of seats in a low traffic corner and near enough to a loudspeaker that I’d be woken up for boarding. This last turned out to be my undoing.
There are a lot of things to like about Jet Blue, but what I really appreciate is the information. They actually tell you what’s going on. Except that at that moment, when I really didn’t want to know, another update was offered every time I came close to dozing.
“Your plane will be late because it’s currently in Rochester where snow is delaying things. . . . Good news, folks. It has been cleared for takeoff. . . . It’s in the air and should touch down in thirty-five minutes. . . . It’s halfway here. . . . Your pilot’s name is Fred. He has a wife, one son, two daughters, and a Malamute.”
Or so it seemed as I faded in and out of consciousness.
Eventually we boarded, and much to my relief it looked like we were early enough so that I’d be able to make the midnight bus, the penultimate one from Boston to my home town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Thus, out to the runway.
Where we sat.
I was honestly on the verge of feigning a medical emergency to get us back to the gate.
But then we took off and soon were over Boston where we “vectored.”
Finally landing too late for the last bus, the 1:10.
Oh, no. The dreaded night in Logan Airport.
According to my notes, I give out stars based on quality, quantity, presentation, ambience, value, and performance of waitstaff.
Oops—wait. That’s my restaurant notebook.
Where the three most important considerations are location, location, location. And timing.
True, that’s for real estate. (And if you don’t think timing is important you’ve never bought at the peak of the market nor sold at the bottom.)
Well, success in airport sleeping is all about real estate.
For example, timing. Never arrive on the last flight of the night. The one that was flown by the aforementioned Fred.
You will be chased from the boarding gates, with their invitingly quiet and carpeted nooks and crannies, beyond the TSA exit, and into what prisons refer to as “gen pop.” Meaning you’re stuck with your choice of undesirable real estate, the ticketing areas upstairs or the luggage claim below. The only carpet in either was on the platform in the center of the baggage carousel. And take my word for it; you will be chased away again. Rather brusquely.
So from 2:30 until 5:00 in the morning I sat, stood, stretched, and wandered around, all the while mentally comparing the Logan experience with those I’d had in other airports. Among them are the following.
Jorge Chávez in Lima, Peru. Wouldn’t you think a city so close to the equator would be warm? Me too. Six miserable hours of repeatedly fishing through my belongings to find another layer. Every ten minutes there was an announcement to announce that there would be no announcements of departure gates. “Look at the screens,” they warned us—first in español, then in English.
You’re way ahead of me. With all this broadcasting, why couldn’t they just tell us the gates?
One of the mysteries of Machu Picchu, I guess.
Miami International. Quite doable at the gate areas. You’ll need your rest too, if you arrive on an international flight. Somehow they usually manage to park the plane about a five-mile indoor hike from the immigration area.
Juan Santamaría in San Jose, Costa Rica. Ahh, the good old days. All the gates had carpeted risers in front of the windows that were pretty comfortable. At least in comparison with some of the beds I’ve slept on in that country. Probably cleaner, too. But those platforms are gone now and have been replaced by floors that are still acceptable.
Trudeau in Montreal. Or maybe Dorval. I was so angry I don’t even remember which airport. If you fly, you know what it’s like since the airlines quit being nonprofit concerns. Now buying a ticket is an exercise in bait and switch. Boston to Cancun: $460. That is, if you don’t mind a twenty-three-hour trip with layovers in Orlando, Hartford, and Cleveland, probably in that order. If you want the four-hour flight: $640.
I still wish, though, that Continental had taken over United instead of the other way around. Even thinking about the latter causes my Tourette’s to act up.
Simón Bolívar in Venezuela. Unh, unh. Don’t dare fall asleep in Venezuela. You probably should stay alert even if you’re just flying over it. Or around it.
José María Córdova, Medellin, Colombia. No sleeping here. You’ll be too busy being surveilled by the narco police. They even use chopsticks to poke holes in your bags of coffee to see if anything white comes out. It’s okay, though. At least if nothing white comes out, that is. They also carry packing tape to reseal ‘em.
Charles de Gaulle, Paris. Sleep? You’re kidding. Go catch the bus to town. You’ll get to do a selfie at the Arc de Triomphe.
Leonardo da Vinci, Rome. Could be unhealthy. The locals call it Fiumicino. I’d say, “Fume Maximo.” All the secondhand smoke seeping out from the restrooms.
Luis Muñoz Marín, San Juan, Puerto Rico. A wonderful surprise. There was a small concourse devoted entirely to the little island hoppers that used to leave about every fifteen minutes. Noisy, full of traffic, kind of a Port Authority Bus Terminal for planes. But go up the escalator and right above is a practically undiscovered island vacation spot. An unused kiddie play area and some padded and comfortable seats.
Aeropuerto Internacional Las Américas, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Almost the only direct flight from Boston to the Dominican, and also the cheapest, is the Jet Blue that arrives around 3:00 a.m. Not a very safe hour for el gringo blanco to hop into a pirata, an unlicensed cab. It’s okay, though. At the far end of the ticketing area there are padded seats, vacant at that hour, where I have in fact caught many winks waiting for daylight. Only drawback is the occasional good Samaritan who wakes me up because they’re afraid I’ll miss my plane.
There are a number of others, of course. But the Schiphol in Holland still stands out. From 6:00 to 10:00 a.m. at the end of a long, quiet, almost deserted concourse, waiting for a flight to Madrid. Helaine Wemple and Tara Hebert, two fellow language teachers from Portsmouth High, were on a mission to set up an exchange program in Spain. Did I want to go along?
Is the pope Francis? You bet I did, even though I felt like Brutus. No; not the et tu guy. An ancestor of his who had to carry the luggage for King Tarquin’s sons when they went off to the Delphic Oracle.
Anyway, the site was superior. The company was pleasant. And the surprise that greeted me in the mens’ room? Tiny ceramic additions that are said to improve the aim of even the most tired traveler.