November 17, 2008

Going back to Cali

This week the company I work for is having a user’s conference and as the product manager for our compensation solutions I am presenting. Ralf is also presenting at the same conference, which means we can travel together sans kids. In some ways, it’s almost like a vacation and it’s nicer to sit by your husband on an international flight than some stranger. We set out Saturday at 4PM and 24 hours later were still en route. . . Since one can normally get from Munich to SFO in less than 24 hours, you’ve probably guessed that there’s a bit of a story there.

After a pleasant family morning that involved Sportscheck, a new shower head, some gardening and lots of snuggling with L, who is a very snuggly baby, Ralf’s parents picked up the kids and we made our final preparations before heading out to the airport. What to wear, what to wear. . . actually since we’re not totally finished unpacking this wasn’t such a big question, I pretty much packed everything business casual I could lay hands on and hoped it would somehow: a) fit; and b) match when we got there.

On the way to the airport, reveling in the sensation of traveling with no one under 6 years of age, I inquired about our flight. An experienced business traveler from my pre-mommy days, I was dismayed to hear we would have a stopover in London. ‘But. . . that means Heathrow!’ I exclaimed. ‘You need at least two hours for every connection and we only have an hour and forty-five minutes. They always post the wrong gate or change it at the last minute without announcing it. And,” I concluded triumphantly, on a roll about the evils of Heathrow and flaunting my superior travel acumen, ‘they’ll probably lose our luggage.’ My pleasurable tirade was momentarily interrupted by vivid pictures of me presenting in torn jeans and a faded Lewis & Clark sweatshirt and I remembered this was real, not just something to blog about. Ralf, ever the optimist, pointed out that thousands of business travelers pass through Heathrow every day without incident. But I was an international consultant before leaving the glamour of global project management to be a sleep-at-home mommy and I know better. Still, for the moment there wasn’t anything to be done so I shrugged it off, took a page out of Ralf’s book and prepared for the best rather than the worst. I did have to have the last word, however: ‘You’ll see.’

As it turns out, it was in fact a bad idea to stop in London but not because of Heathrow, which was on its best behavior (i.e., rotten but nothing worth relating here) but because of something else.

At Munich airport we had a bit of confusion about what line to stand in and ended up waiting in an unattended line where no one seemed to be working because it said “Lufthansa economy United States’. Needless to say, none of the Lufthansa employees at any of the open ticket counters said anything to us because this is Germany, where spontaneous friendly inquiries like, ‘That desk is closed right now – where are you flying?’ never happen. Once we got the check in location sorted, however, the check in process went smoothly. Until our luggage rolled away and Ralf suddenly noticed that our connecting flight was for 9:30 AM the next morning rather than 9:30 PM the same night.

I’ll fast forward through the next tense five minutes (‘You suck! You SUCK! You really, really suck!!’ – later I would move on to, ‘I told you so,’ and other rants of that type but the shock was still fresh) and just say that thanks to iPhone and duty free shopping we were able to salvage the situation. We booked a room in London, bought some toiletries and then I marched into Esprit to buy the most expensive pair of underwear I now own (EUR 20!) although I have to admit they’re quite nice and I probably deserve some nice underwear. I can only imagine what the shop girl thought about me buying a single pair of underwear while muttering, ‘I told you so!’

A high-quality comedy of errors should involve disaster from start to finish to be truly entertaining so I am sorry to report that everything else was fine and hope you don’t feel cheated. The only bad thing about the flight was the book club book I’d brought, Dirt Music, which was typical of its kind: well-written, sad and uncommonly boring. This particular author’s claim to glory is that he’s Australian and never uses quotation marks to show when people talk, which is annoying as hell but preferable to writing everything in the present tense.

Once in London we arrived at our hotel without a hitch and like many reasonable British business hotels, the room was clean, the bathroom gleamed with understated luxury and the bed was soft and comfortable. There was even a curry house across the street, where we went promptly and ordered something with chicken and something with chick peas. At first glance the restaurant seemed to be full of dangerous, tatooed thugs but they all turned out to be quite pleasant and uninterested in killing us for our few worldly possessions (which, thanks to Ralf, were 2 laptops, one toothbrush and a fabulously expensive pair of underwear). When we got back to the hotel and climbed into bed there were even two back-to-back episodes of Red Dwarf on TV so the day ended quite satisfactorily. And the next morning we caught our flight without a hitch.

They didn’t even lose our luggage.


  1. I detest Heathrow as I have to stand in the immigration queue that seems like an eternity while Hubby, who is a German national, flits through the EU queue flashing his red passport! Now the kids are also part of the 'red reisepass' club and they can flit through with daddy. Humpf!

  2. Bck before the Iron Curtain fell I was in Prague, a relatively relaxed place to be, but trying to leave. I was on a railpass and there were two stations. I stood in line forever to find out where I should go and when, but they did not offer the information that I was in the wrong train station, just gave me the line number and time. I had to stand in line all over again when I could't find it, wound up missing the train, and took a clunker out going to Salzburg (where I hadn't wanted to go) because I said anywhere not behind the curtain was good enough for me. I find German to be a sullen place without an understanding of customer service in many situations, but it's still better than the old Soviet attitude, even here in Berlin where some of the old East German attitude hangs on.


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