Sunday, April 28, 2013

What a down-and-up week / I'm In Canada!

So this last week has been somewhere between "less than great" and "completely s****y", but this week is promising.

Starting last Wednesday -- or maybe Tuesday evening if you want to be picky -- I came down with one of the nastier bugs I've had in the past decade (I think it ranks #2)...while I was in a hotel in Columbus. Being sick is miserable. Being sick on the road is worse. Being sick on the road and having to drive yourself three hours home doesn't help things either. I have a feeling the effects of whatever I had were magnified by my stress lately (snowed under with work + lots of looming travel + not sleeping well + grandfather's health + ...) until I reached a breaking point.

I think I'm still suffering with some of the tailing ends of that bug -- but at least I can stand up and generally function in public without feeling light headed. But while lying in bed on Friday -- semicoherent and Rachel nursing me -- I got a call from my mom. Not a good sign. My grandfather -- the same grandfather I visited last week to celebrate his 86th birthday and because he wasn't doing very well -- passed after a 7 year battle with cancer. I can't say it was surprising (The Wikipedia article calls out median survival as 3-4 years or 5-7 years "with advanced treatments" and it was really tough to see him last week) but it was still not the news I was hoping for.

Anyway, on Saturday thought feeling a smidge better, in the interest of my health and the health of those around me I unfortunately had to wave off both  a CIM student recital that had sounded very interesting and the Cleveland Orchestra's Saturday evening performance -- not an easy decision but in hindsight not regretted at all.

This morning I woke up and -- with Rachel serving as escort -- made it to the airport shortly after 7 am. I've flown "enough" (~255 times based on my data*) but this was my first time using my passport, or leaving the country so for some reason I found myself exceptionally nervous.

The reward, though, was an International Premier Access boarding pass for a "premium" cabin (for some reason the same seat on a domestic flight is called "First Class" yet on an international flight it becomes "Business Class") -- thus granting access to the hallowed halls of the United Club (formerly Red Carpet Club or President's Club) at no charge. I've been curious about the clubs, but always too cheap to pony up on my own and too guilt-ridden to expense it to the company.

But clearing security in Cleveland I didn't feel like I had enough time to make it to the club, enjoy, and get back to the gate in time for my flight. The flight from Cleveland to Denver was uneventful, and on arriving in Denver -- since I had to walk past the club to get to my connecting gate, I figured "What the heck".

Oh, what a glorious space -- free food, plenty of comfortable seating, and almost frighteningly quiet. Plus free WiFi. I almost talked myself into the $475/year fee before I had to leave to board the flight to Canada.

If you really want to -- click for larger.

Arriving in Canada was a weird experience -- off the plane and on to beautiful glass-enclosed jetways (which are prohibited by a particularly irrational fire safety law in the US) and into a never ending segregated corridor, before dropping in the immigration lobby. I will say, that while the walk seemed interminable it was pleasant -- including some almost natural-history-museum-seeming settings (This video captures the experience fairy well -- including the sound effects in the hall)

As we snaked back and forth, back and forth through a line that would make Disneyland proud I was nervous -- my first experience with Customs & Immigration, with a "Business and Pleasure" answer, and a coworker who answered the "Business" question incorrectly and wound up denied entry and on Canada's Terrorist Watch List.

I approached the window "Business or Pleasure" he asked while scanning the declaration form that we had been given on the aircraft -- "Both" I answered.

"Can you elaborate on the nature of your business?". Ah crap. But I did, and he stamped my card and said to have a nice day. After an interminable wait for my luggage, I walked to the "green" exit (as I wasn't above any of my duty free allowances) handed the office the same form, who took it without even looking and I walked past... and into free Canadian air.

It was a little anti-climatic. From there I picked up my rental car from Hertz (somehow a Toyota Crayola turned into a Jeep SUV, but I won't complain) and used the GPS feature on my phone to find my way to my fist ("Pleasure") hotel for this trip...

"In 600 meters, turn right..."

WTF? How far is that? Ok I know Canadians (and the rest of the civilized world) use metric -- and I got used to matching speed limit signs to the speedometer, even if it's  a foreign language. But I can't believe my own phone would betray me and suddenly start spouting off distances that I don't fluently comprehend. By the time I had done the mental conversion to a distance my brain could cope with it was time to turn.

In any event I made it to the hotel, and as I conclude this post I'm about ready to crawl under the covers and spend my first night outside of the United States. My first night after 10,576 consecutive nights in the US. I suppose it's about time -- and just in the nick of time to do it before my 29th birthday. And in honor of my wanderlust grandfather.
My grandfather inspecting my travel map last week.
"One traveler to another" he said.

*- It's "extremely accurate" (date, time, flight number, and specific aircraft and seat) for flights since 2005ish, "very accurate" (at least date and flight number) for flights since 2000ish, and "a general representation" for all flights before -- not all of my early flights are logged

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