Thursday, October 23, 2008

Open thinking = OpenSkies


Before I get into specifics about my OpenSkies’ inaugural travel experience from JFK to AMS, let me preface with the following framework for my review: I am a notorious coach class flyer.

There. I’ve said it. But stay with me, business class travelers, for at the very least, I should help you truly appreciate that to which you've become accustomed.

Since I opened the door to my coach-class status, for the record, let me also say that while I always request an aisle seat, and book early enough to get one, I prefer the dreaded middle seat to the window. (From what I hear, business fare travelers would rather hitch hike to their destination than get stuck in the middle.) To me, window seats feel The Most crowded since the fuselage folds around under my feet, and the space on the floor under the seat in front of me is less than with the middle. Not good. I always have “stuff” I want to handily stuff there. Also, since everyone feels so sorry for me in the middle, I usually get both arm rests. I realize this might sound like no compensation for you serious (as in there is no other way for you to look at it) business travelers, but it is my truth.

Due to budget constraints (both personal, as well as for those who pay my travel expenses to come speak—and by the way, I’m fascinating!), I’m careful with travel dollars. I watch and wait for the best coach fares. But even I have my limits: in order to survive, I pay close attention (and extra dollars) to and for nonstop and sensible flight times. In other words, I will not get “the cheapest flight” if it makes even one extra stop, or if I have to be on it at 6 AM., which means a middle-of-the-night wake-up call in order to save money, but which also leaves no coherency with which to speak. Although I cannot be sure, I herewith surmise that I’m less “fascinating” when I am incoherent.

I’ve never flown business class. To the best of my recollection, I’ve flown first class less than a half-dozen times, including twice for vacation purposes. Once I used my AA miles to get us (my husband and me) to Alaska; the other time we were bumped due to an over sell. Other than one intentional first-class booking by a publishing house, the rest of my handful of first-class experiences also arrived via the fate of the bump. I was just in the right place at the right time to be the right one to get to fly in what I refer to as luxury, while most business class travelers would simply call it “the necessary.”


(OpenSkies = a wholly owned subsidiary of British Airways currently flying only two routes, between JFK and Amsterdam or Paris.]

From the OpenSkies website: “The goal of our new airline is to go beyond the status quo and bring you something unique - something that redefines personalised service. We aspire to be different in everything we do, from our swift check-in to our thoughtfully designed cabins to our a la carte meal selections and award-winning wine selection. Plus, our proven, fuel-efficient Boeing 757 aircraft never have more than 64 passengers per flight. We hope to make comfort standard for every flight.”


So, come with me now as I bring my well-traveled yet coach-classed self to Wednesday, October 15, after I accepted the opportunity (NOT paid for by OpenSkies so that I was free to tell it like I really lived it) to board OpenSkies’ inaugural flight from JFK to AMS. (They’ve been flying JFK to Paris for a couple months.) I traveled my outbound trip in their officially titled BIZ Class. Even though their website boasts, “This is not typical business class,” the only thing I actually know about typical business class is that I cannot afford it, and that I am incredibly happy for those who can. Life on the road is difficult; any and all extra affordable (and isn’t that relative?!) comforts are golden.

My return trip was booked in their PREM+ (more later); these are the only two class tickets OpenSkies sells—coach travel be GONE!). But, because of my outbound BIZ class ticket, for the first time in my life, I was able to enjoy an airline lounge experience. (British Airways lounges are not open to OpenSkies PREM+ flyers. Just the BIZ whizzes.) Since I have no point of comparison, I’m sure you seasoned lounge folks will file this where you will, especially if you’re a gold+max+platinum+million-bazillion mile lounge lizard—well, you know what I mean. But I’d like to go on the record as saying that my virgin experience with the BA lounge at JFK was awesome.

True to their motto and intent, OpenSkies folks were front and center to meet and greet us, and to proudly celebrate their inaugural flight to AMS. They offered a special welcome table set up with cheeses and beers, Amsterdam maps and chocolates. They were friendly and clearly excited about their big day. I, of course, was front and center at the table with them, chatting, gathering info, pounding down a plate of cheese (wonderful cheese!) and crackers, every bite for which I never once had to retrieve my wallet. (Coach traveler, remember.)

Since the BA lounge is large and rambling--including a separate restaurant for pre-flight meals, should you decide to board your flight and go straight to sleep; an Elemis Travel Spa; a well-stocked bar; computer stations; separate “living room” settings; a generous and diverse light fair food offering -- I was in awe, sort of like a kid in fairyland. I sat in a few cushy-chair locations, just because I could. This is quite the switch-up from wandering around looking for crowded and uncomfortable terminal and/or gate seating, or standing in line for a hot dog, or schlepping my bags from here to there realizing that “available” Wi-Fi does not usually mean “free” Wi-Fi.. Since I knew my PREM+ return wouldn’t get me in the BA lounge in AMS, I decided to truly kick back and enjoy the opportunity. After all, I was traveling to Amsterdam (also a first), AND IN BIZ CLASS!

As we boarded, I’m sure I was bug-eyed. What I saw was nothing like I’d ever seen before—although I’m told these types of seats were the older version of British Airways business class (not first class) seats. Even though I’d seen picture of the sleeping man (click on Biz) on the OpenSkies website, it was still, to be honest, kind of surreal. Passengers traveling together could face each other and chat, rather than talking side-by-side. Passengers not wanting to dialogue with (or see) their neighbor (or spouse) only needed to unfold the fan-like divider between them.

When I finally stopped gawking and settled in to build my nest, the next thing I noticed was that there was no place under the seat in front of me for my stuff. (We are what we are.) I quickly learned that one needs to plan ahead in OpenSkies BIZ class. A gypsy needs to think through what she wants out of her stuff bag and remove it before stowing it overhead, or she (a very short she) needs to stand up and drag her overhead bag down to retrieve every this-and-that. So, I prowled through my red bag, pulled out my noise reduction headset, my book, my MP3 player, my lip gloss and . . . then tried to figure out where they were supposed to go once/while I sat down. Where was my in-front-of-me pocket? I felt like I was tucking myself in for the night, real tight like; it took me about thirty seconds to spill the glass of water they gave me (a real glass and not the screw-on lid plastic bottle), which needed to rest on this teensy pull-down shelf which is the triangle-shaped item, upper right, to the right of the black space.

Nonetheless, the seat was extremely comfortable. I enjoyed playing with all the electronic buttons that adjusted every part of it. However, the foot rest to help give you to the full 180 recline needed to be manually unbuckled and lowered. (left) I do not advise reclining and raising your legs before you try this. Don’t ask me how I pulled this off, unless you’d like to hear a description of a beached whale in a telephone booth.

Beverages of all types were offered (no reaching for my wallet); they served the best packet of nuts I’ve ever tasted; and the flight attendants seemed truly glad to have us on board. They even served champagne (again, no wallet) and presented a toast for their inaugural flight. Very festive! They set each of us up with our personal entertainment centers (excellent selection of options!), pointed out universal plugs for computer use, served us a delicious dinner (choice of 3 courses), and gave us comfy blankets and pillows. In all the inaugural excitement, our cabin’s flight attendant forgot to offer us eye masks and fluffy socks (I learned about this later) in case we desired to shut out the world and waggle our toes. However, I didn’t miss them.

I was asked if I’d like to be awakened for a light breakfast. Hel-LO? FOOD—for which I’m not getting out my wallet?! Of course! Breakfast was preceded by a hot towel with which to refresh my hands and face. This sure beats the cold Huggies Baby Wipes I usually travel with for this same purpose!

Now, it’s possible the majority of these amenities and niceties, at least in some form, are always available to business and first class travelers flying the front of the plane, even when they’re not heading over seas. I wouldn’t know; they close those curtains, you know, and besides, I’m too busy peeling the plastic wrap off a terminal sandwich (take that any way you like) to notice. But I have to admit, because of these swell things, it was the fastest 8+ hours of travel I’ve encountered, and this had all to do with the comfy and constant repositioning of my seat, the entertainment center, the courtesies, the enthusiasm of the flight attendants, the work station options, but mostly, the space.


Imagine a 757 configured with only 64 seats! Wide aisles. Plenty of leg room, for even the longest legs (not mine), and plenty of wide, for even we fluffy-bodied travelers (name it and claim it, Charlene). Check out the stats.

Although I didn’t take advantage of it, OpenSkies offers their passengers a personal concierge service; the phone number is listed on your confirmation. Check out their website; you can even book rental cars, motels and excursions right along with your airline tickets using their partners.

On their website, OpenSkies says, “You are our guest. We want to provide you a stress free, memorable experience - we're out to get the little things right.” They want to “go beyond the status quo.” I had the privilege to personally meet OpenSkies Managing Director Dale Moss, and Chris Vukelich,Vice President, Distribution and eCommerce man. Their utter passion and dedication to getting it right for their passengers and not just their airline was inspiring. The intentions at the top are trickling down to the cabins, and in the best of ways. One of the things Moss said that stuck with me was how much faster a small airline can make changes, and how intent they are on staying on top of their best game.


AMS to JFK, I traveled PREM+. Here’s the deal: my coach-class budget and personal preferences about things like storing my stuff in front of me endeared me to PREM+ over BIZ class, even though I had a window seat. And guess what? I STILL had tons of room! No, I didn’t get the 180 recline, but I had space galore (I felt way less confined) and an adjustable foot rest I didn’t have to struggle with. I had a small table area between the seats (traditional side-by-side seating) on which to set my drink without spilling it. I still got the entertainment center, the hot towel treatment, chocolates (just not as many), nuts, choice of beverages, a hot meal and a pre-JFK-arrival snack, universal plugs for my work stuff, a face mask, booties, and smiling service.

Caveat: oddly, even though PREM+ only housed seven passengers this particular leg, and I was only the fifth person to be served, still, by the time they got to me, they were out of the chicken entrée (PREM+ gets two choices while BIZ gets three). Now, I was going to opt for the pasta anyway, but this was out of sync with their mottos.

In spite of that, truly, I can’t think what I truly missed in my BIZ class experience, aside from the 180 recline, which, to be honest, I didn’t really utilize to its fullest anyway. I found my back most comfortable when I was only partially reclined. Oh, and of course the BA lounge experience, which, although it was wonderful, was something I can easily live without, especially for the price difference in BIZ to PREM+ – and especially since I’m used to living without it anyway.


Today, October 23rd, I’m looking at website and here’s what I’ve found. Let’s say I want to fly round-trip from JFK to AMS departing December 10.


Fully Flexible BIZ: $3191 (that is ONE WAY—gulp, says I, Ms. Coach Traveler)

Semi-Flexible BIZ: $2442 (gulp)

Restricted (which I always buy for the price point): $499 and YOU HAVE MY ATTENTION!

Returning December 16th

During the one hour that I was checking fares, this return Restricted Fare went from $499 to $738.50, so, if you find what appears to be the best fare, book it! Still, for a total of $1237.50 for round trip, compared to a one-way BIZ ride for $3191 – and barring you can do without one meal choice and a 180 recline . . . .

BTW, prices change dependent strictly upon demand, so, if possible and you care about price, check a few dates. For the moment, there is only one flight per day between JFK and AMS, and visa versa. However, $499 is a steal of a deal and the bottom line.

For the heck of it, I went to Travelocity to check these same dates on a few other airlines. For round trip, first class prices started at $1195 (IcelandicAir) and involved a plane change in Iceland. From there, prices jumped to $3402 (BA) and hugely escalated. For business class, it was the same. For coach? Prices started at $683 (Delta) and zoomed to the high $700s+.

So, compare this to $1000-$1237.50 round trip flying comfy PREM+ with tons of room, only 64 passengers on a 757, courteous, kind, enthusiastic service from employees working for management that wants to treat you right, and yes, you have this coach travelers attention! As for you typical business class travelers, for you, this is a STEAL!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Red State or Blue State, in Which State are YOU?

Today I'm all about my Blue State. JetBlue, that is. That's because yesterday I flew JetBlue from ORD to JFK and enjoyed every on-time, leather seated, biscotti crunching moment of it. Well, aside from three fully suited up Red State employees of Delta Airlines (heretofore referred to as RED State folks because of Delta's Red Logo) who sat behind me: one pilot and two female flight attendants.


*Why have the Delta Airlines folks crossed over?

*Why are they talking so loudly?

*Why am I ease dropping?

QUICK ANSWER: Because the flight attendants asked the pilot where he was going, and he said Amsterdam, which is where I'm flying today. However, I'm flying OpenSkies. Nonetheless, it seemed so coincidental that I immediately bonded with them. I kept this information to myself.

*Why, after the pilot asked them about their routes, is he asking them if they serve pizzas on their flights? Is he craving pizza?

For now, let's get out of my head and into their conversation, which became so intriguing--and disturbing--that I started taking notes. (Hey, I'm a trained journalist! Step AWAY from my PEN!)

The pizza questions started innocently enough, although curiously enough, then quickly morphed into a surreal grilling . These are the types of questions he threw at them.

*Do you serve pizza?

*How does it come onto the plane? (exactly what kind of packaging)

*How do you cook them on the plane?

*What, exactly, do the trays look like?

*Do you put the trays right into the oven?

Seemed there were two kinds of trays: some with rails on the sides and some with rails on the sides and backs. (I might have this slightly incorrect, but there were two types.) The flight attendants, who were now as curious as me, told him that one type of tray was used in one aircraft, and the other in another. (Get that?) "Seven fives," was often mentioned as one of the "types" of plane. My apologies: I don't speak airline speak.


*Who checks if you have the right type of trays on the right plane?

*Is checking that a regular part of your pre-flight?

ANSWER FROM THE FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: "The Bs" check the food." This answer was obviously coming from the As, who knew everything, but who were clearly becoming increasing weirded out by the pilot's obsession with the pizzas and pizza trays (HEL-LO! You're supposed to be FLYING!), same as me.

SIDE NOTE: Also, even though it was now only 10 AM, I was crazy for pizza.

BACK IN MY HEAD: Hm. If there's going to be blame at the end of this odd encounter, BLAME IT ON THE Bs! Way to cover yourselves, ladies!

Since I don't speak their language, I'm assuming The Bs is the second string flight attendants, whatever that means. Maybe those who have to work with coach folks like me?

Many more specific technical Q&As followed, including the exact temperatures of the ovens. The pilot's tone of voice was becoming more and more tense and his questions more accusatory--especially since one of the flight attendants offered that she'd recently received an e-mail talking about the trays and this exact distinction between aircraft and trays, and how critical it was that the right tray gets into the right plane.

*What did you do about that e-mail? (The pilot's tone shifted here. He was a four-star General and they were in the hot seat.)

ANSWER: "I remembered it, but also realized that The Bs are responsible for checking those things, and that CATERING is responsible for putting the right trays filled with those pizzas that need to be cooked onto the correct planes." (Obviously, these aren't direct quotes, but they are certainly the gist of them.)

BACK IN MY HEAD: A-HAH! CATERING did it! And, what on earth is he getting at? Are we dealing with an obsessive compulsive pilot here?


*If you noticed that the wrong type of rack was in the plane, what would you do?"

RESPONSE: "The problem is, we can't really see them that well, especially once they're in there."

Pause ... Then one of the flight attendants finally asked, "Have you had some type of problem with the pizzas?"


THE BOMB FROM THE PILOT: "Yes. All the boxes of pizza caught on fire during one of my recent flights. We got it under control, but it could have been much more disastrous."

A breathtaking and breath holding moment followed.

Then the pilot began instructing rather than asking. He started with a repeat of his last question. "If you noticed that the wrong type of rack was in the plane, what would you do? And, are you checking?"

*If there was an e-mail about this, he said, there must have been other problems. It seems there is something critical here to be dealt with. "So, if you noticed the wrong tray was on your plane, what would you do?" (He did not wait for an answer.) "You should come to the pilot and say, 'We're going nowhere. We are at risk: the pizzas are in the wrong trays.'"


*Did you have to land when you had the fire? ("No. We got the fire under control. But it could have been much worse.")

The pilot again put them through the entire drill about who looked for what, checked what, whose responsibility it was, and he wondered if CATERING got that memo. There was agreement by ALL that it was visually difficult to detect if the right trays were in the right planes.


But one thing was clear: he was holding them entirely responsible to check what they were supposed to check; he was doing all he could to present the gravity of the situation; he wasn't happy with an email dealing with an issue that should rather be fixed (i.e., quit having cardboard or whatever involved, that, given the wrong tray in the wrong airplane, could cause a fire); he never--EVER--wanted to have it happen again. His level of frustration and concern with process and procedure spoke volumes. I hope all three of them called their superiors and chimed in about this safety risk.

BACK IN MY HEAD (scary, ey?): There is a bigger issue here: Red State or Blue State, Green State or Pink State, how about we stop beating around the bush, asking backhanded questions and pointing fingers. How about together, we face things head on, ask the hard questions, don't stop asking them until we get to the core of them, then work together to resolve them.

AND NOW, BACK TO MY BLUE STATE: This morning I received an email from JetBlue asking me to fill out a questionnaire about how they did with my flight yesterday. Seriously, I want to thank them for not serving pizza, something I never thought I'd hear myself say.

Also, I'm thinking all airlines should be sending this type of follow-up email to their pilots and flight attendants. And that corporate should be reading their responses, then acting on them.

If you know anybody who has the power to look into this type of issue, no matter WHAT airline, please send them this link.

Thank you, Blues, Reds, Greens and Pinks. For the good of the entire world, may we all play nicely together.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Calling All Travelers

Sometimes the "easy part" which will surely "save you money" doesn't turn out that way, on either count. Especially when it comes to technology. Case in point: international travel and staying in touch.

THE PREEMPT: If you're an ongoing globetrotter and enjoy an unlimited expense account (plus your own IT department and wads of patience), the following scenario might not ring your "I get it" bells. However, if you're self-employed or encouraged to "make due" -- especially since NBC just broke in again with today's worst-case scenario regarding the stock market -- you might relate. If you are married or often have to leave a significant other behind, you might even moan with relatability.

And now, on with the frustration!

For years, I've heard people talk about Skype. "You don't Skype?" "We use Skype all the time!" "Skype: best thing going." "I talk to my brother in Australia and it doesn't cost us a penny." "I held a video conference call for 4 hours with people all over the world and the whole thing only cost me $5 using Skype."

Nice. But I don't need to use Skype. I have a cell phone for which I already pay for so many minutes, so why not use them? I have no need to chat with people all over the world. We very happily use Vonage at home, which allows us to talk to anyone in the country (and many places out of it) for as long as we want, all for one monthly price of about thirty bucks, which includes tons of cool options. We have email, stationary and loud voices. We do not need Skype.

Then, my upcoming business trip to Amsterdam changed everything, especially my mind: My Verizon phone won't work in Amsterdam. NEW GAME!

Let us consider some of the options for staying in touch with my Dearly Beloved while I'm gone.

*The GSM Verizon phone to which I considered upgrading (I'm due for money off on an upgrade) will work there, but not here in MN where I come hide to write. (long story)

*For only six cents/minute, George can call me in AMS using our Vonage phone, but since I won't have a personal cell phone number for him to call, that just leaves my hotel rooms. Sure, we can set up times, but the 7-hour difference isn't too convenient. Plus, I don't know what my schedule will be, and I'm staying in 3 different hotels over five nights.

*Renting an international Verizon phone, which Verizon told me was an option, is Really Expensive. Trying to find out just how expensive was next to impossible. I am a long-time Verizon believer, but, Dear Verizon folks, you need to get some customer training in place to handle this query.

*Verizon offers exactly one (count them, one) Global phone that isn't a Blackberry, which I don't want. At least not right now, since I cannot justify the extra monthly fees to get my email while I'm driving, sitting in the bathroom or waiting for the show to start--although as soon as I typed those things, I thought for a moment I might need to do all of them.

*A friend encouraged me to buy a Mobal GSM world phone. According to Mobal's website, you can buy the phone for $49, get a twenty-buck credit and keep the phone "forever." (Do you know any technology that works "forever?"**) This $49 phone will not work in the US. However, you can spent $99 and buy one that does. Apparently the only other cost is for the minutes you use.

Since I'm currently (at this writing moment) stuck with dial-up in a remote location, trying to toodle around Mobal's website was head-banging. (Otherwise, it's fine.) One page automatically loaded an audio. So, everything stalled while it downloaded (or buffered, or whatever they do) audio files, and then I heard two words, then waited another thirty seconds for the next two words--until I finally noticed the link to stop it. When I called the 888 number and asked about rates etc., I learned that an AMS to AMS local call would cost $1.25 per minute. YIKES! (I am spoiled, no doubt about it.) I didn't even ask about AMS to USA, but while I was in a Wi-Fi zone in a coffee shop, I went back to and learned it would be $1.50 per minute. Now, were I to have an emergency, that would be a deal.

But honestly, I don't need another phone, and the regularity (or rather lack thereof) of my international travel hardly seems to make this option worth it--although I'm keeping it in my "maybe" file. But I'll have to trip my trigger soon: the woman on the phone said they ONLY deliver to the US and that I cannot buy it in AMS. (This seems contrary to what my friend told me . . . ) I'd LOVE if some of you out there who've tried Mobal would weigh in. However, since, by the time you read this, I'll be less than a week away from my trip, shipping will likely cost me another forty "overnight" bucks.

*Skype. (Ah, as the worm turns.) "Charlene, why don't you check into Skype!? You can talk to each other for FREE using your computers and Skype-to-Skype calling!"

So, I went to and tried to educate myself about the options. Seemed do-able, although limiting. After all, I don't walk around with my laptop in a holster clip, and how would I get connected to the internet while floating down a canal anyway? But it's FREE, right?

It was easy to download Skype into my laptop. They even integrate a testing element that enables you to make sure you can be heard. Which I couldn't. Because I didn't have a microphone. So, I went thrashing through my office closet looking to see if I had one left over from "something." And I did!

It was easy to download Skype into George's desktop. He never keeps his speakers turned on, so we had to retrain for that. ("Hey, if you can't hear the ring, how will you know I'm calling?") Then I went searching for another microphone, which I found in my bag of "technical stuff" from back in the days when I recorded myself (self to self) at speaking engagements in order to produce audio tapes to sell. Which I did. (I'm out of them now, and technology and my speaking topics have moved on, so don't contact me to buy them. At least not yet. After all, I did find that bag of outdated technology**.)

Voila! Even though we put up with a little microphone squealing, George and I eventually got ourselves talking to each other, me from the living room on my laptop and he in his bedroom on his computer. HE COULD EVEN SEE ME; my laptop has a built-in web cam! Of course some of the "talking" was us yelling up or down the stairs to and at each other as I strived to give more specific instruction--like "PUT YOUR MOUTH CLOSER TO THE MICROPHONE!"

Two days later, I tried a "surprise Skype call" to George. George is a good man, a smart man, a kind man. But he had not been trained for the NEW set of icons that popped up (the others had appeared from the task bar), so he had no idea how to answer. "JUST CLICK THE ICON THAT SAYS 'ANSWER!'" Which he did. But his microphone wasn't plugged in. More yelling up the stairs, and me pointing to MY microphone in my web-cam, trying to send the right visual clue.

A week later, I tried another "surprise Skype call" to George, but this time from a Wi-Fi zone here in MN. No answer. I called him using our cell phones and learned he was outside. When he came inside, I tried again. I could see that he finally answered (the call showed CONNECTED), but I could not hear him, so I called him on my cell phone (which won't work when I'm in AMS, remember) and tried to trouble shoot. We could not figure it out. Later, he called me on my cell phone (using his cell phone) to say that he'd forgotten (and so had I) that there was an on/off switch on the microphone, which was off when I called, but now it was on, so why not, he suggested, try another "surprise" test call while he was sitting there ready for it. (sigh)

All this caused me to put ten bucks of Skype Credit into each of our FREE Skype accounts, so that we could apply it to Skype Voicemail. (Say I try to call George. He doesn't answer--or answers and I cannot hear him. So, I can leave a message saying "Life here in AMS is exciting! PLUG IN AND TURN ON YOUR MICROPHONE!" Or, say I want to make a Skype to landline call (when I don't know why I can't hear him and don't have a cell phone to trouble shoot). This isn't free, but it's really cheap. However, you have to have some pay-as-you-go Skype dollars in place, or a subscription, which, if you're searching for an alternative to making your every-day long distance calls, looks totally worth it!

Now it's clear to me that I need to also buy us each a headset. We cannot risk the frustration of being "connected" yet unable to talk. These, we can just plug in ("Leave it plugged in, George") and then we won't have to worry about switches and hearing, squealing speakers and whatever else might crop up. (Notice the two places I used the **? Why would I complain about Mobal's "forever" implication, then think my own outdated equipment would work properly "forever?")

So, twenty bucks for Skype dollars in our accounts, more money for headsets, money to the hotel for a high-speed internet connection, and perhaps the Mobal investment -- just in case all else fails.

Easy. Free. Cheap.



Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Whether Yea or Nay, Life Goes On

Later this month, I'll be embarking on a trip to Amsterdam, something you'll no doubt hear more about in upcoming posts. As I deal with small batches of issues (planes, hotels, inquiries, conversion charts, confirmations etc.) and coordinate them into my Mega Master List, I find my emotions wavering between those of That Woman who claims to have gypsy blood flowing through her veins, and That Other Woman who enjoys kicking back in her ergonomically correct lounge chair and watching TV.

It's been awhile since I've had to deal with airports; I’m sure I’ll be rusty. I mean, wouldn’t it be embarrassing to be the travel writer who gets busted for a bottle of water and a pocket knife? Sadly, I’ve been caught with both, although the latter was more embarrassing. The knife was a teensy one, cutesy purple, complete with a sweet little fold-up scissors and a toothpick -- an impulse buy at the checkout counter of a cheap boutique. The cashier handed me the receipt and some change and asked me if I'd like a bag. Nah, I told her as I dropped it into my purse and promptly forgot about. Until the TSA busted me. While they ransacked, I'd stood there thinking, "What on earth are they looking for in my old-lady handbag? Dangerous hairpins? Toothpicks? A suspicious bottle of wrinkle cream?"

Bye-bye cutesy purple knife. But I'm smarter now: I travel with a self-addressed bubble pack envelope in which I can mail me my overlooked contraband.

For this upcoming week-long trip, That Woman promised herself she would not check a bag. She would travel light. "I can do seven days with carry-ons," she said. "Careful planning. That's all it takes. Thoughtfulness. Coordination. Eating without dribbling. Sitting without wrinkling. Packing up after staying in five different hotels without forgetting something in the closet--a trick for which she's famous.

"Just take your basic black dress," a friend of mine said, "and a bunch of your swell accessories." That would be a great idea, if only I owned a basic black dress.

Shopping. That's what this will take.

But wait! "NO SHOPPING!" That Other Woman demanded. "After all, the financial sky is falling. Don't buy. Don't charge. Don't spend any unnecessary money. Tighten your belt. Call your bank. Talk to your broker. Check your credit cards. Watch CNN, MSNBC and C-SPAN until you are glazed over. Listen to the financial experts. Torment over your upcoming trip when things are in such a mess. Hope your congressmen vote for it. Hope they vote against it. Either way, should you end up looking bad for wishing they did whatever, no matter what, blame the other guys and gals. Nothing is truly your fault anymore. It's ALWAYS those ding-dong other obstinate, self-serving, valueless, up-tight folks."

(Pause. Catch breath.)

That Woman who claims to have gypsy blood in her veins just remembered one of the things she loves most about travel: when one is flitting about the globe, one neither has time nor one's ergonomically correct lounge chair in which to sit back and soak in the horrors of the day regarding The Vote, the spin doctors, the analysts, the positioning politicians and other worldly disasters. One can simply don one's noise reduction headset, stare out the airplane window and hum, "What a wonderful world!" With childlike enthusiasm, That Woman is anxious to explore a new land, chat with fresh people, drink in the beauty of the countryside during a half-day tour, float down a canal at night, embraced by colorful twinkling lights. "Imagine," she thinks with a content sigh, "walking the same streets as the likes of Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt. Imagine sensing the closeness of the life and the untold stories of Anne Frank. Visiting the outdoor flower market to buy yourself a modest bouquet to brighten your magnificent quiet evening as you gaze down on Le Coin Square from your hotel room window." She has reserved (and confirmed, twice) a room with such a view!

But That Other Woman likes to torment. She likes to fret about itineraries, cash machines and the value of the dollar. She stews about security lines, the fact her cell phone won't work "over there," and she wonders if her husband will remember how to answer her Skype-to-Skype call when she forgets the time difference and awakens him in the middle of the night. Yes, she's done that before too. That Other Woman has made every mistake possible during the course of her travels, including leaving her passport at a bank (thankfully it was retrieved), getting her wallet ripped off, and leaving her credit card in a taxi, never to be seen again.

(Pause. Breathe.)

For the good of her personal nature, and in order to keep the travel plans "unclogged," in a spirit of bipartisanship, both of these women need to walk across the aisle -- or at the very least meet in the middle. After all, even though it's an election year, neither can actually vote against herself.

Well, I guess That Woman or That Other Woman could try it. But in the end, that type of maneuver in which one ends up sinking oneself would degenerate into politics as usual, and this year we're all about change and no more of the same. No, that foul smelling and combative behavior, my Dear Traveling Laugh readers, is simply unacceptable.