The lovely thing about travelling halfway across the world is that it makes life a lot more pleasant if you can stop off somewhere, breaking up your journey... and I don't mean layovers, which are hideous. When I was first invited to Alaska, I realised it was going to be a long, nightmarish journey of about 16 hours, and expensive too, but there are clever ways around ticket prices… buying separate tickets for each leg of the journey, can sometimes knock off hundreds of pounds. So with the help of my very generous Uncle, I got a return ticket to Minneapolis and then a separate ticket from Minneapolis to Alaska. It meant I could spend the first 5 days of my holiday with my family and get over my jet lag at the same time. Brilliant.
I have already written about the insane Minnesota state fair that I went to with my cousin and her friends, but the other lovely thing about spending time there was getting to know that side of my family so much better. Invariably, we only see extended family at weddings and funerals, birthdays and anniversaries, fitting in snippets of conversation between toasts and mouthfuls of food. So, being able to spend long, lazy days with my Uncle, Aunt and cousin and actually just talk, was lovely. Minneapolis was also hot and sunny, which meant afternoon swims in the lake behind the house, eating lunches on the Mississippi River and having cocktails and delicious dinners on rooftop terraces. On my return trip, my Uncle and Aunt even invited me to play golf with them. Oh dear.
It's probably the one thing my friends don't know about me, that I love playing golf. When I was 16, I was given lessons as a birthday present, and my Father and I used to play at a beautiful course in Leckford, Hampshire. I played pretty well I think, but when I left to study in America and as I moved around the country, golf became an expensive luxury and certainly not an activity art students found cool. So the only time I played, was when I was on holiday. I had to warn my Aunt and Uncle that my game was not up to scratch and hoped they were very patient. Suffice to say, I might as well have played the entire 9 holes with my putting iron, as my ball skimmed around the course only about 2 inches above the ground… or as my Aunt called these particular shots, worm-burners! I was absolutely dreadful, taking great divots out of the ground, and on one occasion, hitting my ball at a right angle, and having it land on the opposite hole's green, as two men tried to putt. But I didn't care, I was having a lovely time… zooming around a beautiful course in a golf buggy, in 80 degree sunshine and a gentle breeze. It isn't a bad way to spend the morning, especially when followed with a lovely al fresco lunch. I had a wonderful time in Minneapolis. It is a stunning city with beautiful parks, lakes and rivers, delicious food, and the added pleasure of meeting my cousin's new toddler for the first time. Adorable.
As we pushed and shoved my incredibly heavy suitcase into the car to go to the airport, I had a sudden flashback to Mel (the crazy gun toting lady we met in Alaska) and what she had said when she had read my Rune stones. She had been scarily accurate but the one thing she had said to watch out for, was delays in travel. Two days later, we had had to drive the RV at snails pace because of the stinky weather, and then the boat trip in Valdez had been delayed because of storms… so I was hoping these were the only occasions my runes were referring to, and nothing to do with my upcoming flight.
The first incident was at the bag drop. The bag handler actually groaned when he put my suitcase on the scales and told me it was 10 pounds over the weight limit. I would either have to pay an extra $150 or remove some items. Oh no. My uncle quickly whispered in my ear that if I tipped him well, he would let me get away with it, so I took out $5 and placed it, very strategically, on top of the counter. Well, it obviously wasn't enough because he just put his hands on his hips and raised an eyebrow. Oh dear. I unzipped my case and a mini explosion took place, shoes and underwear springing out from every nook and cranny. Thank God, I had managed to do some washing before packing, as no one wants to see crumpled smelly socks and knickers lying deceased on the pavement. "You got any jeans or bottles that you can leave behind?" the bag man asked, "Jeans are heavy!". Um. I looked forlornly at my suitcase and pulled out a very faded and torn pair of jeans, then a bottle of vodka that I had bought simply for the packaging. It was called Big Rack Vodka, 80% proof, and had a silhouette of a moose on a camouflage background. It summed up the 'shootin, fishin, huntin' aspect of Alaska perfectly. "I don't want to get rid of the packaging but you can have the vodka inside" I said, sadly proffering the bottle. "You Australians are weird…!" He said, grabbing the bottle and weighing it on the scales. Nope… we needed more. I took out lotions and potions, a muddy pair of trainers that definitely could be upgraded and we tried again. 10 lbs on the dot. He looked at me with sympathy. "Tell you what… put the vodka back in the case and I'll just label it HEAVY." Yay.
Once on the plane, the second incident occurred. I found my seat next to a tiny woman who was sitting in a lotus position. Annoying. As I sat down, I realised I couldn't actually get my knees behind the seat. I stood up and asked the man in front of me if his seat was reclined, but it wasn't. Weird. I mentally measured the space between my seat and the back of his seat, and looked at other seats around me. There was about 4 inches less legroom. What? The day before I had paid £25 to change my seat for a 'preferred seat' which I assumed meant more legroom, not less. I called one of the stewards over and showed her. She scratched her head and went off to get another steward. They returned, and took it in turns to sit down, scrutinising the seat and came to the same conclusion, it was smaller than normal and did have much less legroom. They both went off to see if there was a free seat and came back saying the flight was full, they didn't even have anything in business or first class. I could hear slight murmurings around me - suspicious passengers a few seats away, thinking I was making a fuss just so I would be bumped up a class - so I said loudly, "Look, I fly all the time and have never had this problem, I would totally sit down and be happy if I could fit my legs behind the seat but I can't, so maybe I could take another flight if this one is full, or maybe someone shorter could swap with me? What I can't do, is sit in a seat made for someone who is 5 foot tall, for 8 and a half hours. It's impossible". No one moved, no one volunteered, so the steward got the head steward who came and took a look and nodded that there was indeed a problem with the seat. For God's sake! Then the Delta representative was called and she came onto the plane. It was becoming farcical, we were already 10 minutes late for take-off and the passengers were getting fidgety. The Delta rep simply thrust two cards into my hand and said sharply, "Sit down". I looked at the cards: Two free alcoholic drinks, compliments of Delta. "Oh, that's very kind" I said, irritated, "But trying to get me drunk won't make me any shorter. Look!" and I attempted to sit down. "Oh, I see," she said crossly. "Ok, get your bags and follow me". So I did, knowing the only solution was to bump me off that flight and for me to take another flight the following day. I said to her, as I struggled with my backpack, "Just so I'm clear, you are admitting that this seat is faulty and Delta will pay for me to take another flight tomorrow, and will I get help with accommodation for tonight and taxis etc. as I have to stay another day in Minneapolis… because of Delta's error?". She was starting to sweat, we were now half an hour late. I heard a man say, "This can't be the first time someone has noticed this, the seat was obviously designed for a midget!" I could have kissed him.
Suddenly, a man across the aisle stood up and announced proudly, "I'll swap", as if he had just volunteered his space on a Titanic lifeboat! Relief swept through the plane. Thank God. I took off my backpack and hugged him, realising at that moment he was a teeny tiny dwarf of a man, said thank you and sunk down into his seat. The bloody Delta woman stomped up the aisle looking very confused. "This very kind man swapped with me," I said, indicating the short man in my seat. Well, talk about a change of attitude… she shook his hand, thanked him over and over again, smiling and giggling, and then wrote out a compliments slip from Delta, for $200. What? $200! I could not believe it, nor could the guy. "I just got $200 for being short," he said euphorically. I was fuming. If I had squeezed myself into that seat, all I would have got was displaced kneecaps, but he got $200. I immediately started composing a 'shocked and bewildered' letter in my head… outrageous, treated appallingly etc etc., when the Delta rep cam back on board and handed me a compliments slip. Well, that's more like it, I thought. "I'm so sorry for all the inconvenience, and I apologise on behalf of the whole Delta team." she said warmly, and shook my hand. I relaxed back in my seat and looked down at the piece of paper. It was a £25 refund for my preferred seat upgrade!