Sunday, August 30, 2009

Stranded in Seattle

I have lousy luck when it comes to flying.

I have been stuck in Detroit due to a blizzard, endured eight hours of violent turbulence all the way to Europe, abandoned in Toronto when a pilot called in sick and now find myself stranded in Seattle thanks to a typhoon in Tokyo.

I was supposed to be landing in Japan right now but am holed up at the Holiday Inn across from the Seattle airport instead. My flight was cancelled. All flights were cancelled. Absolutely no one is flying in or out of typhoon-battered Tokyo today.

There's nothing to do but wait for the storm to pass and flights to open up. I could be here a day. I could be here two days. I could be here three days. No one really knows. I'm on standby for a flight tomorrow but standby is a crapshoot at best.

The worst part of it is that I'm paying for this little holiday at the Holiday Inn out of my own pocket because the airlines don't cover expenses for flights that are cancelled due to weather conditions. Most airlines will bend over backwards to rebook you when a flight is cancelled due to mechanical reasons. But when a flight is cancelled due to poor weather? Tough shit, you're on your own. No food vouchers. No hotel vouchers. No heroic efforts to rebook you on the next available flight.

So I'm having an impromptu vacation in Seattle, whether I want to or not. Or, more specifically, I'm having an impromptu vacation at the Seattle airport, whether I want to or not. Seattle is one of my favourite cities but the area around the Seattle airport is nothing like Seattle. It's pretty much like every other airport wasteland the world over. I know this because I went for a run earlier this afternoon.

My run took me along congested six-lane roads, underneath busy highways, past a Denny's, a Taco Bell, a bunch of gas stations and a dozen bland, boxy airport hotels catering to crowds of people just passing through. It could have been Anywhere, America.

But there are worse places to be stuck. Love it or loathe it, America is a fascinating country. It's so different from Japan. It's probably the polar opposite of Japan. Americans are so assertive and warm and friendly. And, man, do they ever love to talk!

It's culturally accepted to have random conversations with random people, to offer a hearty "hello" to strangers, to chat up everyone and anyone. I don't know how to describe it. Americans just seem so confident and open. Like they'd happily tell you your life story if you asked. I like it. It's refreshing.

When I was in the two-hour line up at the Seattle airport trying to rebook my flight, an American woman ahead of me chatted me up and demanded I use her cellphone to call the airline to figure out what my options were. The airline representative rebooking my flight told me all about his ex-girlfriend who lived in Vancouver and his favourite bars on Granville Street. A guy working at the Holiday Inn told me he loved the colour of my t-shirt, which prompted a 10-minute conversation about how much we both love bright colours. And on and on and on. I've been making friends left, right and centre ever since I stepped on American soil. It's just so different from Japan.

That's not to say it's some sort of extroverted utopia. There are some things about America I will never understand. The way no one seems to walk anywhere, for example. I went to the front desk at the Holiday Inn to ask where the nearest grocery store was.

"There's a 7-11 at the top of the hill," the woman working behind the desk told me.

I told her that wasn't exactly what I was looking for. She told me there wasn't really anything else within walking distance. I wasn't about to give up that easily.

She hummed and hawed and said the 7-11 was the closest thing in walking distance. But that it was still pretty far. It's funny how people define "walking distance" in different ways. For me, walking distance is about 45 minutes each way. For her, walking distance was no more than five minutes each way.

She finally admitted that there was a proper grocery store nearby but that I'd have to zig and zag through a few streets to get there and that I'd probably get lost. And that it was definitely more than five minutes away. She refused to give me directions and pointed me again to the 7-11 at the top of the hill.

The underlying message seemed to be that I was both too lazy and stupid to walk more than five minutes. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? So I caved and went to the 7-11. I bought some snacks (oh man, do they ever have awesome snacks in America). I tried to buy some booze but got carded (didn't have any ID on me). Walked back to the hotel. The whole trip took about three minutes in total.

I'm heading back to the airport tomorrow (the hotel, by the way, is directly across from the airport and it would probably take less than five minutes to walk there but there is a shuttle bus to ferry guests back and forth) in an attempt to fly standby. I don't have high hopes.

I have lousy luck when it comes to flying.

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