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March 21, 2010

Bonding in Layovers

I had a mini-adventure on my way to California from Zurich last weekend. It was your average nightmare story that any person who flies has experienced, or will experience at least once in their life. You know... flight delays, bumpy landing attempts, puking passengers (no kidding... people actually do use those barf bags), reroute to Boston from a New York connection, bus back to New York from Boston (Fun fact: 5 hours from Boston to New York in rainy conditions), long lines, airport sleeping, vending machine dinners and breakfasts, etc. All in all, I spent 24 hours in Terminal 8 at JFK, and my door-to-door Zurich to SF time was about 48 hours. When compared to a first class direct flight on Virgin, it sucked. When compared to having to land in the Hudson, it was fine. Did I mention the airport didn't have wireless?

Anyways, bad weather happens, that impacts travel, and inconveniences are annoying. A bad situation can be made bearable with a competent airline, but I was flying with American, who confirmed in at least 20 different ways why they don't qualify. Suffice it to say they made United look good. And that's no easy task.

Despite all the crap, I ended up talking to some interesting people en route. I talked to a modern dance instructor from New York on the bus ride back from Boston. I talked to a group of Brazilian kids that were ski instructors in Wisconsin for the winter and got stranded on their way back to Rio. I talked to a woman and her daughter on their way back to North Carolina from attending an unexpected funeral in Puerto Rico. I talked to another woman who was en route to her granddaughter's birthday party in California. And then I ended up sitting next to Deb, a really interesting Opthamologist from the Bay Area on my flight from JFK to SFO, which made the 2 hour delay before take-off almost unnoticeable. I even exchanged emails with Deb to keep in touch - my first plane friend!

In less than 24 hours, I probably talked to more interesting strangers than I have in 8 months in Zurich. I hadn't really noticed how much small chat I was missing out on. Granted, people tend to bond when in crisis, and I've avoided transport crises in Zurich. (Well, there was that one time a train was late by 12 minutes...) Also, this is not to imply there are no interesting strangers in Zurich, it just reminded me how much easier it is to live in a country where you speak the native language. I have no problems being functional in Zurich, completely to the credit of the Swiss's mastery of English (and none to my German skills). And while I don't rank "Ease of conversation with random passer-bys" in the top 10 characteristics I look for in a city, it was relaxing and enjoyable to exchange more than just a nervous, embarrassed greeting with people.

At the same time, being totally ignored and left to think or sleep can be nice. And since I got an hour of sleep before my alarm went off to catch a 7:30am flight this morning, I'm perfectly happy for everyone to leave me alone and snore away my flights today.
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