A Great Day To Leave The USA

When I got up this morning, I’m not sure if I was more excited about finally getting on the way to Tenerife, or for the promising news coming out of Georgia (the state, not the country).  Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff won the run-off elections, meaning that the Democrats took back control of the Senate, and there was at least some (small) reason to think something useful might come out of Washington, which might provide some reason to return at some point in the future.

It had been clear since 2008 that the Republican senators had broken with longstanding norms of governance, and were more interested in frustrating their “opponents” than trying to advance any sort of coherent platform.  When they refused to bring Merrick Garland up for confirmation in 2016, in my opinion that was the beginning of the end of Democracy in any real sense.  The media, for the most part, is complicit, as it tries to avoid alienating anyone, and therefore “both sides” everything, even if there isn’t a reasonable or defensible position on one of the two sides.  A phrase I’ve heard a lot in the last couple of years is “there’s no middle ground between an arsonist and a firefighter.”  That’s very true.  But following that analogy, the firefighters are really bad at firefighting, because they’re afraid to break any windows or doors to put out the fire.  So, to sum things up, I’m upset at the arsonists, the firefighters, and the people reporting on the fire, but obviously to varying degrees.

Anyway, taking away Mitch McConnell’s title of “majority” leader gave some hope that perhaps – perhaps – the US could start slowly reversing all of the damage done in the past 5-10 years.  More specific to me, it gave some hope that perhaps I’d want to return to the US at some point.  I’d told people in 2020 that if Trump won re-election, I would not be in the country until 2024, and I meant it.  I also told people that if Biden won, but didn’t have a Democratic-controlled Senate, that was only marginally better, as McConnell would prevent anything helpful from getting done.  So seeing that there would be some degree of hope for the future put some pep in my step.  It was nice scrolling Twitter and seeing so many people hopeful after 4 years of being beat down, nice seeing so many memes and cartoons about the change of fortune.

I couldn’t spend that much time scrolling, however, as we did need to get up to LAX.  We had borrowed Crystal’s parents’ SUV, and if it weren’t for the dogs (and their crates), we would have had plenty of space.  But with their crates, plus with Crystal’s dad – which Crystal wanted for moral support in dropping off the dogs – the vehicle was going to be pretty packed.  We had to put one of the crates together, to put Lola in, because otherwise she’d make a mess of the vehicle.  We didn’t have room to put the other crate together, so we stacked the two halves facing up, then put a couple of my bags inside the “bowl.”  Then Crystal sat in the front seat, with Avon at her feet, and her dad sat in the seat behind her, whereas the seat behind me was folded down and this is where Lola’s crate was.

We got everything, and everyone, in the car, then drove downtown to pick up Crystal’s dad.  When we arrived, the whole family was there to say goodbye and wish everyone well.  While unstated, it would not surprise me if several people figured this was their final goodbye to Lola, given her age, her condition, what they'd just seen at Christmas, and how long we were scheduled to be gone. The drive up to LAX was eerily quiet.  On the two hour drive, if there was even two minutes of conversation, I’d be surprised.  Suffice it to say that current events were not going to be a subject where we’d be seeing eye-to-eye, so why bring it up at all?

Up at LAX, I went into the parking lot near Terminal 7, and went up to the top level, far away from other vehicles, so we could have plenty of room to futz around with the dogs and their crates.  The plan was that I’d get my COVID test first, then come back to the car to get my bags and to set up the second dog crate (which there would now be room for), then I’d go get checked in and Crystal and her dad would kill a little bit of time before dropping off the dogs with the company handling their transport.

The COVID testing place was set to open at 08:00, inside the Tom Bradley terminal, and I showed up around 07:45.  I think I was fourth or fifth in line, and we just stood there – six feet apart – until the workers started showing up and setting up their computers.  I could see that something was amiss, however, as they were obviously looking for something that they didn’t have.  08:00 passed, then 08:15, then 08:30, and around that time someone came by to those of us in line indicating that they were missing a cable, that they couldn’t find it, and that we might be better off going to the other testing location, ironically right by Terminal 7 where I’d parked.  I thought about it for a minute or two, then started hoofing it to Terminal 7.  It was a warm sunny day, and between that and the stress, I was getting pretty sweaty – not exactly how I wanted to begin what was sure to be a multiple-day, multiple-country ordeal.

At the other testing location, the wait was only about five minutes, and they said they’d have my results within 24 hours, more than enough time for me to fill out the remaining things I needed for my entry into Spain.  I went back upstairs in the parking garage, back to the car, and we quickly put together the second crate.  Fortunately the crates go together pretty quickly, and no tools are necessary.  We also outfitted the crates with their collapsible funnels (so that people could pour water into the water dish on the inside of the crate).  Then I said my goodbyes to Crystal’s dad and then Crystal, which were more rushed than expected because of the delay with the COVID test.  Finally I told the pups that I’d see them soon, and to be good (and calm) on their flights.

Inside the terminal, it wasn’t that busy at all.  The line for the Star Alliance Gold had almost nobody, which was good, because I was hoping they could help me with an issue I’d identified regarding my luggage.  For whatever reason, when I booked my flights, I couldn’t find anything that would allow me to have a long layover in Frankfurt – it just didn’t show up as possible.  I wanted to make sure I was in Frankfurt before the dogs got there, so if – God forbid – I needed to do anything regarding them in Frankfurt, I’d actually be there, and not on an airplane.  So I ended up booking my flight to Frankfurt separate from my flight from Frankfurt to Tenerife. 

But this meant that my baggage would have to get picked up in Frankfurt, which was a potential problem.  While I had a visa to go to Spain, I had nothing to enter Germany.  So I was worried that I’d land in Germany, have to exit the secure area to get my bags, but that I wouldn’t be authorized to do this.  So I explained all of this to the folks at the check-in desk, and asked if they could just check my bags all the way through to Tenerife.  They thought they could, and tried a number of things before eventually calling over a supervisor.  Apparently the issue that I was going to run into was that the airlines (or at least United-Lufthansa) is that they can’t/won’t check bags through for layovers more than 12 hours.  It has something to do with the amount of time they’d be sitting around, and the odds they’d get inadvertently lost in the process.  So they recommended that I speak to someone after landing in Frankfurt, as I’d have (a lot of) time.

I had 3 checked bags and a backpack.  The largest checked bag had the majority of my clothes, plus our 30” computer monitor.  The other two checked bags had stuff for the dogs (toys, medicine, some dog food), most of the rest of my clothes, some books, some spices I thought we might have a hard time finding, and some electronics things such as voltage converters.  The backpack had my laptop, both my cameras, various cables and headphones, and a change or two of clothes.  If it weren’t for the dog-related stuff, I easily could’ve done two checked bags and a backpack.  Not having to pack more than one cold-weather outfit certainly made things easier.

Once past security, I tried to find a spot to sit far away from others.  The terminal wasn’t very full, but when everyone is trying to space out, there still aren’t too many free spaces.  I found a spot near the back of the terminal, and went online to check where in Frankfurt was best to discuss my baggage issue.  I contacted the hotel I was going to be staying at in the Frankfurt terminal, figuring they’d probably had customers deal with this before.  They wrote back fairly quickly (it was already late afternoon there), indicating that there was a Lufthansa service desk in the same wing of Terminal Z as the hotel, and that they should be able to handle it.  This calmed my nerves a little, and now I could focus my worry almost entirely on the dogs.  Now that I’d had my COVID test, I filled out one of the forms I needed to enter Spain, and got a QR code that I’d need to show at the airport, which would have my info to prove that I’d performed all the necessary protocols.  As soon as I got back my negative COVID result, that would be the last piece of the puzzle.

I pinged Crystal every so often to see how things were going with her and the dogs.  After I left, she and her dad went to a local Starbucks parking lot near the airport to just read and pass the time before going to the cargo location around noon.  [In case you're wondering, the dogs were slated to fly on an all-cargo flight later in the day, flying direct to Frankfurt, so their check-in was later than mine.] Crystal told me she'd just arrived to the cargo location as I was boarding my flight to Houston.  She also told me that she was very happy with the company that prepped the dogs for travel, and the Lufthansa cargo contact. I got a couple pictures of the dogs’ crates, outfitted with all the necessary labels, right as the plane was backing out of the gate.  The flight to Houston – for me – was uneventful.

When I turned my phone back on after landing in Houston, I saw things had been anything but uneventful during my flight.  While the morning had been a rare joyous moment for the future of the country, the afternoon had turned everything to shit.  The news was almost overwhelming, and it was coming out like a fire hose.  Apparently thousands of butt-hurt MAGA folks had attended a rally earlier in the day, got whipped into a frenzy by Trump, and then decided to storm the US Capitol to attempt to stop the certification of the election and to “capture” members of Congress and Vice President Pence, perhaps to execute them.  Of all the low points in the past 5 years, and there have been plenty, this was the lowest.

It seemed sadly fitting.  Until today, I was more excited to be going to Tenerife than I was about leaving the USA.  Now I was actually happy to be leaving the country that had been my only home for over 40 years.  The US was now the “shithole” country, with an autocratic leader who was refusing to concede defeat, with a state-sponsored media entity that fed disinformation and misinformation 24/7 to half the country, with far-and-away the highest number of COVID cases and deaths worldwide, with a stolen Supreme Court seat, with gerrymandered districts across the country basically ensuring a never-ending stream of wackjobs, with a mainstream media that seemed hellbent on finding “balance” between the arsonists and the firefighters in its reporting, and with an exhausted 50-60% of the country that just didn’t want to fight all day, every day, to prevent the country from going the way of Rome.  Well, I was one of those 50-60%, and I was happy to be leaving.

A lot of people had asked throughout 2020, in differing ways, whether I felt like I was “giving up” on the USA and/or “running away.”  I told them the same thing, that we had wanted to leave for a while, and that Trump played only a small part in our decision, and that was true.  But the constant questions did make me wonder whether I did feel like I was running out, and whether I should be doing more to “stay and fight.”  But if it wasn’t clear before today, it was clear now – I was leaving an abusive relationship.  There was no hope, at least in the near-term, for the country to return to normalcy and decency that existed pre-2008 (and I use “normalcy and decency” very loosely for pre-2008, but still).  Continuing to be surrounded by MAGA nutjobs and Democrats too chickenshit to put up any real fight was only going to continue harming my mental state.  Better to leave all the craziness behind, same as leaving a relationship with no hope of repair, or leaving a job with no discernable light at the end of the tunnel.  My thought as I scrolled through the news taxiing to the gate at Houston was “good riddance.”

Once off the plane, however, I didn’t have much time to dwell on things, as I needed to get to my gate in short order for the flight to Frankfurt.  At the gate, there was a fair amount of chaos, as they were checking people’s paperwork, passports, etc. before boarding.  Unexpectedly, they were demanding to see COVID tests as a prerequisite to boarding.  There had been no mention of this anywhere when booking the tickets, as the only reference to anything was that you needed to show a negative result in Frankfurt.  I started to freak out, because the lab promised results within 24 hours, not 6.  I explained that there had been no notice of this, and that I was literally moving all of my stuff (and my dogs) to another country, but the manager wasn’t having any of it, and he told the agent to arrange to get my luggage off the flight.  I told the agent that I’d check my email, and see if perhaps they’d already gotten back to me, but to please not do anything with my luggage.  I could see that he saw (and understood) my palpable fear, and he nodded.  I went walked back from the counter and checked email, and thankfully the lab had come through.  I went back to the gate, got to the same agent again, and he very helpfully looked through everything and signed off on my boarding pass.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief and almost started welling up, then gave him a fist bump and thanked him profusely.

Because of all the document checking, the flight was getting delayed.  I finally had a moment to breathe, and I looked at the news again, which was starting to get a better handle on what had transpired in Washington.  I was floored, actually in a similar way to 11 September 2001, as I didn’t think something like this was possible in the US.  But this time the terrorist group was foreign, not domestic, and this time the terrorists were being “led” not by a supposed cleric based on a warped view of Islam, but a supposed king based on a warped view of reality and Christianity.  To me, this was more troubling, by far.  I texted some work friends and asked the group “Did I miss anything on my flight today?”  They were just as disgusted by what had transpired as I was.

On board, I had been upgraded, so I had one of the lie-flat seats where I could stretch out, and hopefully get a little bit of sleep.  Among the various TV shows and movies they had was “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” which is one of my favorites.  The quick and dirty summary is there is a regular guy, Walter Mitty, who works in an office and has a fairly basic life.  He has “episodes,” however, where he imagines he is a spy or a superhero or whatever, and he loses time when he’s deep into his imagination.  In his real life, he never does anything outside his comfort zone, whether it be travel, dating, etc. – he just imagines it all.  The plot is that for his job, he needs to find a photo negative that was supposedly given to him by a co-worker, a photo negative that he lost.  So he needs to find his co-worker, but his co-worker has no cell phone and travels the world taking photos.  So Walter goes to Greenland, the last place the co-worker had been known to be.  Walter finds out he had just left the Greenland town on a boat going to Iceland, and that he’d just missed him.  There’s a helicopter pilot going out to the boat to give it a new radio, and the pilot invites Walter to come with him.  Walter, mortified at the thought of doing something so daring, politely declines.  But then he has one of his episodes, and imagines a potential love interest from his work singing “Space Oddity” to him, which causes him – for real this time – to run towards the helicopter as it is taking off and jump in, literally and figuratively.  Given everything that had gone on today in the US, and everything that had transpired with us and the dogs the past year trying to make today happen, when that scene came on I turned into a puddle, and was very happy I had my own private pod on the plane.

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