Or: the Trials and Tribulations of an Uptown Girl with a Boyfriend from Old Europe

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Location: Basel, Switzerland

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The best laid plans of mice and men

It's been an inauspicious start to my life in Switzerland.

It all began Friday, on a gorgeous afternoon that seemed to taunt me with visions of roads not taken. As I rambled through Riverside Park for one last time, sunlight gilded the elegant Manhattan skyline. The achingly clear blue sky whispered: "See what you'll be missing?" And just like that, I didn't want to leave.

I was booked on a 6:20 pm flight out of JFK that evening, but since Swissy Pie would be at a meeting the entire weekend, I was tempted to put off my exodus a day or two longer. I didn't take the idea too seriously, though. My sister, who's been putting me up (or should that be putting up with me?) for over a week, had suffered enough. Not to mention, Swissy Pie's mother had kindly offered to come all the way from Bern to pick me up in Zurich and take me to Basel; asking her to reschedule on a whim would've been downright rude.

Too bad that New York is just thoughtless that way.

The airport isn't far from my apartment - less than 20 miles, according to Mapquest. By car, when traffic is light, I've made it in as little as 20 minutes. Usually it takes about 45 minutes, though, so I thought I was giving myself a comfortable buffer by budgeting an hour, on top of the 2 hour advance check-in that airlines request for international flights. Traffic at 3 pm shouldn't be too terrible, I believed, and even if it took 1 1/2 hours (the longest I'd needed up until that point), I'd still easily make the airlines' hard check-in deadline of an hour in advance.

Alas, even though rush hour hadn't officially begun, cars already choked the streets of Manhattan. It took at least 3 traffic light cycles to cross one city block, and despite my predictions to the contrary, the highways were little better. So, 4:20 found me creeping along the Grand Central Parkway in Queens, barely halfway there and still bogged down in sludgy traffic. As the clock rolled inexorably forward, my anxiety ticked, leaped, and finally rocketed Pluto-ward.

I made it onto JFK grounds around 5:10, but my troubles were far from over. I couldn't see my airline listed on any of the terminal signs, so I hurtled from one to the next, searching frantically for the right one. Three rounds (and one inadvertent exit from JFK) later, I was tumbling into the proper check-in line, my hastily loaded luggage cart careening tipsily behind.

The man behind the counter gave me a disapproving look. "Which flight, miss?"

"The 6:20 to Zurich," I panted. "Just a minute while I dig out my passport."

"I'm sorry," he said, though he didn't sound the least bit remorseful. "The flight's closed."

I gave him my best pathetic look, which probably wasn't too far off from my original appearance, and launched into my tale of woe. He was unmoved. "The flight's already been locked down. There's nothing I can do. We'll have to move you to the 9:10. Please step aside and go over to the ticket counter."

I looked to where he was pointing; I looked down at my luggage. I had so much stuff I looked like a refugee: an unwieldy ski bag, an enormous hard-sided suitcase, and a fat red duffle bag that were threatening to tumble off my luggage trolley, and a wheeled carry-on that had a tendency to topple when loaded with the messenger bag and satchel I was toting around. Though the ticket booth was no more than 100 yards away, I couldn't face the prospect of dragging it all over there. But I was also too tired to argue, so after my initial moment of speechless horror, I sighed and obeyed.

Fortunately I didn't have any problems getting on the next flight, but I had far bigger problems trying to get in touch with Swissy Pie's mother. International calls weren't enabled on my cell, I didn't have a calling card, and I couldn't find a phone booth. The knowledge that it was nearly midnight in Switzerland didn't help. Finally I thought to call my brother, who called her for me. He spoke to her directly; she understood the message that I was delayed.

At last, the crisis was resolved, or so I thought. I rewarded myself with a nice whisky tonic (actually, two) while I waited to board.

Little did I know that Saturday would be almost as bad. Suffice it to say that the plane arrived an hour before I was told it would. Then, Swissy Pie's long-suffering mother couldn't find me in the airport for 45 minutes, because I'd gone outside to wait for her so she wouldn't have to park the car, and neither of us had cell phones. Because of all the delays, we missed lunch, and I had to throw together an ad hoc meal when I'd really wanted to take her out to a nice restaurant to thank her for her trouble.

Well, best not to dwell on it too much. Instead, I'll remind myself why missing my flight was actually a good thing. I had a chance to have a nice long talk with my family. I had time to turn off my cell phone service. The later hour made it easier for me to get to sleep on the plane. And I'm left with a memory of New York that I'm in no hurry to experience again.

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Blogger Global Librarian said...

Welcome to Switzerland!

February 11, 2007 at 11:39 AM  
Anonymous Andreas said...

And a big welcome to Switzerland from me too!

Now batten down the hatches, there's a storm blowing in over the Jurassic range. ;o)

February 11, 2007 at 4:13 PM  
Anonymous heather said...

welcome - I'm looking forward to reading about your time here. I'm moving in a week.

February 11, 2007 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 12, 2007 at 4:09 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

We must've spoken during the apres-two whiskey tonics phase. You dealt with the missed flight thing with astoundingly good form.

If you're really missing NY so badly, Justin and I will be sure to bring a little piece of it to you soon... i.e. us. ;)

You also know you can always come back and stay with us whenever and for as long as you like--especially if you keep making us a loaf of no-knead a day, chocolate boules, and that yummy marinated chicken! Hope you're able to make it back for Christmas.

Julius sends a dozen fish-fragrant kisses! xoxoxoxoxoxo

February 12, 2007 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger Un-Swiss Miss said...

Thank you everyone!

Michelle - Look forward to having you over here - lots of non-fishy kisses for Julius too.

February 12, 2007 at 6:51 PM  
Anonymous ale said...

waw you're there!! well, when things go wrong in the begining its for good luck! :)

February 12, 2007 at 10:00 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Welcome to Switzerland! It's such a pleasure knowing that when you leave to go somewhere, you know pretty much exactly when you'll get there. None of this could take 45 min. could take 1.5 hrs. or 3 hrs - especially frustrating when the place you're going is only a few miles away!

February 13, 2007 at 9:09 PM  

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