JENNI'S OFF-GRID NEWSLETTER, NO. 20 (JANUARY, 2017)
January 29, 2017Observed while queued to board American Airlines flight from Newark to Phoenix, Nov 3rd, 2016.
In front of me a couple who look in their early fifties. She has long blonde hair, a green cap, tight jeans, high-heeled sandals, and looks like someone you wouldn’t cross. He stands behind her, loaded down with two large bags, one over each shoulder, and rolling her large pink carry-on. Each of the bags is as big as my one 20 kgm bag (which is where it should be, in the hold) and has served me adequately for our five months trip from the tropics to Cape Cod in the Autumn. He is shorter than her, has baggy jeans, grubby trainers, and graying black hair pulled into a short ponytail sticking through the hole in the back of his cap.
She says “So you changed our seats from 7?”
He says “No, I didn’t. The airline changed them.”
She says, sounding surprised, “They changed them?”
He says “Yes.”
She says “What are they now?”
He says “8. They charged $151 to change them.”
She says “They charged you?”
He says “Yes. They charge to change seats.”
She says “You paid $151 to change our seats to one row back?”
He says “Yes. You wanted them changed.”
She says “You’ve got to be kidding. They charged you $151 to change our seats by one row?”
He says “Yes.”
She rolls her eyes and points a finger at her head, like a gun.
They continue to move along in the queue, the woman mumbling, “You’re kiddin’ me. $151 to go back one seat.”
He says “I’ll get it back.”
She says “You think they’ll reimburse you $151 because you moved our seats one row back?” She rolls her eyes.
He mumbles and shuffles.
They get on the plane; we are creeping through the business class cabin. She reaches up and opens the overhead locker in the last business class row, Row 6. It is empty.
“Put our bags in here,” she orders him.
The Air Steward sees her and says “Are you in Row 6?”
“No,” says the woman. “We’re one seat behind.”
“Well, you can’t use that overhead bin. It’s needed for that seat. This is a very full plane. You’ll need to use a bin above your own seat.”
The person immediately in front of us is shoving their bag into the overhead locker above 7.
“That’s our seat,” says the woman to the guy.
“No, we’re in these seats,” says the guy, sitting down next to his companion.
“Well the bin above 8 is full.” She twists around and glares at her husband, still loaded down with their two enormous shoulder bags and her pull-along monster. She pushes into row 8 and sits down. “You find some bin space. It’s your bloody fault for shifting us one row back.”
He shuffles on and I get to Row 9 and sink into my seat, pushing my day pack under the seat in front of me—where the blonde is sitting.
He gets back just before the plane is ready to taxi.
“I suppose our bags are at the bloody back of the plane now,” she says.
I didn’t catch his answer.
I wondered if they had voted yet. I even wondered briefly who they might vote for. After the 8th November, the day I got back to New Zealand, I wondered no longer.
This is a true story, written very rapidly in my little red notebook while standing in the queue, and completed the minute I sat down in Row 9!
It was about the only positive thing that happened for the next nine hours as the late leaving (by three hours) American Airline Flight (to which I’d been booted after my United Airlines Flight to Phoenix was cancelled at the last minute—and I mean at the last minute) circled for an hour or so but did not land at Phoenix (excuse (i) Hilary Clinton’s visit to Phoenix that day had delayed all flights and caused chaos, (ii) the weather —which didn’t seem to delay other flights…) ‘forcing’ the plane to fly on to Palm Springs (excuse: they needed to refuel —hidden message, we will have to crash land if we don't as no-one gives a stuff about allowing American Airlines to jump the landing queue just because it is about to run out of fuel). We landed in Palm Springs after again circling for a very long time (fuel luckily didn't run out). We then sat in the middle of the Palm Springs runway for another hour or more—no refueling efforts appeared to be taking place but perhaps I missed them—while the entire plane erupted in a riot, 90% of the passengers insisting they LIVED IN PALM SPRINGS and they wanted to GET OFF NOW (including of course the blonde who was screaming at her lacky to get back through the crowded isle [fly perhaps?] and get her bags.) “Everyone get on your phones and complain now,” screamed one woman. “We’ll never get out of here otherwise.” Everyone was getting their enormous bags from the packed lockers and the Air Steward was SHOUTING over the intercom to SIT DOWN, WE CAN’T LEAVE UNTIL YOU ALL SIT DOWN AND WE HAVE ONLY A SMALL WINDOW TO LAND BACK IN PHOENIX. IF YOU DON'T STASH YOUR BAGS AND SIT DOWN IMMEDIATELY WE’LL ALL BE STAYING HERE ALL NIGHT!!”
By this time I had long given up getting to my Author’s Retreat outside of Phoenix in time for the end of the opening dinner! My original flight was scheduled to arrive there at 2.30pm and it was now 9.30pm. The rioting crowd did finally sit down when they got the message that the doors were locked and they weren’t getting out, and we flew back to Phoenix. In the entire nine plus hours on the flight that should have been five hours, we had had just ONE cup of coffee (at the beginning of the flight). I worked out later that John, who had left from Newark to fly to New Zealand via Houston may well have got home before I got finally to my Author’s Retreat (which was another slightly fraught journey to a town 35 minutes out of Phoenix in a very expensive taxi with a driver who hadn’t a clue where we were going as of course the Retreat transport scheduled to pick me up had long since given up).
But to be fair, that was the only flight mess we had over the 26 flights we took in our five months away. Well, except for the two flights from Savannah via somewhere to Williamsburg that were cancelled because of Hurricane Matthew (sometimes it is plain better to drive for nine hours than fly in a Hurricane), and my one bag not arriving in Auckland with me. (Guess what, American Airlines stuffed up again: I flew with them from Phoenix to LA and why would I even think they would manage to transfer my innocent bag to Air NZ on time for my flight home?? After all, they only had three hours to perform this miracle. They probably had to refuel first.) Oh and then the weather on Great Barrier Island was a bit dicey so the friendly eight-seater plane taking me the last little bit was also delayed six hours!
Morals of this story in case you haven’t picked them up: Avoid American Airlines and take a notebook to record fascinating conversations.
The Book of Mirrors by Eugene Chirovici
I heard a Kim Hill (NZ’s best radio interviewer) interview with the author of this murder mystery on Saturday and was intrigued enough to buy it for my Kindle. I finished it this morning (Monday), and so clearly I enjoyed it. It is the first book written in English by the Romanian author, Eugene Chirovici, who published previous novels in his own country and now lives in Britain. The manuscript was turned down by numerous US agents before being snapped up by a UK publisher who sold it within a week or two to 30 countries.
It is hard to place it in a ‘genre’. On the surface it is about the uncovering of a cold case; an unsolved 1980s murder of a charismatic Princeton psychology professor who was working on some unethical-sounding research project about traumatic amnesia or repressed memories (!). There are old-fashioned British-style police procedural aspects, which quite appeal to me, yet it is not a straightforward police mystery.
It is a book in three parts, beginning with a literary agent receiving an intriguing unfinished manuscript that suggest it might be a confession about the long-ago murder. The author unfortunately (or fortunately) dies and the complete manuscript is never found. So the agent asks a journalist to track down the story, and he in turn involves a retired cop who was on the case when it first happened.
The underlying theme is the unreliability of our memories, making for characters who may or may not be telling the truth, or whose memories may be deceiving them. One of the suspects suffers from retrograde amnesia (but not anterograde amnesia) as the result of a head injury. As any neuropsychologist would know, this is highly unlikely, and a common error in novels and TV series. But if one overlooks this, it is an interesting mystery, and unusual in its divergence from the standard good mystery where the alert reader is fed clues. In this book the clues are not there; you find out when you find out. A three-part mini-series can be confidently predicted.
On the negative side, the novel is poorly edited and has too many clichés for a book that has enjoyed so much pre-publication hype. But worth a read if you love British mysteries. Nowhere near the literary standard of P.D. James (and there never will be another Adam Dalgliesh). Chances seem remote that there will ever be another as Britishly literary as James.
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