I'm home and have been for a while now so I'm writing this as an after-thought. First the trip home.
The trip home
Because Air France wasn't willing to deal with us we needed to return to Toulouse from Paris to get our flight from Toulouse to Paris - crazy I know. My Lonely Planet said the taxi ride to the airport was going to be 25 Euro and I had 30 in my pocket. We asked the night desk to call a taxi for us and they asked for our room number. I wasn't sure what to say because of a clerical error we had a free room. I told them and they said my name was that of my colleague. That's good enough for me. I was half expected that they'd say that room isn't occupied then I'd be in trouble! The Taxi came at 5:30 and it took about 20 minutes to get to the airport. When we got in the car there was an 8 euro charge already on the meter. I've seen this "pick up" charge before. I watched the meter as we were driving and upon arrival it was at 28 Euro. As soon as we stopped he hit a button and it jumped to 33 Euro. A 5 Euro charge for dropping us off. I told him I had 30 and he said it was fine. Just about every city in Europe has a tourist tax for taxi drivers. Naturally I let him carry our bags and didn't give him a dime for a tip. Back at you buddy.
Toulouse is a small airport which is refreshing after CDG. I wasn't looking forward to CDG since we only had 90 minutes between planes and 90 days is a better layover considering the mess there. Security stopped Natalya and wanted to molest her handbag which is about normal. They didn't find anything just like usual and let us go. Why stop us after screening and then let us go if they find nothing? This doesn't make a lot of sense. Either find something or leave us alone.
The flight to Paris was uneventful and I slept for about an hour of it. My anti-jetlag strategy is a bit more complex when the flights leave so early. The best time to leave both continents is about noon-1pm if you want to avoid jet lag. We were leaving Toulouse at 7:40 am making it tough. The plan was to get up early (check), eat breakfast (sort of check), sleep on the first flight (check), sleep on the second flight for 6 hrs and then stay awake for all other flight legs. This is about as good as it's going to get since the flights are not ideal. If done right we'd get home at 8:30 pm local time and be tired enough to want to go to bed on time. Usually this is a lot easier with fewer flights. Landing on the east coast makes avoiding jetlag a piece of cake. Because of my needing work clothes, a huge work laptop a second laptop for Natalya and a couple pair of shoes our bags were crammed on arriving to France. Since then we'd bought more clothes, gifts and a 9 foot x 7 foot carpet. Clearly we were going to have to check a bag since we had too many to carry on. We put all the dirty clothes in vacuum pack bags, our "food products" and everything heavy in one checked bag and used the dirty clothes bag to hold the carpet. This is only the second time I've checked bags. Later I hear about the guy in Phoenix that stole over 1000 bags from the baggage carousel. This re-confirms my belief in the concept of keeping your luggage close to you.
We bolted off the plane and straight into passport check and then walked for an eternity to get to our terminal where we had to go through security again. The plane was boarding already but it's an A340 so I figured it would take at least 30 minutes so we just found a nice place to sit while everyone else stood in line. Surprisingly the plane was boarding from two different doors which I've always wondered why they didn't do more of. The bottleneck seemed to be in the ticket check process and not the actual seating of the passengers. The A340 is a wide body plane meaning it has two aisle ways and Natalya and I were sitting in the middle row of four seats. Next to Natalya were two love birds that couldn't keep their hands (and tongues) to themselves. I swear for the entire flight they were all tangled up and only got unwrapped to use the facilities or the access the self-help section of the plane. Speaking of which this is something new. The self-help section is one galley were you can just show up and get your own drinks or ice-cream. I took advantage of it several times.
I was able to conk myself out and sleep as was Natalya. I changed my watch to home time to help with the convincing of my brain and slept until 7:30 am. Natalya woke up at about 9am local time. Dinner the "night before" was good as it has been on Air France and breakfast was OK. At least we got served Camembert instead of Tillamook Cheese. I'd take Camembert spread on a baguette over hard Tillamook on a roll any day. We arrived San Francisco at 1pm and once again bolted out of the aircraft and through passport control. We don't do this to get to the gate faster but to get through immigration faster. There will be 10 booths with zero people in line but as soon as an airplane with 350 passengers lets out there's a 30 minute wait. If you can buzz past those people lazily wandering to passport control you can walk right through with no delay. After passport control we pick up our bag to go through customs. We decided to take our bags to the Air France counter again and check two of them instead of standing in line to let them go through the big luggage screener. We make it to our gate with 15 minutes to spare.
Seattle again. We arrive in Seattle, pick up our bags and then try to figure out how to get the shuttle to the Light Rail. The reality of being back in a country that has no clue how to manage mass transit hits us square in the face. There are no signs anywhere and the information booth is closed. We ask everyone and nobody knows. We then decide to go to where the city buses park and we see a mention of the light rail shuttle. Fifteen minutes later we're on it headed to the International BLVD station. We meet a couple from Texas that's staying downtown. They ask where they should get off and 6 people answer. They're impressed how many people want to help and I explain that the mass transit is so poor that we feel we're all in it together. They continue to get advice, half of which is completely inaccurate. No, Everett is not 100 miles north of Seattle, not it's not right on the Canadian border. This from a very nice lady who obviously has never left the downtown area. In December the Light Rail will go all the way to the Airport. The station is "interesting" as well. You take an elevator up one floor than you have to transfer to an escalator to go up the second floor. Why? Did we have extra money left over after spending several billion on it and thought it would make sense to just buy a second people transport to get us to the right level. I swear the light rail is 100 feet off the ground. Apparently there was a sale on concrete.
We get stuck in traffic on the light rail for 10 minutes. Should I even say anything? The Toulouse metro reliably crossed the city in 10 minutes. The Light Rail covers the same ground in 35 and gets stuck in traffic for 10 minutes. When in Toulouse I timed the doors and concluded that they're only open for 15 seconds. I time the light rail doors - 45 seconds. If you multiply the 30 second difference by the number of stations you find that they could cut 7 minutes of the time it takes to get downtown just by adjusting the amount of time they're sitting doing nothing. What the Toulouse metro showed me was that if someone is going to get on the train they'll be standing on the platform so why wait longer? Someone running for the train isn't going to get there in 30 seconds anyway.
Once downtown the couple from Texas follows us out of the station. We point them to a door that will take them to the Weston and we proceed up through the Westlake mall. Upon exiting we realize our bus stop is across the street from the Weston and realize they could have just followed us all the way. We never see them again so they obviously never made it out of Westlake center. The 511 bus was packed and we stand for the duration of our 35 minute ride home. Once on a third bus we get to our street. Total time from Airport to home - 2hrs and 15 minutes. Total cost $4.50 for both of us. cheaper than the taxi ($70) but takes way longer.
Piper had a party for us with gifts but I was only able to roll the carpet out and fall asleep for an hour. We manage to order pizza from Papa John's who then manages to screw it up and it finally shows up after an hour. The smell when the door opens was repulsive but my Mom who did not just spend the last 10 days eating food prepared by French gourmet chefs exclaimed "mmm smells good". This is the first step in my reverse culture shock.
Reverse culture shock
Every time I travel somewhere I walk into a foreign culture. You'd think there would be this huge culture shock and there is. I'm in a country full of strange customs and can't speak the language to ask for clarification. However, the culture shock of coming back to my own country is far more painful. I avoid grocery stores and transportation for as long as possible. Trying to get anywhere here is maddening and the amount of fuel and emissions we're emitting is pathetic. My first step into my local corporate grocery store is met with sadness and disappointment. I walked around Safeway for an hour the other night trying to find something quick to eat and finally left empty handed. The majority of everything sold in a grocery store is commercial processed shit. Excuse my French. If it's not prepared frozen food it's prepared boxed or canned food. There's a very small percentage of products in the grocery that are not processed or full of corn. The only meat available is the same boring chicken, pork and beef injected with growth hormones. If you want anything else you're out of luck outside of the rare ground lamb or turkey.
The biggest pain I have is the realization that our lives are completely run by corporations and we're told what we should and shouldn't eat. We are spoon fed this idea that we don't need to know and that the cheaper the product the better deal. We're drones without taste buds and have a mounting list of physical ailments. We as a nation are gastronomically ignorant and fat, no beyond fat, we're unnatural. The horrific creatures lumbering down the aisles in the electric wheelchairs because their legs aren't strong enough to carry their elephantine bodies shock me. How did we get here? Poor people in other countries eat better than we do. We're citizens of the richest country in the world and we eat the worst food and it's going to kill us. The French spend 20% of their income on food, we make more money than they do and we spend 6%. In the 60s we spent 13%. This is not a good trend. It's not that we can't afford better food, we choose not to spend the money. The days of the evening meal where a family and friends get together is long gone. The days where people actually knew what was in their food or where it comes from are gone. The days were people went to a butcher and bought meat from a person who knew the source is gone. The days in which we cared are gone. The photo to the right is one I took at the local Royal Fork. God help us all.