25.11.2014 - 26.11.2014
Pricked awake at an early hour of my choosing I slither into a shower that promises to exfoliate my ennui and silken my blunted hair. The feeling of promise drives a few more hours of the usual wrap up, the suitcase again looking decidedly wanting as I fill the gaps with wares I cant dream to encounter in a highly developed economy such as shower caps and q-tips. Glass still half-full, I heft my still-appealing teal war chest to the car. It is a black 0600, a high stakes eye chart for my mom who navigates with aplomb to the airport nexus. Checking my phone again to attempt a web-check in I notice a deviation from my prior itinerary. Previously 0800, the new timetable insists on a departure of just after 11. Breaking the bad news to mom, we kill time parked beside an RBC, never travel ready until I literally have cash tumbling out of my wallet like floral paper art, and study a broken nail. Not one to appreciate the gravity of a manicure shattered, mom urges us back to the terminal. There is only so much time to be spent in White Spot ingesting burgundy lipliner before we decide it is time I clear security and await leg one. The terminus is mildly full, flights to Calgary and Vancouver rising off as I poke at my new Ipad with barely restrained glee. An announcement sounds, urging five passengers to the desk for "passport control", a directive I comply with. A quick scan confirms I'm at best a code yellow, and sit back down in flight-ready position.
Alaska Air flight 9148 is a small craft, parked with a perfect vantage point to observe the loading of luggage. Rainy day that it is, this creates a strong moral dimension to the baggage handler's work, as expounded by the couple behind me. An edge of tarp on the cart lifts prompting an audible gasp. "Terrible" is nearly all the older man behind me can manage before he gives the whole transfer a play by play, interspersed only with stories about the halcyon days of luggage care, when never would he see such liberties taken as a bag rain-exposed for five seconds. The last of the checked luggage slides into the undercarriage, ending the eulogy as I pat my carry-on companion with something approaching affection. Boarding call brings a line where I am careful to hang back, observing the aggrieved party as he walks stiffly, a tall yet bent figure in crisp khakis. Passport scanned, the girl gives me a quizzing but sweet look as she inquires where she knows me from. I rubberize my marble face and offer the vet hospital, which brings it all home to her. "Of course!" she exclaims, and I stab at warmth by asking after her dogs. She acknowledges two, before continuing about the two cats we have actually seen, deftly ducking my clumsy guesswork. "You must run into so many people though!" she laughs, a diplomat in a sky blazer who I couldn't pick out of a mass grave. "Have a nice flight!".
Taking a window seat in a largely empty cabin, we ascend, a twenty minute glide that coils down to Seatac airport. Another tarmac stroll through drizzle and we are inside, herded appropriately into massive lines ending in a perfunctory passport control. Security is next, the usual bunch of power-trippers, my relief in the form of one nice woman who manages the carousel on my side of the scrum. Before I know it I am back in my shoes, fighting to cram all manner of lip glosses and snail mucin derivatives back into my tortured quart size bag on the way to the N gates. Satisfied that I am rightly oriented I decide to try out my new AMEX-sponsored Priority Pass by using the nearby United Lounge. Up an inconspicuous elevator brings me to a marble reception, an auspicious start I as check in with the gracious gate-keeper. Papers in order, I wander through to club seating, lots of plugs and a feeble assortment of snacks. Sure to get some money's worth I snag a cookie and some pre-mature eggnog and curl up on a bench as devices charge.
Perks and Rec
It is mostly business travellers that mill around, a couple arriving to sit at the table adjacent an odd pair of a down-to earth man and his shockingly whiny German girlfriend. Squirming in her seat with dramatic flourishes of a scarf scarcely seen outside of Cirque du Soleil, she finds a litany of bitch bullet-points while her other dutifully tries to accommodate. Fighting the urge to launch some 'nog at her noggin, I use the washroom instead before downing a blood thinner in thick eggnog and making my escape. Back at the gate boarding has just begun, uneventful once someone rectifies the fact that the scannable part of my boarding pass is MIA.
Onboard I head way back, taking the aisle next to a young Chinese man, settling in to a reasonably comfortable seat. Up and away, our first offering is a snack and beverage, where both my companion and I opt for ice-less water, prompting the stewardess to intimate that we must be the "healthy ones" as nearby neighbours start knocking back the hard stuff. Her warmth is charming and I feel auspicious that Delta is running a good team. Safety announcements filter through in three languages, two men across the aisle unable to contain guffaws as the poor presumably Cantonese-speaking stewardess strums at Mandarin tone by tone. My neighbour knocks back peanuts as I opt instead for my latest Asian gimmick, a Korean granola bar loaded with "Lactobacillus flavour". The power of self delusion assures me it will give my gut an ironclad barrier, a hypothesis put to little test by my predilection to partake of little but water for the rest of the flight. Perusing the in-flight entertainment proves no competition for my pre-loaded goodies, first an 80's gore fest about a killer Nazi boat, then an episode of Inspector Lewis. My seat-mate turns to request passage to the bathroom and I am struck acutely by the intensity of his tar-pool eyes and gentle un-accented English. Once back, I give him fair warning that I'm taking a sleeping pill and advise him to push me into the aisle as required. He laughs, a lovely uncomplicated soul and plainly replies that his bladder health is solid for the long term. I notice not for the first time his wedding band and decide a whole sedative cocktail is in order.
Two hours of grimy near-sleep are no selling point for Ativan as I struggle awake for the last time with nearly half of the fourteen hour flight still ahead. More mysteries stream my way as I balk at mushy dinner service and apply reams of hyaluronic acid facially, hoping to emerge without visible scales. finally we begin an approach, nothing visible from our angle as we hit tarmac in the damp night air. Hong Kong airport is orderly, no great impositions made before I emerge in the final terminal which is as much a mall as an airport. Dotted with glittering lights everywhere, I make only to a drugstore for essentials, then a self-ticketing machine for my rapid train pass. Everything is clear as a bell even to my Ativan and pro-biotic addled brain and before I know it I am on the express train heading to Hong Kong Island.
No views to speak of, I just sit back with a canto-pop playlist and marvel at the organization as we glide unseen under Kowloon, the harbour, and the Island itself. Emerging at last at Central station, we plod up to ground level where I join an orderly taxi queue, finding my ride within ten minutes. Between a map, a photo and a quick call to dispatch we are on our way, the Ibis North Point hotel in reach before no time.
The lobby is spare, white and manned by a lone girl who checks me in with an easy friendliness. I play the platinum card, another AMEX perk and ask after a room on the higher floors. She cautions that being how it is nearly 1100 the rooms are largely spoken for but sure enough produces a key to room four on the top level, the 31st story. Glad I sprang for the harbour view double, I take a few moments to admire the bay before setting to work at the wind-down. Scraped and rebuilt by an army of creams I take a last look out to Kowloon where a faint smog hangs even now in the dusk of night and blackness of my room. Under water, nothing sleeps.