Archive | November, 2015

Reporting live from Newark Airport yesterday

25 Nov

I’m writing this from American soil — Newark Liberty Airport. I was not supposed to have time to sit down and bang out a blog post. But I sailed through customs, dropped my bag off again, then gazed at the board to double check my Cincinnati flight, and there it was in red letters — CANCELED.

Up until then things were going swimmingly. My bag was 53.1 kg (.1kg overweight) and they didn’t bat an eye. No one gave my clearly overexpanded wheeled carry on a second glance. And to top it off, there was only one empty seat on the entire flight, and it was next to me. What did I do to deserve such blessing from the travel gods? Sure, the entertainment system and movies were rubbish, but as far as long-haul flights go, it was a relatively good one.

And then I got to America. After waiting for an unusually long time at the service desk, they informed me I was booked on the next flight to Cincinnati — leaving in over 4 hours. They told me because I was delayed for more than 3 hours I could get a free meal voucher from the service station. But they did not bother to tell me where the service station was. So I went up to a random United employee and asked. She directed me towards the exact agent who issued me my ticket. So I asked another guy. Same thing. But he said he would try to help me, and put his lackey on it. I have no idea who that guy was or what his job title was, but apparently he was a big shot. We chatted about London and the Bengals while his colleague struggled to get my voucher.

“It’s not much, like $7, but it’ll get you a free cup of coffee,” he told me.

His colleague finally returned with the voucher — and there were 2 of them.

“There’s two?” I said, thinking there was a mistake or reprint.

“Now you can get a whole cup of coffee,” he said with a wink.

Whoever that guy was, he was a shining example of what an airline employee should be. Friendly, helpful and efficient. And then I headed to security and met his exact opposite.

“Bag,” the guy said, pointing at my overexpanded carry on and then gesturing to that metal “will it fit?” guide.

“I know, I know,” I said, “but I’ll just gate check it.”

“No gate check.” he said.

“I’m going to Cincinnati and the plane is small so they always gate check all the wheeled bags,” I tried to explain.

“No gate check.” he said, motioning again to the metal guide.

“Just zip up this expander,” his colleague finally said, stepping in to help.

I knew it wouldn’t zip with my coat in there, so I opened the bag, took out my dressy coat, put it on underneath my puffy coat, zipped up my bag, and had a mental breakdown.

I have no idea what happened. One minute ago I was fine — I had $14 airport dollars burning a hole in my pocket and just got off a transatlantic flight in which I had two whole seats to myself. But something about that guy, the whole TSA charade and the thought of killing 4 hours in the airport after killing 8 hours on a flight just got to me.

I trudged through security, stripping off my two coats, trying to keep it together because if there’s one place you don’t want to appear mentally unstable its in airport security. I somehow got TSA pre-check (maybe because I already cleared security at Heathrow?) so I didn’t have to remove my laptop, shoes or liquids, which is good because I was such a mess I didn’t even think to. I wheeled my bag over to an empty gate, pulled myself together, and stuffed my coat back into my carry on and re-expanded it. I then got out my laptop, started watching a movie, put on my proverbial big girl panties and sucked it up. There are far, far worse airport situations to be in and being that it’s almost Thanksgiving and all, I should just be thankful that my coats, jumbo bags and I are safe.

Update: Half cup of coffee guy wasn’t kidding. I’m convinced Newark Airport’s food prices are based on the fact that at least 80% of their customers are using airport vouchers or company expense accounts. For $15 I got a small cup of berries, Greek yogurt, a small bag of popcorn and a chocolate bar.

Update 2: My overexpanded bag fit in the overhead. Suck on that “no gate check” guy.

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Inner monologue while packing for America

23 Nov

I am not going to bring that much stuff this year. Just some Christmas presents, old sweaters to keep at my parents’/sell and my running gear. I am going to have so much extra space, I better add even more sweaters and old clothes!

::Packing begins::

How is the wheeled carry on full already? Does my purse really take up that much room? Last year I got scolded by the United lady and held up the queue as I forced my purse “into” my laptop bag (there was no way it was going to fit, so it just sat perched atop it), so this year it’s gotta go in the bag so I only have two carry on items. Lesson learned.

Now for the big bag. My clothes don’t take up much space at all! … I forgot about the sweater pile. And the chocolate. Why did I feel the need to bring over a kilo of British chocolate back for everyone? And why do sweaters weigh so much?! This bag is going to be overweight if I bring two winter coats… I’ll wear my puffy one and pack the dressy one. How is a coat so heavy?! I’ll stuff it in my carry on and just unzip the expand-o-matic, despite the fact that last year the United lady scolded me about that too. I will happily check the bag at the gate as long as they don’t charge me extra. I don’t want to throw my back out lifting that bad boy into the overhead bin anyway.

This advent calendar for my mom is definitely thicker than last year’s. It won’t fit in my laptop bag, so I’ll just bubble wrap the crap out of it and put it in the big suitcase. Bubblewrap doesn’t weigh that much, right?

Why did I buy presents for my brothers’ cats?!

I finally remembered to bring my old kitchen scale back so I can properly weigh food and eBay packages. Is Customs going to think I’m a drug dealer? Do drug dealers travel internationally with a scale?

Done! Just have to pack toiletries and makeup in the morning. Did I remember everything? There’s gotta be something important I’m forgetting. I know it. Did I bring… doesn’t matter, whatever it is, it won’t fit!

The trip back will be different. Once I unload all these sweaters, gifts and chocolate, my bags will be practically empty! I can bring so many Quest bars back! (::repeat inner monologue all over again in a month, replacing “presents, sweaters and chocolate” with “new clothes, Quest bars and random electronics Stephen saw online”::)

Extreme running and a monkey riding a dog

18 Nov

Yesterday I ran 4.5 miles in the pouring rain. This afternoon I ran up and down Primrose Hill in 30mph winds. Fingers crossed, it looks like the weather for the Thanksgiving Day Race is going to be mild, but if things get extreme, I’ll be ready.

I can’t believe I’ll be heading to the US in less than a week. I have so much to do work- and life-wise before my flight, then of course there’s the actual long flight, but my mind is focused on the race. It’ll be my third year running it and I’m determined for it to be my best. I’ve changed up my training to include more hills and created the perfect playlist. I tested it out last week and ran my fasted 10K yet. It’s the perfect combination of current hip hop, 2004 Todd Rundgren, 1998 Steps and angry and motivational Eurovision hits. I am almost certain I will be the only person in Cincinnati with Woki mit deim Popo blasting through her headphones. The playlist is so good that I have forbidden myself from running to it until the race, so it will still be fresh and exciting. Now I just have to pray everything else plays nice, like my flight, jetlag, nutrition and body.

Speaking of body, I earned my first black toenail. When I discovered it last week my first thought was, “Oh no, gross!” followed shortly by “Yeah! I’m a real runner now!” After much googling (don’t Google image search “runner’s toe”!), I discovered gel toe caps.

gel toe cap

I picked one up at Superdrug and it has been a lifesaver. So much so that I immediately bought a few more on ebay. If I could wear these with heels instead of band-aids, it would be life-changing.

Just so this post isn’t about gross toes and running, here’s a photo of a monkey riding a dog from the Bengals game.

bengals monkey riding dog

Sadly I missed it because the game was on at 1:30am here. Now that Stephen and I watched every season of The League and the Bengals are actually almost good this year, I almost (almost) care about [American] football. Not enough to stay up til 1:30am to watch the Bengals lose to the Texans though.

Silver balls, silver balls, it’s Christmas time at Poundland

2 Nov

When I was little my mom and I used to always decorate Christmas cookies with “those little silver balls.” When my mother was little her mother used to decorate Christmas cookies with “those little silver balls.” Little silver balls became a Christmas cookie tradition. But then suddenly Kroger, and every other store around us, just stopped selling them. Many years went by with me just decorating cookies with icing, elaborate designs I saw on Pinterest, and good old-fashioned … ahem, jimmies. (I really hate that word for some reason. One could say it … rustles my jimmies).

rustled my jimmiesAnyway… today I found myself in Poundland as one of my many stops on my Monday grocery shopping adventure. As what always seems to happen when one wanders into a dollar store or pound shop, I went in looking for one thing — a turkey baster — which they did not have, so I ended up leaving with three unrelated items: the perfect birthday card for my friend, pumpkin seeds so I can make this recipe tomorrow, and little silver balls.

silver balls uk
Yes, the famous little silver balls of my childhood are alive and well in the UK. Naturally I had to buy them to bring with me to the US next month. When I got home I got to googling — I was curious about what happened to the little silver balls in the US, and whether or not customs was going to stop me from importing them.

For starters, their proper name is “silver dragees,” but we all know “little silver balls” is much better. They are actually for sale on Amazon with this disclaimer: “Dragees are classified as non-edible and for decoration only by the FDA in the United States because they contain minute quantities of heavy metals. However, they are non-toxic and safe for use on food and are considered edible in many countries outside of the U.S. where they are consumed on a variety of confections.” According to Wikipedia, early in the 20th century, the silver finish may have contained mercury, but it no longer does. Is the FDA just too lazy to change its stance on little silver balls then?

A 2003 lawsuit in California made everybody freak out (good going, California), so most distributors agreed to stop selling them there. Perhaps other distributors, such as Kroger in northern Kentucky, decided to follow suit just to be safe? I would like to quote a baker from a SFGate article:

“Oh my god, people have been eating them for a hundred years. I will always buy them. I love dragees!”

In short: everyone stop getting your panties in a bunch, eating little silver balls on your cookies a couple times a year is not going to kill you (unless maybe you shotgun the entire container at once and choke, as I always want to do with sprinkles. I love sprinkles (just not when they’re called “jimmies”)). The baker quoted above says she buys her dragees in France. And now I buy mine in the UK. And if the US customs official asks, I do not plan to eat them, I will use them for decoration only.