Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Day 2, Part 1: New York

Previously during my travelsI travel to New York and find my "no plan at all" plan failing miserably, ending in a dead laptop battery and considering sleeping on the sidewalk. No, not that sleeping on the sidewalk.

I give up at around 12:30 AM and decide to go back to JFK, this time utilizing the AirTrain service (instead of potentially-hazardous bus service through less-than-pleasant neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn), which charges $5 one-way to go from a subway line to JFK directly (quite a rip-off, in my opinion). 

Late-night subway maintenance forces me to make a few unanticipated transfers, and I don’t arrive at the AirTrain station until about 2 AM. The AirTrain itself is nothing more than a driverless PeopleMover train that is usually used within airports to transport people between terminals (in fact, I used one at Pittsburgh to get to the terminal).

(The interior of the NYC Airtrain)

The ride is very bumpy and the handling around the curves is similar to those antique cars that you can drive at amusement parks, where you can’t drive off the road because of the steel rail in the center of the road (and if you try, the car gets bumped back into the center). 

(This smug kid can drive better (and with fewer bumps) than the JFK AirTrain)

The train inexplicably stops in the middle of the trip, and an announcement is made that “the train will move again in two to three minutes,” but doesn’t do so for about five minutes.

I finally arrive at the international terminal, and concede that I need to sleep in the airport. Without a boarding pass (South African Airways doesn’t have a kiosk open), I’m forced to borrow three chairs from a restaurant in the international terminal (other people have done the same, some wrapped around some planters with benches around them) and set them up outside of a store near a power outlet. I plug in my computer, stretch a blanket over me, and sleep for about three hours, from 3 AM to 6 AM.

I wake up and wander towards the lounges on the second floor of the terminal. For those of you that don’t know, many airlines have lounges in their hubs and major airports around the country for their “best” customers and those that fly a ridiculous amount each year. These lounges usually serve alcohol free of charge (or at a reduced rate from what is normally expected at airports), food, snacks, and other services. And, no, not that kind of "other services."

What most people don’t know is that some lounges allow laypeople (like me) to enter the lounge (for a somewhat high fee). I try the Star Alliance lounge first, but it’s only for international first class and business class passengers (also known as “absurdly expensive plane tickets”). They recommend I try out “The Lounge,” but I don’t know which airlines they are associated with. 

The Lounge sells four-hour passes for $40 plus tax, but they have a shower, a private bathroom, Wi-Fi, phone calls, food (both hot and cold meals), snacks, and beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, with liquor set out at 10 AM). Desperately in need of a shower after sleeping on gross chairs, I decide to buy the four-hour pass and utilize all the benefits of The “Lounge.”

I first take a shower, and they have weird, rich-people shampoo in there. One “Awesome Thing” is using a shower that you don’t own:

That’s where you ... open up a fantasy world full of half-used bizarro-products filling all the corners of the bathtub, piled high in bright pinks and neon greens, just like a candy store....
Now, is it just me, or does using all the different shampoos and soaps in someone else’s shower makes you feel like you’re in some kind of focus group? You can just see the end of it, too: a few folks in white smocks hold clipboards waiting for you outside the bathroom door. It flies open and steam shoots out in all directions. You emerge in a towel, your skin still damp, your feet still wet. And quickly, there are questions: “What did you think of the blue bottle? Did it give you the lather you were looking for? What about the scent” They keep going, too, writing furiously as you spit out your first impressions. Then they ask the big one: “What was the shower experience like overall?” They wait expectantly, heads bowed, pencils hovering just above the sheet, eyes peering up at you over their glasses.
And you smile and you nod and you know what to tell them.

So I decided to test the various soaps out: eucalyptus body wash, peppermint shampoo, and cilantro conditioner (perhaps the weirdest combination of scents ever).

I leave The Lounge briefly after my shower to retrieve my bag from storage and check it in. I get my boarding pass and return to The Lounge, where I eat breakfast. I use the Wi-Fi to download a lot of podcasts to listen to in preparation for the fifteen-hour (no, that's not a typo) flight. I leave The Lounge at 10 AM, get through security, and wait to board the flight. I look around the boarding area to see who else will be accompanying me on the flight. I see two mission groups, one with matching shirts, and the other is from the South somewhere. I overhear that one of the groups is traveling to Mozambique, and the other group is going to Durban, South Africa to build a school. Another notable group is three seemingly out-of-place middle-aged men in camouflage jackets (maybe going hunting or fishing?), and they speak with a Southern accent.

What do I do next? Check back soon to find out!

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