John Walker's Electronic House

Airport Sickness

by on Oct.23, 2005, under Rants

So this is 6.16am. I did one of these last week, but it was from the getting up perspective. Weird thing, both nights before seeing this mysterious hour, I’d not been able to sleep AND listened to Loveline. COINCIDENCE? Yes. That is what it is. A coincidence.

Last week it was to get up to go to work with Kim, the foiled assassin of the post below. She’s a teacher, and a damn fine one. With the unique hateful stupidity directed toward teenagers world wide, American schools begin at 8am. And that’s BEGIN begin, as in, first lesson starts at 8 – none of your nonsense form periods or assemblies, or whatever method of easing you into the school day you might expect. It’s head-first at a time when the teenage pathology says BE IN BED.

Any how, I’m not going to write up my week in Chicago as some sort of holiday diary, because I didn’t go on the sort of touristy, camera snapping holiday that one might write up. I, as I desperately hoped would be the case, just sort of lived over there for a week. I drank a lot of coffee, did some work, hung out with friends, watched a lot of baseball, went bowling, sat in the corner of classrooms for a day being stared at by confused American teenagers who desperately wanted to know if they had an accent too. That sort of thing. The entire week was only possible because of the amazing generosity and continuously excellent company of Kim and Nick, and they already know how incredibly grateful I am.

What I do wish to discuss, however, was my journey home. As if to make the point more profoundly than moping about on Thursday morning cuddling a cat ever could have, the transport aspect of leaving Chicago was a massive hideous pain. First of all, Americans hate people who come in or leave the country. On the way in, they have three customs desks open for the eighteen thousand people who have just got off the one plane, and then what looks like how I imagine supermarket checkouts would look in Heaven for all three of the Americans. Open customs desks, gleaming brilliant white, so numerous that as they stretch off into the distance they reach a vanishing point. Of those three non-US citizen desks, one of the ARMED guards will, every two or three check-ins, just get up and walk off for no discernable reason. He or she will come back in a bit, once their mysterious need has been satiated, and check in a couple more. Then maybe grab a coffee. Whatever. It is also obligatory to have no air conditioning in customs, as this will sweat out the terrorists, causing them to melt, and no longer be a danger to society.

Leaving, weirdly, is even worse. Because obviously what you want more than anything else when you arrive at an airport is to no longer be at the airport. Every stage, from customs to baggage to the oh-so hilariously misleading signs toward public transport, are obstacles in your race to airport freedom. But on the way to your plane, what you want is a vast leisure complex, preferably with a theme park, and coffee fountains on every wall. Leaving Heathrow is like visiting a mall that no British town centre could produce. But US airports’ international departures, and I exaggerate not, tend to have a stall set up in a corridor, selling, “I LOVE AMERICA” t-shirts and mugs. Internal flights are a whole other matter – then they’re just one giant ball-filled play area of magic. But for those leaving – ah, fuckem, they’re abandoning us – give them the crappy patriotism stall.

However, I would rather move in and live the rest of my life in the Chicago O’Hare departure corridor than have to fly through Paris Charles De Gaulle again. It is, without question, the site of the most concentrated repugnant stupidity of anywhere on earth.

CDG appears to have been designed and built by the people who created the philosophy of British towns. They really don’t want those pesky darn people ruining things by coming in. Terminal 2, the only terminal with which I’m aquainted, is the stupidest place ever created, by three nautical stupidmiles.

To start with, getting from one place to another: On the way home I landed at terminal 2E. My flight was from terminal 2F. Look at a map of the SINGLE BUILDING that makes up terminal 2, and you can see that the two sub-terminals are a short corridor apart. But oh no, not so simple if you don’t want people coming in and getting under your feet and on your planes. They are two – TWO – bus journeys apart. BUS JOURNEYS. TO THE SAME BUILDING. And not quick hop-on, hop-off journeys. Or the massively cool monorail journeys in O’Hare which even have the Half-Life voice and everything. These are 10 minute trawls through the run-down backstreets of CDG’s seemingly aimless construction sites, being bounced around on hermetically sealed horrorbuses, heated to the match the surface temperature of the Sun. But not the pleasant dry heat afforded by a trip to the Sun’s surface, instead a thickly humid cloud of human despair. If the metal of the bus were to be shot away by a super-metal-destroying gun, it would take over half an hour for the remaining bus-shaped cloud of sweat and misery to dissipate. And the two journey thing – that’s just cruel. It doesn’t suggest it will be two. You get the bus to the 2F section, and go in, and follow the signs for 2F 40 – 59, rather than 1 – 40, which takes you up some stairs, down a corridor, a right, then a left, and then it takes you to a lift, and you get in the lift and go down, and walk along until you reach… a door leading to a bus. It’s like a sick joke. It can only be deliberate.

Then there are the people. I can only imagine that CDG attracts the stupid to come stare at this temple built in their honour. Everywhere I walked, and I mean everywhere I walked, not, “it felt like everywhere, but was only a couple of times,” I mean EVERYWHERE I WALKED, the most brain-stabbingly stupid people would just stop. All the time. Walking along, three steps maybe, then stop. Then turn around. Then stand utterly still for the rest of their lives. They’re still there now – go see. So not only do you constantly bump into people who have stopped for NO REASON AT ALL, but also to make it that bit worse, that special CDG touch, you bump into them FACE FIRST. Every three steps. It ends up becoming like trying to walk through one of those table football games, where all the blue and red men on sticks are jammed in place.

Finally reaching the lost realms of Terminal 2F 40 – 59, I was delighted to see before me what looked like an airport mall. Blink blink blink. Were my eyes deceiving me? Had I stumbled upon some ancient city of CDG, to which the rotting, wasting evil had yet to reach? No. Not at all. My eyes were deceiving me. It was as if someone had been carrying the duty free shop to its place, then tripped up and spilled it all over the entire concourse. All the usual sections of the hideous ultra-blue lit duty free shop that appears in every airport seemed to have been given their own independent storefront. I walked among them, desperately searching for somewhere that might sell me a coffee at 9am, two and a half hours before my next flight. Somewhere to sit down and have a coffee. By this point I was talking out loud to myself as I walked around. I was growling loudly at the endless numbers of stupid people ceasing all their life’s motion before me every few metres. I was asking the walls and ceiling to help me, rescue me. Which all reached a peak when I found the only place in the entire forgotten circle of Dante’s hell that had seating. The smoking area.

Unlike most airports that put the smoking into a small corner, or preferably outside where the stupid suicidal morons can pollute themselves in private, CDG has decided to give them THE RESTAURANT. The whole place. It’s open fronted, of course, to ensure the gift of noxious fumes can be shared with all passing by. I went to the counter to get my coffee, lasted as long as it took to breathe in, my left eye melted in the socket, and I turned and left.

Eventually I bought a coffee from a lone stall, stood upstairs in the waiting area as if it had been dumped there by someone who couldn’t be bothered to wheel it down the escalaters, staffed by a girl who looked like custard poured into a binbag. I asked for a “LARGE, BLACK”, emphasis duly placed, Americano. A medium cup was selected. I was too tired to protest. Which was then filled to the halfway point. Halfway as in height, rather than volume. So about 1/3 full. Lid was put on, handed to me. Finding myself having to pull downward on the cup to prevent it from floating away, I opened it up and stared in disbelief at the titration of coffee I’d been sold. I interrupted the next customer, and said, “I’m sorry, but I asked for a large. This isn’t really very large, is it?” She looked at me and said, “Oh, so you want milk?”

Now, I’m not going to get into the whole, “An Americano doesn’t have milk in it, that’s the point of it, please leave the planet,” argument that I might otherwise embrace here. I’m more interested in the, “leave room for milk” mentality. When I ask for a black coffee, I mean by this, a black coffee. Not a white coffee with the milk left out. I do not need room for milk, if I am not having milk. Especially when I’ve ordered a coffee that doesn’t come with milk. So why is it that in almost every coffee place I ever visit, I have to ask for the rest of the mug to be filled with hot water? I somehow don’t assume that when I answer, “No thanks,” to, “Would you like milk?” I’m secretly saying, “Yes I do want milk, but my own secret milk that I’ll add afterward when you’re not looking, so whatever you do, leave room for it.” I digress. On this particular occasion, she’d not only left room for milk, but also a shopping trolley and kingsize mattress. “No, I don’t want milk. Could I have more hot water in it please?” And she stared at me as if I were asking her to fill it with the pus from the festering spots on her bottom. “Hot water?” she muttered, confused, and resigned to the indignity of finishing filling the cup from the same hot water source she’d so prematurely abandoned only minutes ago.

Yes, so that’s Charles De Gaulle airport. I recommend it for all.

5 Comments for this entry

  • aerisdead

    I met the rudest person I’ve ever met in Charles De Gaulle. I arrived from Japan at like, 4am, and got a bit lost trying to work my way to my connecting point. I went to a area where a couple of staff were standing, having a chat, one looked at me and I said ‘Hi, I uh…’ He proceeded to stop me with his hand in my face. I was a bit confused by this so paused, where he then looked at me, waited a bit, finished his conversation with his mate, then returned to me, and very pointedly said ‘GOOD MORNING.’ in a way which said ‘the way that you talk to me, matey, is with a respectful and clear good morning, none of this ‘hi’ shite.’ I asked him where to go, politely, and he pointed at a corridor, and resumed ignorning me.

  • Tom

    Hmmm, well, as a now “legal alien” in the United States, I feel the duty to defend them a little. Flying in and out of New York, as I do every few weeks now (and will do tomorrow night) is horrid if it involves JFK but very pleasant if it’s Newark. The service from Penn Station is excellent, the SkyTrain super and the check-in easy and quick. Indeed, I find the staff far better than those at LHR. The shops and restaurants at Newark are perfectly reasonable too so, as ever sweeping comments about the US (” First of all, Americans hate people who come in or leave the country”) seem not to apply to my many experiences of these lovely people. (In fact, even JFK is getting better in terms of attitude and facility)

    Greenwich Village, New York City.

  • admin

    Tom, the “sweeping comments” about the US weren’t intended to be understood in any such way. It was just a joke, based on my experience in US airports. I should more properly have written, “America hates people who…” to better phrase the point.

    I am interested to learn some other stuff from you. Could you email me? I have some questions I need answering.

  • Andy Krouwel

    America hates people who are going to Canada too.