This is a record of my trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Pan American Games.
July 8 2007
Dulles International Airport
I made it through security okay, but there was one little glitch. The guy at the gate did not stamp my ticket to affirm that I had shown him my ID, so the TSA people stopped me just as I was set to go through the metal detector. There I was, shoeless, with my belt and my hat and my laptop plus God only knows how much equipment in my carry-on. And they were telling me I have to go back through the line.
I was dumbstruck.
ME: You mean I’ve got to go all the way back through that line?!
TSA Lady: (Calmly) No sir, you just have to go through that area and we will get someone to stamp your ticket for you. And then we will bring you back through.
ME: Oh, Okay.
TSA Lady: Right this way sir.
We walked just a few steps away and the guy at the gate – who was almost asleep – looked at my ID, looked at my ticket, looked at me, and stamped it with the little red rubber thing. And then the nice TSA lady took me back through the security gate.
I was relieved and she thanked me for my “compliance.” That was the word she used. But she was pleasant enough and I got to my gate in plenty of time. They stopped me again after x-raying my bag with all the TV stuff in it. They did one of those explosive tests – you know, where they swab the inside of things to see if it has been exposed to ammonium nitrate or something. I was secretly hoping that the person who had the TV kit before me wasn’t in Iraq or something. We could have had a problem.
But it was negative.
I put back on my shoes, my belt, my hat, took my portfolio with all my stuff in it, grabbed the 10-ton bag of equipment and now I am waiting for the currency exchange to reopen. And I am eating a Starbucks turkey sandwich and drinking coffee. Do you believe 550 calories and 22 grams of fat for one sandwich! If I hadn’t paid eight bucks for it I would have taken it back. But I don’t expect them to feed us very well on the plane. So I wanted to grab something before I left.
The U.S. athletes were in the airport in one big group when I got there. Apparently it was the soccer team or something. And they were pleasant enough. You can always tell the jocks. They carry themselves differently, particularly those good enough to compete at the Olympic level. When I flew to Argentina for the 1995 Pan Ams it was on a plane full of jocks too. I wonder if any of them will be on this flight. Guess I’ll find out in a couple of hours.
I don’t have any cash. I was going to cash a traveler’s check but there is a seven dollar fee. Maybe I should get some cash anyway. That’s probably the prudent thing to do.
I got some money – I caved in and paid the $5.95 fee for travelers cheques. I also got some Brazilian Real. It cost me $130.57 for 200 Real. Now I am in the midst of some of the U.S. team members all of them with Nike shoes and matching shorts and t-shirts on. And I still have about another 15 minutes or so before boarding starts. I am trying to brush up on some of my Portuguese survival phrases.
The plane is delayed. I have been trying to brush up on the Portuguese language studies. So far, I think I have memorized “Do You Speak English?” (voce falla Ingles?) That’s about all I can remember right now.
I also want to memorize “excuse me,” (esculpe me) and “I need to go to the hotel.” I also need to get things like “what time is breakfast” and “I do not understand” (Il no intendo – like there’s no Nintendo player).
This airport is full of people. There’s a lot of them standing in line at the gate – which changed from the original C5 to C8. But no one is going anywhere until the powers that be open the gate and start calling boarding.
Commo vai – how are you? Maiso menos. So-so. Plazair en conosel. Nice to meet you. Keep practicing.
Still no announcement on the plane. Just delayed. Now the numbers changed – it leaves at 10:100. No plane, no flight.
9:45 pm Now the flight doesn’t leave until10:10pm. Again, aircraft delayed. Take all the time you need fellas. Don’t hurry> I have heard that the air traffic control situation in Rio sucks. So I don’t want anyone to rush or try to cut corners. Movement at the gate. People are getting up. Pushing their way toward the gate. Maybe it’s time to go.
10:30 pm Still at Dulles. The Captain just came on the intercom and said that MAINTENANCE has something they need to do to the airplane and apparently its mandatory. So I am in my seat – waiting. They estimate it will take about 30 minutes to do whatever maintenance needs to do. The armrest cover fell off the arm rest next to me and I put it back. They are also passing out the landing cards. Give the customers something to do. But we’ll get there eventually. The captain promised. Right now I think I have the New Age channel pumped up on the headset. That’s enough to make anyone sleepy. We’ll see. Right now it’s time to take off my shoes and listen to the flutist and pianist play.
11:09- finally off the ground. Nine hours in the air
Monday 9 July 2007
Somewhere over the Amazon
I got absolutely no sleep last night. Even with the upgrade, when the person in front of you reclines their seat all the way back, you either have to do the same, or feel that familiar sardine feeling. I wanted to sleep; I tried to, but I didn’t. My left leg felt like it was on the verge of a cramp for hours and I could not find a comfortable way to sit. Once we get to Sao Paolo, everyone gets off the plane, they mix us with a flight that came in from Chicago.
9:10 Sao Paolo Airport
I finally got a couple of hours of fitful sleep. I guess my desire to sleep was stronger than my lack of comfort. But I was awakened by the breakfast cart – the flight attendants put the little breakfast on my tray, but I never ate it and they took it away. I did drink the coffee. Then we got off in Sao Paolo to go through security – they had one gate with three people on it – to get back on the same plane we left. I literally will be getting back in the same seat for the flight to Rio. Everybody has to make sure we’re safe. The Brazilian TV on in the airport is kind of like VOA’s tv.
9:19 (Brazil time) I just sat back in the same seat I was in from Washington. It’s cleaner, like they scrubbed out the plane a little. But it’s the same seat. Ah well. On to Rio!
10:04 pm After arriving in Rio exhausted, I have had a full day. I spoke to some of the USOC folks at the airport, and they told me that I should have received a packet with my credential information in it. They also told me that if I didn’t get it I would have to fight it out on my own. So I went to my hotel – which turned out to be a very charming place – even if it is far from the us stop to catch the media shuttle. And it’s almost an hour through hellish traffic to get to the media center.
The favelas are about as depressing as you could imagine. Think of the worst tree house fort you ever built – you know the kind of thing that fell in when the first high wind came. And now imagine millions of people living in conditions not much better than that. All over the hills in Rio. And right in the middle of the squalor is the multimillion dollar Maracana stadium, a gleaming white temple of football. But to get to it you have to go through a pretty desolate neighborhood. I wouldn’t want to leave MY car parked there during a game.
At the press center I discovered that while my name is in the system and my affiliation is in there, my vitals – passport number, visa number, father’s name, mother’s name, place of birth, country of birth – were NOT THERE! So I had no choice but to come back to my hotel and get the passport and take it tomorrow. I was going to try to get back tonight, but they only stayed open until 9:00 and I wouldn’t have made it there with the traffic. It was just about as bad as any I have been in – Hampton Roads, Washington, New York, anywhere.
I came back to my hotel and ate dinner at a charruacera ? or something like that where they have guys come by with big – and I MEAN BIG – skewers of meat. And they slice you off as much as you want until you say stop. And they bring fruit and fries, and oysters, and fried bananas and rice and bread and everything you could imagine. And you just pluck it off the skewers. And they won’t stop until you tell them to. They will NOT stop piling stuff on your plate until you say Nao!
So I am full, and tired, and frustrated, and wondering what to do tomorrow. Right now I am going to bed. Bom Noite.