Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
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Fear and Loathing and 15-Hour Flights
Thursday, April 19, 2017 -- I'd like to introduce you to the new me. Scratch that. I'm not liking any of this.
For months I've agonized over the prospect of boarding my first 15-plus-hour-long flight to Asia. It's now been less than 24 hours since landing in Hong Kong and my new self hasn't yet proved itself to be for the better.
This whole trip-to-Asia thing began last fall when Cathay Pacific Airways ran an irresistible price promotion. Like many JoeSentMe members, I just couldn't pass on the deal. Actually, it was my wife Joan who could not let the sale pass because it was her dream to travel to Asia. Me? Not so much.
I knew from the start that I'd made a mistake by not booking business class for this trip. But Cathay's far less expensive--and extremely well-regarded--Premium Economy option allowed us enough free cash to grab a studio at the Cordis in Mongkok, a much finer hotel than we customarily book.
The cash-allocation decision was mutually agreed. Business class out, premium economy and fancy hotel studio in. But I was already deeply reluctant to be on a plane for such an extended period of time. Did I say reluctant? Make that utterly disinclined, disinterested and, well, you get the idea. With apologies to my wife, whom I love dearly, there's a reason I went 60 years without enduring so grueling a travel itinerary.
Just the idea of flying to Hong Kong turned a pretty easygoing kind of guy (that would be me) into an anxiety-ridden mess. For the months and weeks and days and hours before Cathay Pacific Flight 811 went wheels up out of Boston I simply was not anything close to being myself.
Unlike the old me, I'd become a compulsive, nerves-driven travel planner. Not only did I stop recognizing myself, but my wife didn't seem to have a clue either.
"Who are you?" she cried after I insisted that her one carry-on item have wheels on it, something none of her (or my) carry-ons in the past 30-plus years of traveling together ever had.
"This trip is different," I growled. "Every decision has to be about making things as easy as possible. No exceptions."
We were having this discussion the day before our flight was scheduled to depart, shortly after I had downloaded an app on my iPhone to ensure that we get to the airport in completely stress-free fashion.
"You did what?" asked my beloved when I told her about the free GroundLink app, the one that gets JoeSentMe members a 20 percent car service discount. "What's gotten into you?"
The woman's confusion was well-grounded. For one thing, I'm not a big smartphone user and can't recall the last time I downloaded an app. Then there's the thing about taking a car service. When flying out of Boston we always do one of two things: Drive the two hours from our home in Maine and park in Logan's "economy" parking lot (at $26 a day) or take a comfortable bus from downtown Portland straight to the terminal ($100 roundtrip for two).
Even with the discount, GroundLink came in at $470 roundtrip. But we wouldn't have to do jack squat except for locking the front door and hopping into the nice black car that appeared in our driveway.
"Like I said, no exceptions," I answered my wife, more coldly than was probably called for under the circumstances. "If it isn't easy then we aren't doing it. Not on this trip, we aren't."
GroundLink's commodious Town Car arrived earlier than scheduled and so we set out to Logan with more than enough time to spare. Another thing I had done in the months leading up to the (dreaded) Asia trip was to secure a Priority Pass, meaning that we can now do much of our airport waiting in the clubs. Again, it's all about making things easier.
Checking in for our flight, I made a last-ditch attempt to right the wrong that I had made at the beginning of this Asian Odyssey. I inquired about the availability of a business class upgrade. I'd given myself permission to spend an additional grand or so for the upgraded service. But my sense of value and the airline's were quite at odds and so premium economy class it was going to remain.
When we arrived at our seats--31A and 31C on a Boeing 777-300ER--I was both comforted and deflated. Comforted that our first-row seats--just two across and plenty wide for premium economy--had nothing in front of them but a whole mess of beautiful legroom. Deflated by the sight of the man across the aisle who had boarded the plane in his pajamas, a brutal reminder of the long flight that lay ahead.
The hot towels and complimentary bubbly passed around by Cathay's very accommodating flight staff eased my anxiety, but only just a little. Same goes for the tasty dinner served shortly after takeoff. The stir-fried prawns and fried rice were better than I could have hoped for.
Once my tray table was cleared, however, I was still staring down the aisle of double-digit hours in an airplane on which I did not want to be. Cathay's nice little amenities kit--earplugs, eyeshades, socks, toothbrush, toothpaste--and a very soft and cuddly blanket soothed my mind and soul, but, in practice, didn't make the flight much easier.
Did I mention that I am cursed with an inability to sleep on airplanes? So the flight from Boston to Hong Kong must have seemed a lot longer to me than to those around me. To make matters worse, I hadn't slept well in the weeks leading up to this journey.
This is yet another side of the new me--because the old one was among the best sleepers who ever lived. Years ago, when we lived in urban New Jersey, a house across the street literally burned to the ground in the middle of the night. My wife and our neighbors witnessed the whole thing along with the three fire trucks and police and emergency vehicles crowding the narrow city street. We're talking about the house directly across the street, folks. And I slept right through it.
To endure the flight's awesome length I had acted unlike my old self in another way: I brought along my wife's old Kindle. I've not used a reading device before, but my pledge of maximum ease on this trip demanded that I refrain from lugging a lot of book weight. The device proved useful, as I was able to jump from one book to another during the flight, depending on my state of mind at any given point.
When no written word kept me from crying out "Enough already, get me the Hell out of here!" I simply applied the nice headphones supplied by Cathay and turned to an in-flight movie.
I won't lie to you. Fifteen-plus hours in a plane with the lights dimmed low and many around you asleep--including the woman you boarded with--makes for a very lonely way to travel to the other side of the planet. I do not recommend it.
Still, now I am in Hong Kong. The flight is behind us, as are the months of anxiety that led up to it. We're checked into our hotel. (The Cordis, situated atop the Langham Place mall, is quite good.) We're about to head out for dim sum.
I'm just not entirely sure what to expect of this new man who is standing in my sandals and about to explore a whole new and exotic land.
He's an odd one, that's for sure.
Editor's Note: After a groggy start due to lack of sleep, Ralph reports all is now good, if rainy and muggy, in Hong Kong. He sent the photos, from the Star Ferry (top) and Lamma Island, as proof of enjoyment.
This column is Copyright © 2018 by Ralph Raffio. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.