Another Van

Hello Virtual Travel Buddies. As promised, I’m back to tell you where I am now and how I got here. Once again, I’m staying in a Van, but this time it’s not a vehicle, but a city.

I spent nine days in Phoenix with great friends, getting my ass kicked by my yoga instructor (zowie, who knew an ass-kicking could feel so good and so bad?) and interviewing for a job (planning the future of tourism for my adopted hometown of Gilbert, Arizona) which I was ultimately rejected for and, of course, is their loss, blah, blah, blah. . . (Though I am disappointed as I love my town and really would have rocked that job.) I’ve now turned in my way too expensive rental car (really, I just wanted to rent it, but the taxes alone could have paid for a new Mercedes) to fly to Vancouver, Canada. Why there? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

First, my house is currently rented out and I sold everything else so home is currently a figment of my imagination. Second, I have a couple of friends here and one currently works on a cruise ship (remember when I did that?). Well, he has a condo in Vancouver which he isn’t using for a bit so I’m paying him some rent to stay for a month Due to his fairly central location, along with the good public transportation in Vancouver (hear that Gilbert? If you make it easy for tourists to get there, they will come), there’s no need for a rental car, so I’m paying just slightly more to live here for a month, than I did for the use of a rental car for ten-days. Basically, it was a choice of coming to Canada or sleeping in a rental car. And finally, another reason to come to Canada is also a good hint for long-term American travelers. Did you know that, if you’re out of the country for 330 days in a calendar year (it doesn’t need to be consecutive), you don’t have to pay taxes? You still must file your taxes (as Americans we get that “privilege'”), but in most cases, unless you earn a lot more than me, you don’t have to pay. Also, the same rules apply to be exempt from penalties for not enrolling in the Affordable Care Act, aka Obama Care. Most of those plans don’t cover very much outside the U.S. unless it’s an emergency, and who am I to decide if I have appendicitis or I’m simply traveler’s stomach? (Yeh, that happened a couple of times this year.) I’m not a doctor. (Oh, and I’m not an accountant so, you know, check this stuff out to see how it applies to you because I’m not taking the rap for your accounting issues.)

So, today I fly out of Phoenix, through San Francisco, and to Vancouver. I’m flying United Airlines which has recently provided good and friendly service (not to be confused with Good n’ Plenty unless, of course, my pilots name is Choo-Choo-Charlie (a little retro-flashback here). When I arrive at the gate, I have a chance meeting with the Scot, the airport General Manager for United, and let him know about my positive recent experience. I do this often with companies with which I’ve had positive experiences as people rarely hesitate to point out the negative. After thanking Scot and his team for the great service (and I worked for Disney so I’m pretty damn judgmental), I take a seat and wait for my flight to be called.

We land in San Francisco without incident and I head over to my gate where I step up to the podium to await service. When I checked in at the machine in Phoenix, I was asked if I would be willing to give up my seat for compensation. When I questioned the representative, I was told the question applied to the San Francisco to Vancouver flight and that, by agreeing to it at the time, it did not mean that my decision was final. This was good, as first, I wanted to phone a friend (yup, my flight is just like Who Wants to be a Millionaire). I actually had to call with my friend who was picking me up from the airport to check into later transportation options. I also wanted to be sure the compensation was worth it and what the new flight options were. I was told to identify myself to the gate agents in San Francisco and they would let me know if I was needed and what my options were. So here I stand.

While there’s no agent at the counter, there is one at the door of the jetway assisting passengers exiting the previous flight. I wait patiently though, if I’m not needed, I sure would like to grab some food to take with me. After a few minutes, the agent makes her way to the counter. A few other agents come and go, but they don’t seem to help her much and are simply there to check passports and travel documents as this is an international flight. It’s clear that the main agent could use some more help, yet she remains pleasant. The three German girls in front of me have also volunteered to get bumped and I hear the agent say, “I only need one right now, but even if I end up only needing one in the end, I’ll do it for all three of you so you’ll remain together.”

What? United has given their team the power to say yes? How unique.

Still, I’m just one and, before the agent does anything rash, I make sure she knows that I’m here, in no hurry to get where I’m going, and I fit her needs exactly.

“Hi, excuse me.I stand on my toes and raise my hand holding the form I was told to give the agent. “They told me to give this to you as you might need volunteers to get bumped. It’s just me,” I say innocently.

“Oh,” she responds. “Yes, I can use you.” She turns to the Germans and explains that she won’t be needing their services (if looks could kill). She tells me she can get me into Vancouver at 11:30pm and will give me a $300 voucher. I accept, as I can always use some free, or discounted flights (take note if you happen to be Christmas shopping for me). As she’s updating her computer and I’m completing paperwork, a woman approaches and says, “Hi, I just thought I’d let you know that, while I’m flying, my husband isn’t going to make it today.”

In my head I hear the wahp, wahp, waahhh trumpet sound they play on The Price Is Right when someone guesses the wrong price. The agent thanks the lady and returns to her computer work.

“Oh, they were flying first class,” she says to herself.

“Um, does that mean you don’t need me?” I ask.

Sounding like so many men I’ve dated she says, “Oh, yes, thank you but I no longer need you.”

“Do I get the first class seat?” I ask. (Heck, it would at least lighten the blow.)

“Um, no. Sorry.”

As I board the plane, I pass the three German girls and let them know that somebody no-showed and I wasn’t needed; they seem pleased.

Customs cardI land in Vancouver at my scheduled 8:30pm and head to immigration. I insert my passport and completed declaration card, which was given to me on the plane, into the electronic machine. The screen pops up with a message saying it is unable to process me. I try again and receive the same message before moving to another machine and receiving the same message. Only slightly concerned (really, I’ve gotten into tougher countries than Canada), I explain my challenge to the agent standing there. Pointing, he tells me, “Oh yeh, the forms distributed on your flight were too thin so just go stand Trolleyin that line.” (What? Did he say I was too thin? That’s what I heard.)

After waiting in line and finally clearing through immigration, I head out to collect my luggage, where I forego the chariot, and drag my bags past customs to meet my friend.

Next, “Yes, and. . . ” I take an improv class!

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