27 May 2015

The Never-Ending, Only-Kathy-Can-Make-It-A-Longer-Read-Than-The-Day-It-Took-To-Travel Tale of Our Move

Raise your hand if you're familiar with Murphy's Law. If it can go wrong, it will. And yet, it didn’t. Day one of expat living began on 20 May. Just a short to-do list: drive to the airport at DFW and fly to Costa Rica . . . and check-in two pets, return our rental car, calculate the fees to check our extra and very heavy bags – the bags that far exceeded in both weight and number United’s checked bag policy. Rocket science this was not.

So we bid farewell to dear friends and packed the car with hundreds of pounds of luggage. Off to DFW and United’s cargo facility. They’re really nice there. In addition to cargo the United staff oversee the PetSafe program. Nut-Meg the 16-year-old cat would be well tended, albeit completely freaked out; and Jill the Pill would ride nicely as she is quite familiar with air travel. Listen . . . can you hear it? The click clack of the keyboard as the nice cargo gal locates our prearranged pet itinerary. Voila! There’s the pet reservation. What? The flight has been canceled? Remain calm . . . we always knew that this was going to be a horrible day. The supervisor arrives; the flight isn’t canceled; and just over an hour later the pets are magically swept away to some unknown PetSafe area where they will be pampered (sure, I believe that) until flight time. One problem: we must return our rental car, find a shuttle to the terminal, and check-in for a flight with less than one hour to spare. I refuse to allow our pets to fly unaccompanied, nor will I fly without the pets. Period.

Now comes the check-in counter, and United’s nicest-ever employee. We’re four bags over the checked bag limit, and three of these bags/containers far exceed the weight limit. Yes, the three containers with Rusty’s tools . . . the ones he didn't ship . . . the containers that took one week to pack tools tightly into every available nook and cranny. We are not re-packing anything right here in the terminal, so let’s just throw money at the problem. It’s going to be a throw money day – we are prepared. But no . . . United’s best employ insists that if Rusty will merely remove a socket set (or a few socket sets – plural), we can shove the sockets into one of the lighter bags and avoid a $450 fee. Alright, this isn’t an insane idea; and I appreciate the attempt to save money. But the selected lightweight bag is the bag into which we’ve stuffed and crammed the TempurPedic foam and a sheep-fleece mattress pad (both king-size). Any attempt to unzip this bag is going to be like opening an inflatable life-raft inside a small plane. You’ve seen the movie, you’re picturing it now, right?

No time for a cocktail (of all days!); we get through security. I’m TSA pre-approved for some odd reason; Rusty is not. Rusty believes that my donations to Sinn Fein about a billion years ago should put me on the FBI’s most wanted list. Yet who’s TSA blessed, honey? This means that I don’t have to remove my Banana Republic English riding boots (black rubber, but with genuine brown leather tops . . . oh-so perfect for rainy season), nor do I have to remove my laptop. We’re off to the jetway . . . and I can hear the barking about 15 meters before the door to the plane. I can’t stop laughing about the barking. I want to hold up a sign over Rusty’s head that says This man owns that barking dog.

Short flight to Houston; and praise God, I had a cocktail in my hand before we’d pushed back from the DFW gate. Another cocktail later our Captain announces that we are beginning our descent. But wait! Don’t answer yet . . . there’s more. Several micro-bursts and thunderstorms in Houston mean that the tower has instructed our captain to circle the airport for 45 minutes. Our captain explains that we don’t have 45 minutes of extra fuel, so we are diverting to Austin. Hmmm. Now recall that our pets must be on the ground in Houston for a minimum of three hours prior to their San Jose flight. This isn't looking good. We land in Austin. We sit way out on the tarmac, nowhere near a gate. We await a refueling truck. It’s hot inside the plane. The captain acknowledges the heat. This means that there’s one hot 16-going-on-17-year-old cat right below me. Where's that PetSafe program now? Up comes some type of airport vehicle, and out comes an expandable hose about 18 inches in diameter. It’s air conditioning. Cold A/C just for Nut-Meg and Jill. Fabuloso. So where’s my cold cocktail?

Are you getting the Murphy’s Law idea? Finally we arrive in Houston, but hardly in time for the required three-hour pet layover. Off to the United lounge to make some phone calls. I repeat: I’m not boarding a flight for San Jose without two pets. As I’m on the mobile to United PetSafe I receive an incoming call. Now anyone who knows me understands that I don’t know how to use a mobile phone. I know nothing about switching calls, looking up anything while I’m speaking to someone . . . why, I can barely text. And Ranelle, I’ve survived all these years without mobile phone knowledge, just as you’ve survived without power tool expertise. So I drop the call with the United PetSafe rep as I accept the incoming call from someone with a heavy Spanish accent. This call clearly has something to do with our pets, and all I can convey is that I’m not boarding a plane without pets. Off to the gate, where the nice gate agent confirms that the pets are booked. Booked does not equal boarded. I know from experience with American Airlines that there are a few perks in First/Business Class besides the free cocktails; and one of those perks is that the captain can magically send someone to the pressurized cargo hold to personally lay eyes on pets. Mission accomplished – pets are boarded and I hear barking. Off to San Jose without further incident.

We arrive in the lovely San Jose airport. Quite frankly, it’s somewhat of a blur, but all of our baggage arrived. Baggage handlers abound, with their perfect English. We explain that we’re picking up two pets. Ah, we’re told, the large cargo is just here to the right. Nope, no pets. And we discover that Meg and Jill are at an entirely different terminal. Terminale Santa Maria . . . not exactly a short walk. Now despite the fact that I really want a cigarette, I mean really want a cigarette (and this country is not Mexico with its lax no smoking rules), we’ve got to find Jill and Nut-Meg . . . and we’re in two taxis due to the burdensome luggage. Perhaps my Spanish is a smidge better than Rusty’s . . . perhaps. Or perhaps I simply appear more eager (read: stark raving mad) to retrieve the pets, but my taxi driver pulls into Terminale Santa Maria, whereupon the gate behind us is closed. Rusty and his driver are outside, behind the fence. I’m alone in a dark warehouse terminal looking for pets, dying of thirst and, sadly, desperate for a cigarette. Okay, stop! I readily acknowledge that I possess most every vice known to womankind. 

Suddenly Jill and Nut-Meg are brought forth in their crates . . . Meg seems quite unhappy, but alive, and Jill just as calm as ever when traveling. Righty-oh! Vamos! What? We’re waiting for George. Who in the name of God is George, where is he, and why must we wait? A pet broker?!

Now the United States Department of Agriculture staff who blessed our international pet travel forms, the Costa Rican Consulate in the U.S., and the Internet all said that we didn’t need a broker. Okay, arguably the Internet isn’t authoritative, and I’ll even concede that the USDA could be mistaken (despite their repeated assurances that they have minute-by-minute updates for all international destinations) . . . but the Costa Rican Consulate should be authoritative. I’m blaming United Airlines for this need for someone named George. I don’t understand, I’m thirsty, and I want a cigarette. My solution, since my Spanish is so horrible . . . start speaking very rapidly in French (after all, many verbs are similar). Not louder, just faster . . . in French! Surprisingly, this seems to do the trick. Within moments I’ve got a Tico worker offering me a cigarette (thanks . . . brought my own) and digging in his pockets for a lighter, which he insists that I keep. A few demands and instructions in French and George magically appears . . . with some papers to sign and a bill for $400. Four hundred dollars. Say it with me. At twice the price I’d have paid it. Bienvenidos to Costa Rica. 
So after about 14 hours of travel, where everything that should have gone wrong didn’t, two pets in crates, two tired Texans, and nine heavy pieces of baggage arrived miraculously in San Jose, minus one of the Banana Republic boots. Donde esta that boot? Off to the Adventure Inn . . . in our opinion, a fabulous hotel and the only place to stay with pets.They offer cat boxes and pet walking areas. Come on . . . who offers a cat box prepared in the room before arrival? 

If there’s a lesson here for you future expats, especially those traveling with pets and/or with excessive luggage, it is this: expect a nightmare, and embrace a pleasant surprise when it’s not quite the nightmare anticipated. Close, but not quite.

Now what am I going to do with a single Banana Republic riding boot? I suppose that's why God invented Pinterest. Planter for a new plumeria?  Lo que hay.