It’s 10:20, Monday morning…downtown Stockholm. I made it. Sigh.
I’m enjoying a latte and omelette at the bar of a restaurant named for it’s address - Nybrogatan 38. I can’t discern whether the bartender was annoyed or mildly entertained when I asked for Swedish Pancakes. I considered caviar on rye before deciding I had enough excitement in the last two days and opted for safety.
While I’m nourishing, let me bring the world (7 of you reading this - thanks mom for the support) up to speed on the last 24 hours.
It’s not often when a plan, or a backup plan in my case, goes off without a hitch. As hypothesized yesterday, clearing customs in an EU country (France in my case) brought me within the rule of law under Sweden’s ban, and other than a wide grin by the Swedish border agent last night when asked where I was from (He was very fond of Denver International Airport, apparently) I was allowed entrance without any fan fare. The lack of excitement was almost disappointing following the previous nights’ drama.
Reflecting back on my tour de Europe, aboard my various Boeing, train and auto escorts, I have much to share. These thematic reflections hopefully widen the lens on what I observed on my travels yesterday. I assume a chronological listing of what I did, saw or ate would bore you to tears…had I not lost you already. These of course are my highlights, and should be judged accordingly…
When I landed back at Heathrow, I held a non-business class ticket. Unlike my first time through, where I had access to a world immune or neutralized of all imperfections, I was now among the “commoners”. The pungent smells, the bustling, the heat, and overall chaos was exciting and somewhat overwhelming. I finally collected my luggage, which seemed like a small miracle having handed it off to a ticket agent in the mountains 36 hours prior. Somehow it followed me. Oh, if that bag could talk.
Shouldering the 50lbs of gear, I rushed down to the train that shuttled me to a new terminal a mile away. “Do not miss the next stop, or you’ll end up in central London”, the ticket agent warned me. Mmm, Paddington Station and all of London’s glory or another 4 hours on various airplanes…
10 minutes later, I hoisted my burden and hustled up an escalator, through a couple tunnels, up the stairs, across the street and into a mass of people, sweating. I found the Air France airline ticket counter to check my bags and found myself in a line snaking through a dimly fluorescent-lit cavernous terminal. British Airways Club level was a distant memory.
When I finally caught my bearings, I looked around. I realized I was the one short white male in a sea of black, Indian, Asian, Persian, and multiple flavors of people. And…I felt totally at ease. It hit me for the first time since leaving Denver, that I was not in, well, Kansas anymore.
The suburban, mostly white, upper middle-class bubble that confines my existence had popped. I saw Europe and perhaps humanity for what I think it is: this multi-cultural, blended mass of people, living in close proximity, and perfectly color blind. It was awesome - I took off my sweaty jacket, removed my noise-cancelling headphones, and took it all in. Europe, and specifically that crowded terminal at Heathrow, reminded me that I am part of a much larger world than the little space I occupy in Denver. America may be a continent, but is most certainly not an island.
It didn’t go unnoticed that everyone was better dressed than me. Perhaps that tailored suit would have been worth packing after all.
Let’s not forget that 24 hours ago I held only a return ticket home from London. I was able to purchase, without first refinancing my house, 2 one-way airline fares via my smart phone (which works perfectly well over here) to travel across multiple nations, purchase necessities (enjoyed a Starbucks in Paris) in multiple currencies (thanks Visa) and arrive back where I started, on time, without any trouble. It was like I ventured out of my house in the morning, walked through a number of colorful neighborhoods, and returned home, unscathed, though exhausted, 12 hours later. The efficiency of moving people over here is mind numbing. I don’t think a flight has left O‘hare on time in 50 years. Not so on this side of the Atlantic.
Clearing customs in the UK simply entailed walking up to a machine, scanning my US passport, and walking through a turnstile. Churchill and Roosevelt would be so pleased to know we’ve remained friends over the years.
Boarding and de-boarding planes here is an art. There is an upper floor that walks down a bridge to the plane, while all de-boarding passengers walk down a separate bridge to a lower floor where they get their baggage and clear customs.
Efficiency aside, one oddity at the airports I cannot figure out is the withholding of gate assignments until 20 minutes prior to boarding. Every plane I’ve caught over here lacks a home until the last minute, when a gate is announced, and you run like hell to find where your plane is located before it’s no longer located there, and you’re left holding your tea and crumpets. Either this is an efficient way to get people moving, or keep them shopping in the endless maze of fragrances and duty free vodka that occupies every square inch of Heathrow and Charles De Gaul.
Oh, and did I mention how my bag, like R2D2, has followed me everywhere, on his own little adventure belowdecks. Efficiency. Europe has it.
Socialism and the Baggage Cart
This one may stir some blood, especially for those friends in the financial world who equate this word (Socialism) with Bernie Sanders, Anderson Cooper or mediocrity, equally grotesque in their minds.
Remember that burden of a bag I began lugging around the UK train/airport depot after falling out of favor with the upper class? Well that thing started to get fucking heavy after a couple days on the road, with little or no food and a lack of sleep. By the time I got to France and had to de-plane, gather my bag, clear customs, and recheck everything again, I was looking for some relief. I noticed for the first time that most people who didn’t have rolling luggage were simply utilizing the FREE carts that were perfectly organized near baggage. It dawned on me that they existed in the UK as well, and I was too blind to notice.
Now, mind you, these things only cost $5 where I’ve used them in the States, but whether it is my “can-do” attitude (carry your own bag, you puss) or religious discomfort in spending even frivolous money, I only “splurge” on a cart when I have my family of 6 in tow, with countless pounds of senseless overpacking. It seems lazy to throw my one, though increasingly heavy, duffel on a cart. But, haven’t I somehow paid for that cart already? Along the way a tax on my ticket or an airport fee or some way of financing that “free” cart already occurred. So I grabbed one. And all of a sudden, my journey became easier. I was happier. And I took notice of, well, a benefit of a socialistic system.
What about the other side of this positive viewpoint. Recall, there were carts being used back in the UK. I paid for those too. But I didn’t use one. Should I feel bad for having financed something I didn’t use? And, perversely, they were being used by people that didn’t look, or smell (they were certainly better bathed at that point), or spoke, or practiced religion, like me. Oh, the unfairness!
I didn’t care. In fact, In reflection, it felt good that I had somewhere along the way paid a fee I never noticed to make their day a little better. Maybe their happiness from the free carts I financed accounted for my comfort in standing next to them, unthreatened, in line. Who knows. Karma, or socialism, has a noticeable effect.
I’ve been struggling with sleep the last few days, even while tucked into 1,000 thread Egyptian Cotton sheets last night, trying to get my circadian rhythm back. During last night’s two-hour mind toss, I was unpacking these reflections on Socialism further:
I sometimes struggle or “feel” spending money. I really don’t perceive myself as cheap, but when one is in the mindset of saving and accumulating at this age, or burdened by the obligations of a family and a house payment, a business and all the responsibility there in, one can’t help but feel a sense of “loss” when money is spent, however large or small. I have read about the same chemical reaction in the brain that occurs when money is spent that is triggered in a fight/flight response. So, is there an enhancement to happiness (like I felt with the cart) when you receive something without noticing or “suffering” the $5 payment in my cart example?
It was 3am and I couldn’t sleep…my mind kept wandering: Take an all-inclusive resort example: Assuming over the course of a week you give nominally more money to a resort, but make one payment at the outset or conclusion and then eat, stay and play for “free” versus paying less at the beginning or end, but “suffering” ala cart fees for each meal, lounge chair or source of entertainment, are you happier? I now realize I am.
I’ve never thought about why I love Southwest Airlines so much. I pay one fee, sit with whoever I get, can change my ticket at any point, and R2D2 can bring a friend or two without additional costs. If I don’t change my ticket, don’t check two bags, or want to pick a particular place on the plane, I don’t benefit from the price I paid, but I might down the road. This at odds with United, where I buy a ticket and then get nickel and dimed for bags, seat assignment, changes to my flight, wireless service, etc. Both airlines are making money - I guess I just appreciate the one time payment, and mindless effort thereafter.
So, Socialism in Europe, sounds like taxpayers “suffering” more than Americans at the outset or conclusion of the year, to experience “free” (carts or healthcare) along the way. Are they happier? Perhaps.
Ok. I hope I didn’t lose any friends during that diatribe. I’m not voting for the Green Party next election, but my eyes are now open to a system I clearly never understood, and probably scoffed at in the past. I’ll be less judgmental about my European friends and their socialism moving forward.
And for those of you who’s blood pressure rose during my observations, relax, your bubble will protect you from Socialism and Andersen Cooper. But, for the love of humanity, stick with Club Level or you’ll find yourself in a sea of discomfort.
Ok. I don’t know the rules around loitering in this country, but my breakfast is long since finished, and after this second Americano, I may just levitate out of here. I only have one day to experience Stockholm, so better get started. Taka (Thanks) for listening.
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