Saturday, February 02, 2008

Germany Blog - Day 1: 1/31

It’s been a pretty interesting trip so far. We departed Burnt Hills – Ballston Lake High School on January 31, 2008, at 11:45. This was about fifteen minutes later than planned because I didn’t leave my class room until 11:30. It seems that I couldn’t get myself to stop teaching and collect my belongings and get to the bus. It was a further delay because Maryellen needed a signature from me on a memo regarding my tenure review, which I had to sign on someone’s back before I jumped on the bus. At 11:45 we were off to Newark, New Jersey to begin the adventure.

I remember how much awe and wonder, heck, even tangible excitement that I had when my parents waved good bye to me on September 9, 1997, as I boarded the plane at Hancock International Airport in Syracuse, New York, for the first leg of my three stop journey to the People’s Republic of China. I knew how to say hello, good bye, thank you, beverage, and no problem. I didn’t have any anxiety about it either. I didn’t know anyone going on the trip (or so I thought until I met my co-travelers in Shanghai, and unlike other Germanic languages, I wouldn’t be able to sound out pictographic Chinese characters of Hanyu. Yet, with all of this uncertainty, I found myself approaching the trip to Germany with so much more apprehension than 11 years ago. Maybe it was because I was, by-in-large, a reckless 21 year old college kid at the time. Maybe it was because I only was responsible for myself. Maybe I too was looking for The Great Perhaps. It’s been too long and I don’t remember. But I do know that as the bus pulled out of BH-BL, I had trepidation about this trip that I didn’t expect. And it appeared that I was about to embark on a greater trip than merely flying to Cologne, or staying in Moers, or even seeing Berlin and Amsterdam. I was going to be forced to confront something about myself that I had been noticing in spades since the final parent meeting for the P.E.A.C.E. Exchange on January 9th. I am going to have to somehow deal with the fact that I am a closet control freak to a degree even I didn’t dare admit to myself.

As the trepidation poured over me, I began to root around for the source of it. That is what I do. I sense trepidation or anxiety and I hunt it so as to take it down and mount its carcass on my wall. It’s the only real trophy hunting that I guess I do. I started to admit to myself what had been banging on the periphery on my consciousness for weeks. I was responsible for kids whom I didn’t all know, in a country (despite owing some ethnic background to) I knew very little about, chaperoning a trip in countries where I didn’t know the language or cultural idiosyncrasies on a schedule that was both set by other people and I was in the complete dark about the details of. Consider that until we were heading down to Newark, I thought (didn’t know) that we were flying Continental, but until I received my boarding pass, if you asked me my flight number or time of departure, it would have been as if you were speaking German. And that was another mental issue that surfaced. To some degree, to stay in the loop of what was going on, I was going to have to rely on Ms. Canavan and the 13 students going on the trip. I wouldn’t have all the answers for students as I am so fond of feeling like I do on a day to day basis. It is the first time as an adult that I needed to confront the reality of being in a totally subordinate position in regards to applicable knowledge. As Ms. Canavan so clearly stated as we wended our way to the Northway, the trip would be run based on “German Seniority” with DJ at the top rung (besides Frau Canavan, herself, of course) with the others in German III, followed by students in German II, then Bekah in German I, and then me. In German Zero. There would be jokes. Frau Canavan would laugh. The students would laugh. I would smile because people were enjoying themselves and, like an idiot, sit there having no idea if the true joke was on me. And that was a tough pill to swallow when you are someone who has prided himself on self-reliance, almost to a fault (my wife would argue I am beyond that point, by the way).

I am working on learning my first real German phrase (one that I didn’t learn out of a song): Ich sprecken kein Deutch. I speak no German.

We had our first mild amusement at the Modena Service Stop just north of Newburg, New York. We arrived at 1:20 P.M. It was a quick rest stop and lunch. Most people chose to pick up either McDonald’s or Sbarro’s for lunch. It would have been otherwise unnoteworthy except that Bekah ordered a milkshake. I struck me as odd that they were still serving Egg Nog milkshakes in January as she walked away with it. It was a creamy yellowish in color. Minutes later Bekah was back at the counter. Something was just not right. The shift manager tried it himself. The face he made confirmed the fact that Vanilla is supposed to be white in color and that the new concoction of yellowish cream was less than pleasant. Too much syrup was the culprit. A brand new shake and a less grossed out Bekah was the solution.

It was mostly uneventful all the way to Newark Airport. As we stood in line waiting for boarding passes, we were regaled with stories of people being charged extra for being mere ounces over the 50 pound weight limit on checked baggage. Being a typical male, I tried to pack everything into one bag and when that didn’t work; I just put what I couldn’t fit into that bag into a second bag (namely sneakers, sunglasses, and a rugby ball) and just rejected the thought of evening the two bags out. One bag was bound to be 78 pounds, while the other was 4 pounds. But I think I was saved by some incidental comedy that was only funny because it worked out in the end. It seems when you accidently type an “H” instead of an “F” on a boarding pass for an international flight that the lack of a match between boarding pass and passport is enough to cause major disruption at the ticket counter. So, with Frau Canavan getting ready to break out her Cleveland Meanie Look and me sniggering behind the student in question because her last name had been turned from Fogg to Hogg (man, can I be child sometimes), and with Herr Kramer soon to be texting us with Dukes of Hazard references, my bags were swept through without anyone really looking at the weight.

Security became another fun time. First, upon walking through, a gentleman noted that I had dropped my boarding pass behind me. I saw it on the floor, almost beneath the security machine. As I retrieved it, I realized that mine was in my hand. I scanned the name. It belonged to Nicki, who was two people ahead of me and about to go through the metal detector. I asked her for her boarding pass because I needed to check something. The look of non-chalance tuned to absolute horror was priceless. Eyes wide with a look that could only be summed up in the text language of OMG! WTFIMBP???, I handed her the document and her blood pressure apparently was reduced to sub stroke levels.

As I made it through security, Frau Canavan noted that one Herr Parkes was having some extra difficulty getting through security. Identified as a potential member of the always wily, slender Aryan teenage terrorism cell, he was getting an “extra thorough” search by a man that was at least triple his weight. The security man was very thorough, and in my opinion, was quite friendly. It made me wonder, so I asked Frau Canavan if that type of physical closeness usually required dinner and a movie. She indicated that such was usually the custom in most of the more refined parts of Cleveland. Herr Parkes virtue still mostly intact, we made our way to the terminal. Despite one slight detour that may or may not have been my fault and an apparent fascination with slide walks by Herrs Sandman and Hagan, the rest of the wait was uneventful. It is worth noting that in about four minutes of reaching our gate, Nicki found a teenage boy from Germany to discuss literature, art, and mathematics with while we waited. I am still unclear as to whether phone numbers were also discussed. When I asked her, her face quickly matched her red hair, so I am going to have to say yes on this one.

At 6:15 we boarded the plane, and after some switching of seats, had ourselves situated and ready to go. So of course we sat on the Tarmac until 8:00. All the while I was sending out secret missives via illegal text message in order to find out if my New York Mets had officially secured the services of Johan Santana. We also invented a game. If given $2,000, how many inane items could you buy from Sky Mall magazine without going over the mark, yet getting close as possible? The gear had to be either cheesy or fantastical. You could not repeat items. D.J. won after detailing his purchases of 33 items totaling $1,998.25. This came after being initially disgruntled that the flight attendant said that he could not buy only one of a three dollar pair of socks.

At 8:00, Frau Canavan led the take off charge getting our whole group to hold their hands over their heads like we were riding a roller coaster at the world famous Cedar Point Amusement Park. Once in the air, we were treated with peanuts, beverages, and a relatively edible meal that passed for something close to beef and mashed potatoes. These came out in rapid succession as the flight crew realized that 90 minutes of waiting before a seven hour flight might make some people restless. Seven hours, one warm croissant and Frau Canavan being denied coffee refills for her breach of etiquette regarding the use of flight attendant summoning light, we landed in Cologne, Germany. The local time was 9 A.M. Back home it was three in the morning. Having gotten little sleep the night before and virtually nothing on the plane, I was looking for a real coffee. How disappointed I was going to be.

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