My last day in Amsterdam was bittersweet. Sima and I had a wonderful breakfast on the boat. Then we walked around town on the way to her shop. We poked in and out of little shops along the way. The sky was beautiful the day after a heavy rain. I always looked at the sky with Van Gogh in mind. He loved the clouds and the light of Holland. On my last day we had Van Gogh clouds. We had lunch at the cafe across from her salon. It was cold the day after the rainy Sunday so I ordered soup. It was a hearty vegetable soup of squash, potatoes and green beans with a fresh shaved mountain of Parmesan cheese floating in the center of the delicate broth. It was served with a couple of slices of crusty bread. We thought we would eat outside but it was just too cold. We brought our plates inside and enjoyed the warmth of our lunch and of the heater next to our table. Then it was time for Sima hair. We walked over to her salon where Sima worked her magic on my hair. She brought my hair back to my original dark brown and layered some warmer dark brown highlights in. I feel like I am walking around with her artwork on my head.
We stopped at the Albert Heijn on the way back to the boat. I needed to pack so we decided to cook dinner at home. She made an absolutely delicious meal of home made pesto sauce on fettuccine and an arugula salad. Ben made outrageous garlic bread. We sat and enjoyed our last meal together. I was definitely tense. I had packed while Sima was cooking and I knew my bags were very heavy. I had gotten up early and walked over to the Kaas-Brood shop to get some cheese to bring home. 50 Euro later I had some gouda to bring home. Even though I had read it was okay to bring back I was definitely concerned it might be a problem. Of course, the thought of leaving Amsterdam and my sister was weighing heavily on me as well. I had checked the availability on my flights and knew I wouldn’t have a problem getting to JFK from Amsterdam but that my flight from JFK to LAX looked pretty full. The next three flights from JFK looked progressively worse throughout the day. It looked like I might have to layover another 9 hours and catch the late flight. So, that was definitely giving me more to think about and worry about.
I got in bed relatively early that night. At midnight, when I was just ready to turn off my light, Gnamish, the greatest cat alive, came to visit me on my final night. He walked around my bed a couple of times doing laps, stopping at my face for love and snuggles. Then he left to turn in for the night with Sima and Ben. I had a difficult time sleeping Monday night knowing I had a huge day of travel ahead of me. Flying stand by made what is already difficult even more so. Air travel just isn’t easy. I don’t care what your shape or size it just isn’t an enjoyable experience. Sure flying Business Class or First Class is much different than coach, aka steerage, but the process just isn’t easy. I woke up at 5a unable to sleep more I got up and to finish up my packing. Then I showered for the last time in the fish bowl. No one was on the street that early so I had no looky loos. Sima made coffee and we chatted a bit. It was a beautiful morning. The dusk sky was blue and hazy. The moon was hanging over the city like it was still night time against the darkish morning sky. I am sorry I didn’t take pictures but my head was busy with thoughts of the coming day.
We could have walked to Central Station with my bags but it made more sense to just call a cab. They would take the 20 minute train ride back from the station so Ben could go to work and Sima could then go on to her salon. The airport was hopping with travellers. I had to check in at a little kiosk and then take my bags to another line to check them through. I asked specifically about checking them all the way through to LAX but they insisted I could only check in to JFK. It felt wrong. I should have pushed them to check me all the way through. I should have followed my hunch as my intuition knew better than the Delta/KLM employee at Schipol (Amsterdam Airport.) I hugged Sima and Ben goodbye. I was very sad but didn’t cry. My emotions were busy worrying about catching my flight and moving through my day.
After leaving Sima and Ben at the first security check point. I had my passport stamped and carried on to my gate. Security is different at the Amsterdam airport than it is in US airports. I don’t know how it is at other European airports but here you go through security at your individual gates before you board. I stood in line at my gate for the secondary passport/security check where they asked me questions about my stay in Amsterdam. They asked why I was there and where I stayed and if anybody had given me any electronic items to carry on board. They asked me if I packed my own bags. After I was cleared to go through the next security check point I realized I hadn’t spoken to the gate agent. I was told to leave the secure area and go back out and speak to her. She informed me that it was “unlikely” that I would get Business Class to JFK and to take a seat. She was rather unpleasant. I asked if I had time to use the restroom. I did.
Again, I found an interesting difference from the US compared to Amsterdam. I am not a fan of public restrooms. I am sorry to find myself talking about the restroom again, but this was fascinating to me. Rather than give you paper seat covers, which is wasteful, there was a dispenser of toilet sanitizer on the wall with directions to spray it onto some toilet paper and clean the seat. I thought that was rather ingenious!
I did have to go through security again, where I got the full work up. I set off the alarm as I walked through the metal detector. That is the first time that has happened in a long time. A female security officer asked if it was okay for her to check me. It wasn’t a problem until she patted down every inch of my body. Again, that odd Dutch personal space thing. In the US, when I have set off the alarm they use a metal detecting wand to find out what set the larger machine off. But not in Amsterdam. No joke if she didn’t rub down nearly every inch of my body. My arms, my chest (under, over and in between my breasts without giving me the full breast squeeze) my thighs, my legs, my back. It was a little bizarre. As she finished my full body massage, I was beckoned over by another security officer who opened my carry on and my purse and asked me questions about my belongings. The thing that was funny is I had two lighters and three books of matches that I had bought as gifts that didn’t make them blink an eye. There was no mention of my baggie of liquids either. Airport security seems so arbitrary and I don’t feel any safer because of it.
As it turned out, I was able to fly Business Class to JFK. It was a bit cramped as it was packed with people. But it wasn’t nearly as cramped as coach would have been. We were delayed a bit on the tarmac in Amsterdam and I only had an hour and a half to make my connecting flight. Of course, in NY I had to clear passport control where they stamped my passport and checked my customs form. Then I had to claim my luggage and head over to customs where they wanted to talk to me about the “food” I had brought back with me. I had packed my bags with some different kinds of cookies and mustard and mayonnaise in metal tubes (like toothpaste.) I had brought beer glasses home from the Brouwerij ‘t IJ (one didn’t make it…) and some other goodies. I really buy a lot. I had wanted to bring home some of the fabulous Belgian salami we had eaten but had read online that it is illegal to bring meat products of any kind into the US. You can’t bring fruit or vegetables in either. (Obviously, bringing lighters and matches is okay though.) I was pretty careful about that and I was honest with the customs agents. However, it took time. They scanned two of my three bags and asked me about the contents of each. I told her, “cookies, socks, tubes of mayo and mustard, t-shirts, tampons…” She started laughing and said, “Did you say tampons?!” To which I replied, “Yes.” She couldn’t believe it she kept saying to her colleagues that she couldn’t believe I said “tampons” and that that was the most honest response she had ever gotten. It was an odd and funny experience. I don’t think tampons are that hilarious but it got me through customs without actually having to open my bags. Unfortunately, when I got to the place to recheck my bags for the remainder of my travels I came to find out that my intuition in Amsterdam had been correct and they should have checked me all the way through. Becuase they hadn’t checked me and my bags through to Los Angeles I had to walk over to one of the agents and check in again recheck my bags. And, because I had taken all that time in Customs, and the ensuing laugh riot about my feminine products, it was now 55 minutes before my flight. Per Ms. Friendly at the counter I couldn’t check in for my flight because I had missed the hour prior to take off deadline. There was no discussion about over riding the system or calling a supervisor to get me on the flight. It was, essentially, “Too bad. I am putting you and your bags on the next flight.” I had already checked and knew the following flight, the flight she was putting me on the stand by list for, was nearly full when I had checked the night before. I could feel myself welling up with tears. There was nothing I could do. I was at Norma’s, the Delta employee who works in the bowels of JFK’s, mercy. And, she had none. I had to wait 3 hours for my next flight.
The upside is the gate agent for my flight was nothing short of kind and helpful. There wasn’t a chance I was going to get Business Class to LAX with 15 people ahead of me on the list. There were 10 seats available in coach. When I explained my predicament of having a large ass and needing an empty seat next to me she laughed and was so great with me. When the plane started to board she called me over and asked, “Is a window and a middle seat good for you?” How she treated me washed away the bad taste that Norma had left with me. As I sat in my coach seat the flight attendant came over the PA asking people to move quickly and get to their seats as it was going to be a full flight. I smiled knowing I was going to be comfortable (The seats are so close together. The seat in front of me was nearly touching me. There was a slim chance that I would be able to use my tray table), or as comfortable as I could be in coach, the rest of the way home.
I know that travelling and specifically air travel is difficult no matter ones size. But given that I am a woman of size I am clearly biased in my consideration that it is more difficult for fat people. Besides dragging heavy luggage filled with clothes that are twice the size of an average person (think about it, if I am twice your size than logically my clothes will be twice the size of yours. Like a word problem in math, it figures that if we bring the same amount of clothing on a trip and my clothes are twice the size of yours than my clothes will also weigh twice as much.) Then there is the whole walking the miles of airport terminal carrying my largess as well. Then there is getting on the plane down the long breezeways and then getting on the plane through the small doors and down the the tiny aisles. As I approach a plane the first thing I do is stop and rub and give a little “you can do it” pat to the outside of the plane. It’s a superstition with which I am just unwilling to tempt fate. Then as I walk onto the plane I inform the first flight attendant I see that I will need a seatbelt extender and where I am sitting. I was very lucky on this trip. I was able to fly Business Class from New York to Amsterdam and from Amsterdam to New York. I was also very fortunate that on my Los Angeles to JFK flight and back, even though I had coach, I was able to get an empty seat next to me. There isn’t a chance I could fit comfortably in a coach seat with the arm rest down. Not only would I be miserable but the person next to me would be also. There are a lot of considerations being a person of size and travelling. I have to say with this trip the pay off far outweighed the cost of having some discomfort. This fat girl will continue to travel and will continue to write about her experiences. I also promise to not make a habit of writing in the third person either. It just seemed fitting (ha, I said fitting) in this moment.