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Back in the USA

That's weird. I just woke up in Carrboro, North Carolina. Last thing I remember I was leaving Kea for a few days so Andrea and I could take our daughter Amarandi, and her grandmother or as we say in Greek her Yaya (this will save me a lot of letters as the story progresses) to Athens so they can catch their flight back to the USA. They had tickets for August 15th, the day of the Panagia, the celebration of the Virgin Mary, the worst time to be on Kea because it is packed and the best time to be in Athens because it is empty. In the last ten days I was in Kea I went swimming twice because I did not want to lose my parking space. 

So we packed our bags, closed the house, dragged our luggage down the mountain to the car and drove to the ferry, got off in Lavrion and drove to the Hotel Herodion. Athens was hot but bearable and lovely at night. We hung out at Makrianni, the neighborhood by the Acropolis museum, that has a nice pedestrian street with cafe-bars and restaurants. We chose two restaurants right next door to each other as our primary feeding stations. God's Restaurant is a friendly, clean, tourist place, family run by two young men and their father who looks like God. (Like Santa but not fat). Next door is Arkadia, a Peloponesian restaurant which also was very good for a tourist restaurant. On either side of the two restaurants were cafe-bars. Next to God was Regent and they had nice cold Paulinner Beer on tap but warm wine. Next to Arkadia though was a cafe owned by a Nemian winery that had wine tastings as well as breakfast and snacks and ouzo and meze. I was looking foreward to basing myself in Makrianni while Andrea and I decided what to do with ourselves after we had put Amarandi and Yaya on their flight home. 

Amarandi had to go back because she was due back at school in 5 days. She is a sophomore at UNCG with her own apartment and car and very independent so it was not like we needed to take her to school or help her buy supplies. Yaya was going back because it was time for Yaya to go back. She had driven Andrea stark raving mad and had nothing left to achieve by staying in Greece. I actually had a ticket to leave as well though only because for some idiotic reason it is cheaper to buy round trip than one way and rather then just put an arbitrary date on my return I made it on the same flight as Amarandi and Yaya's though I had no intention of leaving that day. The reason I only wanted one way is because Andrea came to Greece on the return of a roundtrip ticket because she had come to Greece in March. So if we continued going back and forth to Greece one of us would always be flying on a return ticket while the other was flying on the front end of the ticket meaning that we would never be buying our tickets together and our flights would always depend on the unused return ticket that was left over from each trip. Sooner or later one of us would have to blow off a return ticket in order to get back in sync. Yes I did ask about changing my ticket. The original which was paid for with Delta Sky Miles cost about $1200. To change it to a later date would cost $275 plus the difference in fare categories which is really just a random designation created by the airlines to make more money as the planes got more full. What was the difference in fares? I would have to pay an extra $1800. Plus the $275. No wonder people hate the airlines. 

Let me take a moment to illuminate the situation and perhaps open your eyes to how blatantly the airlines screw us and how they think we are so stupid that we won't even notice. I buy a round trip ticket from Raleigh-Durham to Athens. The cost is say $1600. Common sense would tell you that if I get a one way ticket it should cost half the price. That would be $800. You are only going half the distance so it should be half the price. But instead a one way ticket costs over $2000! If you ask why it is so expensive to buy a one way ticket they just tell you to buy a round-trip ticket but that does not answer the question and that just makes it seem like they are giving you a good deal.  But if they were giving you a fair deal a one-way ticket would cost half the price of a round trip ticket. Maybe they are afraid if they sell you a one-way ticket you won't come back, or you will come back whenever you want, or worse, you will come back on somebody else's airline.

So I had 2 options. Take the flight or eat the return ticket. It was at this point that Yaya began the drumbeat that we were irresponsible parents because we were not coming back with our daughter. I point out that Amarandi does not want us to come back because she would rather have the house to herself and even if we came back we would never see her since when she was not sleeping she would be out with her friends. (I was not making this up to justify my position. This is what Amarandi herself said). But Yaya kept pushing and the more she pushed the more guilty Andrea felt until finally we had a pow-wow to discuss our options. 

There were many things we could have done. We could have stayed in Athens for another week. The hotel was great and I loved the neighborhood and we had plenty of friends who had stayed in Athens for August. Plus we had the car and the streets were empty and in half an hour we could be at a nice beach. Or we could just get in the car and drive north to Corfu and visit our friends George and Loula on her island. Or go to Crete or back to Lesvos or back to Kea, or drive to Slovenia and visit my friend Darko at his winery and then drive to Paris and maybe to Normandy and then go to breweries in Belgium. 

Or we could just go back to Carrboro. We could send Amarandi off to school. Take care of the few responsibilities we have. And then embark upon our next adventure whatever that may be. Because really, how many beautiful sunsets on the Aegean can you watch? How many days of swimming in crystal clear turquoise water can a person stand? How many evenings of good wine, food and conversation with wonderful friends can you take? What's so great about Paris or Trappist breweries? What difference does it make if you don't visit every island in Greece? I mean aren't they all the same? Especially when compared to the multidimensional complexities of Carrboro, North Carolina. 

I guess you see where I am going here. Yaya won. We decided to fly back to the USA at least for a couple weeks. To be honest we were a little burned out. Think about your last trip to Greece and how full of fun and meaning your days and nights were and how long were you there for? Ten days? Two weeks? We had been in Greece for three months. We went out every night eating, drinking for three months straight. You need a break from fun every once in awhile. Of course our life is no different in Carrboro but that is besides the point. 

Well actually the final argument for going home for me, (and this with the knowledge that Andrea would have gone along with whatever I decided as I would have gone along with whatever she decided and that the reason is because neither of us wants to be the decider), was that it really did not matter so why not just go home. Next year or the year after Anarandi will probably be more detached from us than she is now. Why not play the part as family one more year and leave Greece all together? It may be the last time. And anyway since Andrea needs to buy a round trip ticket because it is cheaper than one way we can turn around and come right back if we want. 

Maybe the reason one way is more expensive than round trip is because it keeps people traveling.  If I buy a one way ticket from Athens to RDU it will cost about $2200. A round trip ticket will cost about $1600. If Andrea throws away her return then the airline made $1600 and has an extra seat which they make another $800. But if she uses the ticket she will need another ticket home and I will need a ticket too! So how is it possible the airlines are in financial trouble? They have created an army of ticket slaves, couples traveling against their will just to use the second part of an unneeded return ticket, their mates stuck in the same trap. 

I spent 6 hours on line at the hotel using Kayak, Edreams and Cheapoflights to find a decent ticket for Andrea to fly home. There were some good prices. She could fly R/T on American for $1201, the only inconvenience being an 18 hour layover in Heathrow. She would get home in time to wave goodby to Amarandi as she drove off to college. Other flights were in the $1500 and up range with many stops or long layovers but finally I found a flight through Paris and NY which would have put her on our flight from NY to Raleigh. But when I tried to book it there was a problem with my credit card. The problem was that American Express would not OK a charge for a flight leaving the next morning for a person who was not the holder of the card. Understandable but since nobody had told me that, I have filled the form out four times and each time the price of the flight has gone up and after the fourth the flight was gone. Luckily I found it on Cheapoair and this time I get a message that I need to use the card of the person flying which I do. But now I am getting emails from American Express fraud division telling me they suspect someone is trying to fraudulently use my card and I need to call this phone number which is in the USA and the phone goes beep-beep-beep before I get to the next to last digit. But Andrea's visa works so to hell with AMEX and after getting a confirmation number we go to sleep feeling like we have achieved something even though now Yaya has changed her tune saying it is a bad idea for us to come back to the USA because I will blame Andrea and torture her for ruining my three month holiday. 

So the next morning Andrea takes a taxi to the airport at 6am only to discover that the charge had been denied and the ticket canceled. The woman at the Air France ticket counter is doing whatever she can. I check my e-mails and see she is confirmed and then I go to a section called flight status and it says the same. So I go to the Cheapoflights support and chat with an agent who tells me VISA would not authorize the charges and they had been calling my house in America for the last several hours. Ok. It was not Cheapo's fault, except for the confirmation e-mail, and they did try to contact me. While waiting for my turn to chat with a rep I had discovered Delta had seats on the flight Amarandi, Yaya and I would be on so I told Andrea to book it on her iPad. Unfortunately she could not get a signal from any of the wireless zones at the airport and finally had to book at the Delta counter which cost 1900 euros instead of the $1600 on Kayak. 

Anyway it worked out and Andrea was very happy when we showed up at the airport and we boarded our flight and left Greece with little fanfare. (Most of my friends think I am still there). It was a lovely flight too. Andrea gave me a Klonapin and I slept for 6 hours and had time for 2 movies before we landed in NY. 

This is where traveling with Yaya really paid off:

Because we had ordered a wheelchair for her we all got to take shortcuts through the airport and avoid all the lines. I highly recommend traveling with at least one person in a wheelchair either someone very old or I guess someone physically disabled would work as well. I assume you can't just order a wheelchair if you are perfectly healthy or else everyone would do it. I mean why walk when you can have someone from the airport wheel you around and take you to the front of the lines? Probably the idea of traveling with your mother or grandmother or any old person is not that appealing. But once you get to JFK you will be glad you did. One Greek guy did not like the fact that all of us got to follow Yaya's wheelchair to the front of the line at security and started complaining and tried to block Andrea. "Get out of the way" she told him. "If you don't like it get your own old person."

So we had an easy transatlantic flight and were whisked through the airport in Yaya's wake. So far so good. But we knew that the Delta flight from JFK to RDU is always delayed or canceled so we were prepared when we looked at the departure board and saw it was delayed one hour, then two and then three. But we spent the time catching up on all the food we had missed in Greece. Nachos. Burgers. Quesadilla. Guacamole. And good beer. We boarded the plane, one of those small jets with about 15 rows of seats, and by this time I was so exhausted and uncomfortable I swore I would never fly anywhere again. We arrived home at midnight but by this time we had been traveling so long that we all hated each other and we went to bed without even saying goodnight. 

The next morning I had no idea where I was and by the time I figured it out and remembered how I got here I had come to the conclusion that I have no idea of what I am doing about 90% of the time. Why was I here and not in Corfu or Crete or Paris? What evil spirit had inhabited my body long enough to book Andrea's flight and put me on a plane and fly me all the way to North Carolina without me realizing it? And how was I going to get back? 

I am still wondering about that but to be honest with you, the next few nights we went out and ate some good non-Greek food and drank some Belgian beers that were a far cry from Mythos and Fix and Amstel, and we renewed our love affair with Andrea's Nespresso machine and at the moment life seems pretty good. Sure I am a little concerned that an alien being is inhabiting my body and making decisions for me and bringing me thousands of miles and then he leaves and I am the one who has to deal with the consequences. But doesn't this happen to everybody? This is normal isn't it?

Oh by the way. Remember how we came back to be supportive of Amarandi? Between the time we came home from the airport to the moment we waved goodbye as she drove off to college I saw her for 5 minutes. But it was a pleasant 5 minutes and well worth the trouble. I guess. That's the thing about being a family. You know how things are going to work out because you have been in every situation. I even said to Yaya when she was trying to manipulate us into leaving that Amarandi would spend 5 minutes with us and sure enough I was right. Maybe I created my own reality. And yet we came back anyway. Probably 20 or 30 years from now Amarandi will remember how we chose to come home with her instead of staying in Greece and she will appreciate it. It's a small gesture I realize but its the little things that we remember. What parent wouldn't spend six hours on line and then travel for fifteen hours to spend 5 minutes with their daughter? And there were other benefits as well. It rained yesterday. I had not seen rain in 3 months and probably would not have seen it for another month in Greece. So there is that. Oh and we get to bury our cat. He died while we were in Greece and our friend who was keeping him had him cremated and will bring us the urn any day. So I guess it was all for the best. Sometimes you think you are doing something for one reason and it turns out that you actually did it for another. Then again sometimes you do something for one reason and you discover you were wrong and there was no reason to do what you did but now you are stuck with the results. I think we are somewhere between the two. We didn't have a good reason to come back but we had plenty of excuses. So I guess we came back because we wanted to. 

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