You'll never guess what I did
Contributing writer Chris Jones documented his journey from Ottawa, Ontario, to Johannesburg. Here is his story of woe (minus the toilet humor).
Tuesday, June 8, 10:56 a.m.: Leave house a blubbering mess, waving at crying wife and kids out taxi window. Taxi driver helpfully asks me how much my front porch cost. Discussion of merits of cedar versus pressure-treated lumber provides useful distraction from overwhelming sorrow.
11:14 a.m.: Arrive at delightfully quaint Ottawa International Airport and attempt to check in. Ottawa-Detroit and Detroit-Atlanta legs appear in order, but Atlanta-Johannesburg flight apparently will be delayed because of mysterious "equipment change." Informed that precious aisle seat might be in jeopardy.
11:27 a.m.: Buy two doughnuts from Tim Hortons and feel homesick already. Delicious maple dip. We'll be together again soon, my love.
12:15 p.m.: Board flight to Detroit. Have five children seated within six feet of me. Statistically impossible, and yet here they are, the blessed little tykes.
12:17 p.m.: My seatmate, a Mr. Eroukov, asks whether he can put his carry-on bag under the seat in front of me. In the spirit of international cooperation and goodwill fostered by the upcoming World Cup, I tell him to eat it.
12:35 p.m.: On-time departure from Ottawa. Mr. Eroukov seems less pleased than I am.
12:35-1:55 p.m.: Dig into the very good "Shop Class as Soulcraft" by Matthew B. Crawford amid the sound of screaming children. Wonder whether I should have become a motorcycle mechanic or a plumber instead of a writer. Would probably encounter fewer children in the trades.
1:56 p.m.: Detroit!
2:22 p.m.: Walk past Detroit's airport fountain, the finest of all of America's airport fountains. Denver comes second. Third place, you're fired.
2:34 p.m.: Awesome airport announcement: "Terri X, who has just arrived from Fort Myers, please return to your gate. You left your Weight Watchers book on the plane." Hey, Terri from Fort Myers -- good on you for trying. But I'm guessing you're not happy that Detroit knows you're fat.
2:58 p.m.: I'll never understand why people line up to get on a plane. Your seat is assigned, and pretty soon you won't be able to wait to get off. It's kind of like an arranged marriage.
3 p.m.: Praying the wild-eyed woman in the WILL WORK FOR GOD T-shirt isn't my seatmate.
3:24 p.m.: Prayers answered, sort of. Got a giant biker dude instead.
3:35 p.m.: On-time departure from Detroit, or close enough. Two-for-two, baby. Totally full flight, though.
3:35-5:36 p.m.: Do in-flight magazine crossword. ("Sewing machine inventor Howe"? Elias!) Read cover story about South Africa, mostly because it includes pictures of Charlize Theron and a food spread featuring sticky ribs. Decide the Dutch will win the World Cup but can't articulate why. Listen to the latest Pete Yorn album while imagining Theron eating sticky ribs.
5:37 p.m.: Atlanta?
6:05 p.m.: I'm thinking Arby's.
6:22 p.m.: Check on status of aisle seat. Status confirmed! Ask about the possibility of an upgrade. No problem, just pay the difference in fare. The difference in fare is $8,881. Aisle seat it is.
7:02 p.m.: Waiting area feels terrifically festive. Judging from this small, entirely unrepresentative corner of the universe, Mexico will have the most fans at the World Cup, followed by Brazil and the United States. Australia will have one fan, but he seems like a nice guy.
7:25 p.m.: Plane doors close. Plane does not take off. Minor "glitch" in the "navigational system" needs to be fixed. Take your time, boys, sincerely. I don't want to "end up" in "Angola."
8:06 p.m.: Liftoff! Mexicans celebrate with rousing song and drum chorus. That won't get old.
?:?? p.m.: Computer battery dies, and this particular plane -- thanks a lot, crappy airline that rhymes with Smelta -- doesn't have plug outlets. No computer and no watch means no way to tell time. This might not be a bad thing because the flight is nearly 16 hours long.
?:?? p.m.: Watch "The Damned United" about Brian Clough and his 44-day tenure managing Leeds. Really like it. Like especially the idea that soccer players used to be actual men.
?:?? p.m.: Follow that up with the Chris Rock documentary "Good Hair," about the African-American obsession with lids. Fascinating in a strange way, like when a lab tech burns through chicken with a vial of hair relaxer.
?:?? p.m.: Wonder why music always sounds better on planes. Even Dashboard Confessional is euphoric at 30,000 feet with the sun streaming in. If Sigur Ros ever did a concert on a plane at dusk, it would be mind-blowing. They could charge $1 million a seat.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010, ?:?? a.m.: First blood clot forms in my right butt cheek. Feel like I'm having a stroke, except in my bum.
?:?? a.m.: Thanks a lot, folks. Enjoy the veal. I'll be here all night.
?:?? a.m.: No, seriously. I'm going to be here all friggin' night.
?:?? a.m.: Can't sleep, so it's time for another movie. Start "Invictus," but the opening line is so ham-fisted and badly delivered that I turn it off. Fire up another documentary instead: "The September Issue" about Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
?:?? a.m.: Hit restroom. I'm thinking Arby's. Again.
?:?? a.m.: Another failed attempt at falling asleep. Watch three more movies. Have no idea what they are. Might have watched "The Wolfman," but it just as easily could have been a home movie about my Uncle Bill, whose kids once shaved his name into his back.
?:?? a.m.: Drink, hoping for an hour's sleep. Just end up kind of drunk and not asleep.
?:?? a.m.: Brain starts sounding like Ralph Wiggum's. "Mr. Simpson, the tar fumes are making me dizzy."
?:?? ?.?.: Strike up conversation with pillow.
?:?? ?.?.: Pillow informs me that I have started shivering uncontrollably.
?:?? ?.?.: I need to be held.
?:?? ?.?.: Am I going die, Doc? Tell me I'm not going to die! Tell my girl I love her! Oh God, I can't believe I'm hit. I can't feel my legs, Doc. I CAN'T FEEL MY LEGS!
?:?? ?.?.: Mama.
11:21 a.m. (5:21 p.m. local time): Johannesburgggggggggggg.
5:31 p.m.: Handed by welcoming stranger what I can only presume is a local beverage. "Coca-Cola." Tastes pretty good. They should export it.
5:55 p.m.: Met by very friendly ESPN van driver. Head for hotel.
5:56 p.m.: Stuck in traffic.
7:01 p.m.: Arrive at hotel.
7:07 p.m.: Head across the street to casino.
7:20 p.m.: Order beer. Windhoek. Order another. Oh, heck, go on, I'll have one more.
Thursday, June 10, 2010, 6:04 a.m.: Wake up.
6:05 a.m.: In Swaziland.
Chris Jones is a contributing editor to ESPN the Magazine and a writer-at-large for Esquire.