Strange is the day when you get on a plane with the sun way up, and get off the plane with the sun way up, and in between is dark of night. But that’s how you get to Rome.
I’m in Italy. I’m out of North America for the first time ever. I’m more than 50 yards from American soil for the first time since 1976.
And I’ll tell you how it’s going as soon as I’m not dead-dog tired.
We made it to our hotel, the Hotel Nord, about 10 a.m. Italian time. That’s 3 a.m. back home. I’ve been up for 21 hours straight. I’m going to try to lie down and try to catch a quick nap before we go exploring the city, but it’s been a memorable trip already.
DELTA, DELTA, DELTA, CAN I HELP YA, HELP YA, HELP YA?
You know my theory about airlines. Southwest is the worst except for all the rest. I’m not too big on the industry in recent years.
But I’ve got to say, the Delta experience was solid. Excellent, actually.
Except for the obnoxious drunk — he was obnoxious before he ordered a vodka, so I don’t want to pigeon-hole the guy; he might just be obnoxious. We quickly discovered the truth about trans-world travel. Nine hours is bearable. Nine hours is pleasurable if you’re around quality people. Nine hours is insufferable if you’re within earshot of a cad.
Some loudmouth sat right behind, talking nonsense with some girl half his age, a 20-year-old stranger, even before the trip started, and he didn’t stop except when he fell asleep. Vulgarity, goofiness, griping about the Dish leaning her seat back. Three hundred passengers on a Detroit-to-Rome flight, and we get the knucklehead.
Oh well. I finally went to the back and complained to a flight attendant, and a couple of veteran females actually came up and sort of talked the guy into settling down. They even told the girl right behind me to get her knees out of the back of my seat, which I hadn’t even mentioned.
I don’t know how people survive flights like that with goofballs. Going to China or Australia would be even worse.
Anyway, the flight otherwise was excellent. One of those 2-3-2 configurations. The Dish had a window seat and I was right next to her, on the 43rd row. There are 45 rows on the sides, 47 in the middle. Big ol’ piece of airplane.
The flight was so long, they fed us twice. We got dinner an hour or two after we left Detroit (5:39 p.m. Michigan time), then we got breakfast 45 minutes before landing. Dinner was decent: nice little salad with some Italian dressing, an entrée of chicken enchilada or straight pasta, some kind of thick cookie and cheese-and-crackers. I told the Dish I’d order whatever she didn’t, then swap if she didn’t like hers. Which she didn’t. I took the chicken enchiladas, which really tasted more like tamales out of a can. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love tamales out of a can. So I had no complains. Breakfast was a little cheese-and-egg biscuit, with a mushy banana and orange juice.
And the service was outstanding. I swear, Delta is moving up fast. Drinks and snacks galore.
Alas, the plane had no internet, so I had no NBA Draft. Didn’t know the Thunder drafted two guys I’m not crazy about until I got to the hotel and fired up the laptop.
I had a stack of newspapers — The Oklahoman and the Norman Transcript — that I had to get caught up on before starting in on my books, and I was more behind than I thought. Eight days behind. But I knocked them out. When my eyes got tired, probably halfway through the flight, I dialed up one of the movies available on the back of the seat. I watched “Enough Said,” with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini. Seinfeld meets The Sopranos. It was a dramedy about middle-age love. I thought it was a decent way to spend 90 minutes over the Atlantic Ocean.
And so far, international travel has been a breeze. We had to show our passports at Will Rogers to get on the flight to Detroit, then we had to show our passports in Detroit when we boarded the plane, and we had to show our passports in Rome before we could proceed to baggage claim (producing the only long lines of the trip, so far), and we even had to show our passports at the hotel to check in, for what reason I don’t know.
But it’s sort of cool to have a passport, having gone 53 years without one. I’m sure I’ll get tired of showing it, but so far, the new hasn’t worn off.
I hadn’t been to Detroit Metro Airport since March 1996 — OSU-Michigan, NIT — and for a city struggling just to stay afloat, I’ve got to say, they’ve done a nice job with the airport. Refurbished. Nice. Clean. Big. Much nicer than Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International, which is 18.9 nautical miles (don’t ask) southwest of Rome’s city center. Da Vinci, the airport, reminds you of any old American airport. Crowded. Narrow. A little bit dingy. Maybe that was just the international terminal, I don’t know. Reminded me of LaGuardia.
But Rome and OKC have something in common. Their airports are named after famous guys who are connected to flight. Will Rogers died in a 1935 plane crash. Da Vinci was perhaps the first European to seriously consider manned flight. He drew up plans for a human-powered wing-flapping device intended to fly. That was in 1485. When he wasn’t beating the Wright Brothers by about 400 years, he was painting “The Last Supper.” Halfway talented fellow, seems to me.
Here’s what I’ve seen so far that’s interesting:
* The streets of Rome are a lot like New York, except the cross roadways — New York’s streets, not counting the majors like 42nd, 57th, etc. — seem a little tighter in Rome.
* Hey, they drive on the right side of the road here. Do only the Brits have it backwards?
* We took the train from da Vinci to downtown Rome: 14 Euros a trip. The exchange rate is something like $1.40 for a Euro.
* Da Vinci is right next to the Tyrrhenian Sea — I didn’t know Rome was that close to the ocean — so you get the sensation of flying in over water and landing just beyond what looks like beautiful beaches. Then you get on a train at the airport, and within a mile you’re passing baled hay like you’d see leaving Stratford on Highway 19. Sort of startling.
* The train ride into Rome was grueling. No air conditioning and no air circulation. It’s a nice day. I doubt it’s 85. But it was suffocating on the train. I quoted my Lexington-raised mom: “I’m about to hot to death.”
* You don’t pass anything too spectacular from the airport into Rome. A bunch of graffiti-laced building. A bunch of apartment buildings that all start to look alike, only a few of them with laundry hanging from the windows. But I’m not going to be too hard on Rome just yet. Drive from LAX to downtown Los Angeles, and you’re not too impressed, either. But drive some other directions in Greater LA…
* I checked out a vending machine at the airport. It had a bunch of stuff I’d never heard of; no brand of chips that registered. But you could buy a Coke, a 7-Up, some Oreos, a KitKat and some M&M’s.
There’s nothing I really need to see on television, with the draft over and Mitch McGary safely in the Thunder fold, but I took a quick tour through the channels. A ton of options, but few in English. Bloomberg News. CNN. That’s about it. No ESPN. Lots of Fox soccer options.
Of course, when you’re in a city that hosted Ben-Hur’s chariot race and the original gladiators, you don’t need too much of the cable.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
Our room at the Hotel Nord is New York-small. But that’s OK. We’ve got more room than we did in Row 43 of that Delta flight, and no obnoxious dude behind us.
It’s got a double bed, a little desk, a Samsung television that appears to be high-def but I swear is only a couple of inches wider than my laptop, a decent armoire and a shotgun bathroom. That’s right. A shotgun bathroom. Measures probably four feet wide, nine feet long. A tiny shower. A small sink with virtually no vanity. A toilet. And a bidet, which I never really have figured out. And for some reason, the bathroom is elevated, probably three inches high to step into. Hope we don’t trip in the middle of the night.
It’s a spartan room, but it’s nice. Cool wood floors. Granite floor in the bathroom. Cool little view, looking out into a street not from the Rome Terminal, where the buses and trains flock.
This is our headquarters for a few days. It’s going to be fun.