Virgin is the greatest airline ever in the history of flight to cross the Atlantic. I have flown numerous carriers over the years, most of which suffer suck to the nth degree, despite the $20 billion bailout they insisted the U.S. government make the taxpayers hand them.
Virgin is what the Wright Brothers might have had in mind if they were at all thinking about the commercial potential of aviation. They were probably much more concerned with not dying, but they would undoubtedly give a big thumbs up to Richard Branson and the Virgin experience if they weren’t so dead.
My love for Virgin began at check-in, though they did not have us at ‘hello.’ At ‘hello’ we made the mistake of getting in line behind a dozen or so folks from Nigeria who were trying to bring a flea market on board the plane. This is apparently not allowed, and you are liable to be standing there a long time while the details regarding the embargo on their horrid little country are sorted out. Forty five minutes later, they apparently were.
Immediately in front of us was a man, probably a militia member from Texas, who did not for one second cease talking. He was the potbellied, denim-wearing, bearded, creepy type who probably listens to radio host Art Bell religiously and assumes all airplane vapor trails and helicopters are part of some vast government conspiracy aimed solely at him.
During his time in line he hijacked a poor Englishman who was unable or unwilling to utter a single word, such as stop. The Englishman simply nodded at Mr. Gabbermouth whenever he deemed it appropriate. To make matters more lovely, Gabbermouth came equipped with Demon Breath which required turning away so as to avoid attacks of nausea. As Gabbermouth babbled away it occurred to us that the Englishman was his victim, not friend.
After the disclaimer “I’m not racist but–” you don’t expect to hear anything too enlightening, and Gabbermouth did not disappoint. The poor, silent Englishman was introduced to Gabby’s non-racist theory that Orthodox Jews were annoying because they all “stand up as soon as the plane touches the ground” presumably because they were “all the same” and “weird folks.” Based on his experiences with rapid-standing Jews, Gabbermouth posited that they must all think they’re better than everyone. To sum: Gabby’s “not a racist” though he sounds the same as a 1937 German propaganda film. During the whole presentation the poor, silent Englishman nodded as his mind no doubt drifted off into a paradise where he was free from the confines of his body. Eventually God arrived and saw to it that Gabbermouth was summoned to the counter. Free at last, as the good reverend [not Al Sharpton] once said.
After the Nigerians, Gabbermouth and the Silent Englishman had been handled, it was our turn. I told the ticketing agent smugly that he could upgrade us to First Class if he wanted to. Ha ha. The sarcasm was ignored, our tickets were issued and we were on our way. It was only at the gate that we realized that he had in fact upgraded us to Virgin Upper Class. I love this man dearly for doing this.
This was my first trip on Virgin. In several years of flying Delta, I have never once been upgraded going overseas, much less felt the slightest bit appreciated by them in any way. Virgin instantly made us feel like royalty. Better yet, I watched as Gabbermouth was marched off to the cruel confines of Economy Class where I prayed he’d be seated amongst the Chosen People. There would be no better justice than him being chafed to death by all the kooky sitting and standing he feels they do.
Whereas Air France endeavors to test the limits of your endurance, Virgin seems to understand the things that make an airline not suck. Like having a pleasant attitude. Like a selection of movies that aren’t crap. Decent food. Great service. A lady that goes around giving massages. A bar that you can sit at. These are things that make time pass sweetly, which is what you want when you’re on a long flight. Virgin is the kind of airline you would create if you were told to build an airline that you’d actually like to fly on. Air France is the kind of airline you’d create if you felt like punishing people to get back for the ass-kicking you received at Agincourt.
On the London to Warsaw leg I attempted, twice, to use the same upgrade technique. No takers. That was fair enough. We had already been blessed for the longest leg of the trip. Besides, the only difference between Business and Economy on Lot Polish Airlines is that the stewardesses in Business are a tad prettier. The seats looks like they took a row of three Economy seats and made them into two and a half by moving the inside arm rests a few inches. The end result is a seat in the middle that looks like it could hold a briefcase, or someone the size of Webster‘s Emmanuel Lewis.
Bags in London and Warsaw seemed to take considerable extra time to make it to the claim area. We assumed it was due to heightened security. In reality, it’s probably because we were in England and Poland. “We’re definitely not in Switzerland,” as one traveler put it.
The puddle-jumper to Poznan was even less eventful. Poznan Airport is a relatively new, space-age looking thing that seems to only turn on when you arrive. When we rented a car once, I watched them enter the Hertz booth and open for our sake. Once we had rented the car they exited the booth, shut the lights off and went home. Or perhaps to a Hertz booth in another airport where someone else was going to be renting a car.
The drive to the village took a lot longer than normal on account of a truck accident. Poland’s road system lends itself to accidents of all sorts. This particular one was either a chemical spill or chickens, because the fire department was sweeping a whole lot of something off of the road and on to the shoulder.
No trip would be complete without me developing a throat infection. Fortunately I know the signs and had the foresight to stop at the village doctor, who lives across from the village priest. At 5pm the wait for the village doctor is zero seconds. I was examined and handed a prescription. The cost of the visit was zero dollars because the doctor knew my wife’s father. The cost of the prescriptions came to about $7 for penicillin, multivitamins, vitamin C, and anti-fever medication which had been prescribed “just in case.” This is hardly a suggestion that socialized medicine is a good idea, but one must call a bargain when he sees it.
The road to the farm — for years, a rim-shattering, tire-flattening, hole-riddled obstacle course — has been completely paved. Some sort of civic road-repair program? No. My brother-in-law had simply gotten the village Mayor drunk and made him promise to fix it.
Back on the farm, a hearty dinner of pork cutlet, beets, cabbage and potatoes. At bedtime you’re faced with the one thing a New Yorker finds oddly disturbing: absolute and steady silence.