Thursday, May 31, 2007

18 May: Traveling in Style

I made it (just barely) to the Chick Flick on Thursday night and was glad I did; it turns out this was the last chance to see Rhoda, who is moving back to the U.S. for good on Sunday (after two years in Heidelberg and two years in Stuttgart). She was bleary-eyed from crying for the past few days, and I found it all too easy to picture myself in her shoes in a few short months. Coincidentally, she’s from Springfield, Virginia, where I lived (actually in the nearby suburb of Burke) for a couple of years as a kid. She even knew of my school, Ravenswood Elementary. We were joined at Emily’s by Shannon, Eliza, Brenda, Anne W., and an extremely pregnant woman named Sunny. What was really funny was that while last time we amassed a pretty good feast (veggies and dip, chips and salsa, chocolate cake, rice crispies treats), this time none of us had bothered to make anything (except Emily, who, being a dutiful host, had made chocolate cupcakes with red, white, and blue sprinkles). I thought I had a pretty good excuse, seeing as how I was leaving for Michigan in the morning and wasn’t even sure I was going to make it there. All of us had apparently made the same last-minute dash to the corner store and grabbed whatever caught our eye – which in my case was a package of cheese crisps and some cookies. No matter, we drank lots of wine and pigged out anyway.

My hopes of getting home at a reasonable hour (since I still had a tiny bit of packing to do) were dashed when we encountered technical difficulties with Emily’s overly complex stereo system. We couldn’t seem to get the volume turned up to the point that our gaggle of giggling girls could actually hear what was going on. After a good half-hour of futzing with the stereo, we retired to Emily’s bedroom to watch the final episode of Germany’s Next Top Model on her small but adequate television. Finally, when we were just about convinced that we were going have to watch the movie all squished together onto Emily’s bed, she got a hold of her husband on the phone and was able to devise a solution to our volume problem. Our film selection was The Holiday, which, despite featuring one of my least favorite actresses (Cameron Diaz), was quite a charming movie. Needless to say I didn’t get home until 11:30 and stayed up until almost 1 a.m. finishing up my packing.

We arrived at the airport early (for once), parked the E-Class in the garage, and lugged our four bags to the DaimlerChrysler terminal. (We decided to fill our two huge Micato safari duffels with winter clothing and shoes that we won’t need again, and leave it all in Michigan.) We waited for half an hour or so in the sleek black-and-silver waiting room (above right). Our flight left promptly at 10 a.m. with a grand total of eight passengers (on an Airbus that seats 48 – and would normally hold 120 as a commercial airliner). The photo at right is the actual DCX plane and the one below it is of the DCX terminal at the Stuttgart airport. The picture of me in the cushy seat is actually from our look-see trip in June 2005.

Only later did John hear rumors that they
will stop running the DaimlerChrysler shuttle this summer. Thus our flight back to Germany could very well be the last time we will ever travel on the DaimlerChrysler corporate jet – or any corporate jet, for that matter. Interestingly, I noticed that they did not serve sparkling wine and orange juice as soon as we got to cruising altitude – apparently they are cutting costs already!

I stole the menu as a souvenir this time, so I can describe in detail the ridiculous amount of food we consumed on our 9-hour flight: For an appetizer - sliced chicken breast with thyme, olives, roasted cherry tomatoes, and fried ceps accompanied by potato salad with petso and black tiger shrimp. For the main course, we had a choice of beef with morel sauce, fried codfish with apple curry sauce, or chicken piccata with pasta. Dessert was an apple tart. Just in case that wasn’t enough to fill us up, we got a “snack” prior to landing – asparagus with endive salad, cheese and tomato ravioli with pesto butter, and mascarpone cream with berry sauce. The flight attendants (who are always women) came around during the meal service with baskets of warm bread, and later with cookies and chocolates, just in case we got hunger pains between meals. We watched two movies – Bandidas (everyman’s dream of Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz duking it out in a western) and Music and Lyrics, which I’d actually been wanting to see. The flight was so long that they showed a third movie, Rocky Balboa, which I tried to sleep through, rather unsuccessfully.

We had excellent views of northern Scotland and Canada (see photo) on this flight, but unfortunately Greenland was obscured by clouds. As we descended over the southern tip of Lake Huron and crossed central Macomb and Oakland counties, I was really struck – more so than usual – by the extent of suburban sprawl in southeast Michigan. The photo below is of Stony Creek Lake and surrounding development, just a mile or two north of our house. I found myself dreading the sight of endless cookie-cutter subdivisions and ugly strip malls. We landed at about 1:30 p.m. Michigan time and picked up our rental car, an atrociously ugly metallic gold Subaru Tribeca (John had requested a wagon or small SUV because we needed to be able to haul mulch for our yard). I really wonder who thought it would be a good idea to name a Subaru SUV after a neighborhood in New York City.

Driving through Pontiac on the way home further exacerbated what I can only describe as “sprawl shock.” I don’t know why it affected me more now than on previous visits home – probably because the end of our time in Germany is looming, perhaps sooner than I expected. I was relieved when we finally arrived in Rochester, with its quaint downtown shops and century-old neighborhoods. It comes as no surprise to us that the Germans who visit Chrysler from Mercedes all know Rochester, and describe it as their favorite town in Michigan.

Our elation at being back in Rochester was cut off abruptly when we pulled into our driveway. We had thought we could wait until we got home to set up our lawn service for the summer, but we were wrong. Apparently the recent rains followed by warm weather had sent our lawn – and its accompanying dandelions – into hyperdrive. There were also branches and leaves scattered all over our front walk and driveway, making the place look decidedly abandoned. We surveyed the damage, left an urgent message for the lawn service people, and set off to run some errands and satisfy our craving for raw seafood at Sumo Sushi.

Upon our return a couple of hours later, we were shocked to discover our lawn sheared to within an inch of its life. At first I wondered if the lawn service had gotten my call and come to our rescue already. That would have been fine, except that there were grass clippings scattered all over the driveway and sidewalk, making the place look almost worse than it had before. As soon as we got out of the car, the mystery was solved – our neighbor Greg across the street called out, “Hey, are you guys back? I mowed your lawn – it was starting to look like nobody lived there!” Which, of course, was indeed the case. He planned to come over and clean up the clippings as well, but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. We thanked him profusely, as now we only had the overgrown backyard to contend with.

Inside, we found things to be in pretty good shape. All we had to do to “turn on” the house again was switch on the water, hot water heater, and furnace. We washed the antifreeze down all the drains, made up our bed, and plugged in the fridge.

I ran into Alexander, our nextdoor neighbor to the east, on Friday evening. His house is up for sale and it turns out he has already moved out but was just stopping by to pick up a few things. He informed me that our neighbors across the street to the west had moved out some time ago. This was a stunning piece of news because this couple had been watching our house religiously. (Over the winter, without our knowledge, Dawn had plugged in our garage door and was driving her car into our garage because she was afraid of coming into an empty house. My friend Alison encountered the tire tracks in the snow one day and got so freaked out that she was considering calling the police. Fortunately I figured out what must be happening and called Dawn at work to tell her not to use our garage anymore!) Dawn had promised to water our plants and put flowers out in the summer, so I couldn’t believe that they had moved away without telling us. To top it off, our neighbors across the street to the east also have their house up for sale, which means poor Greg is going to be surrounded by empty houses, for a while at least. Finally, Alexander told me that our neighbors directly to the west of us, who had their house up for sale in December, decided not to move after all. Now that we were all up to date on the state of the neighborhood, we fell into bed – leaving the mess of grass clippings and branches for tomorrow.

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