Monday, December 04, 2006
I survived Finland
Anyway, we flew out Monday -- my first experience with transcontinental air travel. We were on an Air France Airbus. At first I was amazed at the size and the monitors in the seatbacks that had a live camera showing the takeoff, etc. However a few minutes into the flight I realized that the old Indian lady behind me smelled VERY strongly of curry and it was not sitting well with my stomach. Also, the seats didn’t tilt back enough to sleep, and I had to spread my legs to keep my knees from digging into the seatback in front of me. After five hours in this position knees started getting very sore. I wasn’t able to sleep a wink on the 10-hour flight to Paris, but I did watch The Breakup and Pirates of the Caribbean 2.
The Paris airport is a complicated maze, which is even more complicated by the fact that on all their signage the down arrow means straight ahead whereas in the rest of the world an up arrow means straight ahead. So we were trying to follow the down arrows by going down. That wasn’t working out too well, and the airport employees were none too helpful. However, we did make our flight to Helsinki, and while there were no movies on that flight it was a much more comfortable jet.
Once we got to Helsinki, it became very apparent that the Finnish LOVE to drink. The airport is full of bars. Even the coffee shops are actually beer shops. Everyone was drinking. Also you can actually buy taxidermied reindeer and reindeer pelts in the Helsinki airport. How would you bring a taxidermied reindeer back through customs? Do you declare it as livestock? I mean, it’s technically deadstock.
From Helsinki we got on a 20-seat prop plane for the jump to Pori. At this point I couldn’t keep my eyes open, so I actually fell asleep on that flight. We landed at the tiny airport in Pori and walked through the cold to the tiny terminal to find that while our clothes did make the flight, the only camera equipment that had made it there with us was the tripod. Everyone was tired and already a ball of stress, so the producer started freaking out a bit, but the one lady who worked the ticketing desk, the gate, baggage claim, and customer information (this airport only had like 4 employees total) assured us that the rest of the equipment would show up on later flights and would be sent to our hotel.
So we got our rental cars, which turned out to be Volvo SUVs and went to the hotel. The hotel was quite interesting. Half of it was on one side of the street and the other half was across the street connected by a tunnel. We checked in on one side, but then were sent to the other side to find our rooms. I also opted to pay for the parking garage. However, I wasn’t told that the parking garage was designed for subcompact cars. I pulled in, and I had to make three point turns to go around the ends of the aisles. Then it took me three attempts in two different spots and an 8-point turn to finally wedge the Volvo in between a concrete pillar and a delivery van.
We left Houston around 4:00 Monday afternoon, and it was already 9 p.m. on Tuesday, so the crew and I grabbed some dinner and started our exploration of Finnish beers. However, having been awake for more than 24 hours we didn’t last long and everyone retired to their rooms.
Now let me describe these Finnish hotel rooms. Imagine Ikea furniture, but 20 years old and even crappier. Each room was equipped with two incredibly small twin-sized beds, and the bathroom looked like the shower stall and the toilet had been taken out of an RV. I guess small plastic toilets are the norm in the rest of the world, I don’t know.
Wednesday morning we got up, and I have to say the Fins know how to put together a really great breakfast buffet. However, the delicious porridge was not the highlight of my morning. The highlight was that I saw a freaking elf!!!!! This guy was about 4’ tall, bald, a little bit portly and had pointy ears. I swear, he was a freaking elf right out of Santa’s workshop. He was wearing a business suit instead of an elf suit though. I didn’t know it at the time, but Finland actually proclaims itself as home of Santa, so it all makes sense now.
Anyway, it was a cold morning despite everyone commenting about how it was unseasonably warm. We got to the shipyard and took a tour of the facilities. Then we filmed two interviews that morning before this thick fog rolled in and the rain started. That pretty much put an end to our outdoor shooting by lunchtime. Then we did one more interview in the fabrication shop before calling it a day.
Wednesday night started out tame with dinner at a family pizza place, but got a little out of hand after the sound guy, the cameraman and myself had wandered from bar to bar throughout Pori for a couple hours. It was remarkable at how many Hispanic-themed bars there were. The hotel bar was called Amarillo’s Tequila Bar and prided themselves on serving Tequila, Corona and Budweiser – not exactly exotic to us.
The crew went to bed, and I ended up alone in the hotel bar chatting with locals. I found out that Pori is considered the Liverpool of Finland because it’s a port town and three famous Finnish bands were from there in the 1980s. It also hosts a huge jazz festival every July. Except by jazz they really mean pop. Apparently Sting was the headliner last year.
I’d had quite a bit to drink, and the hotel bar was very full as the upstairs nightclub opened on Wednesdays. Apparently everyone was waiting in anticipation of going upstairs. I started craving a cigarette, which yes, I know is a filthy habit, but for some reason when I’ve had that much to drink, I don’t care. I stumbled over to this table full of 20-something-ish Finnish girls, and said something that I don’t recollect, but which I’m absolutely sure was ridiculously cute and funny and was promptly instructed to sit down with them. Well these cute Finnish women began plying me with cigarettes and alcohol and asking questions about the US as they impatiently waited for the nightclub to open. However, a group of engineers from Mexico who were there to tour our facilities recognized me from a previous meeting and descended upon the table and the Finnish girls. They also began plying me with many shots. We went upstairs to the nightclub, and I remember dancing with a girl wearing a boa, but not much after that.
Thursday morning I was awakened by a knock on the door. I was in my hotel room lying on one of the tiny twin beds still fully clothed. It was light outside – not a good sign since the sun doesn’t rise until about 9:30 this time of year in Finland. It was my producer at the door. He said, “Can I have the rental car keys, so we can go do our thing?” I said sure, reached into my pocket and handed him the keys.
I was upset that I had slept through my alarm and threw on my clothes to meet the crew downstairs. But the crew wasn’t there. The car wasn’t there. I didn’t have keys to the other car. Despite the fact that my office had issued me an “international” cell phone, it hadn’t worked since I left Houston and none of the crew’s phones worked anyway. I returned to my hotel room wondering if maybe they just had to run an errand. Thirty minutes later I realized they had just left me.
I was pissed. I mean PISSED. Yes, I overslept, but I’m in charge. You don’t just leave the guy in charge who is paying all your bills. Why had nobody bothered to come find me when I didn’t show up for breakfast? Why had they waited until 9 a.m. to come get the keys? I was going to finish the shoot, then chew them all out and fire them.
I got a cab out to the shipyard, smooth-talked security, grabbed a new hardhat and went to find the crew. I walked up on them discussing a shot, and they looked shocked to see me. The cameraman asked how I got there. Then the sound guy started asking if I was ok … and the story began to unfold.
Apparently they did knock before 9 a.m. Apparently they knocked at 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. Each time I answered the door. Each time they asked if I was getting dressed and coming downstairs. Each time I apparently mumbled incoherently, nodded my head and disappeared back into the room. I have no recollection of any of this. However, when it comes to black outs, I’m very happy that I simply slept through this one and wasn’t running around naked as alleged by the rumors floating around in New Braunfels.
So Thursday turned out to be a beautiful day. It was bright and sunny, and the temperature got up to I’d guess around the 40s (Fahrenheit). Of course, the second the sun started going down at 3:30 p.m. (The days are very short this time of year.) it got frigid again.
We finished shooting in the fabrication facilities with a wide-angle sweeping shot from a catwalk near the roofline. The cameraman got the shot and declared that it was the best shot he’d gotten all day, it wasn’t going to get any better, and we may as well quit now. So we quit about 4:30 and went back to the hotel. We ate dinner and had planned to have a couple beers at the hotel bar, but at this point the stress, fatigue and jetlag had set in so that everyone was literally falling asleep where they sat. It was only 9:00 p.m., but I could barely hold my head up, so I went to bed. Of course, I woke up at midnight and couldn’t do a thing to go back to sleep. The whole time change thing had really messed up my biological clock.
The next morning we packed up and went to the Pori airport. This time we made sure all our equipment was on the small plane and headed out to Helsinki. We had a three hour layover in Helsinki, so we explored the airport, posed with the taxidermied reindeers, etc. Once again we had a majorly stinky person on our flight to Paris. This time it was just plain BO. It was so bad. Once again, we got lost in Charles De Gaulle. What’s worse is our flight back to Houston was delayed over an hour because instead of finding a plane waiting at our terminal there was a bus. It was a bus that wasn’t large enough for all the passengers of a 777. So this bus would load up and drive a group 10 minutes away to the plane that was sitting out in the middle of nowhere. Then it would go back and pick up more passengers. It would show up every 25-30 minutes with more passengers. That was the longest boarding I’ve ever dealt with. However, the 777 was actually much more comfortable than the Airbus, and I ended up with an empty seat next to me. However, once again I couldn’t sleep, so I had watched Rumor Has It, Cars, and Step Up and spent many hours staring at the ceiling while listening to music before we made it home. (Oh, I also made it to the 250,000Euro question on the interactive Who Wants to be a Millionaire game.) Little did I know all the action was going on behind me.
Our sound guy was sitting next to this big, blonde Scottish girl who had way too much wine. Apparently they hit it off and started making out. Then they decided to go join the mile-high club and totally got busted trying to get into the bathroom. The flight attendants apparently reported this to the pilots, and in response the pilots invited the girl into the cockpit. She was in there over an hour, and came back claiming that they let her fly the plane. I have a feeling those pilots got some big Scottish action. So anyway, she ends up back at her seat and starts drinking with the sound guy again. Well, she has a total freak-out panic attack and starts screaming as we’re landing. At that point, despite the fact that our sound guy is an old horn-dog the crazy was too much for him, and he was desperate to get off that plane and away from her. However, he was proudly showing off the pictures of him making out with the Scottish girl when we got into the terminal.
So that was the trip. I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two funny stories, but if I remember them I’ll post again. I think this one is long enough on its own.