Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The High Life - Part 1

As I have let it be known before, I recently got back from 2 months overseas in Abu Dhabi for work. Actually it was more like 3 months, but I came home for the Holidays. During my time over there I lived in the lap of luxury. I was wined and dined, waited on hand and food, and probably could have gotten somebody to wipe my ass for me if I really wanted it. This is the first installment in a series of posts I'm calling "The High Life". And how is this related to booze you ask? Well my experience involved plenty free booze, expensive booze, high-end booze, and excessive consumption of booze.

In this first installment I wanted to tell you a little bit about International Business Class and why it's the shiznatz. But I first should lay some ground work. I flew Etihad Airways (the official carrier of the United Arab Emirates). Now there is something called hospitality, which we seem to have lost here in the U.S. The UAE takes hospitality and class to a level you simply will not find in the States. Everyone serving you is always dressed in the most elegant attire; they are always smiling, and are at your bidding no matter what you want. To sum it up Etihad business class makes business/first class on United, Delta, USAir, etc seem like a Southwest flight between Cleveland and Detroit. And their premium lounge makes even the nicest airline lounge in the States look like a Holiday Inn Express.

I spend my final day overseas at a conference in Dubai, standing around in a suit, getting all sweaty and my feet are killing me. I've been at it for the past four day and I just want to relax. I make the drive back from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and drop off the company vehicle at the office. The airport is just out of town, so I catch a cab. By the time I get to the airport, I am worn out and feel absolutely disgusting. But luckily for me, relaxation is just a few minutes away.

I walk up to the check-in counter for my flight and because I am a Silver member with a business class ticket, I get to bypass the line and go straight to the front. My bags are checked in just a few minutes and I proceed to security. Once again I get to bypass all the lines and go straight through. Not to be disrespectful to other cultures, but American hold a higher standard in personal hygiene than many other parts of the world. Needless to say, avoiding the lines is relief from more than just your typical airport hassle. I proceed to the Premiere Lounge, where I am greeted by a lovely Indonesian woman with a flower in her hair and big smile. She has a gentleman take my bags for me, which he puts in a private lock box, as she welcomes to the lounge. I ask her if I can take a shower, and she replies "The shower is in use at this moment, but we will come find you when it is ready. In the meantime, why don't you go inside and get something to drink." Ahh, the magic words I love to hear… "free booze". Well she didn't say free booze, but the little guy inside my head was bouncing up and down with glee screaming "Free booze! Free booze! Gimme gimme! I want it now. Whoopee!" So as I am usually inclined to do, I listen to my little friend and go straight to the bar and order a Blue Sapphire and tonic.

While waiting, I grab a bite to eat from the free buffet of exotic fair. After about 10 minutes the shower is ready, where I step into a beautiful oasis of blue marble. In the shower, the water cascades down from a grate in the ceiling while 4 other faucets massage my back and legs. The smell of lavender and jasmine fill the air from the high-end artisan bath products. I step out refreshed and with new life. I’m ready to take on the world, or at least a few more glasses of bourbon. Once I'm all cleaned up and have a fresh pair of comfy clothes on, I proceed down the hall to the spa. Yes, you heard me correct…the spa. There I find myself lying in a big, comfortable chair with a hot towel over my face. The lights are dim and soft music in playing as incense burns in the corner. A pretty, young woman gives me the second best foot massage I’ve ever had (My wife gives the best; of whom I was think about the entire time). When I am all finished being pampered, I return to the main lounge where I proceed to relax for the next hour with cold drink in hand at all times. Eventually I have to leave this utopia and get on that plane for my 15 hour flight back to New York. But with the little bit food I got in my belly, the fresh shower and the light buzz I've got going on, I can handle anything.

I make a quick stop off at the duty free before I head to my gate. This is where I picked up that bottle of Havana Club Añejo 3 Años I mentioned in a previous post. It was very good by the way. Unlike Bacardi Superior, this tasted the way white rum should taste. With that and a few other souvenirs, I head to the gate. At boarding time I once again I go straight to the front of the line. Once at my seat, a pretty stewardess in a classic 1960s uniform, silk scarf and flower in her hair greets me (Yes, I’m sorry honey, but everyone over there is absolutely beautiful. They pick only those pleasing to the eye for service jobs. Everyone else gets forced into manual labor). Anyways, she asks me if I'd like some champagne while we wait for the rest of the passengers to board. I reply "No, but I'll take a scotch." She smiles and returns a few moments later with a rock glass filler to the brim with Glenlivet 18 year. I sit back, prop my feet up, relax and sip my scotch till we take off. Once in the air and we are allowed the get really comfy, I lay back in my comfy seat that not only reclined to a flat bed, but also vibrates. I had picked the best seat in business class. It is a window seat in the back corner all by itself. It is in a little cubbyhole that separates me from everyone else. About three-and-a-half scotches in and I am out. I sleep for a good 8 hours or so. When I wake up, I call one of the stewardess' and order myself another drink and something to eat for dinner. I spend the next 6-7 hours relaxing, drinking, reading a book. I watch several movies on my private TV. There is no set time for the meals and drinks like back in coach. In coach, if I sleep through a meal it means I missed the meal. No, I can get whatever I wanted whenever I want it, and I most certainly take advantage of this.

When we finally touched down I am almost disappointed to leave, but I think it is the knowledge that I have a 5 hour layover in JFK. God damn, do I hate JFK. Out of curiosity, I head over to the Etihad counter. I tell them about my situation and show my business ticket from the previous flight. They woman smiles and hands me a pass to one of the business lounges there in New York. So I head over to that lounge. There I’m able to relax for about 3 more hours before venturing on. The lounge is nice, but I know right away that I’m not part of the “high life” anymore. I am greeted by some college girl wearing black stretch pants and a logo'd polo shirt. The kind of outfit your waitress would wear at Eat’ N Park. She looks anything but pleased to be up and working at 8AM. No smile. Once again I get a shower and change my clothes. I don't care who you are, lying around on a plane for 15 hours is gonna make you want a shower. The shower is just normal shower stall. No fancy jets or aromatic bath soaps. The towel is I get is a little bit bigger than a kitchen towel for drying dishes, but I guess I can’t complain. This is the first trip I’ve ever taken a shower at an airport on. My breakfast on the plane was a fancy omelet, with fruits and cheese, and a warm croissant. Here my bounty is nothing but a basket of fruit, some breakfast bars, and those single serving cereal boxes. I am able to get a bagel, but it takes the oh-so-cheerful college girl about half-an-hour to toast it and bring it to me. It may be 8AM, but that doesn’t stop me from grabbing a beer outta the big standup fridge. The girl looks over at me with a confused grimace. I tell her "it's 11PM by my clock. This is a night cap." I enjoy my breakfast beer, but eventually I have to leave.

It is time to go back and join the peasants, but I know that is where I truly belonged anyways. The fantasy is over. No more free booze, no more fine cuisine and certainly no more free foot rubs. I knew it couldn't last forever. So there I am, waiting in line with everyone else to get on the little puddle jumper. I do get a window see though. I have a great view all the way home, but maybe that's because my face is smashed up against the window thanks to the behemoth sitting next to me who smells like old cheese. I step off the plane in Pittsburgh.

The weary traveler has returned home. 17 hours in the air and 8 hours at the airport or traveling in a car will drain the life out of you. The weather is actually quite pleasant; however it isn’t enough to lift my spirits. I trudge along to the baggage claim and there she is. I grab hold of my wife and give her a big hug. I kiss her, look her in the eyes and say "I need a drink."

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