I’m back in the States – after I got home yesterday afternoon I celebrated my five year anniversary and then proceeded to sleep from 8 PM to 8 AM. The last leg of my trip brought me face to face with two of the things I had feared most before I left: the infamous traffic and getting my money stolen from me.
My flight from Rio was scheduled to leave at 9 PM. After the delirium of the USA qualifying for the knockout stages, I decided to relax for a bit before departing for the airport at 5 PM. Of course, that put me right into rush hour so it took me two hours to get to the airport! I noticed some interesting things in the traffic jam. First, my cabbie loved American music he was listening to a station and jamming to KC & JoJo AND Duran Duran – he knew both by heart. So, props for that. Secondly, it would appear that there is an entire economy built on traffic jams; there are people just wandering between cars selling drinks and chips. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to buy some chips, but I didn’t see any Doritos so I passed.
One of my biggest fears before I left the US was getting stuck in this fabled Brazil traffic. My friends gave me guff for making us leave for the game three hours early “to avoid traffic” (which we didn’t see). I warned that we would sit in tons of traffic getting to and from Cristo Redentor (never happened). So of course, my LAST HOURS in Rio were spent in traffic. I had come so far, only to be greeted by my nemesis in the end!
When I got to the airport it wasn’t too crowded (and really I had left so early in case of traffic so I had plenty of time) so I checked in and spent some time in the Gol Smiles lounge. It wasn’t anything to write home about so I won’t spend any time on it here – of course it was nicer than the terminal itself which is what matters. The gate for my United flight was a little crazy, it always seems like there are 50+ people for group 1 (this held true for my domestic leg as well), so it still feels a bit like we are herded cattle when boarding. The only difference is we are herded into pens (by group) instead of one large mass like on other airlines. I guess it’s better…marginally.
The 10 hour flight from Rio to Houston was excellent – United business class is way better than US Airways. First, the monitors were huge and in flight entertainment selection large, which is very important to me.
Secondly, the bed was way more flat, and thus more comfortable to sleep in (I got a solid six hours undisturbed).
Third, the food was better – and I got an ice cream sundae.
Fourth, the cabin was newer and cleaner.
Fifth, there was an air show; if you’re a regular reader you know that’s a big deal to me because I like to know how far we are! United Business First is a very solid product and I arrived in Houston well rested. OH and the BEST thing: you can start watching movies before the plane even starts taxiing! I love airlines that let you do that. So good job United, you’ve completely devalued your award chart and made it more difficult to earn miles, but your product is one of the better US products. Yay?
Anyway, in Houston I flew through customs thanks to Global entry and within 15 minutes of landing I was at the United Club. Houston’s United Club is pretty nice and I caught up in Sportscenter in the TV room by myself before all the commuters started trickling in. My favorite thing about this particular club is that it features donut holes for breakfast. Yum. (Hmm, I realize I am typing this that I sound like a fifteen year old…oh well. It’s the simple things in life.)
When I arrived home, I was greeted by two things. First and most wonderfully, my wife of five years to the day picked me up at the airport. It was a pretty awesome feeling to get picked up on my anniversary; it made the reunion extra special.
Secondly, I was greeted by a wonderful note saying that a block had been put on my Fidelity debit card thanks to some questionable transactions. It turns out while I was in the air someone had withdrawn almost $1000 dollars from my account. And thus my biggest fear about Brazil was realized: I was robbed. The ironic thing is it happened after I had left Brazil. White collar crime! Where’s Neal Caffrey when you need him?
I e-mailed my friends and lo and behold, half of them had had their card info stolen as well. You might recall I said that I always take money out of airport ATMs because I feel they were the safest. Well, let me tell you, THE HSBC ATM IN RIO GALEAO IS NOT SAFE. Every single one of us who withdrew money from that ATM had money illegally and surreptitiously withdrawn from our accounts. Honestly, I don’t even want to think about how they did it. Did they get my pin number? Steal the magnetized strip? How many other countless tourists were trapped by this? $1000 X 500 tourists = profit. The HSBC ATM is the only one that doesn’t require a chip, so the bad guys must have been solely targeting tourists. Honestly, I’m a little impressed, but yea, this marks the first time I’ve been “robbed” overseas in my entire life. So, sarcastic applause, Brazilian criminals. You’ve won this round. My money will get refunded, but they still have the cash.
Anyway, I’ll be back with some thoughts wrapping up the overall trip in a day or two. For now, I think I’ll just go back to sleep…
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