[By Nic Lindh on Thursday, 24 August 2023]
I spent the month of July and the first few weeks of August in Sweden, which meant I missed this summer’s epic heatwave in Phoenix. For which I am grateful. Of course, July in Phoenix is always a bag of hurt, but this summer was truly awful. And still is, don’t get me wrong. Still hot.
The weather in Sweden was perfect for my purposes. In the 50s and 60s with lots of rain and overcast days, so the opposite of Phoenix. It also reminded me of my childhood summers, listening to the rain smattering on the roofs of the campers, making it plenty nostalgia-inducing. Of course it was miserable for the Swedish people who’d been waiting all year for warmth and sun, but I was not responsible for the weather, let me make that clear.
The first weeks were vacation, and then I worked remotely from my parents’ house, the house I grew up in. Let me tell you, you get plenty of opportunity to think about the passing of time and of mortality when middle-aged you spend weeks in your childhood home with your parents.
But first I had to get from Phoenix to Skövde, which turned out to be a non-trivial exercise.
I was scheduled to fly out Wednesday 28 July, but Canadian smoke, storms on the East Coast, and FAA shortages had closed a lot of flights. Thousands of them, in fact.
My flight was scheduled to take off at 2:24 p.m., but according to my flight app it was delayed to 6:07 p.m. Which meant it would land in Chicago after the flight from Chicago to Copenhagen departed. Which would obviously be a problem.
So I spent eight hours at the United check-in line to wait to talk to somebody who could sort things out. It was extra fun since I was booked on SAS, but the flight was operated by United. Let’s do some foreshadowing: This codeshare system does not work very well. At a certain point of waiting in the interminable line, I had a choice to make: I could get on the flight to Chicago, knowing I’d be stranded there and looking for a rebooking, or wait in line to get things sorted. I chose the line. Landing in Chicago at midnight and hoping to sort things out is a young man’s game, and I’ve spent enough time sleeping in terminals.
So, eight hours waiting in a line that hardly moves. The vibes were bad, bad bad. People were being such whiny bitches, and especially being rude as hell to the ticketing agents, the only people who were actively trying to help the situation. If it had been before Covid I would have been appalled, but now I know more about how people are, so sadly I was not surprised. Not that there weren’t several people I desperately wanted to punch in the face. Self-restraint, self-restraint.
As a bonus, United’s hold music has annoying bagpipes. Which I heard plenty during my eight hours in line since most people had their phones on speaker mode trying to get through, as well as the ticketing agents who were also trying to find somebody at ops to help them.
I finally got to an agent and it was obviously all screwed. She worked valiantly to rebook me, and I ended up flying out midnight Friday night, two days later, since there were no flights.
This meant spending ten hours at Chicago O’Hare Terminal 5, the place where hope dies, after a red-eye flight. The McDonald’s in Terminal 5 has no seating, so people were finding seats all over the terminal to eat, spreading the smell everywhere. An odd, slightly sweet smell that wouldn’t exist if there were a benevolent God, hovered like a miasma across the terminal.
As a bonus at O’Hare I discovered that a new asshole had dropped: A guy watching a movie on his laptop without headphones so that the people next to him who were trying to relax while waiting for their flights could enjoy the sounds of sirens, explosions, and gunshots. Such an astonishing level of assholery.
After that I caught my freshly rebooked flight to Munich and then on to Gothenburg. That was a long journey, and I can still feel the O’Hare McDonalds in the back of my throat.
But, outbound journey done.
Sweden was mostly eating a lot of carbs, especially potatoes, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, and shredded potatoes turned into pancakes. All the potatoes. And lingonberry. Boy, I love lingonberry.
Traditional Swedish lunch of raggmunk (potato pancakes) and pork. Drenched in lingonberry jam and served with lingonberry juice. I had forgotten how delicious lingonberry is. Lingonberry is life.
It always does surprise me a bit how empty Skövde—which is an inland city—is in July. July is the traditional Swedish vacation month and Swedes do so love the coast, so the inland empties out to a surprising amount. So few people. So few cars. So little going on. Same thing with the media. Such empty, such wow.
Not that everybody takes vacation in July, but the vast majority from what I could see.
I flew out on Friday, August 18, and had lunch with my sister in town that previous Wednesday, which seemed like it was the first post-vacation week for many people, and the difference was stark. All of a sudden there were a lot of cars on the road and a lot of people in the city. As behooves the return from vacation it was a dreary day with a mist-like rain, even though the weather prognosis was for cloudy but not rainy, something a lot of people around us commented on. “The weather app said it wasn’t going to rain!”
Yes, checking the weather report and your weather app are crucial for the thinking Swedish person. Not the dull monotony of the Phoenix weather, which is going to be hot and sunny tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Until a stray monsoon pops up out of nowhere and surprises everybody. But it‘s probably going to be hot and sunny.
But let us now turn our attention to the absolutely vile state of digital media. I was on vacation, so I had time to catch up on some shows and movies.
Hulu just throws up a screen saying you can’t watch from outside the US. Great, I have a US account and you have logs of me watching from the US for years, but as soon as I’m outside the border I’m cut off? So Hulu’s out.
MAX won’t let me log in since “this region is not supported.” Because they haven’t migrated HBO MAX to MAX in Scandinavia, I guess? But I can’t log in to HBO MAX because I now have a MAX account, not that I had a choice. HBO NORDIC is a still a thing, but I can’t watch it, nope. Golf clap. Long, long, angry golf clap.
Do you want me to pirate? Beause this is how you get me to pirate.
Same thing with music. I sometimes like to listen to Swedish music, but some songs are greyed out in Spotify. Why? I don’t know, something with rights, I suppose. But when I’m in Sweden I can surely listen to Swedish music, right? Nope. Some songs are still greyed out even though I’m in Sweden.
Like I wanted to listen to E-Type’s “True Believer” since it was the song of the Swedish Women’s Soccer National Team. Could I? No, I could not. At least not on Spotify. Most of his songs were there, but not this one. So what to do? What to do? Oh, I know, jump on YouTube and listen to it there. Warning: This whole video is incredibly white.
I do find it kind of fascinating the semi-official victory song of the Swedish Women’s Soccer National Team is by a Swedish artist using the name of an English car and singing in English. It probably means something, but I’m not sure what.
Note that far as I can figure out this whole state of affairs is only because I have a US Spotify account. Friends with Swedish Spotify accounts did not have the song greyed out. I’m on a legit Swedish IP address, no VPN, and yet. And yet. As an aside, it’s amazing how much Swedish music, with Swedish lyrics, is randomly greyed out for me. I’m assuming lawyers were involved. Because, seriously, record companies, that Swedish song with Swedish lyrics that was released in 1982? Do you really think you need to protect it for your global marketing launch? Is that what you’re doing? While there are four videos of it on YouTube without any kind of geocoding?
Alas, my time of being angry at the state of digital media was coming to an end and it was time to fly back to Phoenix and the blistering heat.
As one does, I tried to check in online, but online checkin was “not available.”
Then it was rise and shine at four a.m. to catch the taxi to Landvetter at five a.m. Yet another morning of light rain.
I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare and, guess what? They couldn’t check me in. As part of the airpocalypse and rebooking flying out I’d been double-booked somehow.
This was stress I didn’t need.
But in the end the ticket agent just had to call their support and they were able to figure it out and get me checked in an all the way to Phoenix, baby!
So, Gothenburg to Copenhagen, then five hours to loiter at Kastrup airport. Which, if you haven’t been, is very nice. That is one high-end airport! Are you bored waiting for your flight and wish to purchase a new set of Bang & Olufsen speakers for your house? You can do that at Kastrup. I’m assuming tax free, but didn’t check.
Also notable, no hamburger chain restaurants from what I could see. No McDonald’s, no Burger King, no nothing. Just nice little high-end casual restaurants.
I had a two hour and 20 minute layover in Chicago. This was slightly tighter than I like, but I’ve done that several times and it should be fine. So what happened? It took over an hour to get through passport control. I would have missed my flight if the security checkpoint line hadn’t been mercifully short. Which it was, so I made it just as the flight started boarding.
But speaking of passport control, where I spent over an hour waiting. It’s a not-big area and it was packed full of people, and of course the ventilation was poor, it was summer in Chicago, so it was warm and humid and nasty with a sheen on everybody’s bodies standing in the line waiting to make it through.
Because there are no diseases that spread through the air. So why build ventilation into the space where literally people are coming through from all over the world? Seems gay. It’s not like we know from the Covid years that ventilation is super important to prevent the spread of airborne viruses.
We can have aircraft carriers but we can’t have working A/C when we enter the country.
There were also so few people wearing masks in general. Which frankly astonished me. We’re packed like sardines, there’s no ventilation, we’ve just gotten off planes from all over the world, and meh, it’ll be fine?
Same thing on the planes, though. So few masks. I’m sure carelessly flying around spreading viruses is not going to bite us on the ass at all.
Nevertheless, boarded the flight to Phoenix, and then we ended up sitting on the tarmac for an hour, raising my fears there was something wrong with the plane the pilot didn’t want to tell us about and we were going to have to return to the gate and oh, God, I’m going to have to find a hotel in Chicago and I’m so tired, but then we finally ascended to the skies.
And then finally we landed in Phoenix and speaking of a new asshole dropping, some asshole, I kid you not, started playing music on their bluetooth speaker as we deplaned. Yep, serenaded the entire deplaning crowd with their choice of music.
And then it turns out I landed on the same plane from Chicago that then turns around and becomes the midnight flight I flew out on.