Monday, July 20, 2009

The Longest Day

I have new respect for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now visiting India.

Month after month she jets from one part of the world to another, entering and leaving time zones like a series of restaurants. How does she do it?

Moving from India time back to Pacific Daylight Time on July 18 was an ordeal for me, and two days later an overpowering need to sleep still drugs my mind about noon or 1 pm when it's midnight in Delhi. (India and California are on precisely opposite sides of the globe, 12 1/2 hours apart.)

At 12:15 am on July 18 I sank into my seat on the Boeing 777 to fly to Chicago, then change planes and fly to Las Vegas and LAX.

The Delhi-Chicago portion of the trip lasted 14 hrs. and 15 minutes but arrived at O'Hare near dawn still on July 18.

After leaving Delhi in darkness and flying northwest a few hours in darkness, we witnessed a beautiful dawn over Yekaterineburg, Russia, near the Ural Mountains at 5:15 am local time (upper photos).

Then we flew over the Barents Sea above Russia and Scandinavia in daylight, passing over some islands way north of Norway but owned by it (called Svalbard) and then over northern Greenland (see map)..

From Russia to Greenland, each time zone we flew over, the local time was about 5:15 am, according to the flight information on the screen in front of each seat. The clock stood still for six or eight hours, then finally moved to Friday afternoon (the 17th).

Finally after Hudson Bay our plane dipped back into the shadowed part of the earth (we saw a sunset in the north), and we arrived in Chicago at 4:35 am... just before another sunrise still on the 18th (lower sunrise photo).

Next I took a 7:40 am flight to Las Vegas (cheaper than going directly to LAX), arriving at 9:20 am, and endured a three-hour layover there.

After eating, walking around, and reading I found at 11 am that I couldn't sit in a chair near my gate any longer. I had to lie down and sleep.

People spread a sheet and sleep on the ground in the train stations of India, I rationalized. Maybe I could do that in the airport in Las Vegas.

I looked around for possible semi-secluded spots and saw four people sitting on the ground against a wall nearby. Picking up my carry-on items, I walked over there and sat down.

Then I reclined with my head on my bag and my knees bent, just kind of casual-looking, I hoped. Then I slid my head to the ground and folded my hands on my chest, let my knees collapse to the floor.

Half an hour later a kind young woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Is this your flight? It's boarding."

Raising my head, I realized I was next to the gate for a flight to Minneapolis; the others sitting on the floor had vanished. I thanked her but said it wasn't my flight.

Then as I settled back again trying to get up energy to move to a chair, another passenger boarding that flight said to me, "Did you have too much fun in Vegas?"

"No, I started out in Delhi 24 hours ago," I defended myself.

Gathering my things, I returned to respectability in a chair near my gate. We finally boarded at 12:15 pm, and I slept soundly, not even knowing the plane had landed in Los Angeles at 1:30 pm.

When I woke up, half the passengers were off the plane.

Then after the excitment of seeing John and my daughters, unpacking and displaying souvenirs, I didn't go to bed until nearly 11 pm... amazed that it was still July 18th.

The day had lasted about 36 hours, most of it stuck on 5:15 am.

I admire Hillary for starting a day of diplomatic meetings at 11 am in India when it's really 9 or 10 pm for her... but at least she has a bed on her airplane.

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