mercredi, septembre 01, 2004

Have Cat, Will Travel

It is 10 o’clock in the morning in Paris, and Max and I are waiting in Charles de Gaulle airport at the Vins et Compagnie cafe for time to tick by before we take a taxi to the temporary apartment in the 16th.

I cannot believe how much money I just lost by being sleepy and stupid and wanting to get euros easily. I went to the first exchange booth and changed $280 dollars into euros. Do you know how many euros you get for $280 when you use a rip-off exchange booth at the airport? €198, that’s how many. That’s after a €10 commission and a shitty exchange rate of $1.33 to the euro. That’s what you get when you pay for convenience.

I didn’t realize how traveling with a cat would attract so much attention. In line in the airport in Atlanta, every child’s animal radar went off whenever we got within 5 feet. "Look, Mom, a kitty cat!" "Maman, t’as vu le chat?" "Mira, un gatito!"

I don’t recommend that shy people travel with pets, because everyone will talk to you. Even on the plane, people stopped by and cooed at us. This must be what pregnant women go through.

The lady at the Delta check-in scared the hell out of me when she said that they weren’t taking cats on board. She thought I was going to London, or at least going through London to Paris. Luckily, I kept my cool, smiled, and patiently explained that I had reconfirmed his reservation (isn’t that cute? - he had his own reservation) and that we were flying direct from Atlanta to Paris. She ended up being super nice and gave my mom a security pass to go through to the boarding gate with me when she discovered that I had three carry-ons: Max, my laptop, and my purse. She told my mom to take one of them and say it was hers, and if anyone gave us any trouble, to tell the security agents that one of my carry-ons had paid full price, and that everyone else was taking on bags for free. Yeah!

At the security area, as my mom was struggling to get my laptop out of its case and put it in the bins, and I was taking off my shoes and jacket, I went to the security agent and pointed to Max on my back saying, "I have a cat here, what do I need to do?"

"You are going to have to take the cat out of the bag and walk through the screening area with him. The bag needs to go on the belt." said the agent, looking straight ahead and not at me.

"That gives a whole new meaning to the expression, ‘Let the cat out of the bag,'" I said bemusedly. This elicited a smile. From an eye contact-adverse security agent at the Atlanta airport, no less. Not bad for a start, Max.

Once through the screening gate, I was putting Max back in his bag, trying to simultaneously put back on my shoes, and the security guy standing there said, "That’s a big cat! He looks like he is getting too big for that bag!"

"Well," I said, "I’m getting too big for these pants, but we make do!"

"You said it, not me," he replied, laughing.

Max did great through the whole thing, airport, flight, and everything else, as long as he didn’t see me and I didn’t talk to him or poke at him through his bag. That’s hard to resist doing, though. I can’t help but catch his eye and coo at him, "You’re such a good boy, Max! I’m so proud of you! You are doing so good, boy!" Poke, poke, poke.

Much to my delight, Max’s passport worked like a charm. Once off the plane, I was in the line where you have to show your passport, and I wasn’t sure if this would be my only chance to see the reaction of a dour immigration official to a cat's passport, so I took my chances. I almost didn’t do it, the guy behind the window looked like he had no sense of humor at all. But I decided to go for it, slipping Max’s small laminated passport into mine. The official looked at the immigration card I filled out on the plane, and took my passport without looking at me. I saw Max’s fall out onto the desk. I panicked. What if he doesn’t think it’s funny? What if he doesn’t give it back to me? The official picked it up, perplexed at the small size and the obviously cheap lamination job. He opened it, and his face shiftedup on his skull as his eyebrows raised up in a classically Gallic gesture. He smiled. I stood there grinning widely. "Eh, Thierry!" he said, holding up the passport to the window for the agent next to him, "Look at this! It’s a passport for a cat!" He looked back to me, shaking his head and smiling as he handed both passports back. Score #1 for Max and Penelope in Paris.

After the passport control, it was on to Baggage Claim. A monk in full Franciscan garb approached me and said in British accented French, "Oh, vous avez un chat, c’est génial!" An older distinguished couple approached me, asking about the bag. I have to admit, it’s the coolest bag ever. It’s black and red and is three fourths mesh, so I can see him, he can see me, and he can breathe better. It has wheels like a suitcase, and straps to convert to a backpack. I swear, Global Pet Products should pay me for endorsing their product. A nice lady just asked me about it here in the Vins et Compagnie because she will be traveling with her 10 pound cat to the US soon and she only has the old heavy plastic containers with the uncomfortable handle. I showed her the name on the bag, demonstrated its features, and recommended she do a Google search on the company name. I am due some promotional fees here, people.

After Baggage Claim, it was customs, which consisted of two agents loitering vaguely in the area under the sign and acknowledging no one. I hesitated, ready to pull out all of Max’s paperwork, passport included, and show how I had done all the right things. The two agents sighed, looking thoroughly bored. I passed by them, and they didn’t stop me. No one asked me for a single piece of paper showing he had his rabies vaccination, his nicely embossed and notarized health certificate from the USDA, no one asked for his microchip number. Poor Max, after all that we went through and he doesn’t even get harassed by the authorities like everyone else.

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