The Great Migration Part II: Planes, Trains and Anguish

Part II: Planes, Trains and Anguish

With my medical exams and administrative block-checking completed, the next major obstacle was actually getting myself, Wife, Skittles and Other Cat across the Atlantic to the US.

Everything up to this point was going fairly smoothly. Wife had done a lot of research into what we needed to do to clear customs. We had the cat carriers ready. We had provisions for the long flight and we were all ready to go… until we received a call from our travel agent rearranging our flight itineraries hours before we were to depart.

I decided to strap on my metaphorical shit goggles because I knew it was about to hit the fan.

So here’s our original itinerary; Frankfurt, Germany to Atlanta, Georgia and then to Florida.

Here is the new itinerary with our new stop at JFK international airport.

Now, this wouldn’t have been so bad, but I had recently watched The Terminal and I knew there was an outside chance that we could, much like Tom Hanks’ character, be stranded at JFK indefinitely.

Wife and I had never been to JFK airport either. We had both heard rumors that it was a tangled maze of sadness and we weren’t excited about the prospect of having to clear JFK customs with our two neurotic cats.

The day of the flight, we got the cats ready and made our way to Frankfurt international airport. Immediately the plan began to unravel. Other Cat decided it was an opportune time to have a little kitty psychological meltdown. Other Cat began panicking and it was clear that she was not going to be able to fly in the cargo hold with Skittles and all the other pets without having a stroke.

We took Other Cat out of her hard carrier and bought (for the low, low price of $60) a soft carrier to put her in so we could take her with us on the plane.

Skittles looked on at this whole ordeal from her hard carrier with jealously. It became clear when the airport cargo workers showed up that Skittles was taking this whole chain of events as the ultimate betrayal. I still remember her coal-ember eyes of hate staring back at me as they wheeled her away.

We headed toward the plane and lined up in the queue for the security checkpoint. The helpful security people told me that I had to remove Other Cat from her carrier as I went through the X-ray machine. I was not happy. The exchange went something like this.

Airport Person: Sir, you must remove the cat from the carrier.

Me: Come again?

Airport Person: The cat can’t go through the carry-on bag X-ray machine in her carrier. You have to take her out and carry her through the people X-ray machine. It’s for her safety.

Me: They’re both X-ray machines. What the Hell does it matter?

Airport Person: If you don’t, I will have to call security.

Me: This cat is going to claw the crap out of me and/or get away. You know that, don’t you?

Airport Person: Please remove the cat, Sir.

I removed Other Cat from her carrier and she clung to me and shook like a giant spider coming down off of heroine.

* Spider Cat will not be appearing in any forthcoming comic books until her drug problem is under control.

Everyone at the security checkpoint was looking at me and wondering what awful things I did to this cat to make her this neurotic.

I made it through the security a little self-conscious, but no worse for wear. Wife, Other Cat and I got on the plane and I braced myself for the plane ride ahead.

At this point I think it would be nice to inform you, dear reader, that I hate flying. No, that’s not right; I f@cking despise flying. It physically hurts me.

Despite being darkly handsome and healthy, I have this condition called nasal polyps. Depending on whether or not I have a head cold, this condition can potentially take a pleasant plane ride and change it into hours of agony.

As soon as drinks were served I ordered as much whiskey as the flight attendant was allowed to give me and finished the flight in an alcohol induced coma.

We got off at JFK and we had roughly 40 minutes to make our connecting flight on the other end of the airport. We had to grab Skittles and all of our luggage from the cargo hold in order to clear customs and put the cat on the next plane. Time was tight. Wisely, we sought out an airport worker and found out where the tram was located. We were in luck; the tram was due in the next 5 minutes. We waited for 15 minutes for the tram before the tram sign informed us that the tram had broken down some time ago.

We had a vague notion of where we needed to go. Encumbered with our suitcases and carry-ons, it was time for a decision so Wife grabbed Other Cat and I grabbed all 14 pounds of Skittles and we high-tailed it outside across the bleak landscape that surrounds JFK airport to our terminal.

It wasn’t my proudest moment, but as my shoulder was beginning to give out under the girth of Skittles, I thought briefly about leaving her in the airport.

I was determined that we were all going to make it though and Skittles was not abandoned despite the protest of my muscles and joints.

We made it to the terminal in time and the customs agent asked to see Skittles. Wife took her out of the carrier and Skittles was well-behaved for the first time in her life. It was like a total transformation had taken place in past 16 hours. I fully expected Skittles to claw the customs agent’s face to ribbons in .02 seconds, but it didn’t happen. She just sat there, frozen to the spot under her little kitty bed.

The customs agent even commented on how docile and sweet Skittles was. He jokingly commented that we had given Skittles tequila to calm her down. We didn’t give her anything. Baffled, we placed Skittles back into her carrier and I began thinking about what could have possibly happened to affect such a change in her in such a short amount of time.

The only reasonable explanation was that something terrible had happened in the cargo hold of the plane on the flight from Frankfurt to JFK. I imagined that as soon as the door was shut to the cargo hold and the plane was at cruising altitude, some unspeakable horror unfurled itself from a dark corner and began ramming its proboscis into caged animals to feed on their life juices.

Skittles was spared only because the horrific creature had gotten its fill from that golden retriever next to her. I imagine that this close brush with death was the catalyst for dramatic personality change in my cat in such a short amount of time.

We got on the plane and the rest of the trip was fairly uneventful; discounting, of course, the bottles of booze, pain meds and parts two and three of Other Cat’s psychological meltdown.

We arrived at Wife’s parents’ house in Florida tired and burnt-out. We weren’t entirely sure how long the entire ordeal had taken. We estimated that it was somewhere between 24 to 36 hours. All I knew was that I wanted to curl up in a sock drawer and sleep for a week. This was not to be because I had just over a day before I had to go to Texas to begin my career search. Once again, things were just getting started.


P.S. Other Cat and Skittles made the transition safely and are currently doing very well.

P.P.S Stay tuned for next week’s installment, Part III: The Career Search.

32 thoughts on “The Great Migration Part II: Planes, Trains and Anguish

  1. So, is Skittles still the sweet, docile cat that said customs officer encountered or did she have a full transformation back into her old self?

    By the way, I’m glad you made it over the pond in one piece (well, four pieces, not counting the inanimate luggage). I hate layovers! They can make the most pleasant plane trip a complete and utter horror.

    • Thanks. πŸ™‚ I’m glad to be here.

      When I said that, “Other Cat and Skittles made the transition safely and are currently doing very well” sadly means that Skittles is back to her old self. Oh well. 😦

  2. I’m exhausted.
    I’ve never flown. I’ve never been to Europe (thought I’m trying). I fear Heathrow. I’ve heard horror story after horror story. I fear Philly International.
    I’m still determined to make it to England.

    Glad the four of you made it. You’ve got nerves of steel traveling with two cats. I can’t stand going on the 5 minute ride to my vet! Can’t imagine a 36 hour travel itinerary with felines through customs. I would have handed the cat to the guy and said “Here hold her for a minute, will ya?”. And adjusted my shoes or something. That would be the last time he asks to have a cat removed from it’s carrier. Like send the stupid thing through the x ray!

    • Yeah, I still don’t know what was so bad about leaving the cat in the carrier, but I’m sure there’s a reason.

      If you have the option of not traveling with your cat, don’t travel with your cats. πŸ™‚

  3. Skittles might just hurt and pique that you neglected her. It was quite sad being alone in a dark, strange place with the sound of other animals sharing their agonies, I guess (though I’ve never been a cat and never been in the cargo :P). Anyway, glad she is fine and ….um… back to her old self now…

    • Well, yeah that and possibly the monster too. πŸ™‚

      I’m just glad that she made it too. I was really worried about both cats, but I couldn’t take both of them with me on the plane. I won’t mention names, but I’m never flying that airline ever again.

  4. This story of feline fury reminds me of a time I tried to adopt a cat for my family. I went up the hill to find this cat, and I went into a house that was clearly the scene of last night’s Cops episode. The owner had advertised the kittens in the local paper, and I foolishly thought I could get a good family cat for free. I should have been worried when he had to actually physically move a dresser in order to pull the raging fuzzball from under it. Like a total noob, I did not bring a carrier, I thought, “what’s the harm, I will just let this kitten sit on the seat until I get back to my apartment, sure the landlord specifically said no pets, and this cat was just pried off the floor with a crowbar, this will END WELL.” As I drove down the road and contemplated the purrfect kitty name (Chairman Meow is a personal favorite), I noticed that the kitten had disappeared. I was mindfreaked by a kitten. I pulled over to inspect the vehicle, but the cat has vanished. Undeterred, I decided to drive home. The doors were closed the cat could not have phased through door, and if it did manage to quantum leap the fuck out of my car, I could just adopt another kitten right? I heard a strange mewling from somewhere in the vehicle. It seemed to be some sort of kittengeist. A desperate, frightening meow from the lowest circle of hell echoed through my Nissan Sentra. I nervously glanced around the car. No cat. Still the telltale meow. I thought, “damn, my wife is going to be pissed that I let a cat haunt our car.” Not knowing what to do, I drove out to my father’s house, simply because he is a mechanic by trade. I pulled in and thought that this whole crazy episode would shortly be over. No, my dad could not locate the teleporting cat.

    I looked through every nook and cranny in that car, found several bottles with solid milk under my seat, and feared for the worst. I also was starting to feel pretty guilty at this point, but I really screwed the pooch when it came to moving a cat from one location to the other. Sure, I was on my way to a master’s degree, but I did not major in feline movology. It turned out the kitten was stuck up under my and behind my steering wheel. His little cat body was lodged like a bridge across the steering column under the dash. He had stopped moving, his body was limp and I thought I might literally have to hack this kitten in half to get it out of my car. Try explaining that to the wife. I pulled on his little head, and pushed on his furry butt, and eventually he came sliding out, limp and ragged. It was like my car had given birth to a little red kitty. I was proud that I actually surgically removed a cat from my dash. He was actually fine, just a little freaked out by the whole incident. I borrowed a box from my dad and proudly took the cat home to my apartment. I felt like I had bonded with this psychotic hillbilly kitten. It turned out the cat was truly insane and he tore up my apartment for a month before I gave it to my dad. He would run like a horse through my house, stick his little demonic claw under my bedroom door at night, howl like a wolf and otherwise terrorize my domicile. He clawed the living crap out of my arms and bit like a werewolf in training. Ashamed of being mortally afraid of a kitten, I suggested to my dad that he take this cat. My dad had just lost his beloved Stinky to some bizarre nose cat cancer, so him and his spouse were more than happy to take this cute little fireball. They live in a vineyard so I figured he would have plenty of space to roam free, and a vermin buffet available every night. Now, every time I go my dad’s house and see his mangled arms and hands, and every time I jump at the sight of this cat, I remember pulling his little body from my dashboard. Next time I will spring for a box.

    • Nice novel. πŸ˜‰

      I hope your dad is doing well. It sounds like that little ball of terror has put him through a lot.

      I think we can all agree that cats and car rides don’t mix. I know I’ve learned my lesson. πŸ™‚

      • I would probably do the same thing again. that’s how I roll, with a cat tearing my face off and toilet paper hanging from my foot.

    • With as much travel as I’ve done recently, I long to be an average 13th century European peasant; dying within a 15 mile radius of the point where I was conceived, born and raised without any notion as to what travel meant. πŸ™‚

  5. ‘We had both heard rumors that it was a tangled maze of sadness and we weren’t excited about the prospect of having to clear JFK customs with our two neurotic cats’

    I HAVE MISSED YOU! Ahem. Glad you all arrived safely πŸ˜€ The worst ordeal I ever had at an airport was being stranded for 6 hours because Barack Obama was flying from the same airport and for ‘safety reasons’ we all had to huddle together like the naked homeless in a plastic tunnel. Did I also mention he ruined my bus tour around Berlin? I didn’t? Well, then I just did. Boom.

    • Boom, indeed. πŸ˜‰

      It’s great to be back.

      It’s a shame our President ruined your bus tour of Berlin. If it makes you feel any better, Margaret Thatcher ruined my birthday party when I was five. Sometimes, late at night, I can still hear the screaming.

  6. I currently have an epic headache, so this comment will have to suffice. I can’t imagine traveling with my cats. We used to have one who, whenever you put him in the car, would meow every 2 seconds. He would meow literally thousands of times.

    • Thank you. I really think something horrible happened to scare my cat straight. She is normally a very bossy and foul-tempered cat, but she was afraid of her own shadow after that plane ride.

  7. One hell of an ordeal indeed!
    Good to hear you all reached in one piece – but the spider-kitty breakdown had me in splits mind you. To quote Titus, “I’m not laughin’ at you man, but it is funny!”
    The polyp pic was suitably disturbing too!
    All the best, hope the final settling in and job search treat you kindly, even though that might mean less amusing stuff for us. πŸ˜‰

  8. I’ve often wondered how my cats would respond in a situation like yours (we’ve thought about moving across the country). I would be terrified that they would freak out and claw their way out of my arms into the airport and I would never see them again.

    • It’s awful. No matter what you do to prep your cats, they’re never fully ready for a plane ride. It’s just so unnatural for them. It really doesn’t help when the majority of the people in the airport are looking at you like you’re some sort of monster when you pull your traumatized cat out of its carrier.

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