Day 1, Bruichladdich again

My journey to Washington, Oregon and beyond begins at Mangere International Airport (or as I more familiarly know it as Auckland International Carpark and Airport.) I check in and put my Dragons shirt on – unfortunately the best day for my flying to Seattle is Anzac Day and because of the time difference between NZ and Sydney, I won’t be able to get to see the second half of the Dragons-Roosters clash.

Meanwhile I stop and catch up with Carol Pearcy at Aelia Duty Free. You don’t always get as big a discount at Aelia as at the other places, but the NZ wine selection is the best of all of them, in part thanks to Carol’s presence.

But Carol gets me to taste some oddities from Bruichladfich first, including one called Octomore, which is reputedly the peatiest whisky on the market. It has a Parts Per Million rating on the side of the bottle to prove this. I don’t understand how this is a rating system, but I also don’t care: the liquor is nicely balanced between and malt and it is a very smooth drop considering it is also sold at 58%.

The flight is uneventful, save for the boarding where my seat is changed apparently to allow a couple to sit together. “It is a better seat anyway,” the airline rep promises, though I don’t really notice. It is incredibly uncomfortable, the button is broken so I can’t tilt my seat back, though of course the person in front can, so now I am squashed. I guess I should have called one of the Air NZ cabin crew over to sort out, but I somehow don’t think of that. Sitting at the back of the plane, one of (not the last) the last to get the meal, it is just thrown on the tray table, no discussion about the choice. Yes, they had that some people were not going to get a choice, but the crew member should still have told me what it was.

When we finally land at SFO, we are surprisingly on time.

Unfortunately although I booked my next flight to Seattle as part of the Air NZ booking, my bags are not checked through and so one has to negotiate the airport with heavy bags. Helpful information desk staff.

Flying United, who have the entire Terminal 3 to themselves. After the recent scandal, I was apprehensive about what was to come, but I needn’t have been.

They have automated checkin and, yes, you do have to pay US$25 for a checked bag. When I check in the system asks whether I want to upgrade to a standby ticket for the next available flight, leaving at 3.50pm, instead of the 7.28pm I have been booked on. Of course, nothing comes free and this will cost US$75. You put your credit card in the checkin machine and voila! it is done.

Through airport security and I start looking for a California beer, or wine, perhaps the last chance for a while. Eventually I find this fabulous wine bar, quite close to the departure gate for the 3.50pm.

This place is great. They have enomatics for their glass pours (and you can buy tasting flights too.) Craft beer on tap and by the bottle and you can even get some tasty, light meals. Everyone else has ordered something to eat, while I have just had breakfast (though this is now 2.30pm) and hence not hungry, the dishes all look great.

I manage to jam myself next to a dark, heavily set man at the bar. He strikes up a conversation, his name is Yuri and he speaks with an accent. He used to live in Chicago, but now lives in Seattle and he knows a surprising amount about wine. Used to be a Bordeaux collector (principally     Left Bank) but now “I drink American Pinot, it has more colour and approachability than Burgundy and I don’t spend so much on wine anymore, too many other interests, like skiing.”

I point out to Yuri that this bar is BYO.

At an airport terminal?

And behind the bar, there is a cheeky (and empty) bottle of Chateau Montelena Cabernet, one of America’s iconic wines, presumably a BYO.

It is impressive stuff.

Service is a little slow – so I only get time for one craft beer (21st Amendment Brew Free or Die! IPA) and one glass of wine (Kistler Les Noisettes Chardonnay – though the Dehlinger Chardonnay WAS very tempting.)

Yuri is waxing lyrical about the virtues of cannabis dispensaries and how marijuana is much better at getting you to sleep than alcohol. And these places are legal in the Pacific Northwest. He leaves to board and assures me that I will be in luck.

By the time I get to Gate 89, they are already boarding and they flash up the list of people on standby, there are like 25 people on it! Though I am in position number 6. Two people are bumped up from standby immediately, then one more and another. I get talking to a young lady who’s dad is a United pilot and she is trying to get home to Seattle using standby, but isn’t hopeful, down in thirteenth slot. I am no longer hopeful. But….

When all the queues clear, three names are called out, me in the middle. One young man is going through the gate at the same time, so poor Mister Seven is told to sit down. Then I and Mister Five are ushered down the ramp just a lady saunters up and asks if boarding has closed. And she is assured that, yes, it has indeed closed.

So – off to Seattle and I will be getting in three and a half hours early than scheduled.

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