This is not dating advice. If you have designs on an opera singer, you're on your own. Sorry about that. (But good luck!) The kind of pick-up I have in mind is far more mundane, although, as it turns out, no less riddled with potential for misadventure, miscommunication and the occasional teary phonecall. Yes, folks, it's the simple (or so you would think) process of transporting a person – in this case an opera-singing person – from airport to accommodation.
Should be straightforward, right? And to be fair, it frequently is. You find a cab, or your driver if one has been ordered, load your luggage into their clean and capacious vehicle, communicate your address and then settle back to dream of hot showers and cold beverages while somebody else negotiates scary, foreign roads on your behalf.
Or it goes this way.
You scan the arrivals hall for a sign with your surname. Nothing. Do we have a phone number for the lady from the orchestra who's picking us up? No, nor do our phones work in this country. Oh, wait: there she is. I didn't notice her at first because that's not your name on her sign. It's your headshot. That's what you want to see through bleary eyes after a sixteen hour flight: yourself, ten years younger, smouldering at the camera.
So you flag her down and introduce yourselves and she ushers you out to a cold, grey morning and a cold, grey Corolla. This can't be the car, can it? Our bags are never going to fit in there. We're hardly going to fit in there. Suitcase Tetris ensues, with eventual, hard-won success, and then our host delivers Bombshell #1: it's a two hour drive. Gosh, we say. To the hotel? Oh no, she replies. (Cue Bombshell #2.) To rehearsal.
Yes, all of this happened to us, and I'm afraid the week continued in much the same hapless vein – I could probably wring five or ten blog posts out of that particular trip – but it is, thank heavens, the extreme version. Usually if the pick-up goes awry, it's on a smaller scale. Usually it's the car. It doesn't matter how many emails you send ahead of time, explaining that you've been on the road for six months and therefore have MANY HEAVY BAGS, at least one time out of five, they will send a Prius. (Or, the car at the airport will be lovely and roomy but you'll be greeted at the other end by a Manhattan landlady who looks you up and down dubiously and, instead of "Hello" or "Welcome", says "Geez...I hope you'll fit..." But I digress.)
I should say, though, that despite all the griping above, being offered a lift from the airport is in fact always a blessed relief, and gratefully received. It's by no means a given. Most orchestras do it, most opera companies don't, but you tend not to assume one way or another until the offer is actually made – and when you're arriving, travelworn, in a foreign city, the opportunity to have somebody else do the thinking and the driving is irresistible, and, generally speaking, worth any hilarious (or even decidedly unhilarious) mishaps along the way.
Besides which, today's travel nightmare is tomorrow's delightful anecdote. An hour in a car with the world's most boring man, who provides constant running commentary on the car's external temperature display. Gesticulating wildly at a driver who just drove blithely past your destination for the fifth time because you have no language in common. The taciturn French cabbie hell bent on killing you and anyone with the audacity to ride a bike. Everything which makes travel exasperating also, in the long run, makes it interesting and endlessly surprising.
And when it gets really bad, when it's head-in-hands, angrily-email-your-agent-from-the-back-of-the-cab-and-swear-never-ever-again awful, we have a mantra. This one's going in the autobiography. This one – assuming the drive doesn't actually kill us – is definitely going in the autobiography.