Entry 5


I don’t know if I’ve been very clear about what mileage gathering is about. I don’t have it totally straight myself, but I believe here are the basics as I understand them.

I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but heck, I’ve only been on FlyerTalk for a couple of weeks, and have read only the four threads relating to our KEF trip. But as you can see, I’m already throwing around acronyms—KEF is Keflavik airport, near Reykjavik. Which by the way, means “steamy bay,” as I learned on my midnight tour last night.

Incidentally, re: touring in Iceland, I highly recommend it.

Back to frequent flyers … just kidding. Iceland deserves more than that. There is no other way to put it: This place is a fairyland. Icelanders have a big thing for trolls and elves, but that’s not what I mean. A country this small and self-contained (you can drive around the entire perimeter in 40 hours), possessing so many mystical, magical natural wonders, feels like it could exist only in the realm of imagination.

I don’t care about the famous nightlife—hipster pub crawls are a tiresome part of life in Williamsburg—but the geological hit parade, holy moly! It just keeps on keeping on. I could go on forever, and won’t, but check out this.is/Iceland (the Web site for a great little boutique tour agency I’ve been frequenting) or Lonely Planet Iceland, which is fresh off the presses.

According to the guide for the midnight Golden Circle tour I went on last night, Iceland was Third World-level poor until World War II, when lots of American and British soldiers were stationed here. Also, technology started to change things. Icelanders figured out how to create their own electricity from geothermal and hydropower, and stopped having to import coal and oil. Now it’s the second-richest country per capita in the world. A welfare state: free school through university, free health care. Just like the United States! Ha ha! Kidding, again.

I asked my tour guide if, because prosperity came so recently, people’s grandparents all think younger people are spoiled. “That would be a yes,” he says, looking pained. “It doesn’t even have to be grandparents. My father was born in 1937.”

Sheepshead with mashed potatoes

As a co-founder (and lapsed member) of the Organ Meat Society, I have come here determined to sample indigenous Icelandic food. I tell him I’d eaten singed sheepshead the day before. “You’re very brave,” he says, eyebrows raised. Having received the validation I seek, I smile modestly and ask if the dish dates back from the days when people were poor, which he confirms. “They used every part of the animal.” They also eat a pâté made of ram’s testicles, but I haven’t tried that, though I have eaten the putrefied shark meat. On today’s agenda: puffin, reindeer, and I’m not going to tell what else.

I already miss the FTers, who have left. I e-mail Gaugeguy that I’m amazed what a short time it can take to become fond of people. He and his wife, and Zoe, in particular, made sure to make me feel part of the group. And MondeBlonde, the life of the party, had gone out of her way to try to get me into the lounges. Having lived in New York since 1985, this kind, considerate behavior is downright exotic to me.

The evening before they all left, the conversation delved a little deeper into their passion. I was impressed by the strength of their feelings about various airlines. “Eastern was a great airline,” Zoe says elegiacally, “until Frank Lorenzo (he makes a bitter, disgusted face) ruined it—just like he did with TWA, and almost did twice with Continental.”

Spiff, who shudders exaggeratedly at the mere mention of Southwest, lists the reasons he despises the company. He so hates it that even though Louisville, Ky., where he lives, is a Southwest hub, he won’t fly them: “No first class; no pre-assigned seats—it’s a cattle call, which means no carefully selected exit row in coach—no frequent flyer program; no affiliations with other airlines; and any credit you do get—they call it ‘credit,’ not miles—has to be used within 12 months.”

There is a physical manifestation of this passion: Freddie Jr. A hunk of geometrically angled—and, frankly, ugly—Plexiglas, or crystal, or whatever, Freddie Jr. is an excellence award handed out to various airline and airline-affiliated companies at a yearly gala called—come on now, people, you can guess this—the Freddies. Randy Petersen, the creator and head of FlyerTalk and publisher/editor of the magazine Inside Flying, named Freddie after Freddie Laker, the canonized founder of Laker Airways, the first inexpensive trans-Atlantic airline.

Freddie Jr. is actually brought along on trips by FTers, who pass him off to each other once in a while. Spiff is Freddie’s current guardian. But “nobody owns Freddie,” he says in only semi-mock religious tones. “He belongs to us all.”

“This thing has been around the world in 80 days 30 million times,” asserts Zoe, his hand around what I guess would be Freddie’s shoulder. At the end of what passes for our “night,” a band of the faithful (plus me, the interloper) climb a monument-bearing hill overlooking Reykjavik bay and take a memorial photo of Freddie Jr. looking noble against the setting of sunset-pink clouds (which, incidentally, last for hours). And the funny thing is, I get it. I’m an old hand at the online community thing, having begun with PLATO, then Echo, then Sissyfight, and FlyerTalk is one of the best I’ve ever seen. At their best, these things are love incubators.

Never have I been welcomed into any group so satisfied with its creed and so lacking in doubt about the blessings therein. So instantly warm and inclusive are these people, most of whom had never met each other before in person until this trip, that I have decided something: Of all the things in this scarred and bloody world which bind human beings in fast and lasting brotherhood (and sisterhood), perhaps none are so strong, so pure, or possess such potential for global healing as the zealously religious pursuit of free seating upgrades through the fanatical collecting of frequent flyer miles.

Photograph of Freddie by Yevlesh2.