There isn’t a person I’ve mentioned this trip to who didn’t seem to think I’m crazy. “You’re going to Helsinki. In April? Why?!”
I tried to keep my plans from most people. “I’ll be out of town on business for a few days” became my mantra in the days before I left, but some people had to know. Like my wife, Terri.
Frankly, I had to muster up all my nerve to ask Terri to take this trip with me. Terri is used to entertaining my off-the-wall ideas for a boondoggle, but I must admit this one was out there. Terri, keenly spotting an opportunity to make a deal, finally agreed to join me, but for a price: my promise to fulfill her lifelong dream of an African adventure in 2002. Between you and me, it was a price I was only too happy to pay.
It’s true, making a 4,100 mile trip from New York to Helsinki in April, with its 45-50°F average temperature and more than modest risk of snow, was a bit like taking a work holiday to visit Miami in the summer.
Ultimately, Terri’s scheduling conflicts caused her to bow out, but my brother Lee, the boondogglemeister, was only too happy to step into the breach.
So, why the offbeat sojourn? Why turn back the meteorological clock and pull my winter coat back out of the closet for a mere two days? Miles. Black gold, Texas tea. Double miles, to be more specific. And the flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Helsinki’s Ardvaa Airport weighs in at 4,109 base miles.
Not nearly enough has been written on what should be the newest addition to the DSM, the mental health professionals guide to clinical diagnoses: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder-Miles Focused (OCD-MF). I know I’m stricken.
At the airport, we picked up a few magazines, including a couple written in Finnish. While I’ve always heard that the English language is quite difficult to learn for out-of-towners, to my untrained eye, trying to read Finnish is about as easy as trying to read the Athens Racetrack’s Daily Racing Form. With its ratatouille of words the length of freight trains, and all words ending in an n, s, t or one or more vowels, with its Mickey Mouse-ear sporting a’s (ä) and o’s (ö), I knew enough to know that even the patron saint of lost causes would be unable to help.
Sixteen hours of flying time for 54 hours of visit is not my preferred pleasure ratio. On the other hand, 3.6¢ per mile is well within my optimal range for mileage runs, and Helsinki came as part of the bargain.
Surprises tend to happen when you least expect them, and this was no exception. May 1 is May Day in Finland and elsewhere, and our arrival was fortuitously timed for us to witness the national party and its pre-holiday celebrations. After work on April 30, the festivities began as Helsinki’s streets jammed with normally subdued Finns nursing their favorite drink in celebration of a holiday which, as a friendly Finn advised, is now more like America’s Labor Day than the socialist holiday of its roots. Amidst popping corks and a cacophony of music, helium balloons were everywhere as the snorkelers jumped into the champagne-spiked Havis Amanda, the Mermaid Fountain, the centerpiece of Helsinki’s main square which sits at the bottom of Eteläesplanadi, a long esplanade that leads away from the harbor adjacent to Market Square. As a crane hoisted 16 partiers into position to place a white mariner’s cap on the mermaid’s head, I could all but hear the cry: “Let the partying begin!”
Willing revelers jumped into the fountain, emerging only with their undergarments and, perhaps, their dignity. Groups of university students, in a tradition perhaps reflecting a wisdom borne out of experience rather than maturity, donned overalls to protect their clothes from the downside of excessive partying. Each academic major heralded itself with a different color overalls, and the camaraderie which that fostered was evident in the strolling swatches of color like groupings of flowers in a moving garden.
There seems to be nothing that Helsinki folk like more than ice cream. Even at 10 in the morning, the lines at the streetside ice cream kiosks were far longer than those at the open-air cafes. And cell phones were ubiquitous. This being Nokia country, they even had a variety of candy in the shape of cell phones.
Suit and tie folks were not un-represented, though mostly as onlookers or supporters of the cafes and bars that line the esplanade. The steps of the nation’s Senate Square Cathedral, with room for as many bottoms as a small stadium, were filled to capacity.
There were few police, and those that I saw seemed to have little to do but enjoy a stroll on a nice spring day. The broken glass and silly string that were in abundance were, amazingly, all but gone in the morning.
On May Day, two small groups paraded along the promenade exhorting the workers of the world to unite. Loudspeakers, an artificial smoke machine and what sounded like a Finnish Rap singer all begged unsuccessfully for attention, proving the point that the role of politics in the event has been relegated to coach.
As Finnair 05 took us soaring home into the Scandinavian skies, I considered all of the fun I would have missed had I not chased miles all the way to Helsinki. While I am not sure I would have visited Helsinki if it were not for my OCD-MF, I find it very enjoyable knowing that my affliction will be taking me far and wide, and that it’s up to the mileage gods to determine where. Kind of like entering a contest where everyone wins a prize. I think I’m going to decline treatment.