Wednesday, October 04, 2006

It's A Trip To England, Charlie Brown: Part Three

United Flight 292: Cleared

The flight itself was mostly uneventful, for which I am very grateful.

Sara the flight attendant gave the pantomime of the emergency procedures while some German lady spoke them aloud. When she pulled the oxygen mask, the air tube broke free. I was lightheaded from lack of cigarettes and food and burst out laughing. Which made her laugh, because she was about a foot in front of me. I think it was partially about how so much had already gone wrong, that it seemed like if we needed the masks, every single one of them would break like hers had. So she was laughing during most of her little performance, which probably looked to the rest of the passengers as though she didn't take our safety very seriously.

She took her seat when the pilot told her to. She was about four feet in front of me, seated directly facing me, which got a little creepy during takeoff because she was sort of staring at me. Eventually I closed my eyes because she was weirding me out.

They finally fed us around 3 a.m. I was hungry enough at this point that my seatmate kept appearing as various foods when I looked to my right. I had decided that the next time Italian came up in the rotation, I would simply kill and devour him. So they kind of saved his life by finally feeding us.

The salad had a lot of spinach in it, which was kind of funny, what with the E. coli thing and all. I ate it anyway.

The seats weren't exactly comfortable at 7:30. By now they were actually painful. They sort of sloped upwards at the front, which aided in the pooling of blood in my legs. Even with the "recline" button, I could only gain about 4°, so it wasn't possible to create any sort of impression that I wasn't seated upright, making sleep difficult.

I napped all I could for the next five hours (netting maybe a total of 2 hours) before they served us breakfast at what was now almost 2 p.m., since the plane was over Ireland.

the cabin was still dark, and most of my fellow travelers were asleep. Someone about ten rows ahead of me pulled up her shade, and her whole section of the plane lit up dramatically. There was some grumbling, and the shade was again lowered. We may have been groggily eating breakfast food, but it was beautifully sunny (and mid-afternoon) all around us.

The wheels hit the ground at exactly 3:00 p.m. Total time on the aircraft for most of us, then, was about 14 hours by the time we got to the gate and were able to escape.

Heathrow International Airport

We got off the plane and walked through Heathrow as a group. London's Heathrow airport looks a bit like most American airports, but most of what we saw as we walked and walked looked more like industrial office space. Each of the various snaking hallways we traversed was drab and uniform, decorated only by poster sized ads, every one of which was for the same company.

We walked for probably a half a mile like this, without encountering a single soul. Shortly before we reached the check-in point where we were split by nationality, another deplaned group joined ours through a set of double doors.

At customs, the attendant asked if I had anything to declare, and I held up my duty-free bag of cigarettes. She let me skate on the duty for the second carton, since I hadn't also brought alcohol. Which is good, because the tariff would have been 40 pounds. I still would have been slightly ahead ($25 or so) of buying two cartons at home, but that's still a hefty fine for a carton of smokes.

I located an ATM and pulled out some British money. Then I followed the signs to the smoking area.

I bought a weekly tube/bus pass. It scans automatically, like the Chicago card (or those gas station things, for those of you who don't live in Chicago: you just wave it at the sensor). The only real difference is that you also have to scan it to get back off the train or bus.

At last, London

So I hopped on the tube, which soon became very crowded. It started to rain, and all the windows quickly fogged up, which was kind of a drag since I was trying to carefully track where I was, and the announcements weren't always audible.

Their trains are shaped like the top two-thirds of a stop sign. Which means that if you're standing by the door when it opens, you can get rained on without even leaving the train. So that's nice. And the teletype kept displaying "This train is for Cockfosters," which is apparently the terminus for the line, but is amusing nonetheless.

I got off at Hyde Park Corner, planning to wander north to my hotel. I got through the park itself (pretty) and was starting to make my way through the city itself when, lifting my bags up a curb to the sidewalk, I threw out my back.

Since I didn't really know where the hotel was, or where I was, I hailed a cab. The licensed cabs over here are very nice. They're all kind of retro-looking cross between a minivan and a PT Cruiser, but without the annoying qualities of either. There's a bench at the very back, which means there is a lot of room for the passenger(s) and their stuff. I had an area about four foot square in front of me, which felt great after the airplane and the tube.

The driver dropped me at my hotel. I checked in without incident, and once I saw the room, I extended my booking for the rest of my trip. It's small. Very small. But roomy enough for one person. I think it's actually a little bigger than the room I rented in 1999, and I lived there for 6 months. And to extend my reservation means I'll be moving rooms as many as five times during my last week if nobody cancels a reservation, but I figure having a home base is probably a good idea.

While unpacking, I received my (hopefully) final "fuck-you" from United Airlines. It seems that when they pulled all the crews off of the runways because the weather was dangerous, they left all our baggage out in the rain. So all of my clothes are soaking wet (some of them are still soaking wet) and my jacket (the outdoor one that didn't get vomit on it), which I had stuffed into my checked bag at the last minute, is probably ruined. I've had this jacket for years, and it somehow survived being in the backseat the time my car burned down, so maybe it'll pull through. But it smells like a wet dog even after a good airing out, so I'm gonna ship it home and see if it can be salvaged there.

So my mood was black. I was hungry and exhausted, and I went to bed at 7:30 (or 1:30 in the afternoon at home) and slept, for once, straight through until morning.

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