The Trip - part 1
My son left home 18 years ago – and has only been back for a long weekend once since.
So his 28 years of accumulated junk has for the most part remained under my control. When I moved house, I had to sacrifice about half of the junk – mine as well as his – and I felt bad about doing his. However, I still have a garage full of boxes of his books, magazines, machines, and one off items like a Viking sword and shield, and a metal detector. So I have promised that I will send or deliver to him as much of his belongings as I can each time there is a reason for doing so. Last time I went, I only had carry on luggage – which was a great disappointment to him, so this time, I took my biggest suitcase, and included in it several vinyl records such as the Best in BBC Theme Music, copies of Wireless World from the 40's, two of my husband's cameras, his grandfather's army telescope, six mugs based on science fiction characters, family history bits and pieces, and of course, presents and cards from his sisters, nieces and nephews and me. I was just about able to find a bit of space for a few of my clothes but the case was at the maximum and I could hardly move it.
My first challenge came when I did the modern thing and tried to get my boarding card on line
– anytime 24 hours or less before the flight. I tend to mess up things when I toy with modern technology. If anything can go wrong, it will. And on this occasion, it did. I thought I had done everything right – but I wasn't sure when they asked me what nationality I was what to put down – so I chose American, as I was travelling on my American passport – but I am a dual national. And then when they asked me where I had got my latest passport, I wasn't sure whether since I got it on-line – that it might have been directly through an American agency rather than a American consulate in Britain. In the end, I opted for that one. The reply came back, “Some one in your party is not eligible for this service. Please check in at the airport desk.” As I was travelling alone, I had no doubt who was causing the problem.
Because I worried that I would be having a problem, I called my taxi to come three hours early, and because I have a house without a front door, I always choose to wait outside to flag down the confused driver. I had asked for the taxi at 5.45, and at 5.50 a cab from the same company drove up. As he looked befuddled, as I knew he would, I flagged him down. “I'm here,” I said, “Mrs. Day for the airport.”
“Not you, love,” he said as he drove off.
Wondering whether he would change his mind and come back, I went back to my watch in the
two directions cars might come to approach my corner house. In the far distance, I saw a car approaching very slowly, stopping now and again, and then crawling on. When he got a bit nearer, I waved largely, and tried to get his attention. Luckily he was my man. We chatted about his experiences visiting New York all the way to the terminal, and having lived there for a year, I gave him some advice about things to see and do.
The airport was rather empty, although it was only just after 6.30 a.m. I found the information
available on the screen unclear, so I went up to one of the workers. “Just use the machine,” she shouted at me. “I don't know how,” I said back, not strictly true, but I wanted confirmation that I
wasn't about to have my passport swallowed like my credit card has been when I've done something wrong. After checking my ticket printout, she conferred with a colleague, and told me to go to the next area of checking in – which was for KLM and Air France. My ticket was from Delta, but apparently they share with those two other airlines, so it was fine to let them deal with my problems. Having at least been told that I was in the right place, I regained my confidence sufficiently to hold my American passport up to the screen on the provided computer. “Are you Barbara Day?” said the screen. “Yes,” I tapped back. “That's my real name, but I only use it for official purposes. Without any more to do, out popped my three boarding cards. And it was done. All those extra hours and all that worry for nothing. So I took my forms and handed over my suitcase, requiring both hands and a lot of effort to just lift it onto the weighing machine. “You're checked all the way through to TRI cities,” she said, But you will have to collect your suitcase in Atlanta and take it through customs.” Having done these sorts of multiple stop trips on numerous occasions, I didn't worry about this extra requirement.
Security has always been the reason for requiring so many extra hours before transatlantic flights in the past. But things have changed a bit since the last time I went that way. There was no official to check my boarding card – just a machine to scan it in to. Then a long queue to get to the x-ray type machines, but there were five machines working, so it all went without a hitch. Well, not totally without a hitch. I had bought a new small size toothpaste, because I knew an ordinary size tube was frowned upon when it came to the acceptable limits of semi-liquids allowed. But in removing my liquid bits to go into the plastic bag, I had somehow overlooked the toothpaste, still in its box. So although my grey boxes of jackets, handbag and shoes sailed through, the bag with my hand luggage on was sent to one side, “for further examination”. I had to join the very long line of people who had similar problems. After perhaps 20 others had had their luggage inspected minutely, it was my turn. The illegal toothpaste was found, and sent by itself through the x-ray machine. And luckily it passed, and I could finally reassemble all my stuff and proceed to the main body of the airport. But although it was annoying and one might say, very unnecessary, it was useful in a way, because it ate up some of the huge amount of time I had to wait until my 9.05 first flight.
I'd taken six big thick books with me – knowing that I would have lots of time to kill. And
before my flight was called, I was half way through my first, “Elizabeth is Missing” which didn't do much for my paranoia about forgetting things as its about a woman with Alzheimers who frustrates her daughter who she lives with by trying over and over again to find out where Elizabeth is.
This first flight was to Amsterdam. I could have flown directly from Manchester to Atlanta as I have in the past if I had been more on the ball. By the time I made up my mind as to what I wanted to do, all the direct flights in the time slot I had available, were fully booked. So the second best option was to go backwards for 300 miles, and waste and extra four hours or so in the process. But it was a quick smooth flight – on time, and they even managed in their 55 minutes to give us a snack and a drink.
I've been to Schiphol airport several times, and have found it to be well laid out with clear directions and lots of English speakers to help. I found out from the notice boards that I needed to go from D 23 where we landed to E1 – didn't sound like any problem at all. Luckily I am used to doing a lot of walking, as it seemed like miles before D ended and E started, and E1 turned out to be a second security station for me to go through. I was directed to a desk where after waiting 10 minutes or so in the queue, I was asked if I had packed my own luggage. Surely, since I was en route to somewhere else, that question should have come several hours earlier. But I replied, cringing slightly as I always do, when asked if I had been asked to take anything with me by anyone else. I always take stuff from my girls to whomever I am visiting in America – but it seemed easier to lie than to have to explain that it wasn't a problem. Then more x-ray machines, and shoes off and on – and finally I was directed to my next embarkation destination – E23 – so another trot down another 10 minutes of walkways, ending up within waving distance from the area where I'd arrived an hour before.
The loading procedure for these huge planes is always very tedious. I can see that people who pay more should get on sooner, and I certainly think the feeble and young families need a bit of extra attention. But then we had to wait for the gold and the silver and the emerald and the ruby and all the other “premier passengers” who had saved more airmiles than I had. I don't save them at all. So I shouldn't complain, should I?
The Delta planes was built with two passengers on each window side, and three in the middle – quite a convenient arrangement. I had asked for an aisle seat, and had been given one, sitting next to a German woman, whose husband had the window seat in the row behind. She was nice enough, but seemed determined to spend all her time sleeping, and as I had both my book to read, and a film to watch, Far From the Madding Crowd, I wasn't the least put out by her reluctance to chat. But I must say that much of my 9 ½ hour flight was taken up with the man who sat in front of me. I won't tell you anything about him now, but he will feature in my next book. He was very kind in speaking loudly and slowly, so I managed to take quite clear notes of all his facts and opinions. What a gift for a writer.
We had wine (or other drink of your choice) shortly after take off – then a very nice meal – one of the best I have ever had on a plane – and then later on, two more snacky and not so nice meals. One thing I wasn't going to be when I arrived, was hungry.
The plane was on time, and all the procedures went like clock work. Atlanta airport has the
system where if you are an American (which I was for this particular flight) you take your passport, and go to a machine – and there were perhaps 50 or more of these provided. You swipe your passport, and all your details are shown on the screen, with an outline of a face in the middle. You line up your real head, with the outline of a head on the screen (bending knees to fit in) and press a button. Then you see your picture - which is bound to look a lot more like you than the one in your passport – appear, and you answer that you aren't about to overthrow the government of the US, haven't been on a farm lately, and you are labeled OK and get a copy of your new picture to prove it. Another long queue to get the various officials to look at the new document, and you are then sent onwards to get your luggage, which has already appeared. So I dragged my huge case off the carousel and joined another queue to await somebody else looking at my new picture, and telling me I'm OK, and to drop my huge suitcase off with some blokes just down the way – who will deal with it for me. Only an hour left to find my next flight – so I hope that they are equally efficient. And they are.
My last flight, also on Delta, but in a puddle jumper with old fat stewardesses. Both plane and staff looked very unlikely to survive the 100 miles or so I had yet to journey. No drinks or snacks were offered – and the only function of the cabin crew seemed to have was to show us how to fasten our seat belts. Nobody paid any attention, except me, because I was curious to see if they did a proper job, knowing nobody was watching. And they didn't really. They couldn't have cared less, just like all of us seasoned travellers.
There were perhaps 30 people on this flight – and the suitcases were no problem in arriving. As I was waiting by the carousel, my son came up behind me. I hadn't spotted him earlier, but he had been there when I got off the plane. “I was there, and you didn't even look at me,” he said.
“I'm so sorry,” I said. “I guess I was looking for two people.” But he allowed me to hug him anyway, sort of making up for yet another thing I had done wrong. He looked pretty well – with his hair having been cut fairly recently, and his beard nice and trim. Last time I had seen him, he'd had a big rather shaggy beard. His clothes were smart and clean – again something that had often not been the case in the past. “They're redoing the carpark so Jenny (not her real name) had to wait in the car in an illegal spot,” he said, as we collected my bag, and he dragged it for me to the waiting car.
I had opted for a motel for this visit – although I had been offered a bed in their house. But knowing that both parties would be happier with some time away, I knew that the several hundred extra pounds that I was spending was worth it. I had chosen a motel within a little town – not the one where they lived, as that one was too small to have a motel, but one only five or so miles away, and en route to most of the places we would be visiting. Another reason for choosing a motel, was that their spare bedroom was the home to one of their stray cats – four of whom occupied their house – as well as a very bouncy and noisy dog – and having a cat share a bed with me was not my idea of pleasure.