So, yesterday, began the longest day of my life.
Rising just after 3am after a refreshing 3 hours sleep (as I'm sure M. Thatcher would testify to) we actually left home just before 5am to head up to the big smoke. Worryingly was a large tailback starting just outside Reading that was caused by a Mazda RX8 losing an argument first of all with a BMW 5 series and then the centre crash barrier. Of course this meant that the whole of the road systems in the south east of the UK ground to a halt, and I was contemplating a little bit of hard shoulder driving to get us to Heathrow in time for the flight, but fortunately got through with plenty of time to spare.
I planned on having a good look around the shops by the gate in Heathrow, but unfortunately I didn't have as much time as I liked so we cut it short only to just make the gate with about 5 minutes until boarding. The transatlantic flight itself was smooth, and I was fortunate enough to have a choice of movie so chose to watch Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Twice. The rest of the movies were crap, such delights as Pride and Prejudice or some sentimental pap about a girl and a horse. The player on the plane must have been a 1980's Alba Video player, because the auto tracking kept cutting in muting the film just at a vital moment. One of the hostesses came round with a "hot towellette" (aka Johnson's babywipe microwaved for 30 seconds) to which I told John not to eat it all at once. She said "you don't eat it!" like I didn't already know, so when she came round to collect them after I told her mine must've been off because it didn't taste very nice. This broke the ice with the only male cabin crew member (question to self: why do they all sound gay?) and later I asked him if John could see the flight deck at any point. He was more then obliging, and when we arrived in Chicago I got a superb photo of John in the captain's seat with the captain's hat on. It's such a shame that security means he can't actually see the flight deck in use anymore.
Arriving in Chicago half an hour early, to be greeted with possibly one of the worst airports I've ever seen. The guy in immigration was a nice guy, which made a change because I always thought people like that get the job following a charisma bypass. We transferred to the main terminal to see chaos, without representation. No help desks, no shops, bedlam. All the shops are on the 'wrong' side of security so we have to get checked, right down to having our shoes x-rayed(!), something they didn't bother with in Heathrow. The shops consisted of 32 newsagents, 42 coffee shops, a McDonalds, and a bar. And I have 4 hours (or so I thought) to wait. The plane was already late leaving Tampa to Chicago, so I knew it'd be late leaving heading south again. What was going to be a short delay of some 15 minutes turned into a delay of nearly 90 minutes. To compound matters there is nowhere to sit in Chicago unless you have a gate to wait at. They didn't know when the plane was arriving, so they didn't designate a gate. We just found an empty gate and set up camp. An hour later and they announced our gate, so we moved there. Another hour later again and they moved the gate. We moved again. I am now an expert on the geography of Chicago's O' Hare Airport, terminal 1. I decided I'd have something to eat and a nice hot cuppa. The nearest stand was a Chicago Hot Dog stand, something my sister told me had to be tried. The hotdogs looked like remnants of the castration age, and were duly covered in onion, mustard, tomato, cucumber(!), and gherkin(!?!). I decided to try one of their 'Italian Beef' sandwiches instead, and was treated to (I suspect) a Pastrami sandwich covered in some kind of flavoured water where the beef had been heated. I had to wring out the bread before it was edible, but very nice it was.
John was now dying. To be honest, so was I. We'd now been up 24 hours, and he slipped into a mild coma for the entire flight to Tampa. Now I'm no expert Pilot, but I knew as we came into land the pilot had obviously gained his licence from some correspondance course when he was using the airbreaks to slow the plane on the decent. This has the effect of slamming your foot hard on the brakes in your car instead of gradually slowing down. I'm sure the wheels left a wheel shaped trench in the runway, and as captain Kangaroo threw the engines into reverse I saw teeth from the elderly hostess propel down the aisle. The airport was deserted, and fortunately there were no formalities, flowing into my sister's welcoming arms within minutes of touchdown. We got to my sister's house, and John promptly went to bed where he resumed his now heavier coma. I had a beer, then another, and another, finally getting to bed at 1:30am their time, some 28 hours after I had got up.
back tomorrow with more tales from the land of the free (and blue rinse)
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