Thu 24 May 2007
Since hostel accommodations aren’t really with any frills, I had a rough night of sleeping and was afraid that my alarm might wake up the other nine people in the room I was sleeping in. Although, the bed at the hostel was actually more decent than the lumpy springs in the bed at the Ruskin. But with everything packed, I hadn’t showered the night before and the smoke and everything was still on me. So I got up for good at 6:15am and felt compelled at least to dig around in my suitcase to find some basics to shower with. I also needed to change clothes because I knew that I would be a mess from the trip home anyways.
A half hour later, I checked out of the hostel and went to the Holborn tube station for the last time. It was rather saddening that that may have been the last time I’ll get to visit the City for a while. But hopefully the next time I go, I’ll even be able to bring Judi. By the time I lugged my suitcases around the underground and got to the Gatwick Express around 7:30 and took the 7:45 train, getting into the airport at 8:16.
Gatwick Airport is perhaps one of the worst airports I’ve ever been to and I didn’t realise it so much upon arrival as I did when I departed. I’m not sure if it is British transport regulations themselves that were the problem, but I’ve never been through that much security in any American (or Montreal) airport. Yet it wasn’t entirely the fact that the British nanny-state slowed down my entry to the departure gates… Once I was through to the concourse, it was a disastrous maze of shops, restaurants, and kiosks – almost like a mall. There was just about one display panel of flight departure information in the lounge area, and beyond that point were the gates.
At the gates, there was no information and almost no way to figure out which flight was departing from where, and what airlines had claim to which gate. So when I found out that my flight was delayed an hour from 10:30 to 11:30, I couldn’t even get further information on what might happen if i missed my connecting flight in Charlotte (which was also bumped forward by nearly a half hour).
With an extra hour of time to kill, I went to W.H. Smith’s to pick up a Financial Times and then went upstairs to get a sausage, egg, and cheese bagel from McDonald’s. After finishing the sandwich (which seemed to be much a healthier version of the same sandwich offered in the States), I went to the lounge to read my FT until the boarding gate was announced.
Luckily since my security experience and delay in departure went so well, I hoped that maybe I would be able to seek some decent comfort with a sociable travel companion in the seat next to me on the plan. That was wishful thinking. Instead, I got stuck with a person who seemed relatively normal until he started having conversations with himself, replete with emphatic hand gestures. Every time some baby started acting up, he’d throw his book down and start talking to himself again. He also managed to order a screwdriver.
Suffice to say, after nearly 8 1/2 hours of flying, the only conversation was asking me for the time at about the 7 hour mark. Additionally, he ordered a headset for the movies, but we also lucked out in having our screens broken. So when he couldn’t watch anything and the attendants couldn’t fix the problem, they refunded his headset and instead of cash, they gave him not one, but two screwdrivers. To say the least, it was anything but enriching.
In order to make the most of an otherwise dull situation and to stay awake as to not succumb to the ills of jet lag, I decided to read my Tescopoly book, finishing over 100 pages in between trying to find other ways to kill time. After all, as our chances of approaching Charlotte on time were bleak, my anxiety was raising about missing my connecting flight.
We got into Charlotte around 3:07pm EDT and passport control was a snap, but then again, I didn’t have anything to declare and it should be evidenced by their checks that I’ve had my passport run enough times by customs (Canadian in particular) that I’m good to go. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to recheck my baggage and my time was running thin, but I knew that it needed to be claimed to go through customs. So at 3:40, I pulled my baggage and virtually ran through customs with no questions asked.
Sure enough, there was a baggage recheck so even though my flight was at 3:45, I figured I would at least have someone to ask about how to get a new flight. I lucked out though; it turned out that Air Traffic Control had grounded the plane until 4:30, so I rechecked my suitcase, thanked G-d and ran through the concourse to get through security as soon as possible.
Of course I had no way of knowing it, but my late arrival had signaled a change in my flight plans and my seat on the appropriate flight was given up to another passenger. I was able to get them to find me a seat on the flight anyways, with just enough time to spare. Well, that was until the plane was delayed on the runway for a half hour.
The flight from Charlotte was longer than usual. It was about an hour and a half before the captain announced that we had been flying at a slower speed and that the ATC in Newark was putting us into a holding pattern. For another 20 min, we spent leaving a big ol’ carbon footprint in the sky doing circles around Jersey before settling down around 6:50pm. Sure enough, we also had to wait to taxi back to the gate.
By the time I was able to claim my baggage and take the AirTrain to the NJTransit track, I made the 7:55 train with five minutes to spare. A slight delay between Secaucus and Penn Station put me into Manhattan later than I would have liked and then I lugged my baggage all the way over to Grand Central, making it onto the 9:07 Metro-North train to Fairfield with about six minutes to spare. Though a large portion of my day was miserable and I was a sweaty rag, I also had my moments of levity. I arrived in Fairfield around 10:25 and Judi had been waiting for several hours (though I still don’t understand why) and it was time to head home. The long trip was over.