[This post is reconstructed from semi-coherent posts and tweets on Facebook and Twitter. Social medial experts call it microblogging. I call it leaving a trail to remember I was there. If you want to read about the newspaper account, click here. If you forgot who or what Winston is, click here. If you want to read past installments click here.]
A growing din finally reaches my brain. I sit up and pry my eyes open. It’s daylight. The hordes have returned, looking fresh and crisp. A young professional woman in a black suit perches on a chair next me pecking on her Blackberry. Across, an elder woman dripping money in an exquisite beige pants suit clutches an iPhone in a gold diamond studded case looks up at me. Two small preschoolers stare. The airport is awake.
I peer at my dying iPhone and inwardly groan. Did I even sleep? My mouth tastes like the bottom of my sandal, my eyes burn and my brain hurts. The tantalizing aroma of sausage and hash browns wafts to my nose. McDonald’s calls. I ungracefully unravel myself from the blanket and stagger to the rest room passing my fellow overnighters clutching their blankets like refugees. We are not a pretty sight. After some splashing and swishing of water and bedhead fluffing, I tell myself I’m presentable. Sated by the Golden Arches, I discover my makeshift bed is where I need to be. And that I slept no more than two yards away from a computer station replete with plugs. I dart for one as civilly as possible, commandeer a nearby chair and join the tweeting and facebooking horde. My virtual followers tut and commiserate. What will happen next? Damned if I know. Winston snores on.
More suited professionals crowd the lounge. I feel wrinkled and frumpy but hopefully not smelly. Mithum works. A rep announces we will board late. Color me surprised. Most of the profressionals tote identical little black bags and I congratulate myself for buying a new red one – like the one I… checked… Oh hell. A quick chat with a rep confirmed: no, my bag would not have been allowed to leave the country without me; yes, the bag was still here; yes, they will tag it through to DC. I don’t believe the last part but resolve to deal with it in Washington. It’s time to board.
After a delightfully boring flight, I land at Reagan, scoot quickly out the exit and into a shuttle for the 45 minute drive across town to Dulles. There is an upside to having no luggage. I see nothing of the sights but recognize my job’s headquarters of all places. Bah. After a few bumbling attempts dialing international, I reach the proprietor of the London B&B on my cellphone and explain the situation. “No worries, luv,” he says. “I’ll put the kettle on for you when you get here.”
Dulles is a large expanse of emptiness with its soaring maple dome and blindingly polished floor. I’ve never seen such an empty airport. TSA still manages to hold up the short line out of pure cussedness. I make a conscious effort not to roll my eyes; it’s not good to annoy these people. I rush to baggage but find a line – in an empty airport. Inexplicably they wander off as a happy rep comes my way. (She is too old to be called perky). Ms. Happy confirms: yes, my bag is still in Chicago; yes, it’s possible I will see it again; yes, it will probably join me before that night’s flight to London. She will flag, alert, and expedite. I should check at 4:00 PM to see if it arrived. Things are hopeful.
Winston as a dog is a fitting metaphor. He awakes wondering about food, just like a dog. I duck into a restroom and drug him. Onwards to food. Dulles has some of the longest corridors to terminals I’ve ever seen. Am I in Virginia? Then I must be walking to West Virginia. There are no food courts, only hidden eateries tucked into alcoves off endless miles of carpet. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost weight since yesterday. Finally I spot a seafood place and collapse there. I order a lobster roll and new england clam chowder, reasoning that I shouldn’t be poisoned, being so close to the ocean. The food is fresh and quite good.
Miles later I find my gate lounge. There are a few early souls. My head spins; it’s a good time to get some sleep. Maybe 2 1/2 hours of sleep last night and semi-dozing on the plane so far. Pulling out the Amazing Collapsible Blanket, I cocoon myself across a bank of seats near the rep counter just to be safe.
I’m awaked again by a growing din. The hordes have returned. I blink at the lounge, chock full of tourists? professionals? Who are they? The relentless stares of the obligatory small fry finally propel me up and towards baggage.
It took 48 minutes of powerwalking to baggage and back. I learn in two minutes: no, my luggage is still in Chicago; yes, my luggage will be flagged, alerted and expedited through to London. Riiiight. I’m piqued about Ms. Happy. There’s no help for it but settle things at Heathrow. I try sprawling in different seats but can’t capture that snoozy feeling surrounded by so many people. I would read an ebook but my eyes won’t focus. I’m in a twilight zone. The plane is here. I stare longingly at it.
I’m surprisingly on the aisle side of twin seats, having resigned myself to being stuffed into the freezing center seats. My seatmate is a grumpy woman around my age. I decide not to bother her. The flight is on time. There are no screaming children or hacking sneezing plague carriers near me. I’m close but far enough away from the lavatory. I have three blankets and two pillows. It doesn’t get better than this unless they put me in first class. Alas Ms. Wonderful checked that too and it was full. I eat something, peer at something on my personal screen, and wrap myself in blankets before passing out.
5:00 – 7:00 AM GMT
It’s difficult getting real sleep on a plane. I’ve dozed maybe 3 1/2 hours but feel like I’ve not gotten a wink. By now it’s like medicine; you keep taking it hoping it’s doing some good. Flight attendants pass out water and snacks to supplement the dinner I can’t recall. The movie I can’t recall plays again. My brain refuses to process the images. I doze off once more.
What seems like a short time later, the flight attendants walk briskly through, turning on the lights and throwing up the shades. It’s morning across the pond. Below the clouds sits the UK. We all sit up quickly, packing away our things, shoving blankets and pillows, trying to make ourselves presentable. My seatmate is a British ex-pat visiting family. She’s lived in the US for 16 years and prefers it there. I say how much I’d love to there. We laugh how the grass always seems greener on the other side. Winston stirs; must be breakfast. There’s tea, clotted cream and scones. I feel a rush of excitement. Almost there.
I’m here. I tweet victoriously: “LONDON I’M IN YOU!” I’m almost delirious with joy and exhaustion.
Winston whines and buries his head. I think he’s jet-lagged.
NEXT: Of Baggages and Tickets