Mind the gap

Mind the gap

You can go home again —
but it's a looooooong flight!

All good things must come to an end, I suppose. On Wednesday morning I got up before dawn cracked, had one last breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon on toast at Cafe Fiore, and then took the Underground back to Heathrow.

The announcements in the Underground have always been a bit of an amusement to me. There are two standard ones. First: Mind the gap, which has now been elaborated to Mind the gap between the train and the platform. Second: The doors are closing; stand clear of the doors.

I had always assumed that these were recordings and somehow played automatically. But no! Because there were so few people in the station this morning, I was able to observe that the announcements are made by a live person who seems to act as a signalman as well, holding a white paddle up in the air for the driver of the train. This chap darted from platform to platform as each train came in to see the passengers minded the gap and stood clear the doors.

Heathrow. Prior experience has taught me that Heathrow is one place to take seriously the "two hours before your flight" advice. There are great distances to walk and numerous checkpoints to pass.

United Airlines has bought into the class system with enthusiasm. Approaching the United check-in area one is met by a passenger sorting directress who inquires, "Business class or United economy, sir?" Depending on the answer, you are directed into one of two chutes, thereby sealing your fate. There is no mistaking the message: poor people this way, no mixing with the upper crust.

When you check in, you are given your boarding pass which includes all the vital information except the gate! Everyone, for all flights and all airlines, must go to a common departure lounge. It is at the entrance to this lounge that another security screening is performed, including x-raying of hand baggage, patting down of one's person, and having a look at the soles of one's shoes. In contrast to the US, one is not asked to actually remove the shoes, nor is one asked to remove the laptop from its case so it can be sent through the x-ray machine separately.

Once in the departure lounge, one finds that gate information is posted on a big board, but not until just minutes before the plane is ready to start boarding. Thus everyone is confined to this one area of the airport. It can hardly be an accident that this departure lounge is essentially a shopping mall, with everything from Harrods to Starbucks (right in the middle of the seating area!).

At long last the gate information is divulged, and the hike begins. A sign indicates how much time is needed to get from the departure lounge to each gate, ranging from 10 minutes to 40 minutes. "Mind that you are on time, sir."

At the gate, one's documents are again examined and some people are selected out for additional screening, i.e., searching.

All aboard, please. The good news was that my seat had been changed to an aisle seat; the ungood news was that it was in the last section of the plane. Although boarding was theoretically being done by row number, noone was monitoring it, so not only did one have to walk past the first class and business class passengers, with their wide seats and ample leg room and their welcome-aboard champagne — bastards! — but also maneuver around the idiots from the forward sections of economy who sneaked onto the plane ahead of their row. Knowing it's an ten-hour flight, why is anyone in a rush to take their seat?!?!

English eccentric

Seated one row ahead of me and across the aisle was what can only be called an eccentric Englishman. This was a portly gentleman, and the tail of his shirt waggled from the fly of his trousers. He could only leave or enter his seat by levering himself up with his arms. During the flight, he availed himself of every opportunity presented by the drinks trolley, beginning with gin and working his way on to whiskey, wine (red and white), and then more gin.

What was most curious was that he brought two shopping bags full of newspapers on board with him and spent the entire flight — when he wasn't nodded off — reading the papers, both English and German newspapers. As he finished each page he would tear it off and either discard it on the floor or add it to a pile of keepers on the adjacent seat. When he had completed this little ritual, he had reduced the two shopping bags of newspapers to one shopping bag of tear sheets.

I found this far more interesting than any of the movies available on my seat-back video screen, although I did watch a bit of Confidence with Edward Burns and Dustin Hoffman. For some reason I chose the version that had been dubbed in German, and that was quite amusing as well, watching Dustin Hoffman play a crime boss and listening to "him" speak German.

Time to destination

The flight seemed to go on forever. East-to-west flights generally take longer anyway because of the prevailing winds, but it seemed this flight would never end. The flight data display was merciless: "Time to destination: 10:38... Time to destination: 10:37..." I can only say, that at 37,000 feet altitude a minute lasts a lot longer than at sea level.

LAX. Eventually, long after all sensation in my nether regions had been lost, we arrived at LAX, where I experienced yet another travel first. Customs and immigration officers were stationed in the jetway with a sniffer dog who enthusiastically nosed around each passenger as we walked in single file up the jetway. If one were carrying any contraband, one would have been SOL.

Johnny Park. I retrieved my car from Johnny Park where I had left it with some apprehension. I had made the parking reservation online and was surprised to find the facility much smaller than I had expected it to be. But, the Sable seems none the worse for its experience. Indoor parking at $6.50/day right next to LAX — what a deal. (I see that the website now offers "Grand New Expansion Special - $5.95/day."

Home at last. Having had breakfast in London, lunch over the Faroe Islands, snacks over the Canadian tundra, tea over Utah, and dinner at Carrows in Beaumont, California, I arrived home some 20 hours after leaving my London hotel.

I forced myself to stay awake until about 9pm, then went to sleep. Three hours later I woke up (getting up time in London) and could not go back to sleep. I know my body will crash sometime; it's just a question of when.

Life is grand!