08/11/08 02:26
So I leave my house in the wonderful rented car we picked up on Sunday. I’m enjoying the feel of air-conditioning that actually works. I turn it up in an effort to get it to blow my eyelids enough to keep them up. Neeeed Sleeeeep.

08/11/08 03:35
I’m still driving to Minneapolis St. Paul airport. My boss has given me directions on how to get there – I’ve printed out directions from Google Maps – and the lady on my GPS is giving me directions. All three are entirely different. Wonderful. Luckily the surge of adrenaline when I realize this is enough to wake me out of my semi-slumber and encourage me to make one of those split second decisions that almost always end up being wrong. Given that;

a. My boss missed his plane as he went the wrong way.
b. The Google Maps printout is smudged, and
c. The lady on the satnav is pretty firm in her demands that I ‘turn right NOW’ and so on –

I chose the satnav. 10 minutes later I’m driving through the center of St. Paul. I’m now even more pleased I move to Eau Claire. Eventually I wind up in some parking lot where a sign says I should leave the rental car.

I get out and walk to the Avis rental desk – to find no-one there. (Apparently they don’t have much of a rush at 4am). They have left two slots open – one to put the updated rental agreement through, one for the car keys. That doesn’t help me with what to do with the satnav. Eventually I disassemble it and put it through a piece at a time. I’m sure they’ll thank me later.

So now I’m in the airport at around 4am with no stores open – and no other people. There’s just me, and two security guards. I’m hoping they like the English or I may be here some time…

08/11/08 05:30
I’m sat at the gate, and it’s started to fill up. They’ve announced the flight is overbooked and they’re looking for someone to take the next flight. No-one moves. They mention a $300 voucher. Everyone moves. Some older guy beats women and kids out of the way then gets the voucher. He wanders back to his (slightly embarrassed) wife with a winning grin on his face. Then the gate attendant makes the mistake of looking like he’s going to push the button on the microphone. Instantly – everyone stands and starts trying to look like they’re not lining up yet – while being in a perfect position to line up.

He pushes the button and the queue comes together like someone cracking a whip. He announces that they are boarding people who need wheelchair access first. There’s a silent moan and the line evaporates again. I swear I hear someone say ‘stoopid disabled people’. The one lady that needs wheelchair access is let on, then we go through the same process for families with children, then first class customers, then premier customers, then people they like the look of, etc. To be clear – WE’VE ALL GOT ALLOCATED SEATS. Why the rush? Is someone bigger and stronger going to get to your seat and claim it in the name of their home country? Look – I only did that the once and she took too long to get there because of the, y’know, wheelchair.

08/11/08 06:00
Anyway – eventually we finish the airport shuffle and we’re on the plane. I’m impressed – In England you get given pretty poor quality food on airplanes. Over here the food is clearly infused with minerals for healthy growth, regrows balding hair and adds twenty years to your life. I assume that’s the way it is of course, because why else would you charge $3 for A BAG OF CHIPS. (NB – For the English, Crisps are chips; for the Americans, Chips are French Fries; for the French, … Well I don’t’ actually speak French, so Je ne parle pas de français. Although I’ve often wondered how you can get away with saying Je ne parle pas de français when clearly you parle pas de français enough to tell them you ne parle pas it. Strictly speaking I guess you should say Je ne parle pas de very much français. But in French, obviously.

08/11/08 07:20
Right – first of all it’s not actually 7:20, it’s now 8:20 because I’ve changed time zones. This is also weird – in the UK we’re all on one timezone so it never changes. Here though, you have to opportunity to LOSE AN HOUR OF WORK in travelling. Excellent! I’ve booked a days holiday on the way back so I gain an hours holiday in the other direction..

08/11/08 07:35
Now, I don’t know if it’s because people are naturally terrified on flights – but there always seems to be a tendency for people to state the obvious when we’re landing. I’ve had a nice sleep on the way (so doubling my overnight sleep from 2 hours to 4) and I’m woken by the captain telling us we’re about to start landing. Then he tells the crew to prepare for landing. Then we start to go down. Then the man next to me says to his wife ‘Looks like we’re landing’. I’m assuming he’s the alternate pilot in case the first one was sick. Then the flappy things on the wing go down. He says ‘the flaps have gone down’. As I’m about to explain to him that I’m breathing in. Now I’m breathing out. Now I’m breathing in, etc. I hear a young boy behind me say to his brother ‘everything is getting bigger’. Now assuming he wasn’t talking about the natural process of growth at his age – of course it’s getting bigger. That’s a good sign – as long as it’s not too quick. Too quick is bad. Very very bad. But a nice slow things getting biggerishness is a sign of a good landing. Followed by that uncomfortable bit at the end where you’re absolutely sure the plane is coming in at an angle and you’re about to lose a wing. Followed by the really really uncomfortable bit when you hit the ground and you’re sure the pilot is whitenuckled holding onto the joystick for dear life screaming ‘ohmygodohmygodohmygod’ until it all slows down. THAT’S why they make you put your seatbelt on – so they know you’re too far away to hear the sobbing when the engines stop.

…Or maybe that’s just me.

08/11/08 08:40

Now I’ve landed and the boarding pass tells me I need to go to concourse C from concourse A. The map I’ve found sets my mind at rest as it appears to be a distance of about two inches – unfortunately the scale is such that I find myself pretty much walking to Maine.

Eventually I admit defeat and start using those motorized walkway things. There’s a line down the middle of them. On the right, it says ‘stand’ – on the left, it says ‘walk’. Unfortunately an elderly Chinese couple in front of me have taken that to it’s logical conclusion and decided you can stand in the middle and stroll. Or meander. Or mosey. Or make me miss my flight. Luckily for them I’m English, so I just stand behind them with my ‘impatient’ face on (which involves me rolling my eyes and clenching my teeth mainly – it’s very much the same as my ‘I’m having a seizure’ face. Eventually they stop admiring the scenery of the Borders bookstore and notice the traffic behind them. Without a word, they step out of my way – I say (politely) ‘Thankyou!’ and walk past. Then I hear them talking to each other behind me – ‘Well don’t just stand behind us, you should say something!’. And – with the greatest respect in the world – the lady talking has one of those ‘old Chinese lady telling you off’ voices. Do you know the one I mean? The one that instantly makes you want to turn around and say – ‘No – no, I shouldn’t need to say anything as there isn’t a sign that says “if you see someone in your way, make them aware of it” – there are only the two signs marked ‘walk’ and ‘stand’. Neither of which you were doing! You were perambulating – you were taking a constitutional – you were on a tour of the airport – but the one thing you weren’t doing was GETTING OUT OF MY WAY!’

But I didn’t say that because I’m too polite. I just did my impatient/seizure face and moved on..

08/11/08 09:20
Eventually I find the gate and go through. Now, here’s the thing – I don’t know if anyone else gets this, but I’m going to share it with you.. Sometimes the simplest phrases make me panic. Usually when I hear someone else saying them first – that’s when I’m most likely to screw it up. So, as I’m walking to the gate I hear;

‘Good morning, Sir, How are you today?’
‘Good! And how are you?’
‘Fine thankyou’

Then the next person;

‘Good morning, Sir, How are you today?’
‘Good! And you?’
‘Fine thankyou’

So I hear this like ten times – and I prepare for this interchange to show I’m just as capable and lucid as everyone else that’s gone through before me – but that’s when I get myself so panicked about it –

‘Good morning, Sir, How are you today?’
‘Fine thankyou’

Youse? YOUSE?! What on Earth does that EVEN MEAN? And for a split second you think about going back and explaining that you actually meant to say ‘I’m fine thankyou for asking – and what about you?’ but instead your tongue swelled to three times its normal size, and in conjunction with all the fluid draining out of your mouth you ended up making a noise that sounded like ‘Youse’ – all because you wanted to fit in. Kids – let that be a lesson to you – Always walk up to gate attendants with a moistened mouth and your tongue out.

08/11/08 09:46
So now I’m on the plane, and actually typing up all these notes from earlier in the day – it’s been a fairly uneventful flight. Although, when I got on, people were in my seat so I had to do that thing where you looked at your boarding pass with a puzzled face (creased brow, squinty eyes) and say your seat number with a question mark at the end of it. Then there’s a slight pause as you desperately hope the person who is in your seat (we’ll call them the ‘thief’) says something before you have to resort to.. well.. doing the same thing again. Eventually though you must resort to pointing to the nub in the ceiling that says 7-D and asking ‘Is this seat 7-D?’

So far I’ve not encountered anyone bold enough to outright deny it.

Oh, and then the guy who sat in front of me is in the Olympics. I say that because, after he used the bathroom, he nearly dived into his seat again – and the sound of the cracking when his seat met my laptop he obviously took to be applause as he then startled wrestling the seat into submission. Eventually he stopped and went to sleep. Bless him. Well now I’m typing about what a jerk I think he is, quite literally behind his back – and at any time he could undo his belt, get out of his seat, walk around to mine and ask to read what’s on the screen of my laptop – and he’d be furious. But I just don’t care. So who’s laughing now jerkboy?

(continued on Day 2…)

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