Monday, September 17, 2001

My Trip Began With Flight 2

Darn those time changes. Despite getting to sleep pretty late last night, my body decided to get me up wide awake at 6 this morning.

Anyway, "Bill", co-worker A and I left on a shuttle from work on Friday the 7th. Because of potential traffic delays, we were put on a shuttle at 3 for a 7:45 flight. We got to Dulles a little after 4. That gave us mucho time to kill. Fortunately, Bill is a Red Carpet Club member, and he can bring two guests.

The Red Carpet Club is an oasis United provides in the airport to its customers who pay for the privilege. It has comfy chairs, free sodas and munchies, free local phone calls, and perhaps most importantly, a quiet air that harkens back to a more refined era of air travel. So we sat there for a couple of hours. A and I read; Bill used his laptop. Then I ran out to McDonalds to get hopefully-mad-cow-free beef for the last time in a while.

My verdict on the Red Carpet Club -- it's nice. But I have a pretty good ability to find a secluded spot in the airport and tune everything else out. Once, when I was a kid, I was waiting for a bus at a playground with a whole busload of other kids. I was sitting on a swing or something reading a book. When I looked up, I noticed the bus had arrived and all the other kids had gotten on and were now yelling at me to hurry up. Which is to say with my nose in a book, which it usually is while waiting at an airport, I can't tell the difference between the Red Carpet Lounge and an unused gate I've wandered off to. Besides, next year with my Premier Executive (50,000 mile) status, I'll be able to use the Red Carpet Lounge when traveling internationally. But I can definitely see the attraction of the place.

So then it was time to board. We were on United Flight 2, which is United's round-the-world flight. It's the counter-clockwise version -- from Santa's perspective, at least. It goes Dulles to London to Delhi to Singapore to Hong Kong to Los Angeles and back to Dulles again. We were only on it for one hop, but there were a number of Indians on it for 2. (I sneaked a peek at their boarding passes.) Economy Plus and its 6 inches of extra leg room did not exist on this flight, and foolishly I put my carry-on luggage under the seat in front of me and reduced my leg room a bit more. Last time for that. I've learned my lesson, and I think there's going to be a lot more room in the overhead bins in coming years.

And so it was across the Atlantic for the most light-hearted flight I'll be taking for some time.

Sunday, September 16, 2001

Buying a Shirt in London

Well, I'm back. More on that later.

So after I posted the last entry, I went off in search of a new shirt. We had gone down Earl's Court to get mediocre tapas Thursday night, so I figured the commercial district there must also have a clothing store, right? I think in America I would have been OK -- in America, everybody sells t-shirts. "Try Our Mediocre Tapas" or some such. And at the very least, there would be an intermingling of stores. But no, in London, they specialize. I walked block after block, with the only thing even close being a women's clothing store. I stopped into a bookstore. I bet in the US, you could get t-shirts at Borders. But at the Waterstone's, no such luck.

Finally, I came to a store that looked like it might sell shirts. As I ducked inside, I gradually realized that it was a gay sex shop. I mean, the sign on the wall that said "sex shop" was one clue. Then the pictures of buff men was the other. And the shirts were just way too expensive. Especially for a style I was not going to wear more than once.

Finally, in desperation, I ducked into a Mailboxes, Etc. and asked where I could buy shirts. The guy suggested High Street Kensington, but said it was about a 20 minute walk, and it was 5:40. He wasn't sure if the stores closed at 6. Uh-oh. So I walked a block north, went to the Earl's Court Underground Station, and took it a stop to Kensington High Street. It was almost 6 when I got there (but my feet thanked me). And the tube stop led out right to a Marks & Spencer that was open 'til 8. Whew.

So I got a shirt much more my style, for a third the price. Good. Then I walked back to the hotel (should have taken the tube again), and met F for dinner. We went to a pub. It was the same pub I had fish & chips for lunch, but I thought I could avoid being repetitive by ordering the lasagna. No dice; they were out of the sauce. So I ended up ordering curry, the 4th time I had Indian food on this trip.(Hey, what am I going to eat? English food? Not unless it's breakfast.) Tip: if you order Indian food, order it from Indians, not Englishmen.

I got up early this morning for my flight. Everything was more or less normal. There were those men with guns. As with last year, I got the extra hassle treatment when checking in, only now everyone got it. And I got a quick frisk thrown in.

The flight back was reassuringly mundane, mostly. You know, cramped seating, Smelly Guy sitting next to me. We did have to circle New York for a while because, presumably, of air traffic delays. That allowed the captain excessive time to point out Manhattan to people on both sides of the plane. "It's still on fire; you can see the smoke covering the lower part of the island." I don't think it's still on fire.

When we landed, everybody clapped. Then the flight attendant said, "Welcome to America; God Bless America," and we all clapped again.