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Thursday, 10/27. No sleep. Packing and leaving. Duty-free. Longest plane ride ever. Panic in the seats of Economy. Parting thoughts.

No sleep. My cold kept me from sleeping. Medicating the sneeze seemed to turn my sinuses into a solid brick of nastiness, so I couldn't breathe. In the morning we needed to pack and catch a flight as well, and I always seem to get irritable and nervous at the end of a trip.

Packing and leaving. We'd bought a lot of books and a few knick-knacks, but we'd forgotten to bring a spare duffel bag to put them in, so in the morning we trotted down to the shops at Victoria Station and bought the cheapest criminally overpriced bag we could find. Then we dithered over which things we'd want accessible while flying--iPods and Zunes, of course, but which books? Which puzzles? How much Kleenex? So many crucial decisions! Somehow we got it all packed and downstairs.

Ate breakfast...paid the bill...caught a cab to Heathrow, a trip punctuated by the face of James May hawking London Pride* every hundred yards or so. Every new intersection was a lost opportunity and a reason to return.**

Duty-free. Heathrow was a long line with a backscatter x-ray machine at the end of it. And then, suddenly, it was the magical land of duty-free goods. The shelves of scotch alone put most full-blown liquor stores to shame. There were endless aisles of fancy-brand candy and shops full of high-priced brand-name clothes and jewelry and electronics. And there was even a food court where posh people can dine on fresh sushi, caviar, and pretty much anything you'd need to convince yourself that a first-class ticket makes you a superior subspecies of homo sapiens.

I bought some Jelly Babies and a bottle of water.

Longest plane ride ever. Sturdy Helpmeet™ and I, of course, flew cattle class, which means it's time for brief rant: what is it with people who carry their whole fucking house in their carry-on luggage? I understand not wanting to pay extra for checked bags, and I understand not wanting to wait for the baggage carousel at the end of a long flight. Really I do. But if you're demanding cabin space for half a dozen people on a full flight just for your goddamned luggage, you're a sociopathic douchebag and I want to cut your heart out with a spoon and roast it over a can of Sterno.

Just so we're clear.

Anyway, I know it wasn't the longest plane ride ever ever, but it was certainly my personal longest plane ride ever. My distractions were insufficiently distracting; my cold and the TV monitors blaring Johnny Depp kept me from sleeping; and the cabin air felt like it had little shards of glass in it, or volcanic ash or something, or maybe that was just the cold talking. Let's just say it was an unpleasant experience.***

Panic in the seats of Economy. The worst part was towards the end. As the plane descended into Dallas, I could feel the pressure building up in my inner ears. This had happened to me once before, when I was obliged to fly with a cold—the medicine I'd taken effectively solidified the mucus in my head, which helped in some ways but made it impossible to equalize pressure between my sinuses and inner ear. The resulting pain had lasted for over an hour and it was excruciating.

Suddenly fearing that I was going to repeat that experience, I started making exaggerated chewing motions and then (like an idiot) slapping myself around the ears and the side of my head, trying to shake something loose so that my ears would "breathe." This quickly became so violent that Sturdy Helpmeet had to step in and stop me hitting myself. "Pinch your nose, close your mouth, and push the air up with your lungs," she reminded me. I did this for several minutes, but the pain started to rise. My heart rate increased and I thought I was about to cry**** when finally it worked. Something shifted, there was a great "whoosh" in my skull, and the pain went away—I was hysterical with relief.

After that everything was easy and wonderful and sweetness and light. Yes, we were exhausted; yes, we had to go through a surly TSA checkpoint; yes, we had a few more days with relatives to get through before we'd return to Austin; but I wasn't in pain.*****

Parting thoughts. Stuff I forgot to say or think at the time, in no particular order.

... At the Queen's Head in Downe, I started to pay for my pint in coins but quickly discovered that I didn't know how to count them, and I was too slow finding and reading the numbers to be of much use. To the woman behind the bar I said, "Um, I'm afraid I'm a foreigner and I still haven't learned how to count." She kindly helped me get the right amount of money on the counter. This was doubly embarrassing because I'd actually spent some time the night before studying the coins. I especially like the two-pound coins, since they have the coolest engravings.

... The West Cornwall Pasty Co. has locations all over, including a stall in Victoria Station. The food's good and there's a pirate in the company logo. Not that I'm a connoisseur—they could be the Burger King of pasties, for all I know—but meat pies with pirates are all right, in my opinion.

... Accents are a tricky thing. I'm the kind of person who starts to talk like his favorite TV characters if he's not careful, and it doesn't matter if we're talking about John Cleese in Monty Python or Gregory Sierra (Sgt. Chano Amanguale) from Barney Miller, so I felt it look a lot of effort not to be all twee and British while staying in London. The temptation to try to sound native was very strong, and I was sure I'd make a fool of myself if I tried. And if I'm honest I was hoping that being the foreigner with the funny accent would be somehow endearing or attractive, though I suspect that my chances would have been better in the countryside rather than in the tourist sinkhole of London.

... So much of London's public transportation is automated with vending machines and Oyster cards and online accounts that if you're a human being working for the transportation companies in a public-facing role, it might be a pretty miserable job. You're only going to be dealing with the truly clueless, doing jobs you know are in the process of being phased out. I think the most miserable looking people I saw during the whole trip worked in ticket offices.

... Travelling is a good way to address the existential stress of thinking that you matter. Living at home you're constantly full of local news and local worries that are made to seem earth-shaking and all-important, but when you're abroad you discover that the rest of the world really doesn't give a damn. And because you don't know enough to get really worried about the rest of the world, you can actually relax. Or maybe that's just the effect of ignoring the news for a couple of weeks.

Either way, travel: I'm for it. 

____________
* Not the same as Pride London, which you have to admit would be a lot more fun.

** So much for the pretense of being sophisticated, world-weary travelers.

*** I know it's a great privilege to be able to travel at all, and to fly on something as amazing as an airplane in particular, but sometimes my inner selfish whiny crank takes over.

**** I'm really a wimp, you know.

***** Consider this a warning: when the dystopian fascist world-government torture-regime takes over, I'm so not trustworthy. I'm letting you know that now, ok?

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smackshack

June 2012

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