Well here we go with my second trip report; the return journey, LHR to LAX.
Having had a ghastly time with Augustus Gloop and his mum on the LAX to LHR leg, I was really hoping for a happier time as I headed back West over the Atlantic.
As before, any pictures I post will be lame and non-descript because they are taken with my cellphone. I'm also a really naff photographer anyway, so you could give me the best photographic equipment in the world to take a picture of the nicest, shiniest aircraft under perfect lighting conditions and it will still suck.
So after being in England for a week, lounging around my parents' house, going out with old school buddies and getting utterly sh*tfaced, visiting my favourite Indian restaurant, and purchasing some English goods that I can't get in America (or at least, can't get without paying a premium), it was time to hop the pond again. I'd had a great week, hampered only by the fact that I'd had a lousy time adjusting to new timezone, and after finally having a full night's sleep, it was time to go back to California. Ho-hum, such is life.
I awoke at 7:00am and called my wife in California. She was just going to bed, so I said goodnight to her and told her to call me when she wakes up as I should still be on the ground at that time.
After taking a shower and packing the last of my stuff, I went downstairs to discover that my step-mum had cooked a fantastic full English breakfast. Now I know that it's not advisable to eat heavily before flying, but I couldn't help myself. I wish I'd taken a picture of it, as the feast that was presented to me was a veritable banquet of heart-stopping cholesterol that I just couldn't resist. Bacon, eggs, Cumberland sausage, mushrooms, tomato, toast, white pudding, black pudding, beans, and two large mugs of PG Tips. I was one very full but happy man after that breakfast.
I had decided not to put my parents through the misery of the M25, and had them take me to the bus stop in Oxford, where I would get the bus the rest of the way to Heathrow's central bus station. I elected to catch it at the Thornhill Park & Ride, so at about 9:00am we departed for the bus station. It's only an 11 mile journey, but it took an hour because of roadworks on the A40. When I got there, I had just missed a bus, so I had to wait for 30 minutes in the freezing cold for the next one.
Eventually it arrived, so I had the driver load my bag in to the luggage bay, and I said goodbye to my parents. I told them that my wife and I would be back in the summer for a longer vacation and for my dad's birthday, so I'll see them then. My dad bought my bus ticket for me and I climbed on board, taking a seat by the window at the back by a heater, and I waved to my parents as the bus departed for Heathrow.
The journey to Heathrow was very quick - just 45 minutes to the central bus station. I got off the bus with most of the other passengers, and loaded my one bag, my roll-on, and my laptop on to a trolley and made my way to Terminal 1.
I've never been much of a fan of the check-in level at Terminal 1. It's very cramped and the land-side facitilities are totally inadequate for the number of passengers it handles.
I found the BA World Traveller check-in desk. I didn't have the chance to check-in online before leaving the house, and I wanted to try my luck at getting an upgrade or at least a bulkhead or exit row seat. I didn't have to wait in line for long before a desk was free. I walked over and Cinde greeted me with a smile and asked how my day was going. Cinde had an amazing smile and I told her so, purely to see if I could make her laugh and blush. She turned crimson red while she giggled like a school girl. I handed her my passport and apologized for my photo, and then I asked if there might be an upgrade or better seat available. She said my ticket type wasn't elible for an upgrade, but she did have either a window seat or a bulkhead seat open. Then only thing was that the bulkhead seat was next to a mother with an infant. I contemplated my options for moment, thinking that a baby next to me could either be incredibly amusing, or incredibly annoying. I settled for a window seat. Amazingly I got 32A - the same seat I was in for my flight to LHR.
The decision to relinquish that bulkhead seat happened to be the worst decision I made that day. Little did I know...
I checked my one bag and immediately joined the security line. The line was ridiculously long. I mean RIDICULOUS. There was probably a good 400 people in the line, with only one security check operational. Even the crew/first class security was closed, so crew member and first class passengers were being allowed to jump to the front of the line. That pissed me off. It took 53 minutes to get through security.
Another thing that pissed me off was that nobody seemed to be able to read. There are several large signs indicating that laptops must be taken out of their bag before arriving at the check point. Not one person in front of me did so. I on the other hand did. I even removed my belt and my shoes, and put them all through the machine. As I gathered my belongings at the other end, I chuckled to myself as a coffin-dodger granny (seriously, she looked like she was 200 years old) was being given the once over by a large and rather butch looking woman. I think the security woman could have eaten granny for breakfast and still gone back for seconds.
I have never departed LHR Terminal 1 on anything other than a domestic flight before, so had never seen airside for European/International flights. I must say, given my complete hatred for T1 arrivals and check-in area, the departures lounge is in stark contrast. I found it to be spacious enough with some good shops and sufficient places to eat.
I walked around for a while and looked in some shops. I went to a London souvenir shop and purchased an Oxford University rugby top to replace the Alumni shirt I tore a couple of year ago, and a black lacey G-String with 'Mind The Gap' on the front for the missus. Hey, after not seeing her for a week and two days, I was looking forward to getting some, alright??
Despite my huge breakfast, I was by now getting hungry, so I had lunch in the Giraffe Bar (named because the Giraffe has the biggest heart of all animals, and they are the 'restaurant with a big heart', apparently). I was enjoying my Cajun Salmon and a couple of Coronas, but the Eastern European waitress, complete with a she-mullett of incredible proportions, was somewhat overzealous in her eagerness to clear my table and collect her tip. Just to annoy her, I ordered another Corona and took a full 35 minutes to drink it. I left her a meager 50p tip.
On I went, browsing the terminal shops and finding nothing much of interest on which to spend the last of the Pounds Sterling that I had. I eventually stumbled across an Internet cafe with coin slots, so fed it a few pounds and surfed for a while. An important point to note here is that I removed my jacket and put it on the back of my seat. In the pocket of my jacket was my passport, boarding card, and most importantly, my Green Card that guaranteed my re-entry in to the States.
After surfing a while, I grabbed my laptop bag and my small roll-on case and began to wander in the direction of my gate. I was about ten minutes in to that lengthy walk when I realized that I had left my jacket on the back of the chair at the Internet cafe, so I immediately did a 180 and ran as fast as I could through the terminal, praying the whole time that I would find my jacket still hanging on the back of that chair.
Sidenote here - why is it that it's only when you are in a hurry that the people in front of you do stupid things like stop suddenly, or zig-zag their way slowly across your path?
Anyway, the sense of relief that I experienced when I found my jacket in the same place that I left it was almost enough to make me cry with joy. I didn't, though. I just berated myself under my breath with unrepeatable language.
Satisfied that I hadn't lost or forgotten anything else, I finally made it to the gate. Big Bird was waiting for me...prepare yourself, here comes the one lame picture!
Gosh, aren't you just so impressed by my amazing photographic technique?
I had about an hour before boarding, so I booted up the laptop and found that Heathrow has Wi-Fi. Brilliant! I downloaded the new Ricky Gervais podcast and transferred it to my iPod. About that time, a couple who were sat in the lounge saw what I was doing, and came over to talk to me. They had just bought a new CD and wondered if I could rip it to their iPods for them. The level of cheekiness of this request was so staggeringly high that out of pure admiration of their brass-necked-ness, I did it for them. I even took a copy for myself - "Here Come The Tears" by The Tears. Don't buy it; it's pants.
So anyway, I'm sat there, minding my own business, engrossed in listening to my iPod, when I suddenly realise that the lounge is now quite full. The annoying thing here is that there was a large group - about 20 or so - of Glaswegian college girls and a few VERY feminine guys, all had evidently been drinking, and all were speaking at 'drunk' volume. Now, personalities aside (I'm sure somewhere in there they were nice people), there is no accent more brash, abbrasive, and annoying to me than the Glaswegian accent. It rubs on me like a cheese grater. I turned the volume up on my iPod and tried to ignore them.
Boarding was called, but not in an orderly fashion. Normally, boarding is called by row number. Today, the British Airways representatives went for the 'Bedlam' approach to boarding - all rows at the same time. So, on que, three hundred and fifty eager travellers rose to their feet and converged maniacally upon the gate. I eventually joined them.
And I'm standing there at the gate, minding my own business, thinking how bad this Tears CD is, when I hear a shrill shriek from the Glasgow-Girls behind me. I turn around in time to see Orlando Bloom casually stroll past, through the Fast Track boarding for First Class passengers, get his boarding pass and passport checked, and head off down the jet bridge.
And that was about as amusing as the rest of the journey got. Of course the contingent from Drunk College had to shriek and scream and call their friends immediately.
For crying out loud.
After boarding and taking my seat, the Glasgow group took their seats as a group about three rows in front of me. We took off, we had dinner, and I started to watch a movie. Now, I've never seen this before, but the Flight Attendants then decided to bugger off for a sleep or something. In their abscence, they set up a 'Help Yourself' bar in the catering galley for the herded masses to get a drink for themselves.
That's all good and well, but alcohol is free, and the already-pissed-up Scots then proceeded to claim handfuls of Vodka at a time. I counted one girl making seven trips to the bar in a two hour period, each time returning with a tray holding two glasses of orange juice, and eight or nine miniature bottles of Smirnoff. The same girls then began to turn the economy cabin in to a party venue - standing in the aisles, talking loudly, dancing (!!!), and generally pissing off everyone around them. I was just about to say something when we hit turbulence, the Captain turned on the seatbelt sign, and they all had to sit down. I think the alcohol got to them by that point, as they all appeared to fall in to a drunken, restless sleep. I wished them bad dreams.
The rest of the flight was mostly uneventful - I watched North Country, In Her Shoes, and The Family Stone, all of which I enjoyed immensely, especially North Country. It got dark outside and we landed in horrible weather. Traumatic journey over.
Well, it would have been, except that we landed at the same time as five other long haul flights from various places far far away where they don't speak English. The result was chaos in Immigration.
It must have been International Dumb Traveller Day. People were in the wrong lines for the Immigration/Passport control checks (split in to three options - 'Visitors', 'US Residents/Green Cards', and 'US Citizens only' - not too difficult a concept). Then when they got to the front of the insanely long wrong lines, they didn't speak English, and they got roudy and pissed off when they were sent to the end of the correct line. I had a chuckle to myself at the sight of an Indian chap, spouting off in Urdu, while flailing his arms and turbuned head around to illustrate the level of his anger. It reminded me of the Indian guy in Short Circuit..."I am planning to scream and run!". Hehe.
Eventually, I got to the front of the line and through Immigration, found my bag on the wrong carousel, and cleared customs. The Arrivals lounge wasn't much better than the Immigration area. Throngs of people awaiting their loved ones. I found the missus, and promptly made a beeline for the exit, finally getting home at about 9:00pm, and realising that I had been awake for 22 hours.
That didn't stop me from getting some, in case you were wondering...mind the gap.