Wednesday, September 5, 2012

An Upstart Crow Crosses The Pond

“This weighs a ton.
Travel’s a curse,
but here we strive
to lighten your purse.”
-Monsieur Thernardier, “Master of the House” from Les Misérables

I’ve been in the UK now for about three days. I’ve experienced a lot of cool stuff which I’ll hopefully be able to talk about in-depth later this week. First though, I’d like to have a frank discussion about flying.

Flying sucks. It just does. Sure, we enjoy the results, but the process itself is miserable. If it weren’t, stand-up comedians would have had nothing with which to pad their acts from 1950-1985. And though from here on out I’m going to be saying many glowing things about London, for now, let’s just talk about plane travel. Specifically, my own experiences these past two days flying from Chicago to Dublin to London.

Act I: Things Fall Apart (Sometimes Literally)

I have a horrendous habit of doing things last minute. I can count on one hand the number of papers I’ve started before the night before the due date. I’ve paid late fees on library books I finished reading weeks ago. And even when I try to be responsible before a trip, there’s still a pretty sizable amount of packing that gets done at the last minute.

This usually isn’t a huge deal, but for this trip there was an x-factor. A free radical, if you will: the bag. The bag was brand new, ordered online. Never tested. So, after a long night of packing and procrastination, I finally think my work is done. I go to zip my bag and it rips. The cloth around the middle of the zipper splits and snags and what was supposed to be the last thing to worry about before settling down to watch Passing Strange on Netflix before nodding off to bed turns into me and my mother driving all the way to the only 24-hour store in town that sells luggage, finding nothing, and eventually jury rigging a patch out of the strap of an old backpack. The moral of the story, children, is that it pays to have a mom who knows how to sew. Or maybe that you shouldn’t do things last minute so that when problems arise, they do not become life or death situations. One of those two.

Act II: Planes Are Not Built For Vikings

So I’ve gotten to the airport fine, I’ve found my flight fine, I understand how to get to my connecting flight once I’m in Dublin. My bags are all an appropriate weight. We’re golden. Here’s the thing, though: I can’t sleep on planes. Which stinks, because on an international flight, the only other option is to stay up more than twenty-four hours in a row to avoid becoming nocturnal.

I’ve been trying to figure out why it is I can’t sleep on planes. I have no problem sleeping in cars. Sometimes even while driving them. But planes are a whole other kettle of fish. And I think I’ve funneled it down to one very basic fact:

Planes were not built for people of Scandinavian descent.

I’m a quarter Norse and this is what I most closely resemble, physically. I am blond-haired, blue-eyed, and 6’2” with a long torso. These last two properties mean that not only does my spine curve at exactly the wrong place to make the average plane-seat remotely the right shape for sleepy-time, but my knees get jammed right into the seat in front of me unless I pay the extra million dollars for an extra few inches of leg room and the privilege of watching the coach passengers fight to the death for my amusement. In case you can’t tell, I don’t really know how first-class works. Also my in-flight movie was The Hunger Games.

Act III: In Which Our Hero Loses Some Faith in Mass-Market European Candy

So, by the time I reached the Dublin airport I was far too tired to take full advantage of the three hour layover and very much found myself wishing I’d just taken the one with the 45 minute layover for $20 more, though exceptionally glad that I had the good sense not to take the 6 hour layover for $20 less.

After quite awhile blearily wandering the airport, I finally found my gate and sat down to do a bit of reading (Over the course of my travels I ended up reading the entirety of Shakespeare’s King John, which turned out being incredibly entertaining and easy to follow for a history. I don’t know why it doesn’t get much play.). However, after King John was poisoned to death (Spoilers), I realized that what I really wanted was something to snack on. If you think airline food is bad, just try and imagine Irish airline food. So then I remembered Yorkie. Yorkie is a brand of chocolate bar made by Nestlé that I discovered when I went to Ireland after my senior year of high school. It has the most hilarious marketing tagline I’ve ever seen.

It's like the Trix Rabbit only 100% more real.

So I make my way through the miniature mall that is the terminal’s duty-free section until I finally find a place that sells them, where I am greeted with a sad fact: Yorkie is no longer not for girls. I later looked it up and it seems that though the continent has changed, some people’s inability to take a joke remains the same. Nevertheless, I still felt honor-bound to purchase and then choke down this bar of incredibly dry and, oddly, slightly spicy chocolate.

Act IV: The First Time Airport Security Has Ever Made Someone Less Worried About Getting Arrested

So, I finally touch down at London Heathrow and once getting through baggage claim, I find myself confused. I don’t see any signs for immigration and customs. So I think, okay, maybe since this is such a huge airport they have desks at all the exits, you know, to keep lines short. So I head for the Underground, thinking there’ll be a little booth with a disgruntled man to check my passport and my visa and begrudgingly let me into his country. And sure enough I did find a little booth with a disgruntled man, but all he was interested in doing was selling me a ticket for the tube, at which point I began to suspect that I had somehow managed to enter the country illegally. I knew this was, on the hole, unlikely, given that this is a G8 country that just hosted one of the largest international events ever and, therefore, probably has a pretty airtight system for ensuring that foreigners don’t just go waltzing right across it’s border. And yet, there I was, nothing stopping me from leaving the airport.

So, at this point extremely confused, rather nervous, and, if I’m honest, a little bit proud at the thought of having accidently pulled one over on the United Kingdom, I decided I had better ask someone about this. So, first person I found with a badge, I went up and explained the situation. She then explained to me that part of the United Kingdom’s deal with commonwealth countries, which semi-includes the Republic of Ireland, is that there is a freedom of travel between them and the motherland. At this point I remember that there had been a little booth with a disgruntled man who I’d shown my passport to when I landed in Dublin. I had thought this was just to make sure that I was going to be allowed to enter the UK when I got there. I guess technically, that is what was happening, but in a much more official manner than I had thought.

Act V: Allons-y!

So, with the relief/disappointment that I hadn’t accidentally become an illegal immigrant, I made my way to the tube station conveniently located right in the airport and caught the next train to my new home. There’s nothing terribly interesting about this. I’ve been on a number of subway systems before, and as far as I’ve seen so far, the only special thing about the London Underground its size and intricacy.

So, after a pretty tense couple of days, I finally arrive at the tube station just a short distance from my new home. I’m not going to lie, at this point I was a little irritable and a lot sleep deprived. But, as I wearily stepped out of the Earl’s Court Tube Station I saw something. Something that made me cheer right the hell up. Something I still can’t handle passing everyday in an adult manner. That something is this:

*Dun-duh dugga-duh dun-duh dugga-duh doo-wee-ooh wee ooh-ooh*

It’s going to be a good semester.

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