Of Merrie England - Part One
Walt C. Snedeker
The Fabled PC had been scurrying, packing, and planning in an
ecstasy of anticipation, and now the day had arrived. We were leaving
for two whole weeks in England.
There were, of course, a blue jillion things that threatened to
go wrong at the last minute: Wolfie The Wee Fiend (our 18-month
old redheaded grandson whom my dainty bride was chasing about the
house for the day) suddenly squalled and shot the cat all over.
A quick check revealed he had a temperature.
"Oh, no!" her big blue eyes turned to me in supplication
for a answer I didn't have, "Suppose we catch whatever Wee
Fiend has and spend the whole time in England sick?"
"I'm sure we'll be just fine," says I, throat suddenly
all scratchy, and my normal lightheadedness enhanced to where I
could just make her out in the fog.
Since the plane was due to take off at 7:30PM, of course we figured
to be at the departure gate by lunchtime. This is a peculiarity
of mine that the Fabled PC grandly tolerates. As it was, it was
a near-run thing. Traffic was bad, and when we finally arrived at
the ticket counter, there was a mere four hours left until departure.
Close call, that.
We have become pretty worldly when it comes to international travel.
No longer do we carry tons of luggage. Just a carry-on each, and
one of those small wheelie things each to check in. This choice
is the result of the secret we discovered about air travel: when
one arrives at one's destination, one must bloody well carry all
of one's luggage through endless corridors and escalators.
We proved this right off at Miami Airport.
Since we were travelling by Virgin Atlantic, we decided to get out
of the car at the place where there was a Virgin Atlantic marquee.
Huggies goodbye to my delightful cousin Linda, who had driven us
there to save the ridiculous limo charge, and who had been supremely
patient in receiving careful instructions in the proper brushing
of Fuzzy Britches.
Shrugging off Sky Cap entreaties, we wheeled our luggage over to
the airline counter there in Concourse B. The Brit behind the counter
mumbled something about having to go to Concourse H for ticket validation.
Miami Airport is very large. It is shaped like a horseshoe. At one
end of the horseshoe is Concourse A. At the extreme other end is
We began our trek.
An hour later, hands raw from dragging our not-so-light luggage,
we arrived at Concourse H. We were informed by the person at the
counter that what the other person had said was, "It is a good
thing that you are not going to England by Continental Airlines,
or you would have to go the Concourse H."
The walk back was fairly silent.
I really don't think it was fair for my dainty bride to blame me,
even though I was the one who said that we had to go to the other
end of the airport, and she was the one who said that I ought to
go back to the Brit behind the counter to make sure that I had heard
right. Oh well. At least the exercise had seemed to blunt the edge
of the plague we had both instantly contracted from the Wee Fiend.
When we got back to Concourse B, the Brit behind the counter looked
at our flushed faces, recognized us immediately, and asked if we
wanted to check in now.
The Fabled PC was quite silent at this point, so I took over.
"What would an upgrade to First Class cost?" says I, since
in the old days when I traveled a lot, this would be about $40 or
so, based on availability, and I'd thought I'd give it a shot.
"That would be an additional
Five thousand, three hundred
twenty eight dollars."
Can I have an aisle seat, then?"
They've got new rules in the airlines now. They are quite serious
about the size allowed for carry-on luggage. And, folks being the
way they are, they assume that means for the other guy. Now, since
the Fabled PC had done the packing (and she is very law-abiding),
our carry-on parcels were minuscule --because she had read all the
instructions and followed them to the letter. This had included
frequent measurements and re-measurements with a tape measure during
her feverish trip packing to ensure that our luggage had not somehow
But we were treated to the spectacle of no less that twenty percent
of the passengers being stopped at the entrance to the plane itself
for this restriction. They had a sort of box there. If your luggage
didn't go in it, your luggage did not go in the cabin with you.
It was fun to watch.
"Whaddaya mean, it's too big! I ALWAYS bring my cello with
"But my golf clubs and I are never separated."
"Your stoopid box is too small, the overheads are larger than
that. Jeez. Whaddaya tryin' to pull?"
"Lemme talk to your supervisor."
One guy got in such a snit that it became a singular matter of honor.
And, in truth, he was victorious after a fashion. He would have
been allowed to bring his carry-on parcel on board if anybody could
have removed it from that box after he jumped up and down on it
a few times to stuff it in there. They had to go get another box
while the welders cut the sides off.
Eventually, we were seated and strapped in. My dainty bride was
cooing over the goodies that lay on each seat: foot warmer socks,
eye shades, toothbrush and paste, doodle pad, pen, earphones, pillow,
I was looking at these things in a different light. If this enormous
pile of stuff is the minimum necessary to prevent in-flight riots,
we were in for a hard haul.
In addition, let me take a moment out and point out something basic:
I hate the fact that you have to walk through the First Class cabin
to get to your tiny little seat. In the First Class ballroom, the
string orchestra was just warming up, and the sarong-clad stewardesses
had already delivered pousse-café drinks to the tuxedoed
passengers lounging by the bar near the grand staircase. The crystal
chandeliers sparkled. Somewhere in the background, flutes and bagpipes
were softly playing something vaguely Irish. The handsomely white
bearded Captain was in the drawing room, talking about how he was
going to "stretch her legs" this trip.
And of course, you are ostentatiously ignored by the denizens of
this Olympus as you pass through sneaking guilty looks at the four-poster
beds and sofas. On our flight, there was even a plush sofa with
a backgammon game set up on a coffee table in front of it. (Editor's
Then we were through, and the matron in the babushka picked up her
speaking trumpet to address us in the hold:
"Awright, lissen up! Don't lose your bowls, or you won't get
no gruel. Now siddown and buckle them belts. I seen anybody not
buckled in, they gonna regret it."
I really wish we could travel in First Class.
My dainty bride fussed and fiddled and arranged all of the paltry
trinkets, and finally got us both settled down.
Of course, that is when the latecomer showed up, pointing wordlessly
to the unoccupied window seat. Blankets off, headphones unplugged,
pillows removed, seatback and traytable in their upright and locked
position, etc., etc. We get up, and move away into the aisle. The
guy grunts, and, smelling strangely, skootches in.
We move back into our seats. Blankets, headphones, pillows, etc.,
Then the guy begins to twitch. And to suddenly display Tourette's
Syndrome behavior. The Fabled PC looks at me with those pleading
eyes. I can see that they have already dragged one poor sod off
the plane for not having his seat buckled, so there is an empty
aisle seat available six rows up.
I turn to Twitchy: "Say, buddy! There is an empty aisle seat
way up there where the people will get to England before the people
back here. Lots more room for you!"
"Ack! Wark! Gramma!" he acknowledges politely, beginning
to make moves like he wants to get out. This time the blankets,
headphones, etc., etc. fall to the floor in abandonment as we clear
a path for him.
The Fabled PC beams a Number 11 Adoring Smile at Your Humble Obedient
Suddenly, the whistles blow, and we are on our way to England!