Back to articles page
Tales 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 Concourse H.
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."
"Oh. Um… 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 mysteriously grown.
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 me."
"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, blanket, etc.
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 Note: Truth.)
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., 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 &tc.
Suddenly, the whistles blow, and we are on our way to England!

If you have any comments, please mail me