30 June London Journal
June 30, 2014
I am returning to blogging after a long absence. The occasion? I am off for nine days in London, the highlight of which will be the Monty Python comedy performance on the 4th of July. And, my retirement from teaching, as of June 13. I believe I will now have the time and energy to post regularly again. Including daily on this trip (although I will only send email reminders every few days).
I am an odd duck; I know that. I know many well-educated, sophisticated people who do not own a passport (only 10 percent of Americans do), and who live on the West Coast but have never been to New York City (or only been once or twice). Mind you, this doesn't count as a trip to New York City; changing planes at JFK is not a visit. But I am a New York regular, even since my frequent train and bus trips from college in Boston back in the 1970s. Ironically, on one of those trips, I saw the first Monty Python movie (and, for the ages, identified John Cleese as Monty Python in my review in The Tech). I went regularly, at least 80 or 100 times, until I left journalism in 2001. Since then, not so much. In fact, hardly at all.
Still, while my regular travels are more than a decade behind me, this trip does bring back memories. For one thing, many of the trips I took all those years ago were Red Eyes--planes that left San Francisco at about midnught and arrived in New York around 6:30 a.m. After all, if you pamper yourself with a daylight flight, you lose an entire working day! When I landed at 6:30, I would change into business attire in a bathroom at the Admirals Club (or the Ambassadors Club, or the Red Carpet Club), work a normal day with lots of caffeine, then collapse into a blissful slumber at around 6pm Pacific time (9pm Eastern).
Of course, I flew couch on all those trips, but even so, I discovered the "flat bed" long before airlines offered it as a perk of business class travel. In the early years, I flew mostly Pan Am and TWA--venerable airlines now long departed--whose red eye flights were seldom full. In the center section of a 747, if you raise all the armrests, et voila, you have a flat bed. So, this trip in the daylight would seem quite luxurious, even if I were not travelling business class.
Business class? Isn't that expensive? Well, for the last decade of my regular flying, I flew American Airlines almost exclusively. I paid small fees periodically to keep my mile available. Those miles, plus points on American Express, added up to a business class round trip ticket to London.
*Paul in the car to SFO
A car picked me up at 5:50 am. That still isn't early enough to beat rush hour on the San Francisco Bay Bridge. But as I allowed two hours before my flight, I was still in plenty of time. I had to check in at the airport because the British and American abbreviations for junior (as in Paul E. Schindler Jr.) differ (the British abbreviate it JNR), which precluded check-in from at home. But of course, unlike Southwest (my travel companion for the last decade) on a legacy carrier, you have an assigned seat! An hour in the Admiral's club (now serving food), made possible by my ticket (I haven't paid the $400 for membership in the club in a long time), and I boarded, first, with the airline royalty. I was not dressed to match, as it turns out.
Plane design has changed in the last decade. I don't know what it was like for the little people, but in first class there was one pod on each side of the aisle; those passengers had what amounted to private rooms. In Business Class, there were two of us on each side of the aisle.
*American Airline Airbus 320 Business Class Pod Lineup
We had "flat bed" seats, which, of course, I tested out. A bit snug at the top (chest level) and bottom (foot level), but still better than the best "almost flat" seat. Freshly baked cookies and milk before landing.
The entertainment system only worked at about half the seats, but I was able both to listen to music and watch a movie, Bad Words starring Justin Bateman. It did not exactly kill at the box office, and it is easy to see why: Bateman plays a complete, total, utter, foul-mouthed bastard, who uses a loophole to enter the national spelling bee.
I lucked out at JFK; I landed at terminal 8 and needed to go to terminal 7. I figured I would be riding the shuttle all the way around the airport. It was too hot (80), too far and a violation of the airport design to walk from one terminal to another (some people told me it literally wasn't possible). So, imagine my surprise when I discovered the shuttle ran... IN REVERSE ORDER! Terminal 7 (United and British Airways) was the first stop!
My ticket gave me entree' to the sumptuous BA lounge, which includes a buffet dinner, nutritious snacks (including lots of fruit) and all kinds of alcohol. Too bad my research indicates that alcohol and caffeine compound jet lag. The best advice: stay hydrated. Boy, did I stay hydrated! We'll see tomorrow if it prevents jet lag.