England Day 1

Almost 2 years ago, my employer requested I get a passport for possible travel to our offices in England and other overseas locations. Shortly after I received said passport, some damn bean counter in the Ivory Towers decided the company not only didn’t have the money to send me out of the country, they didn’t have the money to keep me employed. Along with millions of others who suffered the same fate in this latest financial depression, I found myself unemployed. I consider that time as "Retirement Practice" and discovered my true calling in life!

Fast forward a year and the bean counter decided they now had enough money to re-employ me. Now eight months later, I find myself on a business trip to England . After adroitly jumping through several daunting hoops and enduring a couple of start/stops (very frustrating, but not worth elaborating on), my better half and youngest daughter were able to join me.

Now and even as a kid, I never needed much sleep – 5 or 6 hours seems to do me just fine and I really enjoy sitting outside with a cup of coffee, watching the sun come up, the birds start chirping, and the rest of the world waking up. I never sleep well the night before a trip due either to excitement of going somewhere I’ve been looking forward to or because I’m afraid of being late for a flight. I’ve never missed a flight, but the fear is there still so I keep waking up every hour, looking at the clock and telling myself how stupid I’m being. Of course, I usually manage to calm down and fall into a deep sleep about 30 minutes before the alarm goes off and have to claw my way out of an enjoyable dream. The grating blare of the alarm going off at 3:00 AM was particularly jarring because I knew I had to rely on wife and youngest daughter to get their butts out of bed and in the car no later than 4:00. Luckily, this turned out to not be a problem. My wife’s mum is from England and married wife’s father and came to America after WWII. Since youngest daughter became old enough to realize there is more to the world than just her neighborhood, her mom has told her stories of England, king and queen, prince and princess, beautiful castles, and her relatives who live in England so she has wanted to make a trip there for the last 5 or 6 years, over half of her life. At 3:01, I was walking to her room to wake her up and she met me in the hall, mostly awake and fully dressed, having slept in the clothes she was going to wear. She assisted with quickly getting her mom up and having put the luggage in the car the previous night, we actually pulled out of the driveway 5 minutes early with coffee in one hand and tickets and passports in the other.

In a most remarkable stroke of luck, after arriving at the airport, we found an empty parking space on the 2nd floor right across from the elevator in the parking garage. I see different cars parked in those slots every time I’m there so I did suspect one would be available occasionally , but it was just a theory as I’ve never before encountered an empty slot by the elevators and usually have to park 100 yards away, either dragging my luggage to the elevator or manhandling it down the stairs.

Continuing on with the great travel day theme, we made it through security with no problems and our 6:00 AM flight actually took off at 5:55, arriving in Chicago 10 minutes early and giving us plenty of time to make the trek to our connecting gate. When walking down the gangway to board the plane, there was a group of security officers who were pulling people out of line and asking questions. They had an African-American lady to the side and I heard her accuse them of only choosing her because she was black. I thought that was a bit amusing as just 3 feet away they had pulled out a white guy also and he was calmly answering why he was traveling to England . As I walked by, one of the officers told her, “If you think you will board this plane without answering our questions, you are wrong, so if you want to get on this flight, I suggest you just answer the questions.” As I went around the corner, she was silently glaring at him and he was determinedly glaring back. Evidently at some point she decided to answer the questions since shortly before takeoff she passed by our seats on the plane, head down and looking mad. A few minutes later, the door was closed and off we went. More good luck as there were a number of empty seats so youngest daughter moved to claim a first row seat right in front of the TV screen, thus giving dear old dad several open seats to lay across and take a nap. A nice surprise we found was that on international flights, along with a movie and TV shows, pillows, blankets, and several meals were provided.

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean
The flight, while long, was smooth and uneventful, landing 15 minutes early. When we first saw lights below, we thought it was England , but a map appeared on the TV screen showing the plane’s location and we discovered we were actually over Ireland . Geography lesson – Ireland is west of England. 45 minutes later we landed at Heathrow. It took about 30 minutes to get our passports stamped and admitted into the country. The immigration officers were professional and efficient, but did not appear to have even a slight sense of humor and I think that’s how it should be.

The Compleat Angler Hotel in Marlow, England
Our very courteous and friendly driver was waiting with a van and within a few minutes after retrieving our bags, we were on the way to our hotel, The Compleat Angler, in Marlow, a suburb of London. Other than the very unnerving experience of traveling on the wrong side of the road, the drive was uneventful and checking into the hotel was straightforward. It was midnight UK time when we entered our room. After figuring out how to operate light switches, how to flush the toilet (an interesting story for next time), and checking out our balcony which overlooks the Thames River, we piled into our beds, tossed around for a bit, but were asleep by 1:30 AM (7:30 PM Central time US). My first morning of work would begin 5 hours later. Did I tell you I don’t need a lot of sleep? Good thing. The time change is a killer!