Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | August 6, 2014

WIPpet Wednesday Innocent Abroad

This snippet is from my trip to London for research in 2011.  I had not travelled overseas since 1974, and my natural poise (ha!) was not always in place. My math was 8+6=14 paragraphs, but my piece of the story ends at 16, so I guess I’ll add the first digit of the year for 16.

Finally drifting into a deep sleep, I was jerked awake when the seat in front me reclined, revealing an extremely large man, whose unkempt head was now in my lap.  I felt I should wash his hair, or shave him at the least. He shifted about every ten minutes, just enough peace to lull me back to sleep.  Then, the loud groan of the seat protesting its mistreatment, my heart pounding in fear before my brain recognized the noise, then further fear for my shiny new knee being crushed by the whole thing crashing down upon it. I had wisps of nightmarish dreams, of which I remember only the sense of unease and discomfort; I do remember wishing that I would not wake up until we had landed.

I got my wish. I fell asleep with my usual wonderful timing—about an hour before I had to get up. I woke to the flight attendants telling the fellow in front of me to put his seat upright for landing. I was still pretty muzzy, as I joined the huge file of supplicants for fresh air and freedom from flying tin cans.  As I entered Customs, my attention was caught by the long queues on the right side of the room: green for UK and EU passport holders; blue for other passport holders with nothing to declare; red for aliens with things to declare. I got into the blue line. Wait, shuffle; wait, shuffle. Finally, I approached the agent, who held out her hand.

“Entry card.”

Huh? ” Oh, they didn’t give me one.”

She pointed to the other side of the room, where small tables magically appeared through the mist of my brain. “Go fill one out.”

Getting out of line, I went over to a table, and picked up one of the pens attached to the table. Like everywhere else in the world where those pens are attached, it doesn’t work. I tried the next one, and the next one, and went to the next table, trying each and every pen, none of which work.

Okay, at the time, I was a rare books librarian. I did not own ballpoint pens; I did have several nice fountain pens, but the reason they are called fountain pens becomes painfully obvious when you fly with them. Therefore, all I have with me is a nice mechanical pencil. Sigh. I got back in line. Wait, shuffle; wait, shuffle. The same agent holds her hand out for the entry card.

“I don’t have a pen.”

She pointed to the tables, “There are pens on the tables.”

“There are no pens that write on those tables.”

She handed me a pen, and waved me back to the other side of the room. So I filled out the form, madly scrabbling through my papers to find the postal code for the hotel. By now, there was no line. I handed the entry card to the same agent, who then held out her hand for my passport. She looked at it, sighed. “American.” Ah, welcome to London to you too, my dear.

She stamped my passport with a certain disdain, and directed me to the exit. I spied an Information booth, so I went to ask about charging my phone.

“Our power points are different from the US.”

“Yes, I know. Where could I find one?”

“We have no electricity at Heathrow.”
“You’ve figured out how to run an airport without electricity?”

 

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Responses

  1. It’s been over a decade since I traveled internationally, but it is so exhausting! Nice descriptions! I love the “Ah … American” sight.

    • It is exhausting! I slept so much during that trip. I’m glad to know I’m not alone, Alana.
      I suppose I can’t blame the poor woman for sighing, since I did come across as massively dense.

  2. “You’ve figured out how to run an airport without electricity?” Hahaha! I love that last line. Sounds like quite a trip!

    • Oh, Amy, it was a very funny trip in hindsight. Going through it was not all that amusing!
      I’m not sure how I came out with that remark. I was so frustrated and tired, my internal monitor wasn’t working.

  3. Oh that last bit had me in stitches. I could see responding in exactly the same way! We’re (hopefully) heading to Ireland next year. We haven’t traveled overseas in about nine years. I’m looking forward to being there…not the getting there.

    • Thanks, Kathi. I just came right out with it, without editing at all!
      I’d love to go to Ireland. My parents went to visit our relatives several times, but I couldn’t ever manage to go with them.
      And yes, getting there is not fun, but being there sounds lovely!

  4. hahahaha That is a great line and so something I would think but not have the guts to say!

    • I was too tired and upset not to say it, Adrian. I still think it was such a stupid thing for the guy to say. I still don’t know what he meant. He just stared at me, so I marched off.

  5. I. Hate. Heathrow. Last trip to England, I flew into London City Airport. It was great!

    Good for you for getting your snark up. 🙂

    • I will join you on that hatred, although one of international terminals at Kennedy is a close second.
      I’ll have to check the London City Airport next time. Thanks for letting me know about it.
      As for the snark, I was on my last strand of sanity. I’m amazed I didn’t dissolve into sailor-worthy cursing!

  6. I love the last line! Sounds just like something I would have said. Great job!

    • Thank you, Sirena! I lose the monitor on my brain/mouth connection when I am tired or stressed, so I’m afraid that gentleman got the unvarnished me. 🙂

  7. Aghh, oh, man, I was sympathising so much throughout this whole excerpt. I hate airports and customs officials and all long-haul flights and all that stuff. I’m always paranoid I’m going to fill out something incorrectly on the form, and they’re going to put me on a plane straight back home.

    • Emily, if there is only one sci-fi invention I want to be real, it is teleportation. Home//distant hotel or B&B//home. Sign me up! I have the same fear of the forms, added to my new passport having such an atrocious picture, I think I will be sent home for having a fake.

      • You’ll be pleased to know that Jeremiah has been giving teleportation serious consideration since he was 8. Who knows – he might just do it!

        i’ve never traveled internationally, but I would have to say that agent deserved the electricity comment. I would maybe have said the same thing – because my mind would have been utterly boggled by the very concept, and I would NEED to know more…

        And really, it didn’t answer your question about where you could get the proper accessory!

        I squirmed with you with the icky too-close unkempt fellow. It would be wonderful if everyone planning to be with others in small enclosed spaces would consider the comfort of others and cleanse themselves first…


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