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.
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?”