Sunday, 4 May 2014

Thoughts from 38,000 feet ...

Travelling over the North Atlantic on a BA flight to Chicago. Just cleared the West Coast of Northern Ireland and have under seven hours to go, so I'm enjoying a glass of Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon while awaiting the in-flight meal.
Blindingly white cloud over Northern Ireland

I'm beginning to wish I hadn't booked a window seat as I'd much rather have the legroom and the freedom to get up when I please without annoying anybody.

All is not what it seems...
What a world we live in when suddenly all is not what it seems: children's entertainers and DJs being accused of child abuse and sexual assault, judges jailed for abusing the law and Max Clifford jailed last week for a variety of dubious crimes involving women. And what the hell is going on in Ukraine? The root of all evil at the moment (and probably forever) is nationalism and there's a lot of it about in Scotland, Russia and, of course, the UK generally in terms of UKIP's preachings. Why can't people be content with what they've got? Alright, there are situations that might justify conflict (Syria, Afghanistan and the like) but why bother in Scotland? It's not as if they don't already have different banknotes is it? And some of the men wear skirts!

I'm getting hungry and there's no sign of lunch. I can smell cooked food, but that's about it. In the UK as I write this it's 1340hrs on Saturday afternoon and I had my breakfast back in Terminal Five (granola, fresh fruit, tea and orange juice) around 1000hrs. Call me a pleb, but I love airline food, always have, and while I know it's likely to be chicken or beef (and I'll opt for the former) that's great so bring it on.

I need to stretch my legs so I'm now standing up at the rear of the plane having answered the call of nature. I won't go back to my seat just yet as I'd rather give my fellow passengers (an Eastern European or Russian who can't speak English and a British girl who, for some reason, likes to cover herself in a blanket) a break from me disturbing their peace by asking them to let me through – back to that reason why, on a long-haul flight, I'm not going to opt for a window seat in future.

"Are you waiting for the toilet?"
Looking around it appears to be a full flight and what never fails to piss me off is the way everybody else, except for me, that is, seems to be content to sit in their seats and entertain themselves. I need more than a movie or some boring 'establishment' rock to keep me quiet – where are the Inspiral Carpets when you need them? – but I'm not the only one: as I speak, the Russian (as I'll now call him) is also standing up. The problem with standing up just to get away from sitting down is that you will find yourself constantly being asked if you're waiting for toilet. "No, be my guest..." I always reply, chirpily.

A full flight. Shot taken from rear of plane.
 I wish my family were here with me and that we were going on holiday, but they're not, more's the pity.

I'm back at my seat now and I've just heard the air hostess ask somebody if they want chicken or beef. Lunch is upon us! Outside now there is a blinding sheet of white cloud just below the plane but, as the food arrives, the cloud thins. The meal consists of roasted breast of chicken, potatoes, peas, green beans, carrots and gravy – perfect! And followed by Lily O'Brien's milk chocolate mousse with caramel sauce (it's tiny so I'm not too worried about my diet and besides, I've managed to lose 28lbs).

And now I can hear the hostess asking, "Tea? Tea? Tea?" a bit prematurely if you ask me as we've only just been given our lunch. I lift up my shallow, white, plastic cup and she fills it with tea.

The choice of music is terrible, I discover as I check out what's on offer in terms of in-flight entertainment, although I did watch Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, a very good movie that kept me occupied for a couple of hours before I needed to disturb my fellow passengers again and go for a walk to the back of the plane, a Jumbo, incidentally, and I'm in seat 41K. I think I have the same seat on the way back, but I might change it for an aisle seat.

John Simpson to the rescue – again!
We pass over the southern tip of Greenland with around five hours to go of this seven and a half hour flight and once again I find myself thankful for John Simpson and his column in High Life, the BA in-flight magazine. They should let John either write the lot of it or make him the editor as the rest of the content is pretty darn boring if you ask me.

Somewhere over North Eastern Canada...
John Simpson is definitely somebody I would invite to my 'dream dinner party' – not that I do dinner parties these days. Him and Will Self, although it's getting to sound like it might be quite heavy going if Mr Self is thrown into the mix. Perhaps not. It's all academic anyway. John Simpson is like a character from a Graham Green novel and I would love to spend some time with him chatting about world affairs and travelling. In fact I'd like to read his books, assuming he's written some.

"I'd leave it for five minutes if I were you..."
I'm back at the rear of the plane again, telling other passengers that I'm not waiting for the toilet. Mention must be made of going to the toilet on a plane. It's horrible. First, there's no space to swing a cat, let alone the old chap, and I can't stand the folding door or the oddly perfumed smell or the sound that the flush makes – it's really noisy. It's also pretty horrible when you emerge back into the plane again, especially if there's somebody there waiting to go in immediately after you: do you say, "I would leave it five minutes if I were you" or let them find out for themselves? Most people, I've noticed, opt for the latter and, on one occasion, a woman emerged sheepishly to discover one of her friends waiting. She wore an embarassed smile as if to say, "I've made a right pong in there and now you're going to remember that about me for the rest of my life."
Lake Michigan on descent to Chicago...

There's a single seat at the back near the toilets, which I'm guessing is reserved for the crew and it is here that I am sitting now, saying, "No, be my guest..." and pointing invitingly towards the toilet door. One person in the queue remarked to me that the plane must be pretty old because there was an ashtray fitted to the outside of the toilet door. Thanks, mate, I don't like to be reminded about the age of the plane when I'm 38,000 feet off the ground and in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.

Icy terrain and I'd rather be mowing the lawn!
We're flying over Canada now and it's icy terrain. Back in the UK it's about 1700hrs and I'm wishing I was there now enjoying a normal Saturday with the family. But I'm not. I'm here, on a plane, high in the sky with a load of strangers telling them to 'be my guest' as they are about to use the facilities as if I'm some kind of toilet host. Life doesn't get much better than this! That's sarcasm, by the way. Life clearly does get better than this and for me, my quality of life would be much improved right now if I could simply be at home, mowing the lawn, going shopping, eating, perhaps, a petit filous or making a cottage pie for dinner. But I'm not, I'm alone on a crowded plane to Chicago.

There's one hour and 57 minutes before we land, according to the journey map, and you can bet it's going to drag and drag. We're over Quebec and it's nearly a quarter past six UK time, according to my watch, which I always keep on UK time as a reminder of what's happening back at home.

My in-flight meal. I never ate the starter but that dessert was nice.
Romano's Macaroni Grill
Time flies when you're flying (actually, it doesn't, but that sounded good). Having said that the plane has now landed in Chicago. We flew in over Lake Michigan and now I'm sitting in Romano's Macaroni Grill, an excellent Italian restaurant in O'Hare's Terminal Three. This is the second time I've been here, the last time was when I flew to Cleveland in 2013. Now I'm waiting for the 1750 flight to Indianapolis. I've ordered Pollo Caprese, a glass of Cabernet, a bottle of Pellegrino, and I'm not planning on eating any more until breakfast tomorrow morning.

The flight to Indianapolis with American Airlines was a bit shaky to start as the wind has picked up. The take-off was a bit rough as the plane seemingly caught some cross wind as it accelerated along the strip and appeared to be knocked off course, albeit momentarily, but it was enough to give me a jolt. Eventually, when we'd broken through the cloud and were cruising at 29,000 feet, all was well and remained so for the rest of what was a very short flight: no more than 50 minutes by my reckoning.

Romano's Macaroni Grill, Chicago O'Hare Terminal 3
In Indianapolis...
Indianapolis airport was a lovely place. It was very peaceful and when I saw a family meeting up with another family member – a homecoming of some kind or other – I felt homesick again (and tired). But I had to get a move-on and get a cab to my hotel, which I did. It took around 25 minutes or so and cost me $60, including a tip and I can't say I'm that impressed with the hotel – yet. It's, basically, a trucker's hotel and there are a few rigs parked up in the lot. I'm staying here because I booked late and there's not much left in downtown. Also I'm saving the points in the hope that one day soon I'll be able to take the family away somewhere for a much-needed break. My problem with the place is whether or not it's close to downtown (like they say it is). I've got to be downtown at the Indiana Convention Centre for the rest of the week, although there are other problems with the hotel: no restaurant and no international calls, plus an empty fridge in the room that hums noisily throughout the night (and day) and an unispiring view of a parking lot outside my hotel window, not forgetting the trailer park on the other side of it. I'm beginning to wonder how safe it is out there and I keep thinking that I might be in that movie, No Country for Old Men. I just hope the lock don't come flying off my door.

Catching a cold, but feeling fine...
Add to my misery a streaming cold that I probably picked up on the plane. It's constant, like a tap, and it's made for a broken night, although I don't feel unwell. Now, at 0620hrs I'm sitting here because I can't sleep. I've had something like two stints of a couple hours sleep since I hit the sack around 2200hrs US time, although it might have been 2100hrs as the clock on my iphone is wrong for some reason. I think it's got a lot to do with me installing new OS software while having breakfast at Heathrow yesterday. Note to self: don't upgrade the phone's software again.

So I need to get my bearings, work out where I am in relation to downtown and, most importantly take a shower and get some breakfast as I'm starving. Then, at noon, I'm heading downtown to the convention centre to check things out for tomorrow. I also need to check out the program for the conference and then get to work. Yes, while those in the UK enjoy their Bank Holiday Monday, I've got to work because in the USA, they don't have Bank Holiday Mondays.

Caution has been advised...
I've been advised not to walk around as there's a real risk of being mugged (or worse). I was thinking about a walk into downtown, but apparently it's about five miles and there's a dodgy neighbourhood. The guy on reception has told me to take the bus (which goes through the dodgy area) or take a taxi (approximately $20 to $22. So it's going to cost me a minimum of $40 per day to get to and from the convention centre and I've got to wear a suit, making me stand out from the crowd. It looks as if taking a cab is the best way to get about, although I fancy a bus ride.

Apparently the area surrounding the hotel is fine, but I'm about a mile and a half from Dodgeville by foot and the dodgy part of town starts near a Gold's Gym where the hotel has some kind of deal in place.

Yesterday while transferring to Terminal 3 at O'Hare I overheard two people discussing gun crime and how, invariably, if somebody's driving a pick-up truck there's a likelihood they're packing a piece. Well, there's a few pick-up trucks outside. I might go and take a look around, suss out the bus and stuff, but I won't be wandering anywhere dangerous.

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