|Day 12: I was up at 6 AM Monday, June 4th. It was our last day
in England. I took a long, hot shower and then finished re-re-packing my
suitcase. We went downstairs for breakfast. There was no cheese, so I made
myself a dry ham sandwich. The TVs in the hotel pub were showing WWE wrestling.
The BBC carried news of a girl's body found, possibly that of a girl that
went missing after a date.
Donna and I got anxious about missing our bus to the airport, so we decided to just take our suitcases down to the lobby and wait. It was a little after 7:30. Our bus wasn't scheduled to leave until 8:30. When we got to the lobby, there was another tour group getting ready to get on a bus. The driver, whose name I think was Steve, asked us, "Going to Heathrow?" We said yes. "Come on, then!" he replied. So, we got on the bus. Steve got on his cellphone and reported to somebody that two people scheduled to leave at 8:30 were going with him. I hoped it didn't mess up the 8:30 bus. The bus took off with us just before 8. It stalled out in the middle of one intersection, but the driver got it started again and we headed for the main highway. I overheard the people in the other tour group talk about someone that traveled with them, a girl with multiple sclerosis. During the tour, she revealed to someone else in the group that she had an attack just before the tour started, and spent four days in her hotel room. She was traveling by herself. Another person speculated the girl was traveling all over the world because "she might not be able to later."
The bus took us through the Cheswick (pronounced "Chessik") part of London. That's where poet William Butler Yeats once lived. There were new buildings going up all over the place. Off to the side, I saw one little street of shops, including a Chinese restaurant, a Mexican restaurant and a Lebanese restaurant, all in a row. It looked like a positive step in Mexican-Lebanese international relations. The bus passed under the Piccadilly Line Bridge– the part of the London Underground that was above ground. We got our last look at the skyline of London, all full of chimney pots and cranes. We met up with a traffic jam as we approached the airport. It made me glad we took an earlier bus. As the entrance to Heathrow Airport, we passed some police officers with big rifles (M-16s?). The driver explained that most police cars aren't armed; it's the red police cars that have guns.
Once at Heathrow, our luggage unloaded, we rolled our suitcases into Terminal Three. Travelers to the U.S. were directed to Area G. Once inside, we used some automatic machines to check in. The machines scanned our passports and printed our boarding passes. The machines gave us all our boarding passes, not just the ones for the first leg of our trip. We still had to check our luggage. When we checked them in, the lady at the desk said we'd have to claim our luggage when we got to Chicago, for customs, then check it again for the trip to Tulsa. We came to the security checkpoint. I had to empty all my pockets and go through again, but that was after I took off all my metal. What set off the alarm? Beyond that, there was one more scan to go through. Everybody lined up and took off their shoes. The shoes were put on a little conveyor belt and scanned. It's a good thing I wore my good socks that day. Immediately past the security check-in were the duty-free shops– a mall-sized store selling everything from booze to sunglasses to cosmetics, all at bargain prices. There were rows of shops and even a food court. We saw all kinds of stores: Gucci, Harrad's, Mappin & Webb, Hermes; a store selling Prada and Cartier was playing rap music. It was like somebody built a shopping mall, then built an airport around it. There was no way to get to the gates without going through the shops. Donna found a bottle of her favorite perfume for half what it would've cost in the U.S. We found a place to sit and wait for our flight. The seats at Heathrow were pretty comfortable. On the big board above us, we looked for Flight 949 to Chicago. It came up listed as United 949 to Seattle by way of Chicago, and for some reason was also listed as Flight TG5702 and Flight LH9354. The big board displayed flights departing for places all over the world: Kuwait, Stavanger, Calgary, Oslo, Mumbai, Bangkok, Luxor, Izmir, Jeddah, Kuala Lumpu, Muscat, and Doha.
I stayed with the stuff while Donna went browsing through the Harrad's store at Heathrow. She confirmed: a pound did not go far in there. I walked around the food court. There were seats enough for hundreds of people to eat in there. In the news agent (not "news stand") I found a Dr. Pepper and some jelly babies. There was a queue for dozens of people to stand in line for one of the seven registers. When I got back, there was a guy sitting in the seat right next to mine, even though there were plenty of empty seats around. I noticed lots of people in England seemed to have different ideas about personal space, and didn't seem to mind holding up lines of people behind them, either. Donna went looking for a book to read on the flight and found one. She also found some candies called "wine gums." Each one was supposed to be a different kind of wine, but they all tasted like gummy bears. As we waited, I watched the crows of people waiting, running, snoozing and lounging around us, dressed in everything from suits and turbans to t-shirts and saris. Two guys wearing kilts and Scotland t-shirts wandered by. The TV news in the airport showed live pictures of Paris Hilton going to jail. It was the most news from America we'd seen the whole trip. A map of the airport showed "walking times" (not distances) to various gates. For the location you were looking at the map, it didn't say "You are Here," it just said... "You." The British speak a completely different language. I'll bet they wish Americans would learn to speak English.
Our flight came up on the board, so we took off for Gate 20. It took us about 15 minutes to get there, even with the moving sidewalks. At the gate, we showed our passes and got waved through. Some people, however, got picked out for random searches. I don't know how they picked people out of the crowd for that. One guy tried to flirt with the security lady. "Ever found anything?" he asked. "I found you," she replied dryly. Looking out the windows at the gate, I could see our plane. Beyond, I could see 2 Air Canada jets and an Air India plane. An American Airlines jet was parked at the next gate down. I took a picture. It was only a few moments later that security called down a guy who was taking video with his camcorder of the same plane. I was glad I got my picture when I did. Outside, the sky was overcast. It looked like the wind was picking up.
They called for people to start boarding the plane. First class had their own door to enter the plane, apparently so that they wouldn't have to bump against such riff-raff such as us. It was 12:15 when we got on. It was a Boeing 777 with 8 exit doors. We were back in row 34 with me on the aisle again, pretty much the same arrangement as our flight to England. At 12:35, the stewardesses starting locking things down. Donna called up the map on her video screen. It said the flight time to our destination was 7 hours, 52 minutes. "Unsurprisingly," Donna reported, "we're still in London." The plane started moving at 12:45, and we were in the air just after 1 PM. I couldn't see a thing out the windows. The flight back was much more relaxed than the flight to England. I watched the movie "Shooter" on the video. By the time it was over, we were well over the Atlantic, just south of Greenland. I turned on one of the audio channels. It was playing the Police song "Don't Stand so Close to Me." Across the aisle, a girl in sandals was silently mouthing the words to the song. A friend brought her some beef jerky. In the row behind her was a blonde girl in a black army hat and a Pi Kappa Alpha shirt. She looked like Britney Spears, except for the ring in her nose. She slept for most of the flight. Lots of people napped, but I couldn't. It was easier for me to just stay awake than to try to get comfortable enough to sleep.
Lunch was a choice between chicken or pasta. I had the pasta, which turned out to be ravioli, with a salad and a roll on the side. Dessert was a cup of ice cream. I ordered a beer (London Choice) for 3 pounds. Most of the window shades were turned down. All I could see out the remaining windows were bright cloud tops and streaks of blue below. At 4 PM, three hours after we left London, we'd already traveled 1,571 miles. A stewardess came through handing out cups of water. I watched most of the movie "Wild Hogs." You could tell when the movies were over because there was a line at the bathrooms. By 5:30 London time, we'd crossed the Labrador Sea and reached the coast of Canada, just south of Goose Bay. We hit some turbulence. The captain put on the seat belt sign. A half hour later, I turned on the audio channel, and found the theme music to "Raiders of the Lost Ark." We got some more water. Part of me wanted to nap, but I just couldn't get comfortable. I figured I'd have better luck napping on the flight to Tulsa. The video map showed us getting closer and closer. About an hour from Chicago, we got our snack: a small turkey & cheese sandwich on a bun, a Twix bar, a Coke and a bag of Walker's Ready Salted Crisps. (Not "chips." If you order chips in England, you get French fries.) A lady across the aisle got a special vegetarian snack. I tried to write a little.
The co-pilot came through helping people that were making connections in Chicago. He told us we needed to go to Terminal 2, Gate F12. The sandals girl was going to Atlanta, while "Britney" was headed for Dallas. We touched down in Chicago at 9 PM London time. It was three in the afternoon Chicago time. We'd been up for 15 hours. Getting off the plane is another big blur. We waited in line again to go through Immigration, where we showed our passports. We waited for our luggage, which seemed to take a long time. The baggage lady said we needed to take our luggage with us and go to Terminal 1. At Customs, we showed our passports again, and that's where they stamped them. The Customs guy said, "Welcome back." Dragging our suitcases behind us, we got on the little train that runs between the terminals. Donna thought we should've gotten off at Terminal 2, but Terminal 1 had a United Airlines counter. We were both tired and cranky. Inside Terminal 1, we checked our luggage at the United desk. We needed to go through security again, and the lady said we should do that at Terminal 2. At the security checkpoint, I took off my shoes and belt, and everything metal. The x-ray machine said there was something suspicious in my carry-on. The officer determined it was the book of poetry I'd brought. That must have been some dangerous poetry. We were in the same concourse we went through 11 days earlier on our way to England. The Quiznos still had no place to sit.
|We checked at the United desk, which told us to go to Gate F12. We
couldn't get on any standby flights because we'd already checked our luggage.
Luggage had to follow you. We also found out our flight was delayed one
hour. Gate F12 had no place to sit, so we found some seats at Gate F9.
My cellphone finally started working again. I called home and talked to
the youngest. The house, the pets, and everything was okay. Donna called
her mom: everything there was okay, too. I called my sister, who welcomed
us back. Everybody was okay. That was a load off my mind. I set my watch
back 6 hours to Central Standard Time. By then, it was 5 PM Chicago time.
We'd been up for 17 hours. Donna took a short nap in her seat. I sent text
messages to some friends, to let them know we were back. By 6 PM Chicago
time, the air conditioning was on, making the area more comfortable. I
left to find a soda pop. On the way, I checked at Gate F12. Lots of people
were at the gate waiting for their flights. Many flights were either late
or backed-up. There were not enough seats, so many were sprawled out sleeping
on the floor. It looked like a triage unit after some natural disaster.
The clerk said lots of flights were late, but our flight was on
time and set to depart at 8:05. I picked up a sandwich and some chips to
share with Donna. We were both in a much better mood after that. Next to
the windows, a couple sat down with their crying baby, whom the wife began
We walked over to F12 about 7:30, and at 7:50 finally walked down some stairs and across the tarmac to our plane. I looked out the window at glamorous, modern O'Hare Airport...
We walked across the tarmac into the terminal. The big building was mostly empty that time of night, and it seemed like we were the only people moving around. While waiting to claim our bags (not "reclaim" like in England), Donna worried about getting to the parking lot, but the Fine Parking shuttle was right outside. When we got to the car, I was relieved I'd remembered to lock it. Parking was $97-- ouch. It was another ouch when we saw gas prices were up to $3.07 a gallon. (I heard it got up to $3.17 while we were gone.) Everything else looked the same as we drove back home. I could see the yard needed mowing when we drove up. Zack came out to greet us in the drive way. Had he grown while we were gone? No, he was just standing uphill from me on the driveway. The house was still there. Binnie the dog and Munday the cat were okay. Munday even purred when he saw us. By that time it was 11 PM, and we'd been going nonstop for about 23 hours. I updated my online journal and went to bed, feeling like I could sleep for days.