Part 1: CALIFORNIA SAGA: I’m on my way to sunny Californ-i-a

After five months of meticulous planning, my ‘across the pond’ adventure – a trip that would take me to California, Oregon, Nevada, Texas and the Canadian Province of Quebec – finally began in the early hours of 21st October 2019 with not so much a triumphant roar, but with all the stress and attendant vexation caused by my taxi being some twenty minutes late. I could venture to add a little detail and some colourful language regarding the brain’s trust at mission control, but all that really needs to be said is that I’ll never be using Club Taxis again. That said, the driver was absolutely brilliant and despite my pessimism and unholy execrations, he safely delivered me to the coach station with barely two minutes to spare.  The resultant mad dash to the coach and my bag swiftly entrusted to the care of the National Express driver, I was soon onboard, in my reserved seat, and heading south, bound for London’s infamous Heathrow Airport. 

The rain, which had been a signature feature all weekend across Leicestershire, continued to fall; the sticking of the coach’s windscreen wiper rhythmically reminding me of fingernails dragging across a blackboard. This terror was only eclipsed by the ubiquitous passenger sat somewhere behind me snoring. Anyone who has entrusted their travel arrangements to public transport can, I am sure, readily sympathise with this. If it’s not someone snoring merrily away, it’s some inconsiderate pensioner or business type bellowing on their phone – or worse – that entity who somehow feels fish or egg an appropriate food for intercity travel. Suffice to say, this gentleman’s throated bellowing’s held me a miserable hostage for three hours, reminding me of a foghorn in full, unapologetic chorus. But arrive I eventually did, and as my snoring companion had left the bus a terminal or two earlier, my spirits began to slowly rise and a palpable sense of excitement for the adventure that lay before me took hold. Alas, it wasn’t to last long…

Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is the kind of place designed for the patronage of travellers well used to it. To the stranger, only familiar with smaller airports such as Birmingham and East Midlands, it is both confusing and bewildering. Numerous social atrocities did I commit as I feebly attempted to navigate BA’s ‘bag drop’. The principle is very simple – scan your passport, boarding pass and deposit your bag on the scale. You are then supposed to get your bag tag which you secure and off trundles your luggage. Unfortunately, the onscreen instructions were impossible to decipher given the speed at which they operate (the number of traveller’s having problems demonstrated that this operation really needs looking into). I orientated my passport in every possible manner but without success. But before long (and aided by a friendly and patient representative of BA staff who effortlessly contorted my documentation to the evident satisfaction of the machine), my checked luggage was quickly disappearing out of view and I was off in search of the nearest washroom, and then onto Security.

Still reeling from the humiliation of ‘Bag Drop’, I inadvertently confused the entrance to the BA Business Lounge for that of the Gent’s bathroom; an honest mistake and by no means a reflection on either the Business Lounge facilities themselves, or the clientele they service. The entrance is governed by a ‘scan-and-go’ system and in vain did I scan – and re-scan – my boarding pass before a smartly dressed BA operative, no doubt employed to stand guard and sentry over this hallowed place, approached me to determine the nature of my problem. Once explained, she smiled compassionately and offered me a sympathetic “Have a good day, sir,” as I shouldered my bag and headed off in search of the toilet. I appreciated her efforts – I really did – though they did little to placate my wounded pride.

Photo Credit: Mark Blasdale

So, what of Terminal 5 beyond Security (which was a breeze, btw)? Well, visitors to Heathrow will already appreciate that the airport itself is one vast car park interspersed with terminals, walkways, runways and hotels. The overall shape and construction of Terminal 5 reminds me of a vast hanger; the kind used by those mighty airships of the 1930s. I’m not a fan of London, and the capital’s flagship airport seems to capture all those attendant elements I so dislike about that sewer situated on the Thames. It’s both high-brow and impersonal; vulgar and pretentious. Like so many of the fashionable London stores that populate its dominions, Terminal 5 plainly aims at a sense of grandeur, yet manifestly shoots right past it. The staff, however, I found to be most helpful and always accommodating.

The wait for boarding was long and arduous and I seemed to have perfectly timed my trip with the Pox, Plague and Palsy season; almost everyone around me coughing, spluttering and sneezing as though it was the height of London fashion. But, having  been awake for a mere ten hours, the call for my boarding group finally arrived and joining my fellow travellers, I trudged down the Passenger Boarding Bridge (PBB), tapped the fuselage a couple of times for good luck and wended my way to my seat. Finally, I was on my way…

Next up: California On My Mind