Planes & Trains
|Don't imagine for a moment you are going on a picnic. Expect annoyance, discomfort and some hardships. If you are disappointed, thank heaven.|
|Hints for Plains Travelers|
Omaha Herald, 1877
|The Planes of Hell||The Trains of Hell|
|The Planes of Hell|
Packing took till 3:00 a.m., but I was still enthusiastic when I popped up at 5:00 a.m. to start my journey. My shuttle driver got seriously lost several times, but we finally got the other clients and got to the airport reasonably on time for check-in, then my 9:00 flight. But my imagination of the relaxing, indulged flight was a big joke.
In spite of being a Continental flight, rather than the ghastly Sun Trips fiasco of my last vacation, the plane was a cattle car. Every single seat was filled, all of them, and the seats were narrow, and I learned the quite unadvertised fact that the aisle seats are too narrow to hold your carry-on, so it was many hours of being elbow-to-elbow, knee-to-knee, not enough space to even get your book, much less read it, and trying to knit would have resulted in a personal injury lawsuit. Fortunately, I shared my row with a Kashmiri couple, gentle, helpful, quiet, and affectionate, so it could have been much more terrible than it was. This particular plane had the new drop-down thin screens, and I was positioned just right to see only a gelatinous negative rather than the movie picture. Sigh.
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Newark was broiling hot, and the port's airconditioning was unequal to the heat. Since it was no worse outside than inside, I stayed outside for the hours of stopover. There was a breeze, but it was like the blast of air you get from the oven when you check your baking. I did get to see a wonderful sunset, with the gold trim on the monorail speaking back to the sun.
Sometime after forever, we boarded the flight to Manchester. Takeoff was delayed, and if I'd thought it hot in the airport, it was nothing compared to the heat in the plane. We all prayed fervently for takeoff. This time, there was a spare seat to my left. It was getting late by this time, and after two hours sleep I thought it would be nice to stretch out and rest a little, so I laid my glasses & book on half of the seat and cheered up a bit. The next thing you know, the giant Suit on the other side of the seat plopped his flight bag square into the spare seat, knocking my things to the floor, without a word of apology. It says everything about the state I was in by then that I shoved his case back to him to where it was half over his lap, with the edge deadcenter of the spare seat, silently replaced my belongings on the other half of the seat, and gave him The Look. It must have been clear to him that, his 350 pounds not withstanding, I was perfectly prepared to duke it out with him, because there the case stayed. He remained rude and intrusive the rest of the flight, however, and it was pretty miserable. People are extremely interesting to me, but sometimes in a rather horrible way.
7:50 a.m. of the next day: Manchester at last! We'd made a little time with a headwind, then lost that and more by stacking. I was the last out of the plane, because I couldn't reach my carry-on without getting out and standing on my seat, so when I saw the length of the Customs queue I about died.
It took about an hour for me to get to the desk. It seemed sort of unfair -- me, nerd-geek with no life -- they ought to have a special badge for me and just wave us on through. Even my underwear is uninteresting. But then, conversely, I was annoyed because all they did was just stamp my passport and wave me on through. After all that wait. The least they could do is PRETEND I looked a bit interesting.
The first thing I saw was a big sign saying "Way Out". I knew Manchester had gained some counterculture cachet in recent years; still, this seemed excessively self-laudatory. Turns out, this is British for "exit". Lo! .. no train station out there. After going back in, waiting in line for directions, and much dragging about of luggage, I found the ramp to the train station (cleverly, inside the aiport) and was on my way.
|The Trains of Hell|
I managed getting on the train without much incident, except learning that I didn't heave luggage the way I'd done when I was younger. The first train was small and friendly, and I enjoyed the scenery. England is very odd in many ways. There are cows and sheep wandering around new suburbs. There is Old Stuff everywhere, incredibly old. Some of it is charming; some of it seems only decayed and rotten and depressing. The foliage is quite different -- leafy, lacey, delicate, like the East Coast. There were bunnies everywhere! I couldn't help but wonder why. Perhaps because of all the fox-killing fiestas? Dunno, but they were a lot of fun to watch.
I can hardly believe how much water they have, it's everywhere. Streams, ditches, creeks, rivers, ponds, pools, lakes -- so much water. I saw that there really are hedgerows, lots of them. And many, many rock walls and buildings, which look very beautiful to me. I was surprised to see that there are still flowers everywhere, despite that it's fall. At one station, I could have picked brambleberries from the train.
Alas, we reached Preston, where I was to transfer to the Edinburgh train. Preston station. Preston station. The Armpit of the Universe.
There are very few signs of any kind there, and those few are mostly lies. It took a very long time to get from my arrival platform to what looked like the main area, where I might get some information.
To get from platform to platform, first you have to find the lift, which is quite an IQ test. Once in it, having been bashed by the doors a few times while hauling luggage, and hoping to live to see the bottom, you wander thru a subterranean, public-urinal-smelling underground chamber making guesses as to which of several similarly unmarked and evil lifts might take you where you want to go next.
When you finally find the information center, you're not better off -- this is where they lie to you. You get sent from one platform to the other, repeating the whole above process, only to be told, each time 3 minutes before the train's arrival, that it's moved to another platform. You arrive heaving for air, the train still on the track, and they refuse to open the door because you weren't fast enough. Then they do it again. And again. This went on for four hours. I didn't actually start to cry until 2 in the afternoon.
Then the trip to Edinburgh. All the seats were reserved, so I had to stand the whole way, in a doorway. For hours. There was a refreshment car on this train but, with my luggage, I'd have had no way to deal with it. I felt like a Czechoslovakian Jew being transported to Dachau. Among other things, the chemo left me with very thin skin, and my hands and fingers were cut and bleeding everywhere. My feet hurt so bad they eventually stopped having any feeling at all. Having been up since 5 in the morning of the previous day, I was tired beyond all endurance.
So I arrive in Edinburgh to be told by the station information man that there are no lifts and that there are no ramps. I considered crying again, but was too tired. At a casual glance, it seems that Britain is developing an embryo of an idea of equal access. At closer look, you realize that it's barely a gleam in anyone's eye.
Fortunately, he was lying about the ramp. [Months later, I was told he was also lying about the absence of a lift. I never saw one, however.] Unfortunately, the ramp is one of the longest in the world, and steep, and it is covered with dog poop. Furthermore, the dogs don't poop in any kind of pattern, so I weaved and huffed and puffed uphill in quite a wobbly fashion.
I had wanted to stop at the Tourist Information center atop the station, but I couldn't bear hauling my luggage down and up their stairs, so I caught a taxi and went to my hotel, whereupon I hauled all the luggage up 2 flights of stairs.
It was only 7:30 p.m., and I wanted to stay awake a little longer to begin getting in synch, so I wandered along Leith Walk in the rain, had a terrible dinner in a sweet restaurant with goldfish as big as tricycles, and finally went to bed.
It had been a long two days.
|Trip Central||Chronicles, Part 2|
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