Hurdling through November
After the October trip to Scotland there was the pear harvest to attend to:
Then there was a trip north to check that the boat was afloat (which it was) and dry inside (it was). On that same trip north there was an informal concert played by the Cheshire One on her new clarinet.
Now it was November, and in a first attempt to gain altitude the Captain climbed up into the loft to retrieve the suitcases. Flights had been booked months ago: Air New Zealand again, Heathrow to Los Angeles…
North west over Scotland
High above Canada
Crossing into US airspace
The Rockies below
Landed at Los Angeles
Arrival (an hour early) was at 5.50pm on Saturday Californian local time – 1.50 am GMT Sunday time.
Entry into the United States is a slow-motion hurdling exercise.
First there’s the transit from aircraft (on legs that haven’t walked for over twelve hours) along several corridor, up an escalator, along a landing, down an escalator, the wall ahead draped with a huge US flag, to reach the vast Arrivals Hall.
Here customs officials, many wearing white gloves, bark directions as to which line to join, dependent on passport and visa or ESTA status. A few years ago, in an effort to simplify travel to and from the States, the Captain and Boatwif spent time and money on gaining US visas. These in fact have complicated departures from the UK and added an extra document for inspection at both ends of the travel experience…
Anyway, once in the right visa status line the first hurdle is the inspection machine. Here a machine reads the passports and visas for all family members, and for each traveller it takes fingerprints of the four fingers of the right hand and a head and shoulders photograph, hats and glasses removed of course. (Remarkably the machine adjusts height automatically to match the entrant’s height). Then a receipt (photo included) for each person is printed out on a long piece of paper, the quality of which is rather like a shop till receipt. It is vital that this piece of paper is not mislaid…
On to the second hurdle. Again directions are given as to which line to join. Serious shuffling starts here. (Think zigzag queues at a Disney theme park, minus the fun and minus the sun).
Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.
Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.
Eventually (more swiftly this time than on the last two occasions) the head of line is reached. Here you must wait until beckoned forwards. Do not attempt to rush an official. Questions are asked, passports are inspected and stamped, likewise the receipt, before all are returned.
Phew, second hurdle overcome.
Next is Bag Reclaim. Conveyors spew luggage out onto moving carousels. This part of the process can be a testing time. Long delays can make you wonder if ever your bags were actually put on the right aeroplane, or whether they are languishing in a dark corner at Heathrow, or worse, are heading for some obscure location in South America or Africa… On Saturday evening a swifter than usual delivery onto the carousel of the suitcases was most heartening. Bags then piled high onto a trolley the weary passengers set off again, following an EXIT sign.
Here again border officials marshal travellers into lines, fast moving ones at that. “Over here, Sir,” one said and the baggage trolley could be pushed along the last flat straight. Once they have handed in the precious Arrivals Receipt to a customs officer correctly documented travellers will be waved onwards. It feels like a sort of “Hand in your test paper before you leave the room,” scenario.
Uphill next – and the baggage trolley is pushed up a distinct slope some fifty yards long into another, different kind of melee. At the top of the slope a low wall holds back crowds of meeters and greeters, all peering at the travellers as they slog up the hill. A young woman with two small girls was amongst them, each of them clutching a single cellophane-protected long-stemmed rose. Now what would be their back story…
There was no chance to properly wonder as there were more hurdles still to to come. Out on the street crowds of passengers jostled for taxis and buses. Over the background din of horn hooting, brake squealing and engine revving the Captain made a phone call. Where was the pickup point for the hotel courtesy bus…?
The traffic system seems to have changed – all courtesy buses now use only the departure level road deck, one storey above. Too tired to rationalise that there must be a lift (elevator) somewhere another serious hurdle was tackled – an up-bound escalator with three heavy bags (all that UK bought chocolate!) one rucksack, a carry-on suitcase, a laptop bag and a shoulder bag.
Mission somehow achieved the travellers reached the upper road deck, flagged down a courtesy bus going to the right hotel and within half an hour or so were ensconced in a fourth floor room. The body clock was beginning to whimper, after all by now it was about 4am on Sunday…
The Captain can be brutal in these circumstances. “Can’t go to bed yet. Got to adjust. Got to have something to eat as if it’s dinner time.”
During a light meal and a crowded Sunday breakfast it became apparent why so many other folk were about: the Chicago Bears (American football team) were in town for a Sunday afternoon match against the Los Angeles Rams… On screen a TV meteorologist was forecasting a hot and windy day. The Chicago Bears may have lost their match but it can’t have been for lack of fan support!
There was one final tiresome hurdle to overcome before all that UK chocolate could be safely deposited with the Cal Clan – road transport south to San Marcos. Via courtesy bus number 1 the Captain and Boatwif returned to LAX airport and then via courtesy bus number 2 they made it to the car rental compounds. Enterprise, beloved by UK boaters for their customer service, were the chosen company for this trip. Though many an hour has been spent in previous years negotiating car hire this occasion was a swift and slick operation. A smart and personable young woman helped the Captain secure his online booking via an immediately available rental booking machine (no standing in line for attention at the long desk) and within ten minutes it was out into the bright sunshine for car selection time.
Then came the knuckle clencher, the highest and hardest hurdle of them all, to find a way through the back streets onto the Interstate southbound 405 freeway.
But it was done.
And wasn’t it all worthwhile – for at about 12.30pm Californian time on Sunday (8.30pm GMT) Cal Son’s front door was opened. There stood Cal Guy Jnr, a broad grin spreading across his face. “Welcome to California, Granny,” he said and he gave Boatwif a great huge hug!
Air miles: HWR to LAX 5,454 miles
Road distances (UK and US): 153.9 miles
Time spent in travel: 13 hrs 40 minutes