South west again – to 33° N, 117° W
Terminal 2, Heathrow: time for the not-Christmas-yet US visit (despite the Heathrow Christmas trees), time for the not-even-Thanksgiving-yet November visit to California.
It serves many purposes, this November visit: a flight to the sun, a look at how another country operates, a seasonal celebration and some serious cross generational bonding…
Heathrow is already in Christmas mode: much in evidence in the smart high-end retail outlets are classy gifts, fine edibles and jolly Christmas stockings.
Conscious that the next day and a half were going to involve a huge amount of sitting in a small space Boatwif, as often before, took delight in the opportunity for a pre-boarding wander around the air-side shops followed then by the 15 minute hike out to Gate B36 (down in a lift, down a long escalator, under the runway via several travelators, up a long escalator, along a walkway…)
The route to LAX was announced from the cockpit: up over northern Scotland, beyond Stornaway, west of the Faroes, over Thule, across northern Canada, over Yellowknife towards Vancouver then down through Washington State and Oregon. The Cleddau Captain (seated far back from the cockpit) purred at the description, it stirring fond memories for him of route plans and northern arcs…(polar great circle routes, Capt)
Seated on the left hand (port) side of the aircraft (a Boeing 777-300 for those who like to know these things) the Staines reservoirs soon faded from view and the outside became a grey mass. Then above the cloud layer there was streaming sunlight. Over Scotland the weather became clearer. By now the sun was lowering to the west. How swiftly the cloudscape changes: first a fluffiness suggesting deep duvet comfort, then a backdrop of pale, pale blue, minky pink and soft dove grey. Passing north of Stornoway now, the ragged edges of peat bogs and lochans were visible far below, too high though at 32,000 feet to spot the red Butt of Lewis lighthouse on the northern Hebridean coast.
Onwards the aircraft flew, over ocean, over Greenland, on towards Canada. Remember those early school atlas studies – how could there have been so much unfinished territory? Why had there seemed so much empty land? The view below was now of vast barren space, snow topped mountains, snaky rivers, occasional lakes… hour after hour of bleak terrain with no sign of human habitation. Then for a few brief minutes a dead straight line appeared – a railway line at last?
More than eight hours after take-off the aircraft crossed southwards over the US state line. Now place names were appearing more frequently: Seattle, Spokane, Portland. The great arc on the moving map at last nudged southwards towards LAX. Down over the Los Angeles bowl the aircraft descended, street grid patterns plainly visible, green geometric shapes indicating football and baseball pitches.
On the ground it was 6.30pm local time, though for prickly eyes and body clocks it felt (and was) 2.30am GMT.
After eleven plus hours strapped in a small space the route march to the arrivals hall provided a welcome return to mobility. Three queues later (first for the photographic receipt from a personal identity machine, second to show an immigration officer said receipt and third to present the receipt to a customs official) US entry was permitted.
The convoluted receipt exercise had involved a great deal of marshalling and shuffling between cordoned lines. With the brain barely functioning, only due to idle curiosity and the need to remain upright did the eyes remain open. As if on a cinema screen flickering images of thousands of fellow travellers are viewed, from which two fixed recollections remain: a tall slim young man, in tight black trousers, feet in flipper length winkle picker shoes, repeatedly shook his glossy black shoulder length mane. He was just off an aircraft yet he wore a baby pink tailored wool jacket overlaid with a large pale brown check. He had a companion, a young blond and equally tall, young man: were they Hollywood wannabees…?
And then along the final line came an official with a small beagle, which wove its way between the travellers.
“Have you had citrus, ma’am?” The beagle’s handler had stopped a passenger. There was much confusion and hand waving on the part of the passenger. As she flapped her hands around another question came. “Have you still got the citrus skin?” All sorts of agricultural products are prohibited items… In an onwardly shuffling line it wasn’t possible to know whether the woman had contravened the law or not, but it was another reminder that there are rules and that trying to bypass them isn’t wise…
From aircraft door to street exit had been achieved in 70 minutes, quite a bit faster than last year’s time of 2 hours 30 minutes…
The wait for a hotel shuttle bus was mercifully swift – then, after a night on a second floor landing (was this hotel modelled on a Victorian prison?) there remained the patience-busting task of queueing at the car rental depot (a 50 minute slow line shuffle) and then negotiation of safe passage out of Los Angeles south down the freeways towards San Diego…