Monday, January 29, 2001

Four days, four cities! Get Dick Mac To London Tonight!

This international lifestyle sure has its ups and downs!

What is most intriguing, beguiling, and dangerous is the twenty-four hour clock. I've been marching through life with the cavalier attitude that any idiot can figure out that 1300 is one in the afternoon and that 2020 is 8:20 P.M. Simple, right!?!?! Subtract 1200 from any time greater than 1200 and you get the twelve-hour (AM/PM) conversion!

Last Wednesday, I had to fly from London to Boston for a funeral. Not a happy occasion, but a necessary trip. I was able to secure a ridiculously expensive round-trip Economy ticket from Gatwick to Logan. The schedule looked like this: arrive in Boston WED at 1720, go to the wake, sleep at my brother's, go to funeral and internment on THU, fly out of Boston THU night at 2200, arrive in London FRI morning.

The brevity of my Boston trip was necessitated by previously booked reservations for Anne and me in Amsterdam. Tickets and Hotel had been purchased and were non-refundable; and our friends Bonnie, Marcel, and Cody, were expecting us. We had been planning the Amsterdam trip for months and were looking forward to it.

Like any American Irish-Catholic clan, my Mother's family is quite large, and we only seem to gather for funerals and weddings. Mostly funerals. With 40+ first cousins on my Mother's side, most of whom have spouses or partners, it is a rare treat that everyone of my generation (approaching 100 of us) is invited to a wedding. And my generation is old enough now, that two of my cousins are grandfathers; which means that some cousins have children old enough to also receive wedding invitations!!! You get the picture! So, funerals are where we gather most. It is exciting to have such a large family. When we left the wake on WED evening, we talked about how lucky we were to have such a great group of people as relatives.

Traveling to family events became much more complicated for me when I moved to New York; now that Anne and I are in London, it borders on ridiculous!

I ordered a car to pick me up at our apartment in The City and take me to Gatwick Airport, which is much further away from Central London than Heathrow. It was a long drive there, but we made it without incident. My flight, however, was delayed because of equipment failure. This is never reassuring; but, I made it to Boston at 1830. My brother, sister-in-law, and I made it to the wake in plenty of time. I then got to enjoy dinner with my immediate family, at my other brother's home, before getting a decent night's sleep. Thusday was spent at the funeral and internment, followed by a luncheon on Cape Cod. Timing is everything, and I was back in Boston at 4:30 (1630), resting for my flight at 10:00 (2200).

With a bit of time to spare, I called some friends, and even had a short visit from a friend who lives nearby. It was a very relaxing couple of hours.

My brothers got me to Logan at just after 8:00 (2000), which is exactly two hours before flight departure (the required check-in time for international flights). I prefer to be earlier than punctual so that any problems that might arise at check-in can be resolvd without the added stress of a time crunch; but, punctual is perfectly acceptable!

I was relieved to see that there was not yet anyone in line at the Virgin Atlantic counter when I strolled into Terminal E, because when the check-in staff is not hurried, they are more flexible and generous with seating negotiations. When I announced to the three assembled workers that I wanted to check-in for the ten o'clock flight to London, they stared blankly at me, all with jaws dropped.

Quickly, the supervisor avertered her eyes to the computer screen at which she had been working when I approached, and the two men began to bumble about and stammer while pointing at the video monitor and explaining that the flight was scheduled for 2020 (8:20), and was already boarded and about to leave the gate! I had misunderstood the time and written it down incorrectly! I had it listed as 2200, not 2020! My body temperature changed, my jaw dropped and everything went temporarily fuzzy! Fortunately, one of the men got right on a walkie-talkie and asked if I could be boarded. The response was an emphatic 'No'! I was now one of those idiots who failed to understand the 24-hour clock!

They were very sympathetic about my plight: there were no more flights out of Boston until Friday, which was too late to make my flight to Amsterdam! It took a moment before I snapped back to reality!

They checked the JFK to Heathrow flights and there were plenty of seats on a flight at 2305 (11:05). They checked the Delta Shuttle to LaGuardia, and there was a flight at 2035 (8:35). They became really excited and animated as they took less than three minutes to make two phone calls and rise to the challenge that became: Get Dick Mac to London Tonight!

I dashed (Really! I did! I RAN!) across the skyway from Terminal E to Terminal A, to the Delta Shuttle gate. It took just over twelve minutes (I'm not really much of a sprinter), which left eight minutes to purchase a ticket, find the Boston Coach counter to order a sedan, and get on the jet! (Without dropping of a heart-attack!)

I did it! I was on the Shuttle with two minutes to spare! Another passenger actually boarded AFTER me!

This flight would get me to LaGuardia at 9:35 (2135), leaving me 70 minutes to get off the Shuttle, to my waiting car for a drive across Queens to JFK, checked-in at Virgin, and board the plane. (You can not be boarded on an international flight less than twenty minutes before departure, so I lose 20 minutes there.) I didn't know if I could do it, but I was comforted by one particular thought: if I missed the last flight to London, I could sleep in my own bed at my New York apartment and get the first flight in the morning, which would get me to Heathrow just on-time to meet Anne for the flight to Amsterdam. I was so tired at this point, that I almost wanted to miss the last flight out of JFK and go home!

When the shuttle landed at LaGuardia, the pilot announced that there was a disabled plane at our gate and there would be a slight delay in deplaning! This slight, fifteen minute delay got us to the gate at 9:50, leaving only 55 minutes to complete the rest of the Challenge!

I found my driver and headed out of the Marine Air Terminal rather quickly. I told him the situation and he said he would do his best, but he was not certain he could get me to JFK Terminal 1 quickly enough to succeed. I remained calm! We talked about the New York drug laws. Fifteen minutes later the driver was happily explaining that he could not believe how little traffic there was on the Van Wyck Expressway, and that I might actually make it.

I got out of the car at JFK and tried to trot into the terminal and to the Virgin counter; but, I could barely walk with my scant luggage. There was a long queue snaking around the check-in area. One nice benefit to flying so much, is that I been promoted to the preferred flying club and can use the Upper Class check-in counters even though I am flying Economy. These counters are generally devoid of clientele and provide rapid check-in. Avoiding another f**k*ng queue in this condition would save my sanity, if not my travel plans.

My mouth was parched, my eyes were watering, and my hands were trembling when I handed the woman my ticket. I tried to speak, but nothing came out. She said: "Oh, Mr. Mac, we've been expecting you." I almost fainted! The guys at the Boston counter had followed-up and contacted JFK to tell them of my plight! I relaxed instantly and she asked: "Are you alright?" I nodded. "Sir, you are sweating and shaking are you sure you're OK?" I nodded, took out a handkerchief, wiped my brow, licked my lips and managed to asked if the flight was heavily booked and could I be bumped up to a better seat. This was a clear sign to her that I was not going to drop to the floor. Anyone who can enquire about a free upgrade cannot be too ill!

She could not upgrade me, but she gave me an entire row of four seats to myself. Ahhhh! A touch of luxury in economy!

After I passed throught the security checkpoint, I still had fifteen minutes before they even began allowing passengers to board the plane! I bought a bottle of water, some duty-free Chanel products, and looked out at New York and felt a little pang about seeing my apartment and my stuff and sleeping in my bed!

The flight to Heathrow was remarkably uneventful. The taxi ride to our apartment was almost boring. The rest I got before the rainstorm rolled in was fitful. The impossibility of getting a car to taxi to Heathrow during a heavy rain was only the icing on the cake! We made it to Amsterdam. Fnally, a weekend of shopping and eating and museums was mine, and I think that by next weekend, I might approach sanity!