When I was a teenager I used to drive to the Oakland airport with my best friend, Mama Dog. She and I would sit in the hatchback of my Ford Fiesta and watch the planes take-off for hours. It was a great escape, dreaming of all the places we would go and all the wonderful things we would see. To this day I still find it thrilling to go to the airport, even if it’s just to pick-up a friend. Of course the rules have changed considerably over the years. I’m not sure if it’s allowed to watch the planes take off from the airport anymore, with all the added security risks. Prior to this trip three years ago, the last time Tony and I flew the friendly skies was in 1996, pre 9/11/01 (God rest their souls). In ’96, it took less than one hour to board an international flight, and the thought of taking your shoes off at check-in was unconscionable.
To be sure, flying was much more dignified back then. For one thing, it was all about YOUR comfort. I remember after being in France for two weeks we were so excited to be going home, that we arrived at the airport in Paris two hours earlier than expected. We were told the x-ray machines were not yet heated up so…they didn’t bother x-raying our bags. Why make us wait? My husband was especially glad this happened since he secretly stashed a bunch of “novelty” switchblades in my luggage. “After all, they’re less likely to check your bags than mine,” he reasoned.
No wonder. Now it was 2009 and things have changed A LOT. For one thing, I was told to pack all of my toiletries inside of my checked luggage and not my carry-on bag. “But I always wash-up before I land.” I protested. I’ll need my Neutrogena face soap, toner, face cream, eye cream, toothbrush, toothpaste, and then there’s my hair smoothing cream. “Whatever happened to looking glamorous on the plane?” I asked. I was told to forgo all that and to be prepared to strip for security.
The day before we left for Scotland, I nervously perused the TSA website (Transportation Security Administration), and became vaguely familiar with a confusing concept, simply named 3-1-1. In short, every (1) passenger is allowed to bring a (1) quart-size zip-top bag stuffed with containers that hold (3) ounces or less. So really it should be called 1-1-3, but that’s just me. Actually, I was happy to finally use the dozens of adorable little bottles I’d saved over the years.
Still, there were certain aspects of air travel that I was not prepared for in the millennium, namely the smell of fear and foot odor. Not to mention walking though various metal detectors barefoot is just gross. Plus, I’ll admit that I slowed down the line more than a little, when the TSA girl told me I was not allowed to bring my Cal water bottle onboard. And I’ll further admit that I let out a rather audible moan escape my lips when I was told to throw it in the trash. Other than that however, I breezed through the metal detector virtually unscathed.
My husband was another story. The man is a harbinger of metal. After several failed attempts to walk through the metal detector, a serious-looking man in a red suit told him to stand still while he slowly ran a wand all over his body, and finally to his neck, where his Saint Christopher hung. I could see my husband’s hands shaking slightly, as he pulled the chain over his head and placed it into the receptacle provided. My poor honey! I thought, and instinctually wanted to run to his side, but I was being pushed forward by the lady with stinky feet behind me; she could care less about anyone’s feelings.
Surviving check-in was nothing compared to our flight, which lasted roughly 26 hours. Our engine warmer failed, so we were forced to change planes twice in New Jersey. Fine with me I thought, better that than plunging into the sea at 500mph. Walking around the airport at 2am was eerie, with all the concession stands closed and the lights at half power, but it was fun too. As the other passengers walked around each other in circles like zombies, Tony and I explored. We found a nice restroom where we could freshen-up, and then we looked at overpriced sunglasses through brightly lit cases and laughed about our trip thus far. Re-boarding was also comical because everyone was cranky and looked a fright, except the flight attendants. They were very patient and treated us like kind zookeepers, giving us an extra meal and free drink tickets. Hooray! Normally, I’d rather starve than eat airplane food, but on this occasion I found myself willingly eating a curious chicken dish and washing it down with Jameson. Within minutes, I was a happy little monkey.
After the lights dimmed and the same movie came on for the third time, my husband, who’s been trained to sleep standing, was snoring while I gabbed with a lady across the isle. She was on her way home and gladly told me where to go and what to see in Scotland. She even drew me a map! We were to encounter this several times in the Land of Tartan. The Scots are very helpful, friendly people. Later, I was to discover they also had one of the most generous breakfasts in the world: eggs, gigantic pieces of bacon, a variety of freshly made breads to make toast, steel-cut oats, coffees, teas, orange juice and of course haggis – something I had to try but ended up avoiding like the plague. Everywhere we stayed, in both Scotland and England offered an amazing spread. This was especially appreciated by me since I wake up so hungry, I could eat a wagon wheel. When we finally landed in Scotland’s capital, I was aching from head to toe and starving, of course. But as usual, excitement overrode my basis instincts, and I bounded off the plane after giving a hearty “thank you” to our flight attendants.
They say life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. Even thought this trip was to be an unplanned extravaganza, I did plan for our first night in Edinburgh. I really didn’t want to roam around the city looking like Día de los Muertos trying to find a place to rest my frizzy head. I wish I’d planned our first night in Paris too, but that gruesome story comes later. When we arrived in Edinburgh and at the Old Waverley Hotel (great place in the heart of downtown, but not for you light sleepers), I wanted to sleep so badly, but we’d learned our lesson years ago to adapt to the new time zone AT ALL COST. So, after cleaning up we tripped around the Royal Mile, where I saw my very first red telephone booth. Maybe I was delirious from lack of sleep, but it was thrilling.
After eating Italian (odd choice), and a full day exploring Edinburgh on foot, we finally collapsed in our hotel room and slept like babies. Until around midnight. Sometimes jet-lag isn’t all that bad…