#WOMBATSDOAMERICA, Day 1
Posted by wombat37
Blogging our recent trip day by day, four weeks after the event…
Tuesday 5th August – the New World
Airports are confusing places the first time around, but we managed to trudge through Manchester eventually. The woman at the bag drop was pleasant and helpful, the man at the look-through-your-bags-and-stuff place much less so. We were also a bit confused as we hadn’t been asked to remove our shoes at any point, something I had prepared for by wearing clean socks for a change. Once airside, we realised that we may have been over-cautious in our arrival time. Mary looked around the shops while I looked at women’s legs, and yet somehow there were always still forty-five minutes until the gate opened. The queue at Costa was not in the least enticing. Our first airport experience was a strange mix of confusion and banality.
Eventually, though, WE WERE ON A PLANE! Our first ever flight, which must be unusual at our age given these wizard, modern days of international travel. The KLM aircraft was quite small, with rows of three on either side of a central aisle – Mary got a window seat so that she could click away at the clouds and lose her pencil down the side of her seat. She said the clouds looked like celestial sheep on a blue-grey field. I adored the powerful upthrust of take-off – WHUMF! The experience of flying is much more turny than I had imagined. The aircraft feels as if it is banking far too sharply and steeply.
Snacks arrived over the North Sea – how very civilised, to eat thousands of feet above the earth. Um, above the sea. I thought I’d better avoid the alcohol, given that we had the sprawling great airport at Schipol yet to negotiate. As we banked steeply over the waves, it struck me that we would be in Amsterdam in under an hour, then on to a flight to Detroit on the other side of the planet. My mind said “Blimey” several times.
“Prepare for landing.” Ooer. There was a briefly alarming clattery clunk, which I realised was the wheels being lowered. It was a far less high-tech sound than I had imagined a modern jet making. I peered past Mary at the land below. That was the Netherlands down there, eventually bumping into our wheels with another surprisingly Heath Robinsonesque thud.
Schipol was very big, very crowded and very yellow. It took us some time to reach the gate for our next flight, which was already processing passengers. A bored-looking security chap examined our documents.
“Purpose of your visit?” he intoned.
“We’re going on holiday.”
“Huh? What’s your final destination? Surely you’re not having a holiday in Detroit?”
“Ah, no. We fly on to Erie.”
“Oh I see. That makes more sense.”
He passed us through to be felt up by more security personnel before we shuffled aboard an Airbus 330, along with over three hundred other souls. The Delta flight safety video was fun and made me smile; ideal for relaxing the nervous flyer, I imagine. This time take-off was overwhelmingly more powerful, and made me shiver internally. I decided that I adored taking-off. We had centre seats, due to my inexperience when booking airline tickets all those months ago, and so had very little view. Inexplicably, the wazzocks actually by the window pulled down the blind. This meant that much of our attention was focussed on the seat-back entertainment screens, when our gaze wasn’t inadvertently drawn by the pervy fondling of the couple diagonally behind us. Tut.
There were scores of films from which to choose – Gravity, The Lego Movie, Kick Ass 2 – but we chose to watch the second Hobbit film together. I also liked the Flight Details screen, which showed where we were and gave stats about the flight. For instance, at 6pm in English money:
Ground speed: 836kph
Head wind: 31
Outside temp: -50°C
Distance to Destination: 1762
Distance from Origin: 4608
Time to Destination: 2hr 15m
Minus fifty? Jeebus. Lunch was sweet & sour chicken, salad & a bread roll. Cheese and a biscuit. All in tiny little packs. I felt like a giant.
At one point during the flight there was an announcement asking if there was a doctor on board, exactly like the ones in bad sixties films. I’m not sure that there was, but I believe someone with first-aid knowledge eventually made their way to row twenty-two, just beyond the bulkhead. Mary wondered whether you would get any refund if you were a doctor on a flight who had to do some actual doctoring.
I suppose we should have slept when the cabin lights were turned off for the middle section of the flight, but honestly, we were far too excited. The larger Delta plane gave a much smoother ride, where the small KLM flight had been like a rollercoaster at times as it swooped and bumped through turbulence. I did know about turbulence, of course, but I hadn’t realised that it would be so… bumpety. Also surprising was the tiny size of aeroplane windows, and indeed the fact that airports manage to run at all. There are so many things to take into account, to link together, that if a spanner is thrown in the works (fog, maybe, or snow, or ATC strikes) then a myriad things must be rescheduled to work together. They must have ace contingency plans.
Detroit was a pain at first, since we had to collect our checked cases to take through customs. First, though, a long queue for security, and eventually being told that we should have filled in a ‘blue form’ on the aeroplane, despite being told during the flight that we didn’t need to do that. Among the scattered piles of blue forms available there appeared to be none that were in English.
“There are forms in English there!” snapped a surly man with an oily moustache and pantomime frown, pointing to a pile of forms in Spanish. Luckily, Mary found an English one on the floor a few yards away, and we finally got to talk to the TSA agent.
He was very friendly, thankfully, and eased our nerves with his chatty demeanour. Once past him we sailed through customs, rechecked our bags, and went back into the airport, stressed and sweaty. The ordeal over, I quite liked DTW. The psychedelic tunnel is fun, and the dancing fountain extremely relaxing to eye, ear and mind.
Our final flight was but a short hop over Lake Erie. We were tired – being awake for close to twenty-four hours following only four hours sleep was catching up with us. However, our arrival in Erie was a blast and livened us up, at least for a while. We were expecting to be met by Kim and Tom, our hosts, but as we staggered through the gate a gang of folk from Wombat Towers (our catch-all name for a group of internet US friends) descended upon us, waving stars and stripes flags and windmills and cameras. We were hugged from every direction, by Kim and Tom, Sandy and Dave, Ellen and Jere, and my old friend Jamie with his Barb. We immediately felt very welcome and smiley indeed.
“I love your accent; I just want you to keep saying stuff,” said someone, Ellen I think.
We eventually said goodbye until the next day, and Tom and Kim drove us back to their house. I gaped at the unusual road signs and lights out of the car window, and wrinkled my nose at an awful smell.
“Skunk,” Tom told us. “Must have been run over.”
Back at the house, cosy in its nest of friendly trees, we cooled down with a beer or two (a deliciously dry Australian lager called Landshark) and rather excellent sandwiches, the first sign of Kim’s remarkable skills as a hostess. Then to bed, remarking on the fact that light switches in the US go up when on, and that wall sockets have no switches.