Tuesday/Wednesday, October 22 & 23, 1996
Flying to England
T.F.Green Airport, usually called Providence Airport (even though it is actually in Warwick) boasts a modern new terminal which has only been open for a few weeks. The architecture is bold, interesting, aerodynamic, received good reviews and yet, really, if it were not for the local references on real estate and tourism advertising posters, the passenger departure area could be any new, well-kept waiting area at any major airport. Ah, "at any major airport" -- perhaps that was the compelling reason behind the expenditure of so many millions of dollars (more than 200 of them!). Little old Rhode Island has an airport that's just like the ones the big guys have.
My flight from Providence to JFK was on a Saab turboprop which, to my delight, was a real airplane, not one of those 16 passenger cigar tubes with wings. (I didn't count seats, but it probably could hold 35 to 40 passengers.) It also had that rapid, push you back in your seat acceleration that makes you think this machine is serious about flying.
Night had fallen while I had been waiting for departure and we were quickly looking down on a night scene that was rapidly falling away from us. (I am always amazed at how fast you get to be so high up.) Auto headlights soon appeared as single points of light as we climbed too high to resolve them as paired lights. The lines of street lamps and highway lights had a strong yellow tint, more yellow than I remember from the last time I'd flown over a densely populated area at night in clear weather (almost eight years ago, flying over the Boston area from Logan). Has lighting changed that much or is it my memory that has grown dim? The view was fascinating, a bright clear night, no cloud cover at all. Lines of lights laid out like a glowing spider web in the darkness below. I was startled by occasional flashes of white light from the ground until I realized I was seeing quick reflections of the almost full moon in small pond and streams below. I wanted to be able to figure out where we were, but once we left the immediate airport neighborhood, I was lost. Oh, given the relatively constant position of the moon I could tell that we were flying a fairly straight line from Warwick to JFK until, of course, we entered the JFK traffic pattern, but I could never identify the towns below. I was amused to note that as we descended over Long Island on our approach to JFK, the homes and shopping centers below began to look like very good movie model work... good model work, but nevertheless, model work.
Do flights from Providence to Kennedy spend as much time taxiing as they do flying?
Since I had checked my suitcase at Providence, it was not that difficult hiking about twelve miles from my arrival gate to my departure gate at Kennedy since I only had to handle one carry-on bag and a coat. My JFK to Heathrow flight was on a 767. A helpful gate attendant switched my seat to one in the relatively empty rear section so although I had an aisle seat, the window seat next to me was unoccupied. In fact, most people in that area were able to sit next to an empty seat. Ah, the luxury of having a pair of seats, room to toss a jacket, set down a book, slump over, relax.
Movie: Dragonheart. I watched the first 15 or 20 minutes, but it couldn't hold my interest. (Okay, so an airplane is a means of transportation, not a movie theatre...) So I read, listened to music, scribbled some of what you are reading into a notebook (paper notebook, not a computer), and tried (without success) to get a little sleep.
Morning comes quickly when you are flying eastward to meet the sun. Despite having to circle Heathrow for a while due to heavy traffic (which was making me nervous, seeing all of those other planes flying around in circles, some in our direction, and others, below us, heading in the opposite direction) we landed a few minutes after 9 am local time (which was about 4 am to my body) and taxied and taxied to our terminal. Customs and immigration control were quick and simple... now to find the car rental counter.
Car rental. The reason I took an overnight flight instead of a morning flight. I didn't want to learn to drive on the left side of the road after dark. I was worried about driving on the left while sitting on the right. In fact, the reality of it was even scarier than the anticipation. Fortunately I had been forewarned by a UK friend that, unlike the states, most rental cars in the UK were manuals so I was able to reserve an automatic. Yes, I usually drive a manual shift; in fact almost every car I have owned has had a standard shift... but there are enough things to think about when driving in England without having to persuade a left hand to figure out how to shift.
It was very simple. All I had to do was drive out of the Hertz car park, turn left, go to a roundabout, and... well, somehow I was supposed to get onto the M4, then quickly exit onto the M25 which I would then follow to the M3 which would take me all the way to Basingstoke. Except I somehow ended up in orbit around Heathrow. Eventually, after great experiencing great surges of terror-driven adrenaline at every roundabout, I found my way onto the M25. It took me 15 miles of driving to get there instead of the two or three miles I had been told, and I had managed to avoid the M4 completely. I know there are people who dislike superhighways, but I found the M25 and the M3 to be almost relaxing... all of the traffic was traveling in the same direction I was... no turns... just keep straight... it was just like driving on I-95 in Rhode Island... except flipped left for right... and people in England (unlike many Rhode Island drivers) actually use their turn signals.
Of course it got scary again when I reached Basingstoke and had to get back onto local roads. Once again I managed to miss a turn and drove in a large circle. (I recognized each street as I circled around again and again...) I finally did figure out where I had gone wrong, made the correct turn, and found my hotel. Ahhhh, now to relax.
Now, to my jet-lagged body, still on Eastern Daylight Time, it was just past 6:00 am and I had been up all night without sleep. In Basingstoke, UK, it was just a bit past 11:00 am and my room was would not be ready until for a couple of hours. (Actually, I should have anticipated that since exactly the same thing happened on about the same time schedule when Nancy and I visited London many years ago.) Back in the car, find my way into mid-town, park, and find the company center where I will be working. Found Gerry (the instructor I would be working with), found our classroom, ate in the company cafeteria, discussed some technical stuff and then found my way back to the hotel.
My room was ready. Kick off shoes, unpack, turn on the TV and surf through all four channels... and fall asleep... sound asleep... for about an hour and then I am awake. Wide awake. Totally exhausted but wide awake. Okay, back downtown, wander about the shopping district for an hour or so, change some dollars into pounds, buy some postcards, grab some fish & chips, and then back to my room.
I am very tired. I am going to bed.
Note: My early entries were full screen width and also had text against a background color; I find that is very annoying and difficult to read so I have changed some of those entries to put the text in a table cell with a white background. The contents of the entry have not been changed. August 2004 migrated from Geocities to www.jimsjournal.com
Copyright 1996, 2002 by Jim Lawrence