Saturday, 21 June 2014

Chicago day one (part one)

Time for the next journey. An international one, too. That's always extra special fun. Especially when travelling to the US.

I don't bother with breakfast in the hotel. My flight is at 10 am. I want to be there in plenty of time and I'm pretty wary of Toronto traffic, having seen the congestion at the weekend. Today is Monday. I decide to get a taxi at 7 am. I get an orange juice and a coffee while I'm waiting for the cab to trundle up. Breakfast proper can wait until the airport.

The traffic isn't as dreadful as I'd feared. I've still more than two hours until my flight leaves. But I immediately check in and go airside. Or at least start going airside.

It's all a bit strange. After I check my bag, it isn't whisked off on a conveyor belt but handed back to me. I'm told to take it off that way, so that's where I go. And find a long queue waiting for the security check. My favourite part of flying. There's a flight soon to Beijing, which explains the number of Chinese in the queue. After a while we're told to walk a couple of hundred metres to another security queue. Now isn't this fun. We're on a queue crawl.

We were told it was shorter. The queue, I mean. Doesn't seem appreciably so to me. There are several returns on the taped-off snake. I'm glad I showed up early. Why do I still have my checked in bag with me? One of the reasons for checking it in is so I don't have to lug it around the airport.

I picked up one of the US customs forms on the way to the initial queue. I thought I could fill it in before I got on the plane. So much easier when you're not crammed in an economy seat with the Samoan sumo-wrestling team either side of you. I realise why those forms were lying around and why I still have all my luggage when I emerge from security, my belt in hand and my shoelaces untied, to another queue. One for US immigration.

I'm actually pleased. For two reasons. The queue isn't that long. And it means I won't be pissing around after landing in Chicago.

The US immigration officials are always polite and often quite friendly. Quite a contrast with the bastards at Schiphol who keep picking me out for special attention. Ha ha, they couldn't get me this time - my initial destination was Canada, not the USA.

Right, all the official crap is out of the way. Time for some scran. There's bound to be somewhere selling a Full American. Always is, places like this. I decide to get as close to my gate as possible before my bacon and egg-based feast. There's a bar/restaurant on the right pier that's just the job.

Soon I'm staring wistfully over a plate of fried things at the planes outside. My mind is a wonderfully empty space, doing little but regulate chewing and breathing. Sometimes you just have to switch off. Especially when you schedule is as busy as mine.

I refuse a coffee refill. Time to get to the gate. It's surprisingly quiet, given the flight is due to leave in 40 minutes. I find a seat and start reading. After a while I get concerned about the lack of activity. Checking the screen, I see that the gate has changed . . . . as has the flight status. It's now "delayed awaiting aircraft" and the departure time has been pushed back an hour. I move to the new gate and continue reading.

The news doesn't get any better. It's the old trick of only slowly revealing how bad the delay will be. It starts as an hour and gradually edges up to two.

I wander back to the restaurant and sit at the bar.

"Double whisky, please."

"We can't serve alcohol before 11 am."

What? Never come across an airport, even in Britain, with that sort of restriction.

"I'll have a coffee, then."

The waitress remembers me from before and lets me have it for free. Guess my right to a refill didn't lapse first time I walked out the door.

There isn't even a gate assigned to the flight now. Where to sit? The bar is prickling with iPads, I guess. You're allowed to use them even if you don't buy anything. That's what a sign says. So that's what I do. Start fiddling with an iPad. I can check my mail. And write a blog post.

Other delayed travellers around me are doing the same, fiddling with iPads. After a while they start ordering drinks. First coffees. Then a bottle of wine. Which gets me thinking. Ordering is so easy. Just a few taps on the ipad and a Wellington Imperial Russian Stout and a double Maker's Mark are on their way.

Finally the delay stops increasing and the time to departure begins to tick down. The incoming aircraft appears to great rejoicing. At least in my heart. I may be only an hour late for my 2 pm appointment, if I'm lucky. Thankfully I've had a chance to warn Mike that my flight is delayed.

It's after 2 pm when we take to the air. I'm just glad to be on my way. And that I'll make that meeting. It's special because . . . . well, we'll discover that next time.

The main reason for my trip to Canada and the USA was to gently encourage sales of my fantastic new book:

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer.

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