The trip starts with the usual bus to the airport. Or rather, two buses: first the 15, then the 397.
Changing at Haarlemmermeerstation has become no fun since they started redoing the bus station there. All the buses have to stop at the same spot, and you virtually have to stand in the road. Dead crap. Especially if, like me, you have luggage with you. But the route is the quickest – and cheapest – way to get to Schiphol from mine.
Once at the airport, I quickly dump my bag and go through the security crap. It’s great having silver status with KLM. No need to queue up with the plebs. Amazingly, security doesn’t pull out one of my bags for closer inspection. That almost always happens to me at Schiphol.
I don’t have a huge amount of time before boarding starts – around 45 minutes. So I quickly get the extra security check over with. The flight is departing from pier D and that means one thing: a trip to Murphy’s Irish pub. After a couple of quick Jamesons, I head to my gate.
Boarding is already underway. Not that it worries me. I’m not in any rush to get to my seat. There’s still quite a while before take-off. I’ve got extra legroom, as usual. I like my comfort.
I’ve remembered to bring lots of extra batteries for my noise-cancelling headphones. I ran out on the way back from Hong Kong. About 95% of the way through Ocean’s 8. Which was slightly frustrating. Even before the plane takes off, I’m getting into a crap film. That’s my standard plan: watch unchallenging stuff to make the journey whizz by. It’s worked pretty well so far.
My route is an odd one. Even though I’ll be spending most of my time in Washington DC, I’m flying into Richmond, via JFK. Not a route I would have picked. But I wasn’t buying the ticket. It was bought for me by Colonial Williamsburg.
Let me explain, I was going to be speaking at a historic brewing conference in Williamsburg. They’d already bought my ticket when the event was cancelled. Leaving me with a return flight to Richmond. It would have been a shame to waste it.
I quickly rejigged my trip, arranging to stop with friends Paul and Jamie in Washington. Maryland, to be totally accurate, though still in the DC metro area. And also arranging a couple of events during my time there.
I’ve only 1 hour 40 minutes between my flights at JFK. Much shorter than I would have liked. I usually avoid making connections. My preferred option is to always stay on the night of arrival; and night before departure in the city I’m flying to. I’ve been on too many flights that were delayed and fellow passengers missed their connections.
And the last time I had a connecting flight on my return from Chile last year a delay meant that I missed my onward flight to Schiphol and had to spend 8 hours at Charles de Gaulle, one of my least favourite airports. Pretty grim.
We seem to be on time, so I’m not fretting too much yet. The last few times I’ve arrived in the USA, I’ve breezed through immigration pretty quickly. But that wasn’t at JFK.
The fun starts after getting off the plane. It’s a long walk to immigration. A really long walk. Which eats into my time. Good news is that they’ve the machines. Which, as a returning ESTA passenger, I’m allowed to use.
The machine takes my fingerprints and a photo of me. Then spits out a slip of paper with an X on it. Evidently there are two types of slip: one with an X, the other with an O. Those with an X have to join the queue for human immigration officers. Great. It’s quite a long queue.
Eventually I get to the head of the main queue and am directed another queue in front of one of the counters. When I’m half way to the front of this queue, the counter closes and I’m directed to the back of another queue. Wonderful. Time is ticking away.
By the time the officer has stamped my passport, I’ve only 35 minutes before my next flight. That should be long enough, shouldn’t it?
It’s a bit of a walk to the baggage hall, too. Though at least my bag is already there. I dash through to airside and drop at the luggage transfer desk. And join the security queue. Luckily, I’ve got TSA pre, which means I should get through quicker.
In theory, it should be a shorter queue. But it doesn’t seem to be. I’ve now only 25 minutes left. And damn it if they don’t pull out one of my bags. Fucking magic.
By the time they’re happy with my bag, I’ve 20 minutes. I should be OK. I’ve a checked in bag and they can’t leave with that and without me.
D43 is the gate. Which doesn’t sound good. I’m at D1.
D43 is a s far away as it sounds. After 10 minutes brisk walking, I’m still just at D30-odd. This is a good way to give myself a thrombie, this stressed rushing about. Hopefully my flight is a bit late. Then I should be fine.
When I get to D43, there’s no-one around. This isn’t good. Then someone from Delta appears. The flight hasn’t left the gate yet, but the doors are closed. No way I’m getting on. “You’ll need to go to our service desk to arrange a later flight.” Fanfuckingtastic.
An Italian bloke trolls up. He’s missed the flight, too.
“What about my checked in bag?”
“That should be waiting for you in Richmond.”
Looks like they have flown it without me.
At the service desk, the lady tells me that I’ve been rebooked on the next Richmond flight. Which isn’t for another five hours. It’ll be after 9 PM when I eventually land in Richmond. Just as well I don’t have anything arranged in Richmond tonight.
This is going to be a long day. I’ll need to get some food down as by the time I get to Richmond it will be getting too late. I find the closest bar and park my arse at it. Blue Smoke, it’s called. I order A Shiner Bock and a double Jack Daniels.
With a beer and a bourbon in front of me, things don’t seem quite so bad. I sip on them slowly and read Private Eye to pass the time. I don’t think I’ve tried Shiner Bock before. A bit metallic. And caramelly. OK, I guess. Not sure I’d have another.
After a while, I invest in some food. Nothing too big, but enough to tide me over until tomorrow. A crispy chicken sandwich, if you’re interested.
The day drips by as I drip drink into me. At least I’m not in Charles de Gaulle.
My flight appears to be on time. Which is good. I should get to my hotel before it’s time to sleep. Before we pull away from the gate, they announce that we’re having to wait a while for a take-off slot. It takes half an hour. When we do set off another announcement tells us that we’re at the back of a long queue of aircraft. It’ll be another half hour before we’re in the air.
The flight is uneventful. But an hour late. Bollocks. Doesn’t look like I’ll be seeing much of Richmond today.
I look for the Delta baggage office to see about picking up my bag. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around, but I spot my bag standing outside it. I grab it and head for the taxi rank.
The bloke in front of me in the taxi queue suddenly gets out of the taxi again.
“What was all that about?” I ask the driver.
“He’s come to the wrong Richmond. He wanted to go to Richmond, California.”
“Wow, that’s quite a mistake.”
Fortunately it’s not too far from the airport to my hotel downtown. I’m soon checked in and looking on the internet for a nearby bar that’s open. I had looked up some beer-oriented places back in Amsterdam, but they’re a bit too far away. There’s an Irish bar further down the street, I notice. I head there.
But before I reach it, I notice a hot dog place that’s open. Peering through the open doorway, I notice that they’ve several beer taps. That’ll do. And there’s baseball on the TV. Perfect. I get myself a beer and bourbon. And the world suddenly seems a better place.
The crowd is pretty young. And drinking with admirable enthusiasm. I get chatting with one bloke, who’s a hotel worker. Most customers seem to work in the hospitality industry. This is obviously where they tip down when their shifts are done. A bit raucous, but quite friendly.
I leave at midnight, just after last orders. And am soon safely tucked up in bed. Where I’m smothered by sleep. I’ve been up almost 24 hours.
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