Thursday, 4 April 2019

Texas here I come

I’m up at my normal time.  No rush, as my flight isn’t until 10. And I’m already all packed. Prepared is my middle name.

My route to the airport is more complicated than usual. They’re fiddling around with the tram tracks again, preventing the number 15 bus from running its usual route. So instead I take a 5 tram, then switch to the 397 express bus at Emmastraat. It works pretty seamlessly.

I don’t go straight to drop off my bag. First I go to the little Albert Heijn supermarket landside. To pick up a bacon an omelette baguette. Way, way cheaper than getting a sandwich airside. And much nicer.

For some reason, I wasn’t able to print my boarding pass at home. I have to do it at one of the machines. “Touch screen to start” it says, encouragingly. For some reason, it doesn’t seem to like my finger. Or the other ones I try. I give the next machine a go. No luck there, either. No-one else seems to be having this problem. Eventually, one recognises my finger as human.

After that it’s a breeze. My bag is checked within a couple of minutes and after a couple more I’m through security and passport control. Mmm – will I be able to use the EU lane on the way back? Brexit is due to happen while I’m away.

On the way to my gate, I visit a duty-free shop. To pick up some hotel whisky. Dolores has had a word with me about how much I spend when travelling. So no Laphroaig or Lagavullin for me. Too expensive. I go for the more economical Glen Grant. The sacrifices I make.

It’s getting close to boarding time, though there’s still time for a quick eye-opener. A double Johnny Walker Red Label at a cafeteria-type place. I don’t linger over it. And only the one. Dolores expressed some robust opinions when reviewing the accounts for my last US trip.

My gate isn’t far. One of the lessons I’ve learned from years of air travel: always do you pre-flight boozing in a bar close to your departure gate. It saves a whole load of stress. When I get to the gate, push-in boarding is just starting. Perfect timing.

Unfortunately, I’m pulled out for a “random” extra security check. Which thankfully doesn’t last long. Not like the near strip-search – I was down to my undercrackers – I once had to endure.

Soon I’m settled into my seat and searching for crap films to while away the time. Something with the intellectual weight of an anorexic wren. Johnny English part two fits the bill perfectly. I’m already ankle-deep in it by the time we’re trundling down the runway.

A Dutch woman and an American bloke are in the two seats to my left. They’re soon chatting away with each other. Fine by me. I have my noise-cancelling headphones on. The talking is obviously drying out the woman’s throat. Because after we’ve been served our meal, she keeps nipping off to the galley for more wine. Very considerately, she also brings some back for me.

The flight slips may in a cocktail of low-quality entertainment and small bottles of red wine. It could be much worse.

Once again, I get a piece of paper with a black cross on it when I try to use the immigration machine. Brilliant. Luckily the wait for the human version isn’t too long. Not that I’m in a hurry today. Unlike on my last US trip. When I had a really tight connection, which I missed by five effing minutes.

To ensure that wouldn’t happen this time, I’ve arranged for almost 6 hours between my arrival in Houston and my connecting flight. No thrombie-inducing rush to the gate today. Instead, loads of hanging around. I don’t mind that. I’m sure it’s way better for my long-term health.

My bag’s waiting for me after I’ve gone through the fingerprint and photograph routine. It’s reassuringly dry. Which is important as, in addition to a few Dutch beers intended as presents, I’ve ten copies of the Home Brewer’s guide to Vintage Beer. It would be annoying if they were ruined by an in-flight breakage.

I need to change terminals as international flights arrive at D, while United flights depart mostly from C. There is an automated little train – quaintly called a tram – connecting the terminals. Except the walk to the tram stop is further than the ride itself. Good planning there. Annoying as I have both my bags with me.

Quickly transferring my duty free to my check-in bag (I deliberately left enough space for it), I’m soon breezing through security again with just a small rucksack. I know exactly where I’m going.

Because I checked before for a suitable bar to drink in. No need for any unnecessary aimless wandering.

Brewster Beer Garden isn’t very big. No more than a bar counter with stools. I plonk my fat arse on one of them and peruse the beer choices. There aren’t that many. But they do have a Coffee Porter from 8th Wonder. That’ll do. Along with a side of Jack Daniels. Just for tradition’s sake.

I don’t rush either of my drinks. I’ve still a few hours to wait. And I did have all those wines on the flight. I bury my head in Private Eye and take the occasional sip. Wow. I’ve really turned into Mr. Responsible.

The flight to Austin is short and uneventful. Though it’s getting pretty late – 9 PM – when we touch down. By the time I’ve collected my bag and jumped in a cab, it’s pushing 10 PM. The bag is reassuringly dry and unrattley. Pretty sure there’s no broken glass in it.

I’m staying a bit outside town, on the southside. Nothing fancy, but it was about the only option that wasn’t either ludicrously expensive, miles distant or too grotty. Though I do spot a scary gun sign on the way to my room.

Once I’ve stowed all my stuff, I head back to the lobby in search of nourishment.

There’s a restaurant attached to the hotel and I haven’t eaten for 8 hours or so. At least I think that’s how long it’s been. Jumping across time zones can make it difficult to keep track. But it’s just stopped serving food.

“There’s a 7/11 right next door if you want a sandwich.” The man on the reception informs me.

That’ll do me. I pick up a ham and cheese sandwich. Just $3 or so. That’ll please Dolores.

I switch on the TV and gradually doze to some shit programme to the accompaniment of a sip or two of Glen Grant. Sleep takes little persuading to kick down the door.

Brewster Beer Garden
Gate C43,
Houston International airport.

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