Reporting live from Newark Airport yesterday

25 Nov

I’m writing this from American soil — Newark Liberty Airport. I was not supposed to have time to sit down and bang out a blog post. But I sailed through customs, dropped my bag off again, then gazed at the board to double check my Cincinnati flight, and there it was in red letters — CANCELED.

Up until then things were going swimmingly. My bag was 53.1 kg (.1kg overweight) and they didn’t bat an eye. No one gave my clearly overexpanded wheeled carry on a second glance. And to top it off, there was only one empty seat on the entire flight, and it was next to me. What did I do to deserve such blessing from the travel gods? Sure, the entertainment system and movies were rubbish, but as far as long-haul flights go, it was a relatively good one.

And then I got to America. After waiting for an unusually long time at the service desk, they informed me I was booked on the next flight to Cincinnati — leaving in over 4 hours. They told me because I was delayed for more than 3 hours I could get a free meal voucher from the service station. But they did not bother to tell me where the service station was. So I went up to a random United employee and asked. She directed me towards the exact agent who issued me my ticket. So I asked another guy. Same thing. But he said he would try to help me, and put his lackey on it. I have no idea who that guy was or what his job title was, but apparently he was a big shot. We chatted about London and the Bengals while his colleague struggled to get my voucher.

“It’s not much, like $7, but it’ll get you a free cup of coffee,” he told me.

His colleague finally returned with the voucher — and there were 2 of them.

“There’s two?” I said, thinking there was a mistake or reprint.

“Now you can get a whole cup of coffee,” he said with a wink.

Whoever that guy was, he was a shining example of what an airline employee should be. Friendly, helpful and efficient. And then I headed to security and met his exact opposite.

“Bag,” the guy said, pointing at my overexpanded carry on and then gesturing to that metal “will it fit?” guide.

“I know, I know,” I said, “but I’ll just gate check it.”

“No gate check.” he said.

“I’m going to Cincinnati and the plane is small so they always gate check all the wheeled bags,” I tried to explain.

“No gate check.” he said, motioning again to the metal guide.

“Just zip up this expander,” his colleague finally said, stepping in to help.

I knew it wouldn’t zip with my coat in there, so I opened the bag, took out my dressy coat, put it on underneath my puffy coat, zipped up my bag, and had a mental breakdown.

I have no idea what happened. One minute ago I was fine — I had $14 airport dollars burning a hole in my pocket and just got off a transatlantic flight in which I had two whole seats to myself. But something about that guy, the whole TSA charade and the thought of killing 4 hours in the airport after killing 8 hours on a flight just got to me.

I trudged through security, stripping off my two coats, trying to keep it together because if there’s one place you don’t want to appear mentally unstable its in airport security. I somehow got TSA pre-check (maybe because I already cleared security at Heathrow?) so I didn’t have to remove my laptop, shoes or liquids, which is good because I was such a mess I didn’t even think to. I wheeled my bag over to an empty gate, pulled myself together, and stuffed my coat back into my carry on and re-expanded it. I then got out my laptop, started watching a movie, put on my proverbial big girl panties and sucked it up. There are far, far worse airport situations to be in and being that it’s almost Thanksgiving and all, I should just be thankful that my coats, jumbo bags and I are safe.

Update: Half cup of coffee guy wasn’t kidding. I’m convinced Newark Airport’s food prices are based on the fact that at least 80% of their customers are using airport vouchers or company expense accounts. For $15 I got a small cup of berries, Greek yogurt, a small bag of popcorn and a chocolate bar.

Update 2: My overexpanded bag fit in the overhead. Suck on that “no gate check” guy.

Inner monologue while packing for America

23 Nov

I am not going to bring that much stuff this year. Just some Christmas presents, old sweaters to keep at my parents’/sell and my running gear. I am going to have so much extra space, I better add even more sweaters and old clothes!

::Packing begins::

How is the wheeled carry on full already? Does my purse really take up that much room? Last year I got scolded by the United lady and held up the queue as I forced my purse “into” my laptop bag (there was no way it was going to fit, so it just sat perched atop it), so this year it’s gotta go in the bag so I only have two carry on items. Lesson learned.

Now for the big bag. My clothes don’t take up much space at all! … I forgot about the sweater pile. And the chocolate. Why did I feel the need to bring over a kilo of British chocolate back for everyone? And why do sweaters weigh so much?! This bag is going to be overweight if I bring two winter coats… I’ll wear my puffy one and pack the dressy one. How is a coat so heavy?! I’ll stuff it in my carry on and just unzip the expand-o-matic, despite the fact that last year the United lady scolded me about that too. I will happily check the bag at the gate as long as they don’t charge me extra. I don’t want to throw my back out lifting that bad boy into the overhead bin anyway.

This advent calendar for my mom is definitely thicker than last year’s. It won’t fit in my laptop bag, so I’ll just bubble wrap the crap out of it and put it in the big suitcase. Bubblewrap doesn’t weigh that much, right?

Why did I buy presents for my brothers’ cats?!

I finally remembered to bring my old kitchen scale back so I can properly weigh food and eBay packages. Is Customs going to think I’m a drug dealer? Do drug dealers travel internationally with a scale?

Done! Just have to pack toiletries and makeup in the morning. Did I remember everything? There’s gotta be something important I’m forgetting. I know it. Did I bring… doesn’t matter, whatever it is, it won’t fit!

The trip back will be different. Once I unload all these sweaters, gifts and chocolate, my bags will be practically empty! I can bring so many Quest bars back! (::repeat inner monologue all over again in a month, replacing “presents, sweaters and chocolate” with “new clothes, Quest bars and random electronics Stephen saw online”::)

Extreme running and a monkey riding a dog

18 Nov

Yesterday I ran 4.5 miles in the pouring rain. This afternoon I ran up and down Primrose Hill in 30mph winds. Fingers crossed, it looks like the weather for the Thanksgiving Day Race is going to be mild, but if things get extreme, I’ll be ready.

I can’t believe I’ll be heading to the US in less than a week. I have so much to do work- and life-wise before my flight, then of course there’s the actual long flight, but my mind is focused on the race. It’ll be my third year running it and I’m determined for it to be my best. I’ve changed up my training to include more hills and created the perfect playlist. I tested it out last week and ran my fasted 10K yet. It’s the perfect combination of current hip hop, 2004 Todd Rundgren, 1998 Steps and angry and motivational Eurovision hits. I am almost certain I will be the only person in Cincinnati with Woki mit deim Popo blasting through her headphones. The playlist is so good that I have forbidden myself from running to it until the race, so it will still be fresh and exciting. Now I just have to pray everything else plays nice, like my flight, jetlag, nutrition and body.

Speaking of body, I earned my first black toenail. When I discovered it last week my first thought was, “Oh no, gross!” followed shortly by “Yeah! I’m a real runner now!” After much googling (don’t Google image search “runner’s toe”!), I discovered gel toe caps.

gel toe cap

I picked one up at Superdrug and it has been a lifesaver. So much so that I immediately bought a few more on ebay. If I could wear these with heels instead of band-aids, it would be life-changing.

Just so this post isn’t about gross toes and running, here’s a photo of a monkey riding a dog from the Bengals game.

bengals monkey riding dog

Sadly I missed it because the game was on at 1:30am here. Now that Stephen and I watched every season of The League and the Bengals are actually almost good this year, I almost (almost) care about [American] football. Not enough to stay up til 1:30am to watch the Bengals lose to the Texans though.

Silver balls, silver balls, it’s Christmas time at Poundland

2 Nov

When I was little my mom and I used to always decorate Christmas cookies with “those little silver balls.” When my mother was little her mother used to decorate Christmas cookies with “those little silver balls.” Little silver balls became a Christmas cookie tradition. But then suddenly Kroger, and every other store around us, just stopped selling them. Many years went by with me just decorating cookies with icing, elaborate designs I saw on Pinterest, and good old-fashioned … ahem, jimmies. (I really hate that word for some reason. One could say it … rustles my jimmies).

rustled my jimmiesAnyway… today I found myself in Poundland as one of my many stops on my Monday grocery shopping adventure. As what always seems to happen when one wanders into a dollar store or pound shop, I went in looking for one thing — a turkey baster — which they did not have, so I ended up leaving with three unrelated items: the perfect birthday card for my friend, pumpkin seeds so I can make this recipe tomorrow, and little silver balls.

silver balls uk
Yes, the famous little silver balls of my childhood are alive and well in the UK. Naturally I had to buy them to bring with me to the US next month. When I got home I got to googling — I was curious about what happened to the little silver balls in the US, and whether or not customs was going to stop me from importing them.

For starters, their proper name is “silver dragees,” but we all know “little silver balls” is much better. They are actually for sale on Amazon with this disclaimer: “Dragees are classified as non-edible and for decoration only by the FDA in the United States because they contain minute quantities of heavy metals. However, they are non-toxic and safe for use on food and are considered edible in many countries outside of the U.S. where they are consumed on a variety of confections.” According to Wikipedia, early in the 20th century, the silver finish may have contained mercury, but it no longer does. Is the FDA just too lazy to change its stance on little silver balls then?

A 2003 lawsuit in California made everybody freak out (good going, California), so most distributors agreed to stop selling them there. Perhaps other distributors, such as Kroger in northern Kentucky, decided to follow suit just to be safe? I would like to quote a baker from a SFGate article:

“Oh my god, people have been eating them for a hundred years. I will always buy them. I love dragees!”

In short: everyone stop getting your panties in a bunch, eating little silver balls on your cookies a couple times a year is not going to kill you (unless maybe you shotgun the entire container at once and choke, as I always want to do with sprinkles. I love sprinkles (just not when they’re called “jimmies”)). The baker quoted above says she buys her dragees in France. And now I buy mine in the UK. And if the US customs official asks, I do not plan to eat them, I will use them for decoration only.

The smell of wine and Oresteia

22 Oct

I walked into my kitchen tonight and it smelled like wine. This was alarming for two reasons: 1. I don’t have any wine in my kitchen, and 2. I had just gotten back from an outstanding performance of Oresteia, where wine was used throughout and the girl next to me was constantly sipping a glass, so it felt like 4-D smell-o-vision, and now it had somehow followed me back to my kitchen.

oresteia londonOresteia was my 32nd London show (9th this year). It was actually not on my radar until I was queuing for Photograph 51 a few weeks ago and a wise promoter came by and handed out flyers for it, noting that they still had tickets available. This was one of those rare, rare occasions where being handed a flyer on the street actually lead to a purchase. I was intrigued by the photos and reviews of the show, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime piece of theatre” and “the best show of the year.” Despite studying Latin, ancient Greek and the classics for many years, I’m not strongly drawn to ancient theatre. It always seemed — dare I say — boring. But Oresteia was thoroughly modernized and boy, oh boy was it good. All three and a half hours of it. And the best part was I scored a £15 ticket on the night before, which meant I did not have to wake up early to queue for a day seat (which would have cost me twice as much, not to mention less sleep). Normally I shy away from online theatre ticket sales because the booking fees are outrageous and the box office is almost always cheaper, but not this time. I’ll have to keep you in mind for next time,

Anyway — the wine smell. Once I determined it was not the wrath of Clytemnestra or Orestes clinging to my being, I sniffed around for the culprit. My nose drew me to the fruit bowl. The bananas were giving off a slight “why are you not eating us, we’re gonna be super brown soon” scent, but that wasn’t it. I picked up the pineapple — the pineapple I bought at Aldi on Monday and meant to put in the fridge the next day. There was a white fuzzy mold on the bottom and it was spreading around the skin. In a last ditch attempt to rescue the fruit, I cut it open and ate a small slice. It tasted like wine. I don’t think I’ve ever had pineapple wine (does it exist?) and if I did, I would probably like it. But I did not like this pineapple. I promptly spit it out and reluctantly threw an entire once-good fruit in the garbage. What a waste. Although after watching a father murder his daughter, a wife murder her husband, and a son murder his mother, I guess losing a pineapple doesn’t seem too bad.

The best running roadblock ever

19 Oct

First, something completely random. I logged into Facebook yesterday afternoon and these were my top 3 trending news stories:

facebook news

Even using the term “news” loosely, how in the world did they cobble together these three stories? Christmas is still over 2 months away. They can’t even predict London weather two hours from now. The second story is at least interesting and I was even tempted to click the link. As for the third one, nobody cares about the Kardashians, but if they did, at this time Kourtney is the least interesting of them all. Is this her big move for more notoriety — wearing a skeleton outfit? Her sister’s ex-husband is fighting for his life after a drug and brothel bender, and Kourtney is wearing a skeleton outfit? And it’s a trending story?


On Sunday Stephen and I were on our usual run through Regents Park when we saw a large crowd of people and dogs blocking the pathway ahead.

“Should we go around?” I asked him.

“No, let’s just run through them,” he replied.

“Oh look, there’s a BT!” I said as I noticed a Boston terrier in the crowd. And then as my eyes focused in I noticed another. And another. And suddenly it became clear that this was not just some random crowd of people blocking the path — this was a world record attempt London Boston terrier meetup and we were about to run through it! Boston terriers are one of my top 5 favorite dog breeds and I used to dogsit a pair of them back in Chicago. I love BTs! I really wanted to stop and play with them, but had to resort to sketchily taking a photo from a distance because I’m antisocial like that.

boston terrier regents park

And now I feel a desire to look up when the next local pug and corgi meetups will be. What’s the rule on showing up to a dog meetup without a dog? Is it akin to showing up at Chuck E. Cheese’s without a kid?  Asking for a friend, of course…

More friends for the day [seats]

8 Oct

On Tuesday afternoon on my walk home after my run I was listening to the Alison Rosen is Your New Best Friend podcast and guest Riki Lindhome was talking about her recent trip to London. She said she saw a bunch of West End shows and Gypsy was her favorite. Now I’ve seen posters and ads for Gypsy starring Imelda Staunton (aka Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter) for months now and had no desire to see it. I was not very familiar with the music or plot (something about strippers?) and I’ve realized over the years that I prefer plays to musicals. (I just did the math and only 9 of the 30 London shows I’ve seen have been musicals. Although I guess that’s kind of a lot for someone who says she doesn’t prefer them.) But for some reason the moment I heard Riki Lindhome gushing about how great the show and Imelda Staunton were, I decided right then and there I was going to go see the show as soon as possible (which meant the next day matinee).

gypsy london dolores umbridgeSo yesterday morning I went down to the Savoy Theatre and queued for day seats. Fun fact: of those 9 musicals I’ve seen in London, I only got day seats for 2 of them: Viva Forever and Wicked. There’s a reason for this. Musical day seats aren’t always available, and when they are they’re usually more expensive, more in demand and not always front row. For Gypsy I paid £25 to be in the 4th row of the grand circle (which is the nice way of saying the highest balcony section. There is even a separate entrance so the posh stalls folks don’t have to deal with us grand circle peasants). The Savoy is rather small so I still had a good view of all the action and did not get a nosebleed, however it was hard for me to fork over £25 when just last week I paid £10 to see Nicole Kidman in Photograph 51 from the second row. Still, I’m glad I went and Riki Lindhome was right — Imelda Staunton was amazing! I had no idea Dolores Umbridge could sing that well.

Although I’m an introvert who dreads the idea of small talk, I’m always glad when I talk to my fellow day seaters. Theatre people are a unique breed. I never really thought of myself as one of them, but now that I’ve got 31 London shows under my belt I can’t deny it. During the Gypsy interval the woman from Vancouver on my left and the women from the Midlands, England on my right and I had your typical theatre geek conversation that goes like this:

Have you seen InsertWestEndShowHere?

Answer 1: Yes, it’s brilliant!
Answer 2: No, but I want to. Have you?

Yes, it’s brilliant! InsertActorNameHere is brilliant!

Answer 1: PretendToUnderstandWhoSaidActorIsAndAgree
Answer 2: Oh yes, I saw him in InsertShowHere and he was brilliant!

Repeat with every single show currently playing in the West End.

I joke about it, but I actually enjoy that type of conversation. These women were probably a good 30 years older than me, but that only showed when they mentioned shows or actors from before my time. It was nice to be able to talk about something that wasn’t “What do you do?” or “How do you like London?” I wish I could have talked to the lady from the Midlands more, because I overheard her talking to the gentleman queuing next to her in the morning about living and working in China, but I was a few people back, and now that I was sitting next to her in the show couldn’t just say, “Yes, Nicole Kidman was brilliant. You know what else I bet is brilliant? Living in China, amiright?” This woman may have been way more outspoken and oversharing than your typical English woman, but there are still UK conversation etiquette rules.

Now that it’s October and with a few blinks it’ll be November and then Thanksgiving, theatre FOMO (fear of missing out — isn’t that what the kids are saying these days? I wouldn’t know since I’m basically a 60-year-old woman who lives at matinees) is kicking in full force and I’m trying to squeeze in all the shows I want to see that are closing soon. I’m really glad I caught Photograph 51 with Nicole Kidman. Not only was her acting brilliant, but the story about the discovery of the structure of DNA has been something that’s interested me since high school biology class. Although it was sad — my first thought after the show was “I have to tell Mr. W (my high school biology teacher) about this, he would love it!” and then I remembered he passed away almost a year ago. The older woman sitting next to me at the show asked me if I knew much about the story. I told her I studied it in school. She laughed and said when she was in school they barely knew what DNA and chromosomes were. It’s amazing how much science can change over 50 years.

I’m currently at 8 shows for 2015. I hit 9 last year (and in 2013), so I only need to see 1 more to tie the record, 2 to break it. I think I can manage that.


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