Archive | April, 2012

Always pack clean underwear

27 Apr

My stomach is full of Mexican food and Lucky Charms, which can mean only one thing — I’m back in the USA!

I realized this trip that the “American experience” doesn’t begin when we touch down at O’Hare — it starts the minute you step on a United plane, which I’m convinced is always full of 90% Americans, many of whom speak in Chicago accents. There were these two women behind me, who by their voices I guessed were in their early 20s. They were gossiping, laughing obnoxiously loudly, and flirting with the Rugby team on board. (Yes, there was an entire Rugby team on the plane, who spent the entire flight standing in the aisles, whooping and hollering. It’s a good thing I don’t sleep on planes.) I got a glimpse of the women when I got up to use the “toilet cubicle” and was surprised that they looked in their 40s. Ah, American, where you’re never too old to talk like a Valley Girl.

I was still in London mode when the beverage cart came by. I told the flight attendant I wanted “still water with ice.” She looked at me puzzled. “So you want water, then?” Right — when you say “water” in American, still and ice are implied.

I always fly United because of their Mileage Plus program, which is probably called something else now that they merged with Continental. I used to have a high status which meant that I could check up to three bags weighing 70 lbs and got to go in the airport lounge. I didn’t fly as much last year so I lost that status, which means I got to check one bag and it had to be under 50 lbs. “Challenge accepted,” I said, and proceeded to weigh my bag using Wii Fit before I left. When it was only 48 lbs, I threw in an extra book. According to the airport scale, it was 22.6 kg, which is 49.8 lbs. I packed a lot of clothes that I want to sell or donate here, which hopefully means I will still be under 50 lbs for the flight back. I do make the same mistake every time I come back here, either from Chicago or London — I pack an outfit for almost every day, knowing full well I will go shopping and then want to wear all those new clothes. I never seem to learn.


When we landed in Chicago, I had to recheck my bag. It took forever to come onto the carousel because I no longer get the “priority” baggage tag. I got to speed through immigration because I had a connecting flight, but I still had to recheck the bag and go through security again, and I only had an hour before my flight to Cincinnati left. I think I burned off my in-flight meal power walking.

While on the tram to terminal 2, I overheard a United flight crew talking. “Ever since the merge, things have been a mess,” one flight attendant said. “They’re making everything Continental, and it’s so much worse.” I was surprised she was talking so opening about it in public, especially fully dressed in company uniform. Call it a coincidence or blame Continental, but when I got to Cincinnati, I found out my giant suitcase did not. I knew something was wrong when the baggage carousel shut off. I filed a delayed baggage report (I like that they use “delayed” instead of “lost”), and they told me it was on the next flight to Cincinnati and would arrive around 9 pm. I couldn’t believe that I was able to transfer terminals, queue for security, run through the airport and still make my flight, while my suitcase could not. I called the number they gave me last night and the message said “Your bag has left the airport and is out for delivery.” “Great,” I thought. “I can take a shower and put on clean clothes tonight!” But then another hour passed and there was no bag. Then another hour. Eventually it was midnight and I felt like I was going to die. When you’ve been up for almost 24 hours and just spent all day on a plane sitting next to a sick guy, the last thing you want to do is wait up for a bag that isn’t coming. So I gave up and went to sleep, hoping the doorbell would pull me out of my coma. Of course there was no doorbell and it’s now past 11 a.m. and I still don’t have my bag. And because I was so concerned about my luggage weight, I filled my carry-on with shoes, jeans and a blazer — absolutely nothing useful except for my glasses and hair brush. Luckily I had a toothbrush and some toiletries here or else I’d be really hurting. I guess there’s a reason they tell you to pack a change of clothes and necessities in your carry-on…

Squishy Boots

20 Apr

I guess I almost deserved what happened to me today. (Yes, this post is about weather again.) Just thinking about all the ridiculous decisions I made gives me squishy boots. I woke up to sunlight (glorious sunlight!) and expected it to last. I really should know better by now. I was so confident that this sunlight would last that I shunned my Chicago snow boots that I had planned to wear and put on my what can only be described as “fashion boots” because they are attractive but offer absolutely no protection against water, which I learned the hard way when I wore them in Rome and wandered around the Vatican museums in soaked socks. Wearing those boots was almost begging the sky to open up and shower upon me, so I’m sure you can guess what happens in this story.

I set off to Notting Hill this morning to meet a friend for lunch and a movie. I took the bus, because I like to save the extra £1 over the Tube, despite the fact that the Tube station is right next to the restaurant I was going to and the bus would require me to walk a mile to get there. *Stupid mistake No. 2*

“It’s sunny! I’ll enjoy the leisurely stroll!” I told myself. I was already starting to regret my bus decision when the driver announced we would only be going to Baker Street, not all the way to Lancaster Gate where I intended to get out. The last time this happened to me I just walked, but this time it was too far. A woman who reminded me of Pam, Gavin’s mum from “Gavin and Stacey,” was having none of this, and began giving the driver an earful about how this “always happens to her on Friday” and that she is going to be late to work. She acknowledges that this is not the driver’s fault, but still continues to yell at her. She asks for a ticket from the driver who tells her the printout will allow all of us to get on a new bus at Baker Street without paying again. I was really kicking myself for not hopping on the Tube, especially when I saw people getting out umbrellas as I waited at the stop with Pam. “No… sunlight! Not rain!” I wanted to shout. I’m sure Pam did too. We waited a good 10 minutes for the next bus. The whole time I was debating whether I should just eat my bus fare and get on the Tube at Baker Street, right in front of where I was standing. But I couldn’t bear the thought of paying Tube fare too and was determined to stick to my bus plan. I convinced myself that it would probably stop raining once I got off the bus at Lancaster Gate. I followed Pam onto the bus as she presented the print out. I kept waiting for the rain to let up, but it didn’t. Eventually we arrived at the end of the route and I had to get off and begin my mile walk to Notting Hill.

“One step at a time,” I told myself. “Maybe your feet only got wet in Rome because you stepped in a puddle. Just don’t step in a puddle.” I walked slowly with my head bent down, attempting to avoid every puddle. It was no use. I slowly felt the squishy feeling in my boots. In the novel-turned-movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” Oskar Schell’s favorite expression for feeling depressed is “heavy boots.” I think mine is “squishy boots.”

“Just keep walking,” I told myself. “It can’t be much further.” And then it started to hail. Hail. For real. I believe I let out an audible, “Seriously?!” I don’t think I’ve ever been outside during a hail storm before. It’s not pleasant, especially when you have squishy boots. I decided it was time to get over my overly frugal public transportation issues and I hopped on the next bus I saw that was headed towards Notting Hill. And just because the weather gods were mocking me for wearing my fashion boots, it stopped hailing the minute I got on the bus. So I ended up spending two bus fares, which is equal to more than one Tube fare, in an effort to avoid taking the Tube, which would have let me off right in front of my destination and I would not have had to go the whole afternoon with squishy boots.

Rain, rain, go away

19 Apr

I’m starting to forget what the sun feels like. Here’s a screen cap of London weather for the next week:

I am going back to the states in a week and wanted to pick up some things here to bring back. I was waiting for a nice, sunny, spring day to run these errands, but as you can see, it’s not going to happen. So I set out today. When I left the flat it was just sprinkling — hood, not umbrella rain. “Maybe this won’t be so bad,” I thought, especially as the bus arrived a minute after I arrived at the stop. Halfway through the journey the pounding started — I could feel the rain on my face coming through the cracked window by the seat in front of me. The minute I stepped off the bus I had a Will Ferrell jumping in the bear enclosure in Anchorman moment: “I immediately regret this decision.”

Walking around near London’s tourist hot spots is a pain during any weather, but it’s especially annoying when you’re trying to maneuver around wide-eyed lost tourists with giant umbrellas. And when people stopped right in front of me to look at souvenirs, completely blocking the pathway, I could feel my inner angry Cartman coming out. I forgot how much walking in the rain puts me in a bad mood. But I pressed on, because the only way to put me in a good mood is to go shopping. After I got my errands out of the way, I walked towards Oxford Street to treat myself. The rain was still coming down hard and my umbrella was doing nothing to protect me from the giant puddles and drips coming off of rooftops. In front of Chanel some wicked combination of puddle and rooftop drip occurred and my feet got completely soaked. (I know, I was wearing jeans, flats and knee-highs instead of wellies, I was asking for it.) I’m still not entirely sure how it happened — it was almost as if the stream from the roof slid down my umbrella and onto my foot as my other foot stepped into a puddle. The water was also really dirty, the icing on the cake. I stepped under an awning and tried in vain to wipe the dirt and water off using a tissue. It didn’t do much. I then walked the rest of the way to store with wet feet, reminiscent of my family’s trip to Rome last year. I think socks/stockings may be the worst item of clothing to get wet, perhaps even topping underwear or jeans. But I was determined to finish my journey, and I’m glad I did — I ended up getting two graphic tees featuring Chihuahuas wearing clothes, which made me completely forget about my wet feet. I am a sucker for Chihuahua, pug and panda shirts. I also bought more of my favorite socks that were finally back in stock. Looking back on it, I probably should have put them on while I was out…

Someone didn’t Mind the Gap…

16 Apr

Every Monday morning my old lady trolley cart and I make the trek to Sainsbury’s supermarket. The trip has become so ritual and uneventful that when something mildly interesting happens, it deserves a blog post.

I was walking past Waitrose supermarket, as I do every week, wondering why anybody would shop at this overpriced, loyalty card-less store when there’s a Sainbury’s just up the street, when I saw a crowd of people standing outside the Finchley Road tube station. Surely they weren’t all buying fruit from the stand in front of the station, manned by the lady who smokes right over the cherries. As I got closer I noticed the line of yellow police cars and ambulances and the tape blocking the entrance to the station as well as the sidewalk in front. I stood in the crowd for a minute, hoping to overhear a bit of what was going on, but no one was talking — they all just stood there with the same “What is going on?” puzzled look. Every once in a while someone would try to walk into the street and back onto the sidewalk and a police officer or the chain-smoking fruit lady would stop him. I’m glad I didn’t attempt it. Since I was just trying to get to the store up the street and not onto the Tube, I crossed to the other side of the road and took the pedestrian subway back across. A good portion of the street was blocked off and there were several police cars and an ambulance, but nobody seemed to be doing anything. I made a mental note to Google the situation when I got home.

Turns out a lady “fell in front of a train” at the station and died. It happened over an hour before I got there, which is why things seemed to be calmed down. People “falling in front of trains” was something that seemed to happen almost every week in Chicago. If you were late to work all you had to say was “somebody jumped in front of the train again” and your employer would totally understand — or, more likely — be late as well.

Which brings me to a little discussion about suicide. Of all the potential ways to take your own life, why would you choose jumping in front of a train? Suicide in itself is extraordinarily selfish — a “permanent solution to a temporary problem” — but in most cases it just affects the person’s immediate friends and family. However, when you decide to jump in front of a train, you mess up a lot of people’s lives (literally… I don’t want to even imagine the “mess” authorities have to clean up before the train can be up and running again — and the poor people who have to witness it! The driver (conductor?) will probably be scarred for life.) Is the person so angry at the world that she wants to put a wrench in everyone’s plans? Make the local news? Not many suicides do, perhaps she wanted to go out with a bang (or whatever noise flesh hitting a speeding train makes… I know, I’m sorry, sickkkk.) Shall we blame Tolstoy? (Read “Anna Karenina!”) Obviously I’ve never been suicidal so I’ve never thought in depth about “which way to go,” but I can’t imagine why speeding train would beat out pills or a bullet. Maybe because it’s instant? Is it? According to the Camden New Journal, “Paramedics, the Fire Brigade and the London air ambulance were sent to the station, but the woman died at the scene.” …I’m probably putting too much thought into this, as most suicidal individuals are not thinking rationally.

In short, suicide is not the answer, kids… especially Tube suicide.

The free cheese glory days

7 Apr

This morning a random memory popped into my head concerning cheese and I believe it warrants a short post.

I grew up in Pittsburgh where my mom would take my brother and me grocery shopping at Giant Eagle. My little brother would happily retreat to The Eagle’s Nest, a free in-store daycare where he would play Nintendo while my mom shopped. I never went to The Eagle’s Nest for multiple reasons — mostly because I was extraordinary shy and didn’t like to socialize with kids I didn’t know, but also, because of the cheese. Yes, cheese. Every time we went shopping we would stop at the deli counter and my mom would get me a slice of cheese. I remember exactly how it tasted, even to this day, but I have no idea what type of cheese it was. I don’t even know how this bizarre custom came about — did a deli lady think my double ponytail and wild animal print pants were cute one day and decided to reward me with a free slice of cheese? Was this a common occurrence at Giant Eagle, giving children free slices of cheese? And was the cheese even free? Did they tack on an extra 10 cents to my mom’s chipped ham order to cover my cheese slice? I’m pretty sure we never actually bought the cheese because it was a lot more expensive than the Giant Eagle brand pre-wrapped singles. All I know is that I loved that cheese and for some unknown reason I’m craving it almost 20 years later… specifically I would like it on a bun with some chipped ham, microwaved for 30 seconds. If only Cincinnati (or London….) understood how to shave proper Pittsburgh chipped chopped ham.

Why I am not looking forward to next week

5 Apr

Just last week I was eating gelato in the park and reading on my porch in the sun. Darn you, April showers! And I won’t even be in London to see the May flowers.