Ooookay people...I really had been hoping to update you on my Vegas adventure...which I do hope to do soon, but the last few days as I have travelled to Florida has seen my levels of resource tested to their outer limits, and I felt I just had to share this with you first.
I survived methinks, thanks in no small part thanks to the GOWNS staple of using humour to deal with the not inconsiderable obstacles that present themselves...which on this epic journey they most certainly did.
I left home for Birmingham airport late on Sunday night...OK I didn't need to leave as early as I did for the Monday morning flight...but the M6 is notorious for laying claim to the precious time of those brave enough to attach rubber to tarmac at the best of times, so with plenty of wriggle room built in, I arrived at the airport in good time, and my pre-booked parking space was ready and waiting...so far so good.
Knowing that check in would not be open and happy to see that the screens were showing that my flight to Newark was on time, which...when you have a connection to make is exactly what you want to see. I happily assumed that my next logical objective should be beer, so I set off in the hot pursuit of one...in fact several
This was a very effective strategy...and when I eventually arrived at the United Airlines check in I was feeling that all in all my world was a pretty damn fine place to be.
However, this was not a feeling which was destined to last, as the information I was now receiving was enough to extract a noise from me not unlike that of a gaggle of geese farting loudly in fog. Apparently my previously 'on time' flight was now seriously delayed and would mean that I could not make the connection to Florida. The unwelcome nature of this discovery was right up there with learning that the effects of several premium beers at airport prices, was about to disappear more quickly than an eskimo's tan.
The solution? Well a trip to Heathrow in a 'Silver line' coach was first up...followed by a flight to Houston Texas...after which we would pick up our flight to Florida...late... but on the same day at least.
It did cross my mind that flying to Texas in order to then fly back over much of the same ground to reach Florida was a bit convoluted...but I was just glad to learn that at least there was an alternative...so like a lamb to the slaughter I picked up my boarding card and accepted my fate with all the typical gratitude of a Brit who has not only just been kicked in the proverbials, but even manages to say thank you in the process...why do we do that? Answers on a post card please.
Then...there it was. The 'Silver line' ...whose name... before I had met it... had conjured up images of a sleek, possibly bullet shaped, air conditioned example of all the best in modern passenger vehicles, but which was in fact a bus whose chassis had long since parted with any semblance of suspension causing at least two of my vertebrae to fuse together, and probably creating the need for a future hip replacement.
Those of you who have travelled via Heathrow will understand the vast nature of this transit venue...and entirely consistent with what was already becoming the journey from hell, we were not surprised to learn that our gate was...in distance terms...pretty much the equivalent of being back in Birmingham.
I am now thinking of taking up long distance running when I get home, because it was at this juncture that I discovered a latent talent in this area of sporting expertise...my resting heart rate remained at a steady 460 bpm for sometime after our arrival at the gate...only to learn at this point that the flight was delayed because of technical issues. So far it had taken me almost 12 hours to get to London.
When we finally boarded the flight at around 2.00pm I blithely assumed that...and i have no real idea why I should have thought so...the flight would take around 7 hours? Hell no...due to weather conditions etc our sojourn into the lone star state took just over 10 hours.
As we began our descent into Houston I decided that now would be a good time to check out our connection to Florida. If ignorance really is bliss I never wanted to be more ignorant than at the moment I discovered on landing that we had approximately 40 mins to clear customs, as we must at the first point of entry into the United States, retrieve our bags and check in for our connecting flight.
I resigned myself to the inevitability of an overnight stay in Houston and boarded yet another bus armed with a hotel voucher and a whole $20 for food...which I promptly resolved to spend on a Budweiser beer rebellion. Our flight was not until 1.55pm (local time) the next day, which meant that another day of our trip had been lost in travelling.
Thankfully the hotel was more than acceptable...Jayne will attest to the fact that I am very disinclined to stay anywhere which isn't ...so I drank the Budweiser purchased with my voucher, adding several hundred dollars of my own...before sinking gratefully into a comfortable bed for my regulation 2 hours sleep.
Exactly one hour and six minutes later I was woken by a cheery 'Good morning...have a nice day' being repeated several times, whilst accompanied by several neon flashes that appeared to be coming from some kind of electronic device by my bedside. Now there are some simple truths in life...and one of the most basic of these is that...an insomniac has absolutely no need of an alarm clock however, the damage was now done and i spent the following hours counting sheep, along with several attempts at controlled asphyxiation, all to no avail.
The daylight arrived, bringing with it the certain knowledge that today was not a good day to fly. Torrential rain poured from the Texan sky exposing a woefully inadequate drainage system on the roads which the driver of our bus back to the airport dealt with by driving at speed and standing up in his seat to adjust his body weight in the direction of which ever wheels happened to be aqua planing at the time.
However, it seemed as though our luck may be changing at last. We had assumed that our flight over to Orlando would be in the region 3 and a half hours, but was in fact going to be only 2...sunshine state here we come...at last.
Now I am not the keenest of air travellers...but even less of a fan of staying at home...so I endure flights by pretending that I am not on an airplane at all...so for me the windows are a non essential part of the experience. True to form on this trip I was then to find myself allocated a seat next to one such opening. I could have swapped, but decided that for the first time I would try flying from the perspective of actually acknowledging that I was in the air.
I was glad that I did. I marvelled at the disappearing earth beneath as we soared high into the clouds whose differing shapes I began to interpret in many ways, one of which for all the world was shaped just like a fishing boat on the aft of which I could see my darling Kenny waving and smiling at me, I so wanted to wave back...but checked myself as I considered how this would look? I watched other planes zipping along at hundreds of miles an hour, though obviously much further away than they appeared.
The 2 hours passed quickly by and the patchwork earth beneath soon became clearer again as we began our descent, which I was by now fully determined to witness. However, even my untrained aviators eye became aware of the circular pattern in which we seemed to remain at the same altitude, a fact soon confirmed by the captain who explained we were circling because of a bad electrical storm over Orlando airport, so more in line with our original estimated flight time we finally touched down in Orlando.
We taxied onto the runway to be met with the same torrential rain which seemed to have followed us from Houston...and then I saw them. Literally dozens of planes were queuing on the tarmac, because of the electrical storm the ground staff ...had been unable to attach the planes to their relevant gates, departing planes had not been re-fuelled, all of which caused a huge back log.
Finally after 5 hours we were able to leave the confines of United Airlines flight 290 and enter the airport terminal, having already cleared customs we only had our bags and vehicles to pick up. Simples!!
Yeah right...this isn't entitled 'The trip that keeps on giving' for nothing. As we waited for our bags...the alarms on the carousel were soon in full voice prompting the arrival of several terminal staff armed with technical equipment, before resorting to hitting things with hammers. This part of the process took another hour, after which we collected our vehicles in order to begin the last leg of our epic journey. Nearly.
I thankfully know Florida very well...but in all the kerfuffle and tiredness, the actual address of our accommodation somewhere off highway 27 had become misplaced. My phone had chosen this moment to die, leaving me only with a vague idea of the name of the resort and rough location.
I had no option but to wing it...get into the area I needed to be and take it from there. I drove along the 528 and picked up the I4 West to highway 27, at which point I could either go South or North... leaving a one in 50 chance of making he right decision.
I made several enquiries at gas stations and was given different directions at each of them...I took a random decision to explore a route which seemed to have at least one common feature with all of those instructions.
At approximately 1.00am (local time) after almost 48 hours of trying to get there, we finally arrived at our destination before briefly heading back out to Wal -Mart to gather essential supplies and then falling into bed at 3.30am.
Despite all the challenges I don't think I have ever laughed more...and the added bonus? I feel totally at home here in the place where I spent so many years with Kenny, and if I feared those memories would engulf me in the sadness of losing him, they have served only to drive me forward as the man himself always did. Watch this space people...xxxx