|Graphic Art by Sara A Mendez
On our last night in London I laid in bed anxiously waiting to find a solution to my suitcase issue.
After I decided NOT to spend ridiculous amounts of money on new luggage (especially in a foreign currency that I can’t convert to save my life) my worst nightmare came true……my bag would not survive the trip. The only thing I regret about our trip is that I didn’t take a picture of my suitcase before we left.
Ode to my Samsonite knock-off, may it rest in peace
- Smashed in the turn style at Charles de Gaulle airport
- Drug up and down endless flights of stairs
- Rolled down the cobblestone streets of Paris and London
- Melted its plastic innards from the friction of being drug for miles
- Stairs, stairs, and more stairs
- More walking or rolling in this case
- Dismemberment (its dislocated handle)
- The wheels dislodged and hanging on for dear life
- Hemorrhaging clothing from the gaping hole in its back
- Poked and prodded with pins and tape trying to salvage it…..
All the heroics were for nothing….the suitcase survived only to circum its inevitable fate…..death by zipper derailment.
RIP to my little knock-off black Samsonite suitcase!
|Typical English style housing
They seem to recycle everything
So on our last night, mom went to bed….no problem. I was really worried that we would never find a replacement for my suitcase and I was worried about the whole cab thing…..and honestly, for the last 8 days now my entire life had been consumed by public transit and it was NEVER a good experience…..so I couldn’t sleep, even after taking a sleep aid.
Mom on the other hand snored so loud, even if the sleep aid worked I wouldn’t have been a sleep long! She could have woke the dead! I kept hitting her with my pillow (we had two twin beds) and she would stop for a while. Finally I threw my pillow at her and she grabbed it and wouldn’t give it back!
So here I was laying there with no pillow, unable to sleep, and anxious about the bag situation when all of a sudden the alarm clock goes off.
The time has come…..it’s 5:00 am and it’s time to go home. So mom and I get up and get ready. I am so tired I can hardly keep my eyes open…..mom feels great of course! So we load up mom’s suitcase and all I can say is thank God its wheels were still intact. We wheeled the suitcase to the elevator where we again had to take two trips because two people, one camera bag, and a suitcase could NOT fit into the little elevator that is suppose to fit 6, at least we didn’t have to send our luggage down first.
We got downstairs and the cab was there and ready to take us to Victoria Station. Predictably, the man driving didn’t really offer to help us or anything….however when he noticed that we couldn’t life the luggage he did step in to take the suitcase and put it in the trunk—he was INSTANTLY sorry he offered to help as he is probably on disability now from the back injury!
|This was taken by Susan so it’s out of focus but I think
you get the general idea how exhausted mom was….
I’m like the energizer bunny I just keep going!
In his little ‘cheeky’ accent he says….wow this bag is really heavy…..do you think it will be ok to put on the plane. We both just looked at him and dignified that with the response it deserved, none.
He drove us to the train station…..and even though my life flashed before my eyes a couple of times, it wasn’t too bad especially since it was early on a Saturday morning…..well worth the money! I HIGHLY recommend taking a cab when one travels with anything larger than a small backpack……avoid public transit at all costs!
We got to Victoria Station more or less in one piece and the driver manages to unload our massive bag without serious injury……though keep in mind there are no more handles from which he can grab the thing, it’s now…..technically speaking…..a giant box and no longer classified as a suitcase. We paid him the 25 pounds and then realized that was about all the money we had…..so we just gave him whatever coin we had in our purses (which was only a couple of pence) and figured that was enough for a 2 mile or so taxi ride….but judging from the evil eye we got, probably not.
At that point I just didn’t care, we got a trolley and made our way into the station and located the Gatwick Express without incident. The Gatwick Express train/shuttle which runs about every 15-20 minutes between London and Gatwick airport. I highly recommend it, it’s easy to use and fairly inexpensive considering what it would cost for a cab door to door or the other option……public transit which is just a nightmare, obviously (roughly 15 pounds per person one way).
They serve snacks and coffee on the journey…..though I don’t know why since it’s only like a 20-30 minute ride and I NEVER saw the food cart but they did announce that it was ‘coming through’ the cars…..apparently it just didn’t make it to OUR car?
We were practically the only people on the train and even though we had to lift the giant suitcase onto the train, we didn’t have anyone pushing us over unlike the Eurostar so it was a drastic improvement already! We pulled away from the station and waved goodbye to London…..or gave it the finger depending on how you look at it.
I took this when Sam and I were there but you can see
how the cabs are all fairly small and compact along with
typical London traffic. (black cabs)
Mom and I were both really sad to be leaving London since we love England….however should we EVER take a vacation to England again, we are ONLY going to the country or basically anywhere that ISN’T London or a tourist trap.
We got to the airport and unloaded the suitcase without too many problems and the actual inside of the airport wasn’t too busy.
We go to the US Airways info desk and immediately asked about a place where we could purchase luggage. The lady told us there was a store around with the other ‘shopping centers’ in the airport where we could find some baggage. She must have thought we meant baggage claim because the only place we saw in the general vicinity that she pointed us toward was the lost baggage distribution center.
It seemed like they just sold the luggage people had lost of left unclaimed over the years?!
I didn’t really feel right about buying some random piece of luggage….though I could probably have gotten a good deal in retrospect.
My new suitcase that cost me an
We looked around and all the stores were closed. But we did ask security where we could buy luggage and they told us the name of some store and again pointed us in the general direction….now keep in mind mom and I both are dragging this giant suitcase around a fairly busy airport and trying not to get trampled in the process.
We don’t see the said luggage store anywhere……so we go in and ask someone in a little mini mart and she’s like oh ya that place….it closed forever ago. So I’m thinking to myself…..you work in an international airport everyday dumb US Airways staff and British TSA Security people……you didn’t notice that a store closed down months ago?!!?!?
It just seems like in wandering or patrolling your way through the airport day in and day out…..one might notice something is missing here…..just a guess???
Immediately I go into a panic….WTF am I going to do if I can’t find a suitcase?!?!?!
I could go back to the luggage depot but I wasn’t entirely sure they were selling the bags to the public and the Indian guy at the desk didn’t speak very good English and I just couldn’t handle anymore foreign languages.
The lady said we could maybe…..MAYBE buy a demo suitcase from ‘that place’ and she points to some random shop that looks more like a stage for a bad info-mercial. But we had nothing to lose except money so why the hell not.
Lucky for me I was able to buy a suitcase! The place where I bought my suitcase was one of those shops which shrink wraps your luggage for like 10 pounds……now this is the equivalent to someone taking a really big roll of saran-wrap and going crazy…..like rolling it round and round and round your suitcase till it’s gone…..next thing you know you have a perfectly ‘secure bag that can also double as a bumper car since the wrap adds protection from exterior damage. Some travel sights recommend this madness
…..though I am not sure WHY?
What a waste if you ask me…..anyone who wants your bag isn’t going to give a rip about gobs of plastic wrap…….save the landfills for God sake…..buy a hard shell suitcase with a f-ing lock. Which BTW I am not sure why they call it ‘shrink wrapping’ luggage because it’s not really ‘shrinking’ the luggage it’s just making it one giant cocoon so I guess I’m just not sure what the purpose it but apparently its a big deal in all international airports.
|Notice the modern housing mixed with modern style….this is the corner
by our hotel and fairly typical of London architecture
Regardless about how I see this madness of shrink wrapping my bag, the guy at the counter was selling some suitcases which had been used in demos at his little shop there in the airport. Thank GOD he has suitcases is all I can say. I bought a medium sized hard/canvas shell with real working wheels and zippers…..but the wheels were NOT the 360 spinning kind but I just didn’t care at that point.
This little spicy red dream come true cost me 65 pounds (this f-ing suitcase cost $103.00 USD)
|Weird shrink wrapped luggage example
Now, one would think he would throw in the ridiculous shrink wrapping for free…..oh hells no he wanted to charge me so I passed on that whole insanity…..knowing my luck I would NEVER be able to open it when I got home and all my stuff would be trapped.
We had about 2 hours before our flight and I just wasn’t in the mood to repack/restart my luggage. Luckily, we gave up organizing the luggage a long time ago. We took our newly acquired luggage and found the nearest bathroom (which we had to pay for of course….and went into the largest handicap stall we could find and quickly began unloading things from mom’s suitcase to mine.
It was a whirlwind but we got it all done in about 10 minutes time. We re-emerged and went to stand in line at the US Airways check in. So the Brits really know how to direct people in line at the airport. They wheel the around a little station thing to scan in your passport and do their little customs stuff from right there in line at the baggage check…..their little stations are just like what you see at hospital…..moveable carts it computers and techie scanners etc. It was pretty cool and FAST.
Though the airline lady did ask us about the baggage…..when did we pack it?….this morning……where?…….in the bathroom…….did anyone else assist with or witness our packing?. …….ahhhh no just mom and I. I thought vague and non-committal was the best way to approach the questions.
We didn’t really lie we just didn’t tell her we were packing 10 mins before in the airline bathroom. I was glad I didn’t wear my burqua today.
After being grilled about the bags we were cleared. We get to the little machine thing to claim our ticket and load the luggage where there is a person to assist you should you need help…..apparently the young good looking British man at our billets machine didn’t think we needed help. But he did help us in other ways by finding us a different seating assignment for our plane ride from Charlotte, NC to Portland (PDX).
|Graphic Art by Sara A Mendez
We made our way to the food court which was packed.
We stood in line at a coffee shop, and right after we ordered mom’s like I’m gonna look around for some treats for people I work with ok? Can you grab my coffee? I’m like whatever just go, and I’m like we don’t have long till out plane starts boarding so meet me in front of the coffee shop in like 15 mins. She’s like ok sure right here…….yes right here!
So I wait and wait and wait till we finally get out coffees which were SCALDING! I couldn’t hold them and they apparently don’t believe in drink carriers or bags for our food. So I’m trying not to drop our moderately expensive coffee and breakfast by juggling it out of the café to an airport bench close by so I can see mom when she walks up.
I had ordered (my fav…..a chai tea latte) and one would think a chai tea latte would be pretty much the same anywhere you go……clearly not in England……for God sake it’s just milk and chai tea how hard can it be?!?!?!?
I take a sip and next thing I know I’m like drinking a tea bag!
I open the lid and it’s like a HUGE tea bag and a weird liquid which I later determined was a mixture of 80% water and 10% milk……so it was basically tea with a little creamer NOT something I would classify as a chai ‘latte’…..it was NOT terribly good but I needed caffeine so I just dealt with it. I sit there for what seems like an hour waiting for mom……and waiting….and waiting…..NO MOM.
|More houses/hotels in the area
So I realize the airline is announcing what gate we are supposed to board at and I start to get worried. I began wandering around looking for mom at the various shops all while still holding her coffee and breakfast (I had to eat mine rather quickly).
I looked and looked and no mom anywhere. So I knew she would eventually make it to the gate so I started walking that way. As I walk up to the gate mom comes up and starts yelling……where have you been?!?!?! I have been waiting here at the gate forever where were you?????
I’m almost 30 years old and one would think I was a 7 year old child lost in the airport! I’m like MOTHER I was waiting by the café where we said we would meet! She’s like….I looked but you weren’t inside the café. I told her there was NO room in the café but I was right out front…..somehow we must have missed each other.
We stood in line and had our passports scanned again by the security people just to get into the ‘holding pen’ AKA the waiting area where we would not be allowed to leave once clearing security……again.
About that time I was getting thirsty and I spotted a vending machine FULL….I repeat……FULL of bottled water. I had taken money out of the ATM inside the airport to get breakfast so I had a little change left over (about a pound and 10 pence). I go to the vending machine but the water was one pound and 50 pence but then it says it will also take a 5 pound note and give change…..so I asked mom if she wanted one and she did.
Again….when did the world stop accepting paper money?!?!?!
It says it would accept paper money but there was NO place to put the paper! I kept digging in my new coin purse and as luck would have it I found enough change to buy a bottle water. Now the ENTIRE machine is FULL of water in two different colored water bottles?!!?!? A green and a blue color???? So I put the money in and select A1….out…..A2…..out…..A3…….out…..B5…..out……J8….out. All of the bottles are out! A few curse words later I gave up. The guy behind me walks up and selects B9…..out pops a bottle of water. Mom sensed my meltdown so she decided to try the machine for me.
Sure enough she picks F7 and out pops a water…..blue bottle. So I take a breath and decide to try again but this time my strategy would be to start from the bottom row and work my way to the top. But I have no change except a paper 5 pound note.
|Alleyway by our hotel
Mom needed to use the bathroom before we boarded the plane so she took the 5 pound note and said she would use the bathroom and get change so I could get some water. She leaves the holding pen area and when she comes back the security guy makes her go through the screening again.
She had shoved her boarding pass inside her pockets along with paper money and receipts and passport when she left the area. So when the security guy asked her to pull out her boarding pass and passport she gets all this balled up crap from her pockets and the security guy looks at her and turns his nose up…..he looks at her, raises an eyebrow and is like “what happened to your boarding pass?” and she’s like it’s in here see and she starts picking apart the balled up boarding pass and other paper items…..he raises the other eyebrow and says…..”seriously??”.
He asked if she had purchased anything since leaving the holding pen. She’s like well yes, I bought a candy bar (don’t ask me why she didn’t just buy water to break the change since that’s all I wanted in the first place).
So he inspects the chocolate and then looks at her crumpled boarding pass like it’s something he stepped in and motions her over to the ‘additional screening’ area so another security person can be sure her chocolate doesn’t contain C4.
After being cleared to come and sit down with me….I was laughing hysterically…..he brought me the change and I made my way over to the machine. It was either the machine or me…..I was NOT going to be a victim of the machine! Again my strategy was the start from the bottom of the selection list since somewhere in that machine there was water with my name on it. Finally after three selections out pops a bottle with a green label.
Not thinking anything would be different here I opened it and took a huge drink……apparently the green bottle was the carbonated ‘sparkling’ water. I almost choked to death on carbonated water.
|Cute courtyard/community garden
right by our hotel
Once in the air I hoped I would be able to sleep. I was still hung over feeling from the sleep aids the night before……the flight home was longer than the flight from Philly to Paris……we flew into Charlotte so it was longer by about an hour to an hour and a half.
Mom and I watched EVERY movie on the airplane menu! This is AFTER we watched all the same movies going from Philly to Paris. I watched Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, and What Happens in Vegas like one too many times!
Mentally mom and I were prepared to be on the plane for 6 hours….NOT 8. We didn’t think the flight would be longer than it was when we went over so in our minds we had mentally prepared that we were going to be sitting for 6 hours before having a break so when we asked the flight attendant when we would be landing and she told us another 2 hours or so….that’s when we freaked.
We started to get pretty loopy and pretty much lost it. There was a pre-teen kid in the isle next to us who has not sat still since we left London (think of the child in Toy Story, Sid, who tortures his toys) and the people in front of us were getting a little too close for comfort (this girl was picking up a good looking married man who sat next to her like the entire flight she talked his ear off and tried to charm him).
I think the altitude and lack of sleep just got to us…..we started watching When in Rome (one that we hadn’t watched yet) and it was so funny that we couldn’t help LOL-ing. I am sure everyone was like shut the F()*@# up by the time the movie was over…..but it was so funny……or maybe it wasn’t and we just didn’t know the difference.
So after the movie I got up to use the bathroom….now keep in mind I had gotten up to walk around and also to use the bathroom (there were only 4 on this HUGE plane for like 200 people) and they only let you use the bathrooms in your section of the airplane. So every time I used the bathroom I notice the state of it is rapidly declining. I didn’t say anything to the flight attendants because one would think they would monitor the state of the bathrooms…..apparently that is NOT the case.
|More of the neighborhood that we were staying in
I got up to use the bathroom and I had to wait behind two guys. I waited and waited and finally this pre-teen kid who can’t sit still emerges from the bathroom and I patiently waited for the other two guys to use the only bathroom in our section.
FINALLY I get in there and it’s like the most disgusting bathroom known to man.
It smells like pee (but I’m use to it by now since ALL the public bathrooms in Europe….and some public transit places….smell like pee) and the trash is overflowing with garbage and someone has clogged the sink with tissues. I mean it’s like worse than any outhouse I have ever seen.
I open the door to ask the flight attendant to clean it and the lady is like ‘we are serving breakfast now so it’s going to be about 30-40 minutes before we can get to it’. I know I can’t wait for an hour for them to clean it after drinking the ‘sparkling water’, juice, and coffee. I took a breath and went back in. I put down one of those seat liners (Sam calls them ‘ass gaskets’) and next thing you know I realize there is no TP……no paper towels…..no tissues……nothing!
I had to use one of the ass gaskets as TP instead. I do NOT recommend them even in emergency situations.
I washed my hands and made a note to burn all clothing that touched anything in that bathroom and went back to my seat. That’s about the time I realized the pre teen child in the seat across from us MUST have had something to do with it since he was in there FOREVER!
We finally land in Charlotte and I have never been so happy to see US soil in all my life.
We deplaned and it was SWELTERING in Charlotte. We went to baggage claim to get our stuff and by that time I realized EVERYONE had red suitcases…..and began worrying that I would not know what my new one looked like!
|The only thing which I can use to ID my suitcase
in the sea of other red suitcases, my chihuahua
We began to worry that the airline had lost our bags because ours were the last ones out. We finally got our stuff and then had to go through US Customs which was a HUGE improvement from the Customs free for all in Paris.
We had to go through security again since the USA doesn’t trust anyone else’s search tactics but their own which was fine. Mom and I were STARVING even though the airline provided a breakfast and a lunch….it was NOT good and it was not NEARLY enough food! We stopped at Mexican restaurant and had food and I ordered a must needed margarita. We had about 5 hours between flights so after eating we wandered around looking at the shops and trying to get internet.
The entire airport is FULL of ‘free wireless hotspots’ but I never did get an internet connection.
So we were still not connected to the outside world!
About two hours before our flight mom starts to look a little white and faint. She said she was fine but I really wasn’t buying it. She said she needed to walk around and stretch her legs so I stayed in our waiting area while she walked around. By the time she came back she started complaining of chest pain and saying she was feeling faint and had a hard time breathing.
All I could think of was OMG BLOOD CLOT!
Now mom has NEVER had any blood issues like I have and never exhibited any of the same blood problems that I have inherited however I know that flying can bring on blood clots which is why I have to take my heparin injections along with my rat poison when I fly more than 2 hours oh and wear REALLY unattractive and uncomfortable support socks which are like wearing 10 pairs of Spanx body shapers.
I begin to worry that mom is going to keel over on me here…..but also that we won’t be able to fly! I know that we have a long flight home and the pressure in the cabin is only going to get worse! When Sam and I flew home from London we had a layover in Washington DC to PDX and I had the same problem that mom was having but on a much grander scale……I was a little more prepared for the pressure on my chest though since I have these health issues. We decided we would not call 911 but just get on the plane and go home.
Before boarding the plane mom casually removes her bra under her shirt and hands it to me to put in my purse. She said it was too ‘restrictive feeing’ for her. Must be nice.
We get on the plane and realize the guy at the US Airways desk in London who picked up better seats for the flight home was a GENIUS! We had all the leg room in the world because we were sitting in the exit row . Mom was really worried when the flight attendant asked if we would be ready willing and able to assist in an emergency we both said yes because the thought of sitting in another area was a distressing thought…..never mind we were probably the most sick people on the plane!
The plane was preparing for takeoff and pressurizing the cabin and when we were air born all of a sudden, SMOKE starts barreling out of the overhead compartments!
This can’t be good.
The flight attendants weren’t really freaking out and no one else seemed to be worried so then we started wondering if this was an illusion due to lack of sleep?
We reasoned that this must be how the pilot gets oxygen or air or whatever into the cabin for pressurization so we decided NOT to panic.
|This apartment/house was right across
the street from our hotel and it pretty tpical of
the housing in the area.
Being in an exit row has its perks….however it sucks because the seats don’t really recline and the arm rests don’t move. So I was really uncomfortable but so tired that I slept sitting up the whole way to PDX.
We landed about 10:00 at night but as we landed the pilot kept saying we were an hour late which we couldn’t figure out since according to my watch we were arriving on time.
Sam had planned to pick us up from the airport but I had no way of confirming with him or checking in to be sure that was still than plan because I had no internet. So we landed and got to the gate and…..NO SAM.
Mom and I were like ok ok ok don’t panic he’s got to be here somewhere, maybe by baggage claim….I mean PDX airport is NOT that big.
So we get our bags……NO SAM. I had no cell phone since I gave it to Sam before we left. I went to the one payphone left in PDX and called Sammy using my credit card…..I called three times and no answer. I left a voicemail and told mom I couldn’t get a hold of him.
Mom and I both started panicking…..if it meant sleeping in the airport till Sam came so be it because we just couldn’t do the shuttle (The Hut) from PDX to Salem…..it just wasn’t going to happen PERIOD! So we made our way back to the gate with our baggage to wait and see if Sam comes.
As we make it to the top of the stairs I hear the pager ‘….Anne –….Anne — please meet your party at baggage claim carousel two…..Anne — meet your party at carousel two’.
THANK GOD! MY HERO!
We met Sam and he said the airline reader board said we were an hour delayed so he just decided to wait around at the airport and was sitting in one of the rest area trying to get service/internet when all of a sudden he thought he should check the reader board and it said we had landed on time so he was confused and about that time he got my voicemail and rather than try and find us he figured paging us would be better.
We managed to make it home without incident and in one piece thanks to Sammy!
Mom and I both cried when we saw him since he was like our knight in shining armor…..our savior!