Tag Archives: JFK

Getting away from it all

I’ve been away for a week, sunning myself in the south of France and taking advantage of the lack of broadband to take an impromptu blog break. Fortunately, the presence of a The Special One, good friends, a big swimming pool, great food and plenty of the aforementioned sun, I seemed to get by…

The trip to the Cote D’Azur came via the wonders of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 last Friday, which may well be the quietest airport on earth – and all the more relaxing for it. Like most major construction projects in the UK, it took seventeen times as long to build as it should have done (and cost thirty four times its original budget) but it’s still a huge step forward in air travel as far as I’m concerned – especially as I’m well used to the limited facilities of New York’s JFK airport. As we slipped effortlessly away from the terminal in a taxi to stay with The Best Man and family, I felt proud to be British.

Then I saw a giant billboard for Nuts TV, proclaiming “every night, darts and fights.” I packed away the Union Jack, slipped the maroon passport back in my pocket, and pondered the day’s date, July 4. No wonder the Americans were so keen on independence.

Hearing is believing

As if I didn’t feel enough out of water in New York, I’m currently in Los Angeles on work, having only been here once about three years ago. Suffice to say that I walk around with a confused expression that perpetually says “what the hell is going on here?”

Actually, it’s probably the fact that I’m walking that causes half the problem – LA residents only seem to use their legs to hold their torsos up, so even telling my taxi driver that I didn’t mind walking the few yards to the front of the hotel caused furrowed brows.

I knew I was heading somewhere truly different within minutes of taking off from JFK. A Delta flight attendant came over the PA system to inform us that the inflight entertainment system had been turned on and, this being America, we could buy headphones for just $2.

Her unique selling point? That we could spend our hard-earned cash on these aforementioned listening devices, and then take them off the aircraft once we arrived in Los Angeles and use them free of charge.

America really is the land of untold generosity.

A new kind of justice

It’s remarkable how being ‘out of water’ makes you much more sensitive to people’s attitudes and behaviours, regardless of where you are in the world. When I’m in the UK, for example, I’m intensely aware of the sullen questioning of waiters or waitresses who are not so wholly dependent on tips to ensure that they can eat at the end of the week. I’m currently in the south of France, and even though there’s a ban on smoking in public places as there is in Britain or New York, it’s noticeable how much more committed people still are to their ‘death sticks’.

Thankfully, the world is an endlessly diverse place, and we should be eternally grateful for that.

But sometimes – just sometimes – I wish that there were universally held social mores that people adhered to regardless or country of origin, class, race, sexuality or religion.

Travelling back to New York from London this week, The Special One and I had a glass of wine in Terminal 4 (OK, I had a glass of wine, and she had a glass of English lemonade, which she appears to be endlessly enamoured with) before making our weary way to the gate to be prodded and poked into our seats like the rest of the onboard cattle. Even though the flight was relatively empty, most of the seats around the gate were full of sombre passengers preparing themselves for the eight hours of sitting in three-and-a-half inches of legroom eating rapidly chilled-then-furnace blasted food.

Having already flown down to London from Manchester, and laden down with heavy bags, neither of us were particularly in the mood for sitting on the floor or – worse still – standing. Fortunately there were two spare seats next to a pleasant-enough looking couple, with nothing more than an Arran jumpersweater and a bag or two occupying the seats. A man was sat adjacent to the vacant seats, studiously working on his laptop.

Seeing the chance to take the weight off my legs, I approached the man and asked to sit down, and he cordially removed the sweater from one of the chairs. When I apologetically made it clear that there were two of us and that we needed both seats, things started to go downhill rapidly.

The man, who appeared to be German but seemed to talk with a New York accent, simply refused to move his things, firmly stating “I’m not putting my stuff on the floor”, smirking casually as he said it. He even repeated it after my ears refused to believe what they had heard.

At that point, the British and New York sides to my personality were immediately put into intense conflict. The British part of me instantly apologised for the inconvenience of the man being asked to lift up his inanimate and non-precious possessions to place them on the carpeted floor. But within milliseconds, my inner indignated New Yorker reasserted control and insisted that he clear the chair so that The Special One and I could sit down.

Again he refused. This time with more vigour.

By this point I was irate (though utterly calm), and the presence of 150 or so other travellers wasn’t going to prevent me from making myself heard. Clearly nothing I could say was going to make him give up the spare seat, but that didn’t mean that I was going to let him get away with such behaviour without a mild-but-obvious rebuke.

In the ensuing diatribe, it is possible that I made it clear – to him, and to the watching audience – that he was an obnoxious man with little or no moral fibreer. And asked him how he managed to be so self-involved that a couple of bags were more important than a couple of living breathing human beings.

Again he smirked, held his ground, and we walked off to two more seats that had been vacated a few yards away. As I turned to give him my deadliest death stare (a stare that has been known to cause the onset of rigor mortis in perfectly healthy adults), he laughed to his humiliated partner.

This was too much for even my inner eccentric English gentleman, and I heard myself call him out for his manners again, telling him to stop laughing as his attitude was simply pathetic. Still no response though, and the man buried himself in both his laptop and his over-arching sense of self-congratulation as The Special One and I sat down and vented privately.

What goes around comes around though. Our bags were pretty much the last ones to arrive off the luggage carousel as the JFK terminal shut down for the night. And the last sight we saw, as we wandered off to get a taxi back to Brooklyn, was Mr Obnoxious and his wife consulting with British Airways staff on what to do about their suitcases which tragically appeared to have gone missing in transit.

And that, my friends, is karma.

A tale of two vending machines

The Special One and I spent the holiday weekend back in the UK, engaging in a whirlwind tour of friends and family. I think most of them are starting to ask questions about whether I’ve actually left the country given how much I seem to be back there. Maybe I should change the name of the blog to “Brit Mostly Out Of Water”?

A weekend spent 3458 miles away from New York inevitably necessitates spending a fair amount of time in airports, particularly following the British Airways crash landing in London – not to mention apparent 150mph headwinds awaiting us on the way back.

Time in airports these days seems less about interminable waiting and more about interminable shopping. And if ever you needed a powerful demonstration of the difference between New York and London, maybe these two pictures of airport vending machines could provide it. Firstly, a machine found at London’s Heathrow:

Heathrow Airport

These machines first started appearing a year or so ago, offering travellers the chance to buy a book to occupy their minds when there’s only The Bourne Ultimatum on the inflight movie channels. Admittedly Russell Brand’s ‘My Booky Wook’ isn’t necessarily Shakespeare, but it’s got to be better than seven hours of sudoku.

Now the vending machine at JFK:

JFK Airport

When I was a kid, vending machines had bubble gum in them and you put 2p in to get something out. Now it seems that you use them to part with $250 in order to pick up cutting edge music players. Have we reached the point where iPods are considered spur-of-the-moment impulse purchases, to rank alongside a Coke, a packet of Doritos or a Mars bar?

Obviously, you’re not actually going to be able to use the iPod on your flight unless you’ve brought a computer and your music collection with you, and you’re able to find somewhere to charge the battery.

Of course, if you really can’t find a power source to charge your brand new device, you can just unplug the iPod vending machine and use that outlet instead. Other travellers will just have to content themselves with that book after all.