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Brent Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Only New Yorkers could have designed John F. Kennedy International Airport.

But let's start at the beginning. I wake up at 7:45 in the Holiday Inn Heathow M4, one of three Holiday Inns in the vicinity of Heathrow International Airport. I get dressed and start packing, finishing in maybe twenty minutes; while I'm doing this Blake wakes up and starts taking a shower. The parents call the room and tell me to wake everyone up and start them packing, so I wake up Dev.

Another 55 minutes goes by; I spend it programming, re-packing little things I realize I'd forgotten to pack, answering calls from the parents reminding us to do things we've already done, and talking to the siblings. Parents come by, I pack up my laptop, and we leave at about 9:00, just as we'd planned.

My family never does things just as we planned when there are airplanes involved. We should have know what would come then.

Anyway, we take a bus to Heathrow and do electronic check-in, no problem. It's about 10 and our flight is at 11:30 so we stop for breakfast. Afterwards, we pass through security (maybe a ten-minute wait) and go into one of the central shopping areas.

For those who have never been there, Heathrow is laid out with one big shopping area/departure lounge per terminal, with departure time screens all around. You spend your time waiting there, and when your flight starts flashing on the screens, you walk to the pretty much empty gates to board your plane. It allows them to only have one Starbucks per terminal, among other things; it's actually a very nice way to lay out an airport.

So, Mom and Dev go off shopping. I find a plug and work on my laptop for a few minutes. Then it's time to go to the gate.

So we all get together and head off to the gate. We get there with no problem; we have a few minutes, so I buy a Coca-Cola Light from one of the vending machines. Then we board. We're in American Airlines steerage class, which isn't as bad as many other airlines, but our flights to and from Rome were with British Airways, so I'm feeling a bit cramped.

Then things start going wrong. The pilot announces that there's a problem at the fueling facility, and they can't get fuel out to the planes. He also mentions that we have enough fuel to get to Canada, but that's not quite far enough. Indeed. So we wait at the gate for about twenty minutes before they can get the fuel pumps working again; even then, the fuel comes slowly. We take off half an hour behind schedule.

Otherwise, this was a fairly typical six-hour London-to-New York flight. My iPod (which I'd forgotten to charge) ran out of battery about an hour in; we got some crappy airline food and a snack box; I sipped soda and wished I'd had the foresight to get a snack at the airport; a few iPod conspiracists were around; I read the entirety of Angels and Demons, a book Mom had taken two weeks to read. (Excellent book, by the way, although it does miss a few technical details.) A little before we land, I turn on my laptop and had it charge my iPod for a bit. Around the time they turn on the fasten-seat-belt sign, I realize my bladder is feeling exceptionally full; I think that's why I was feeling a little airsick and had a headache as we landed.

We taxied for a few minutes—typical huge airport stuff. Then we stopped about thirty feet from the gate. And waited. And waited. The pilot came on the intercom and explained that we had to be towed to the gate, and the tow truck was in place, but they needed someone who was qualified to watch the wings and make sure they don't run into anything. We waited some more. Perhaps ten or twenty minutes after we stopped, we started inching forward again.

Typically for a trans-Atlantic flight—or any flight, really—the plane drained slowly. We were near (but not at) the front of steerage class, so we were roughly in the middle of the throng of people.

We got off the jetway. No bathroom. We walk down a corridor to get to immigration. No bathroom. More corridor. No bathroom. Finally, we get to the line for immigration; after a few moments I spot a public restroom. I duck under the little cloth barrier and use the restroom, then rejoin the line.

We wait. We wait. Dad notes that our connecting flight to LAX has started boarding. We wait. We wait. Finally, we get up to passport control. The guy in the box there is kind and funny, but not fast. We dash down the stairs.

Baggage claim. We run down the room checking every single one before being told that our flight is on the baggage claim behind the escalator we came down on. Assholes. We run back there, and everyone's luggage is on the floor, not the conveyor. It takes a few minutes to find ours.

Customs. Another slow guy checks every inch of our declaration and finally waves us through.

Baggage check. Mom asks if we can make our plane; the guy says maybe, if we run. We decide to. We drop the bags off at security and start running.

When we hit the door marked for our terminal, we're in for a nasty surprise.

People checking in.

We've left security.

Shit.

We dash through half a terminal, through a passageway over a street, through half of another terminal, up a stopped escalator, past a long row of check-in desks, and arrive at security. There's nobody in the first and business class line; the security goons won't let our panting, sweating, about-to-miss-our-connection family use it anyway. We wait about ten minutes to go through normal security. This is typical American security, so I have to take my laptop out and send it through the X-ray machine separately. Devonie gets through quickly, and Mom and Dad tell her to start walking; they get through a little later and jog a bit to catch up with her. Then comes Blake. He goes through the metal detector and it beeps. Apologetically, he pulls off his belt and goes through again. Another beep—he left his cell phone in his pocket. He puts it through the X-ray machine and walks through the detector again. I go next, but the security goon makes me go back, put my half-empty Coke through the X-ray machine (why?!?), and go through the detector again.

I scoop up my bag, laptop and Coke—no time to put everything back together again—and we run full tilt for about two minutes to catch up to everyone else. The whole way I'm deathly afraid I'll trip and smash my laptop on the marble floor. Down another escalator and into a long passageway. The glideway is—you guessed it—stopped. I run down it while everyone else is walking (and yelling at me that it won't help to run ahead to the desk), then stop and stuff my laptop back in my bag. Another escalator—this one is operational, but we all walk up it anyway—and we reach the floor our gate is on. We jog down the terminal—of course our gate is at the end— and find that they've already closed the door.

The sole person at the desk ducks into the jetway and apparently runs back to the plane. They were about to close the airplane door, which would have left us in JFK waiting for the next flight to LAX, but they held the door for us. We hastily boarded and flopped into our seats, sweaty and panting—everybody had already moved into our window-and-aisle seats, but they moved back for us—and took off.

Five hours back to LA—going west is always slower because you don't have the jetstream to help. My laptop had about an hour and forty-five minutes of battery left, so I worked a while, writing some documentation for the SOC project. I also charged my iPod; the battery light was green by the time the laptop's battery failed.

So, two hours into a five-hour flight, I had no book and no laptop, just the iPod. Damn.

The rest of the flight was astoundingly boring. I watched the movie—Monster-in-Law with no sound, then saw a few episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, also without sound. There was no food, because AA is extremely cheap and makes you pay for crappy food on cross-country flights.

Boring. Boring. Boring.

At last we landed at LAX. Of course, our baggage hadn't made the plane.

Grandpa pulled up to the terminal in our van, as previously arranged, but a guy in a flourescent yellow vest (hereinafter referred to as the traffic nazi) yelled at him to move. I quickly hopped in the car. He drove around and came back, parking a little farther along; Mom came up and explained that the baggage peope had said there was another JFK-to-LAX coming in twenty minutes, which might have some of our bags on it. While she was explaining this, the traffic nazi came back and started yelling at us again, so we left (Grandpa almost backing into an SUV right behind us) and waited in parking lot about a mile from the airport.

We waited and talked. Grandma called, and I talked to her for a while. He almost backed into another car, so I offered to take over driving. So we drove back to the airport.

Out of our eight bags, five got onto the next plane. I have no idea wyonly five made it, but that was how it came out. The missing bags were Dad's, Devonie's, and Mom's make-up case. So we cut our losses, filled out our forms (no traffic nazi this time), and left. The bags should come this morning.

By this time, we'd been awake something like twenty hours, but Grandma and Grandpa wanted to go to dinner, so we did. The food was alright, but sleep would have been much better. When we got home, we'd been up for 23 hours.

Suffice to say, I went to bed without booting up my computers.




I'm largely done with my SoC project now—I just have to document, clean up some old hacks (like page classes which always record the author of revisions as anonymous), and engineer a release. I haven't committed some of my latest work, though.

And I'm probably getting a new car today. Yay.

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