Monday 16 November

Mathematics Exam – Basic Level.

Q : A flight departs at 9.20, and the passenger has to be at the airport at 8am.  The airport is a forty-five minute drive away.  What time does the passenger have to leave his hotel?  Explain your answer and show working.

A: 5.30 am.  The airport in question is Los Angeles, and it is Monday morning.  In all probability there will be an accident and the journey could take anything up to three hours.

My alarm is set for 4.45, but I am up and packing before it rings.  I go through the careful process of protecting my top hat, and making sure that I have collected all of my belongings, before leaving the room.  I decide to leave the sun block behind, rather doubting that I will need it again.

The night sky is clear and the stars are looking down at me.  They are old friends now.

Even as I load the car up I can hear the rumble of busy traffic on the freeway close by and as soon as I take the entry ramp I join a river of cars and trucks, flowing like lava towards the City of Angels.

I hook up my phone to the car stereo and flick through my music choices.  Somehow I don’t feel like Christmas music this morning, and I select Liz’s fantastic CD: New York Connections.  The beautiful sound of Gershwin, Joplin and Sondheim will keep me company as I drive, and make me feel closer to home.

As is usual in traffic like this, I have plenty of time to look at the surroundings (although concentration is necessary: the Californian driving style proves the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest.  There is no quarter given as cars swap lanes with astonishing boldness).

One roadside sign that catches my attention says: ‘3 Day Suit Broker!’  A suit broker?  I understand a stock broker, or an insurance broker, but a suit broker? A strange world we live in.

My sat nav unit began the journey by telling me that my arrival time would be 6.20, but as I crawl on it amends that to 6.24, 6.30, 6.33. 6.40.

As I approached the City Limits of Long Beach the traffic filled all five lanes, and  there was just a sea of red lights in front of me.  Ironically the first lane to stop was the High Occupancy Vehicle Lane, dedicated to those good drivers who had taken the decision to car share, thereby easing the congestion.

Fascinating Rhythm plays on the stereo: the joyful pace of the music not reflected by the traffic.

There is a sign to Bixby Knolls.  What a great name – it sounds rather like a Hollywood starlet, or an aging repertory actor: ‘Sir Bixby Knolls will reprise his performance as Heathcliff for the twenty-fifth year’.

In my rear view mirror the sun is rising, and the darkness is swallowed up to be replaced with a steely blue, changing rapidly into gold.

At last I see the sign to leave the freeway and am on the final approaches to the airport.  I spot a petrol station and pull in to refill the Sonata before returning it to Avis.  The exit to the forecourt is right on a junction and the traffic is heavy.  I don’t see any opportunity of getting out into it, until a nice lady waves me forward.  I stamp on the accelerator and shoot out into the road, so as not to hold her up.  Quick glance in my mirror, she is way behind; and stationary.  At the moment I register this fact, I become aware that traffic is coming from either side and I realise that I must have run the red light.  Well, when in LA….I accelerate harder and clear the junction before anyone is much the wiser.  Good old Darwin (for the Sonata has now earned its name).

I pull into the Avis lot, and am soon on the bus into the airport terminal, where after the inevitable queues, I am finally able to get some breakfast.

I find a table with a power point and start to work on the blog post, which takes me a little while.  In fact the flight is called before I am able to correct it and add pictures, it.  It will have to sit in the computer’s memory until my layover in Detroit.  No Blog.

The gate is very busy and once again the agents are asking if anyone would mind checking their roller bag, and I again offer.  Sadly on this occasion I do not get offered priority boarding, and I become a part of the slow-moving scrum of people edging their way towards the gate so as to be first in line when ‘Zone 2’ is announced.

I have a window seat, which is always my preferred option, but today the sun is so hot, that even with the shades down I am being cooked.  I have four hours of this ahead of me and it is very uncomfortable.

I have downloaded season 2 of House of Cards into my Kindle so I set it up and watch the first, shocking, episodes.

The flight seems to drag on and on and on.  I follow our progress on the little tracker-map and it seems as if we remain stationary over Colorado forever.  We drone over Nebraska and Idaho before finally, apparently reluctantly, starting our descent into Detroit.

The disembarking is slow, but I am relieved to discover, as I stand up, that my back hasn’t suffered a relapse during the journey.

Detroit is one of those major hubs where the various terminals are linked by a monorail.  It is rare to depart from the same terminal that you arrive in and often an ungainly rush through crowds of people is required to make the onward flight.

Today, however I am in luck as the flight arrives at gate 31,and my onward flight is to depart from gate 29.

I sit down and power up the laptop once more, ready to finally post the blog.  Of course, Murphy’s Law kicks in and the computer chooses this moment to download countless updates, and by the time it is ready to do anything useful my flight is being called.  No Blog.

It is another massively full flight and my cheery good nature is feeling a little fragile by now.  A girl tries to force, and I mean FORCE a bag into the overhead bin, when it is patently obvious it won’t fit.  It is too large by half.  That is why they have those little measuring cradles at check-in and by the gate. There is no excuse for finding that your bag wont fit..  Nobody else can get seated as she selfishly stands there looking at the bin and the bag; the bag and the bin.

Then there is the business man conducting the loudest phone call you can imagine, just so we all know how important he is.  In case the urgent talk of meetings and contracts isn’t enough to convince us, he sets up a conference call for tomorrow: ‘That will be great – yes, I will be through security by then and will be having a glass of red wine in the Delta executive lounge.’ Grrrrrrr.  If you are so important, then why are you in the back with us?

Then, there is the guy next to me: he is large and pushing me against the window, but that’s OK: I have no issue with anybody’s size of course.  But he has the most annoying twitch as he reads his Kindle – every few seconds he shoots his elbow out horizontally.  He doesn’t actually make contact with me, but it is right in my eye line, as I try to read, and becomes more and more irritating as the flight goes on.

Sorry, just grumpy.  Rant over. For now.

The flight from Detroit to Philadelphia is only an hour, and finally I disembark into the cool Pennsylvania air.  I have to pick up a rental car, and here that means waiting for a shuttle bus to take me to the Dollar office.  Is there a Dollar bus to be seen?

As I wait I watch buses from Enterprise and Alamo and National and Hertz (four of them), and Avis (three) go by,  before Dollar puts in an appearance.

It is all made better by the driver, Mike C, who is very cheerful and chatty.  It must be a thankless task driving constantly around an airport perimeter road, but he is very obviously enjoying himself, and that enjoyment is infectious and most welcome to a weary, jaded traveller.

Logistically the day has actually been very easy – there have been no delays or hold ups or difficulties, and the theme continues with Dollar.  In no time I am in possession of a chunky, solid-feeling Mazda CX5, and am on my way towards the Holiday Inn Express located about 30 minutes North of Philadelphia.

As I  leave the airport I notice that the Wells Fargo Center is bathed in red white and blue light, to show support and comradeship to the people of France.  It is good to see that the City of Brotherly Love is living up to its nickname.

The traffic is light and soon I am turning onto the rather unimaginatively named Street Road and into the hotel’s car park.

And now, at last at 8.30 pm, I finally post my blog.

I am very hungry, and as I drove in I noticed an Applebee’s restaurant nearby,  so I get back into my car and set the sat nav.  The route calculation is quick: ‘arrive at destination in 1 minute’ OK, probably didn’t need to drive to the other side of the parking lot!

I have some pasta and chicken and then go back to my room and have a shower, washing the heat and grime of a day in the air away, before turning off my light and drifting away to sleep.