The Adventure Begins! London, Day Zero (and One)

3 o’clock, arrive at the Duluth International Airport. (Why is it an international airport? There’s only 2 terminals–I suppose its because one flight a week goes to Canada.) Say my goodbyes to my family. No one in line for security, and the TSA agent seems genuinely happy to be working today. The day’s off to a good start!

I’m informed I’ve been randomly selected to be searched. I’m asked to stand off to the side. I wonder what algorithm they use to determine it? I know someone who look like he’s from the middle east who says he’s “randomly selected” every time he flies. Regardless, its a quick and painless procedure, as only 2 minutes pass before I’m cleared to go through.

We board the plane, and I introduce myself to my seat buddy, who I’ll call Janet. She’s a nice lady, traveling to Los Vegas on a business trip. I find out she works in Indian Affairs as a financial manager.

The captain tells us there’s weather in the Twin Cities (of course there’s weather, I’d be concerned if there was no weather at all), and that the airport was completely closed: no inbound nor outbound flights at all. The pilot wants to keep the delay as short as possible, and so because its expected to clear up in about 20 minutes, we are to wait patiently on the plane.

The man sitting behind Janet and I doesn’t handle delays well. He’s on his cell phone with Delta Airlines, trying to rebook his connecting flight for tomorrow. I’m pretty sure I overhear him saying that the airport is closed for the day and won’t start again until tomorrow. He asks the flight attendant to let him off the flight and help rebook his flight.

The 20 minutes pass, and then another 20. The man behind us is still restless and concerned. The flight attendant tries to soothe his worries, telling him that the plane he’s supposed to be flying out of the cities on is grounded in Milwaukee, just like we’re grounded in Duluth. Janet’s concerned she’ll miss her flight too, as her phone says her flight is still “on time.” I’m glad I had a 3-hour layover.

After an hour and a half, the weather finally clears and we’re cleared for take off. The flight itself is fairly uneventful, and we land safely, albeit not without some difficulties for some passengers. Janet’s plane is already boarding by the time we reach the gate, and Mr. Cell Phone Man pushes his way out of the plane, telling everyone that he’s “only got a minute before his plane takes off.” Janet nicely reminds him that everyone else on the plane is in the same situation.

I hope Janet and Mr. Cell Phone Man both make it to their flights.

The Twin Cities’ Airport is fairly quiet today. Maybe because its getting late on a Sunday night? We find our next gate and most everyone is cuddled around the charging station with their phones. I begrudgingly join them, deciding I should “top off” the battery on my phone, even though it still has 89% battery remaining.

A few minutes pass, and I start talking to the woman seated in the terminal next to me. She works for Pearson–a company I’ve heard about before! They make textbooks, and do other education-related stuff. She’s traveling to the United Kingdom because Pearson is trying to standardize the system they use between countries. She tells me each branch of the company has an Oracle database set-up slightly differently, and they want to make it all one system for compatibility reasons. I can’t believe I ran into another person who’s in the technology field on the trip!

They start boarding the plane, but one of the flight attendants is overtly concerned that passengers aren’t boarding fast enough. She joins the other attendants by snatching tickets and passports from passengers to check them on the flight. I make sure to be nice to her, but move quickly, as she looks like she’s had a rough day.

The plane itself was nicer (and larger!) than the Duluth to the Twin Cities plane. When the plane was preparing for departure, we were greeted with a hilarious video covering the safety protocols that included cake, 1920s film noir characters, a doll with an oxygen mask, a crazy cat lady, and six individuals performing synchronous reading of the inflight literature. The rest of the flight occurred fairly uneventfully. Finally in London!

Wait, apparently not yet. There’s a big sign that says “UK Border” ahead, so we must be in some sort of Limbo or something. The customs officer is suspicious of my alleged reasoning in England—I told him I was on vacation for three weeks (which is true), and he begins questioning me. Doesn’t three weeks seem to be a long vacation? No, I’m grateful that I’m able to spend so much time here. Do you have family in England? Yes. (I have a great uncle who lives here.) Will you be meeting up with him? Well, maybe, I’m not sure yet. (Looking back, it was definitely this answer that confused him.) I’m traveling with a group of my friends. Are they all here now? Yeah, they’re all going through customs right now. Eventually, he lets me through, after asking how to pronounce “Duluth” correctly. Now we’re finally in London!

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We go out to eat at a quaint little pub, and I discover my first language-barrier difficulty. I want to order a soda, so I ask for a soda. The bartender doesn’t understand. I try “soft drink” instead. Still no go. I ask her what they have that doesn’t have alcohol in it. Success! I order a Pepsi (I didn’t really want a Pepsi, I was hoping for a Sprite or a Sierra Mist or something, but I’ll take whatever I can get at this point that isn’t alcohol or juice). Fortunately, I’m not much of a soda drinker, so I’ll be perfectly happy with water from here on out. I just need to make sure I specify plain water, not carbonated water. Who knew that two individuals who seemingly speak the same language could have such difficulty communicating!

After dinner, we break off into groups and my group ends up wandering through London for a few hours. We saw a really cool crypt, Big Ben, the London Eye, and a whole bunch of other places I took pictures of but either didn’t catch the name of or don’t remember—I’m sure I’ll get a chance to see them again and get all their names.

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