Now, lots of people have been to the US and this was a first time for me. It seems entirely prudent to relay the sheer worth of this trip from an emotive perspective in order that this JessObserves is understood and I don't look like a wet-eyed moron. Although this was a work trip and certainly had commercial value (I won't go into that), the venture to America was a big deal for me. I've wanted to go to the USA all my life. I'm nearly 38 and have visited some obscure and oddball places but never been to the most powerful, and maybe, infamous country in the whole world. America means something amazing to me - it always has. I grew up in the 80's where big-screen movies were everything, special effects were becoming something wonderful and American tech, music and fashion were something that only a country-bumpkin like me could dream about. American people were made of stardust and I think even their skin looks different. I’ve often wondered what they smell like. The country seems out of reach, plated with solid gold, and entirely made of magic.
Last month, I was given the opportunity to visit this place for a week. This is what happened.
Part 1: The Flight.
1. Drinking heavily on a flight is a really good idea. There was just one downside which I will go onto later. When you are granted with a posh seat in the plane (this, again, was virgin territory for me, and again, I'll go onto this in a min) you get to go into a special living room at the airport to relax your weary body and look at other people reading newspapers. Most people in this room have proper hairdresser'd hair and wristwatches that are not plastic. Some of them are reading massive newspapers and there are no children. This is the Business Lounge where travellers retire to, I imagine, to do lots of business or prepare for the business that they are travelling to undertake. In order to physically prepare them for this business, free food and drinks are displayed around the perimeter of this lounge for guests to take. I don’t think you are allowed to take them home – I think you are supposed to consume them in the lounge as there was no option for doggie bags or such like. This is what you could choose from at 09.05am on a Saturday morning: Egg in a roll, Bacon in a roll, coffee, tea, wasabi peas, rice crackers, toast, jam, mixed nuts. The choice was simple but certainly enough. In fact, I had left home so early in the morning to get to Heathrow (train via London), my stomach felt very sensitive, vulnerable and a little churned up to partake in all this free food.
2. There was so much gin and wine that I could hardly think straight. This was the most wonderful treat so I had loads. I also had a can of Heineken that was one of these stubby tins which you only really get on planes. There just wasn’t enough time left before having to go to the departure gate to sample every free drink.
3. I embarked the aircraft feeling very good indeed. A little cocky about the impending flight (I’m a nervous flier so this is a good thing) and a little embarrassed at going into the posh bit of the plane. I certainly am not cool enough to sit here. I felt that the cabin crew were looking at me quizzically – like “who’s this chump?” and my plastic Casio was burning into my wrist like an electronic tag. I thought I had one of them guffaw but they have been the chair complaining at the Russian lady sitting down next to me.
4. The cabin crew came around the posh bit with a tray and some drinks on it – champagne (it could have been cava, I don’t know the difference) or orange juice. I obviously didn’t have any orange juice and instead committed to becoming more dehydrated. One of them winked at the other one across the aisle and sneaked a little nod at me. They think I didn’t notice but I did, Gemma! At this point I wondered where my bag was; I had entered the aircraft in such a dizzy starstruck tizz that I don’t know what I did with it. I don’t know if I said this out loud but the cabin crew guy near me (Christian) pointed at my overhead locker and smiled. At this point I decided that I should not have too many more drinks because I was losing stuff already.
5. The flight took off and I spent the next 8 hours laughing my head off, getting really drunk, having a “who’s got the best music on their iPod” competition with my boss, discussing a draft of our Business Plan (which turned out pretty good considering), debating whether to buy any duty free, forgetting I wanted duty free, remembering I wanted duty free, being “sssshhed!” at, trying to find our other colleague who was sat away from us in a “I’ve loshhhed my fweeend” dribble, spilling drinks and trying to manoeuvre the posh chair/bed into a sleeping position. This was particularly notable because, after some tugging, pushing and a lot of grunting, my boss peers over at me (we were separated by a plastic wall with a small slide-down window) and tells me that the chair-bed is electronic and is operated by a button on the wall. This button was located right next to my face to so don’t know how I missed it. You only have to press it and the chair slides forward, meets another seat-thing on the other side of your area which in turn makes a flat bed. Anyway, my self-assembly of this chair bed was totally in vain (and certainly enhanced my uncoolness to the cabin crew who were all looking at me from the kitchen bit) as it was totally electronic and needed no intervention from a stupid Suffolk passenger. I felt a bit silly about that so announced that I was actually looking for my bag that I had lost on the floor.
6. The relaxing on the bed thing didn’t last long because I saw someone at the other end of the plane get a tray of food. This is obviously more important than getting some sleep so I pressed the button to raise the bed into a chair and got comfy waiting for my plate of posh grub. Lovely jubbly.
7. I notice that a small toiletry bag in on the floor next to my feed. It’s green and looks like there is stuff in it. I open it up and it’s a complimentary bag o’ goodies. In it is a lip balm, moisturiser, eye mask, and some ear plugs. What I really needed at this point was a glass of bloody water as I was starting to get a headache. I opened up the face cream whilst still trying to cran my neck to get a look at the food trolley down the aisle and the cream squirted out all on my trousers and some on the carpet. I rubbed it in the carpet subtly with my trainer. I looked behind me and Christian was there who was watching me. He was also preparing a trolley of food which I hadn’t even noticed.
8. After Christian had thrown the tray of food at my head, I had the chance to look at the fare. It looked nice. “Salad!”, I said, and looked around my fellow passengers at what they were having. My boss said “didn’t you want that? Why did you choose it?”. Apparently Christian came around earlier and asked me what I wanted from the menu. I can’t remember this but even if I chose salad at 1pm I wasn’t in the mood for it at 6.30pm after 2 bottles of wine. I saw that the Russian lady had a rack of lamb and I tried to make eye contact with her to see if perhaps she didn’t want her lamb anymore and fancied salad instead. She ate her lamb though. My boss and I shared his Chicken Ratatouille and I don’t know what happened to the salad.
9. By 8pm, I was starting to feel a bit jaded and Christian had retrieved me a bottle of water. My eyes were all dry and I had had enough of looking at the Business Plan -which was now covered in red wine and dry-roasted peanut dust. We had only discussed 8 out of 30 pages because the iPod game got gnarly. We had not maximised this down time for business purposes at all. We were only an hour from landing and we were probably over the USA at this point. How amazing. It was mid afternoon over there so we had had daylight the entire flight.
10. At this point, I realised that we had quite a boozy night ahead of us. Some of our colleagues were already in the states and one was arriving around the same time as us on another flight. We were due to meet them all in the pub in a few hours and I was already in the full burning midst of a hangover. And I was totally exhausted. That was the bad bit of drinking on the plane which I referred to earlier.
11. The plane was landing. We broke through some cloud and I saw America through the window. It looked very beige. This was it. This was the moment I have been waiting for for 30 years. This time of magic is upon me. I am about to land in the United States of America. Oh my goodness!
12. As we disembarked the plane, Christian patted me on the back and said “Have a great time in Chicago! Don’t worry about the kids! They’ll be fine with Kevin!” I don’t remember mentioning the family, but I must have done. The Russian lady turned around, nodded and smiled at me too.
13. I got off the plane like a patient who had just had major surgery. I was a total mess – staggering all over the place, stale beer breath, wrinkled skin and no idea where my travel documents were and needing a massive wee.
14. I cannot remember any of what happened after that. I do know that I didn’t stay out very late that evening.
15. I did notice, however, that Christian was also wearing a plastic watch.