Friday, 24th July 2009
Typically, it started pouring down with rain the moment I boarded the aircraft at Heathrow. After I was “randomly” chosen for a “random” inspection of my carry-on luggage (complete with suspicious glances and frisking from airport personnel), I was just about ready to don my headphones, grit my teeth and fly away. But of course, the plane was delayed by an hour and a half because of England’s glorious weather.
In my very fitted, almost made-to-measure cattle class seat, I was surrounded in every direction by orange-hooded, orange-capped and devoutly Christian spiritual volunteers from Tennessee. It was thus nigh impossible to read without timely interruptions of “Gyood Lorrrd, we ain’t got no hot dowgs in heeere” or “Johnny, why don’t ya sit down read yur bi-a- ble like a gyood boy?” I stared straight ahead at my non-functioning TV screen in apoplectic silence, letting their Southern drawl infiltrate my ears and permeate the substance of my brain. The woman to my right was clutching her bible for dear life, and I wondered why. Surely nobody else would want to steal it: they all had bibles of their own. This particular one was entitled “the daily bible…..like nothing you’ve ever read before”. For once, the irony didn’t escape me.
My quarters were closing in on me, as the child in front had just discovered the “lean back” button for his seat. With my nose practically touching the TV screen, and for palpable lack of anything else to do, I decided to try and suddenly fall asleep. This plan met with spectacular failure as soon as the Tennessee titan to my left started poking my shoulder and asking to be let out, in the first of what would be twenty trips to the toilet.
Eventually, the plane took off and I discovered that I was never going to be able to sleep, as Mrs Daily Bible started laughing raucously at her TV screen, watching “17 again” and the Titan next to me kept shouting across aisles to his “buddy” seven rows ahead of us. Brilliant.
Watched a couple of TV shows and, in sheer desperation, a movie called “He’s just not that into you”, which was entirely predictable and mostly awful. Spent the rest of the flight reading Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie and drinking Sprite, whilst glancing up now and again at the moving map. I marvelled at the bizarre route through Greenland that my plane was taking to avoid the Atlantic jet stream.
Touched down in Atlanta at about 18:30 local time, but didn’t get past immigration control until 19:15. This was due, in part, to the intense scrutiny with which I was studied by the US Border control officer. “What is the purpose of your visit to the United States?” she asked, looking fiercely quizzical with least 100 kg of might tucked (or not) behind folded arms. I gulped, stared calmly back and gave her my letter from Emory, saying that I was here on a medical elective. Thankfully, she dropped her stapler at this point, and spent about 5 minutes trying to pick it up. By the time she returned, she just looked thoroughly exasperated, stamped my passport and waved me away. So that was that.
After the usual 37 minute wait in baggage claim, I was forced to once again surrender my suitcase to the mystical realms of carousel travel. Why the Americans want to re-scan a suitcase that has just come out of an aeroplane escapes me. Somehow, I managed to re-unite myself with my suitcase about 5 miles at the other end of the airport, and took the train to Avondale. The in-train entertainment consisted of spontaneous outbursts of angry rap and breakdancing from some very talented teenagers, which was a lot better than any of the in-flight entertainment.
The lady I’m staying with picked me up from the train station, whence she drove to her very beautiful house. I stayed up for a while, chatting to her and her husband, and met their friends, a young couple from MIT who have just moved into the area. They were all incredibly friendly and welcoming, despite my permanently glazed-over expression, borne of extreme tiredness.
After an hour or so, I excused myself and went to bed, utterly exhausted. One day down, and 65 to go!