MY TRIP TO ENGLAND (IN PICTURES)
My trip to England last week was a whirlwind, sleepless, 72-hour tour that took me from London to Manchester and back again.
My flight was scheduled to leave last Tuesday night at 10:30pm, so I called a car for 7:45. The ride to JFK took only about 20 minutes, which resulted in me arriving more than two hours early. There is no reason to be two hours early for a flight, unless the flight is on the space shuttle. And even then, it's ninety minutes max.
It turned out that my early arrival was a good thing, though. As usual, that night I was wearing my Mets hat. The gentleman who checked me in at the British Airways desk took notice.
"So...are you a Mets fan?" he asked, as he scanned my passport.
"No," I said. "I only wear it for fashion. And because I appreciate consistent failure."
Undaunted by my sarcasm, the clerk proceeded to quiz me position-by-position on my predictions for the 2009 squad of Metropolitans. A point of clarification: I love to talk about baseball, particularly my favorite team. It's the straightest thing about me, and it helps to counteract my tea-drinking, pedicure-receiving, dance-remix-listening metrosexual tendencies.
So yes, I am always up for a nice baseball-related chat EXCEPT when I am in an airport about to leave the country. I have only left the United States on two other occasions in my adult life, and both times I had panic attacks.
I'm not really a panic attack guy -- at least, not since I started taking meds -- but, back in 1994, I had the biggest one of my life at the passport office in Rockefeller Center. I felt nauseous. I starting sweating profusely. And finally, I was forced to run outside and lie down on a bench in the middle of Rockefeller Center. Had I gotten sick, I would have been shit out of luck (literally) because there are no public bathrooms in or near the Rockefeller Center area.
Welcome to New York City. Relieving yourself is not permitted.
My second trip, four years later and also to London, was less problematic, in part because I was traveling with co-workers. But it still freaked me out. And now I was back, ten years older and a lot wiser, but still fucked up in the biochemistry.
If it was up to me I would never leave the island of Manhattan. Everything I need is here. Everything I want is here. When I'm gone I feel disconnected, awkward, less-than-whole. I count the hours until I get back, regardless of whether I'm traveling for business or pleasure.
Oh wait. I don't travel for pleasure. Right, I forgot.
So anyway, back to the airport. I've got Howard Cosell Jr. grilling me on the Mets' chances of signing Manny Ramirez (no), re-signing Pedro Martinez (no), taking the word "Citi" (as in -Bank) off their new stadium (unlikely, though strongly desired). Blah blah blah. The conversation went on so long that one of the guy's colleagues came over, I thought, to reprimand him. No. He wanted to join in too.
I finally extricated myself, got through security in moments and headed for the gate. I ended up there with exactly 1 hour and 55 minutes until takeoff. Everybody says, "You gotta get to the airport at least two hours early for international flights!" Why? I So you can buy those gigantic duty-free cartons of Marlboro Lights.
The British Air terminal at JFK is slick but, after 9pm, there isn't much to do. Most of the restaurants in the small food court were closed, save for the McDonalds. So I hug out, read David Sedaris's book Barrel Fever and ate French fries.
This was my first time ever on a British Airways flight and I found their staff to be shockingly courteous. Also, they leave pillows and blankets on your seat and don't ask you for money in return. And they serve you a real dinner on board. I don't remember the last time that happened on an American flight. And it was good too.
With the time difference I arrived in London Wednesday morning around 10:30. I met my photographer Peter (he had flown in from Philadelphia) and we grabbed a cab for our hotel, the Hilton London Green Park on Half Moon Street in the Mayfair neighborhood.
I checked in, raced to my room and jumped into bed. And then the construction began. It sounded like there was a guy right outside my door cutting a hole in the ceiling. So I opened my door and there was a guy cutting a hole in the ceiling.
Tell me something. If you run a hotel in a city where tons of jet-lagged travelers arrive on early morning flights, would you do construction in the morning? If you run the Hilton Green Gardens (or whatever the fuck it's called) the answer is yes, guv'nor.
So I groggily called the front desk and asked for a new room, which was equally tiny (like every hotel room I've ever had in London) and only slightly quieter. It didn't matter. I was so tired I fell right asleep. Or maybe it was the asbestos I inhaled from the construction work.
That night Peter and I went to dinner in the neighborhood at an American bistro called Automat. I'm American and I go to Europe to eat American food. How very red-neckian of me. The next morning I woke up, met Peter in the lobby and we headed over to our shoot location (the office of a pharmaceutical company). We shot there all morning (Peter took pictures and I conducted audio interviews), then went back to the hotel to check out.
As cheesily touristy-y as it might sound, before I left London I wanted to eat at a real British pub. I have no real interest in beer of any type, but I love the concept of the British pub. I imagine that people gather there at all hours of the day and night, eat, drink, sing songs around a beat-up old piano, watch football matches, meet their future husbands and wives and otherwise carouse until all hours of the morning.
In reality, the pub we went to was filled with clean cut businessmen on their lunch breaks. Oh well. But they were drinking beer at lunch on a work day. I guess that's a bit of carousing. Sadly, no fights broke out (if you don't count my inner debate about ordering French Fries, or chips at the Brits so charmingly call them).
After lunch we headed over to Euston Station and boarded a Virgin train for Wimslow, in Cheshire, near Manchester. The client had arranged for us to stay at a bed and breakfast called The White House Manor in Prestbury.
When we got off the train, the cabbie knew we must be working for the pharmaceutical company. ( I think it was my suit.)
"Well then, ya won't mind if I put an extra dollar on the meter," he said. "Just tryin' to make me bones."
I said yes, because I love guys who say things like "me bones."
"Do you lads (again, I love being called a 'lad') have any interest in football?" our cabbie asked. "Because all the footballers for Manchester United live around here. Would you care to see their posh houses?"
I'm pretty the guy was just trying to pump up our fare, but I said yes. he drove us around a beautiful tree-lined area with ridiculously, inappropriately large houses. It looked more like Houston than Manchester.
"Right there, that's where Alex Ferguson lives," he said. "Do ya know who he is?"
"Oh sure," I said.
We arrived at the White House Manor and thanked our cabbie -- his name was Harold -- for the tour. Then, as Peter checked in, I took some pictures.
The place was very historic looking, but my room was distinctly modern, which was a bit of an unpleasant surprise. I was hoping for some creaky old four poster bed, a fire place, maybe a small cobbler's bench in the corner. Instead I got something that looked more like Beverly Hills, California than Prestbury, Chester.
That night we had dinner at the similarly named, but unrealted White House Restaurant in the quaint village of Prestbury. I had a Fillet Mignon with my yet another order of chips.
The next morning I awoke to the smells of eggs, sausage and bacon as our hosts served us a lovely breakfast to us in the sun-filled conservatory.
Then we hopped in a cab and headed over to our shoot location -- a pharmaceutical R&D facility located on the grounds of a historic mansion. After a morning shoot another cab drove us nearly ninety minutes to the town of Nottingham (yes,that Nottingham) where we did some more shooting and then headed for the local train station.
The Friday rush hour trains headed for London were packed with commuters, but everyone was extremely pleasant. I'm come to the realization that British people are nicer than Americans, particularly New Yorkers. This will come as news to no one but me.
We got back to the city, rechecked into the same hotel and I decided to stay in for the evening. My flight was at 8:20 AM, and I was already in such a state of jet lag, exhaustion and overall time-related confusion, I didn't want to push myself any further.
Of course it ended up that I had to do work in my room until nearly 2 AM, which gave me about 3 hours of sleep before I had to leave for the airport.
Once again, I got there more than two hours early. I intentionally kept my hat in my backpack, just in case I ran into another baseball loving airline clerk. Have you been through airport security in the United States recently? Most of the people who work there couldn't secure a neighborhood playground let alone an international airport. But the British Aviation Administration security staff were exemplary. And the female employees were hot. I was disappointed that none of them wanted to give me a cavity search.
The flight was very nice with great flight attendants, good food and an overall level of service -- in coach -- that just does not exist anymore in this country. In fact, a female passenger in the row ahead of me got sick mid-flight and the entire staff mobilized to help in an extremely caring and compassionate way.
By the time I got home I was exhausted, yes, but I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I had bopped all around England on planes, trains and automobiles and not once did I lose my shit. It helped that I had a co-worker with me, a producer back in New York arranging our itinerary and a client putting me up in fancy hotels.
But I'm going to give myself credit for a level of calm on this trip that would have been unthinkable 15 years ago. It's good to know the meds are working. And that's, at least in part, why I don't mind being a propagandist for the pharmaceutical industry.
Sadly, I did not turn into Doctor Who when I got in this call box