My Life in Words
Tips, travel, yoga, mentoring, life, and everything in between.
3/29/2019 2 Comments
24 Hours in London
Have you ever been curious as to what goes on in the life of a pilot? We see them walk up in uniform, black designated carry on in tow, primped and ready to steer the flying vessel that gets you from A to B. For years I personally wanted to find out about the life of a pilot, garnering a stockpile of questions to ask about the logistics of flying, domestically and abroad, but never really thought I would end up dating one. Now all my curiosities have been satiated.
Fortunately I have been able to travel the world over for many years, and now, with the good fortune of having my beloved at the helm of a jet liner. To experience the life of a pilot is something I admire. Yet, to say it’s an easy life to be a pilot or being apart of a flight crew is something we shouldn’t look blindly to. When duty calls, they need to absolutely ready and steadfast when making sure the plane gets to a destination. With that being said, allow me to share our trip to London.
Tom and I had just arrived back from spending a week in Budapest, which we quickly learned, is an absolutely fantastic city with rich cultural history. It became arbitrary [on my end at least] to have chosen Budapest not knowing how deep the past tyrannical blood runs through the veins of such a city. A strategic battleground for the Soviet and the Nazis, Budapest acquired a moment in history where their livelihood was nearly relinquished, all because of two egomaniacs and their push for imperialism. Budapest, a must do.
We just touched down back in Michigan and we knew there would be a chance he would have to fly that week in the event a pilot couldn’t make it in time. On call duties - suitcase packed ready to take flight when the call comes in. As we spent a few days in Michigan, he mentioned that if there was room on the plane I could come in tow. So naturally being the avid traveler and adventurer that I am, I too, packed a carry on, ready, and willing.
Tom was on call for a day, and so far it didn’t look like he was going to be summoned. We kept an eye on the schedule tracking the flights departing out of Chicago throughout the day. The last flight was scheduled for 10:20pm en route to London and at about 2:00pm we were thinking he might be in the clear. We met up with a friend of ours in downtown Kalamazoo for dinner at 6:00pm at a really neat restaurant where I had a glass of wine and Tom, did not. Though he was on the tail end of his call time, he wasn’t going to chance it. That’s why I love that man. After dinner, we went to another rooftop bar where we watched the sunset in the distance in what looked like pastel water colored mural bleeding in the sky.
We left downtown Kalamazoo on our way back to the house at 9:00pm assuming he wasn’t going to get called. His window was until 10:00pm so the percentage of him being called was at ten percent. Well, we walked in the door at 9:15pm and sure enough American Airlines rang his phone requesting his presence to man the plane from Chicago to London Heathrow. We checked every flight that day for room in case I was to tag along and luckily we did check this flight earlier that day for options. He kissed me and said he had to go, and I asked, “Aren’t I going?” At first his reply was he didn’t want me to feel obligated to go, and asked if I was sure I wanted to go. We all know the answer was yes. The two of us got into the car and off we drove to Chicago.
It takes approximately two and a half hours drive [with no traffic] to reach O’Hare, central time. It allotted us time to get there safely since we were on eastern standard time, not having to push the departure time further out for the already perturbed passengers (Little do they know all that goes into pulling an on call pilot from another state readily available within a short time frame). I put him in the passenger seat enabling him to input information and look over logistics while I focused on the road. Tom put me on the list, but was unable to check me in since we were already inside the two-hour mark for boarding. Ok, how can we go about this situation? Call the co-pilot who is already in the cockpit programming the computers and ask him if he could go to the ticketing agent to work some magic. Better yet, how about the supervisor being present. Luckily the supervisor was indeed present and magic happened. The boarding pass generated for me to pass through security when we arrived, easy right? Not quite.
Tom and I finally arrived at the time the plane was set to depart. Scurrying from the parking structure into the terminal, the place was desolate with no security gate open. There were a handful of humans around consisting of random flight attendants, terminal workers, and cleaners. We asked where we could go to pass through security and were instructed to proceed to the farthest point of the terminal for the only security clearance. As we walked up, it was only for those with lanyards to be granted access and I was a civilian. Tom obviously dressed in uniform (looking handsome I may add) easily passed through, but I was declined.
Now Tom is not the type to pull the captain card out when flying (unless it’s obligation), or even as a civilian. It is only when it is absolutely necessary will he puff up his chest and utilize his position. In this case, after traveling so far, it was deemed appropriate. We told the agent I was a passenger on the plane, he was the captain of the plane, and the plane won’t leave unless I’m on it. The agent called his higher up and explained the situation to which he allowed me through but I was to be pat down before being fully admitted to clear, and by a woman. I told Tom to go ahead to the plane and I’d catch up. If it didn’t work out or it was taking too long, to just leave me behind and I would drive back to Michigan. Fortunately, there was a female TSA agent that came to pat me down and not too long after, I ran like a puppy learning how to run through an empty terminal.
The plane was situated at the farthest point of the terminal, of course in the longest concourse, towards the very end. I could see Tom up ahead in the distance, walking at a comfortable pace while I’m the only person in the terminal clinking my boots running behind. (If you could imagine, I was trying not to laugh at the same time being a pure witness of the scene). There she was, the Dreamliner parked waiting for captain Tom Huitema to take over. With no other planes around, passengers boarded, crew ready, and at this very moment, we were only twenty minutes passed the scheduled departure time.
Tom had just boarded the plane as I ran up to the ticketing counter. A handful of staff members were closing down, printing out the final count and the supervisor, a tall Sikh Indian named Raj whipped out the master key to the door of the jet bridge and in I went. As I sped walked down the jet bridge, I was greeted by the smiling flight attendants saying, “Are you the Uber driver?” Alas, as patient as they were it was time to get the show on the road. “Yes, yes I’m the Uber driver,” I said with a smile on my face as they directed me to my seat.
When I finally sat down, the guy sitting next to me said, “You’re late.” I could tell the passengers were slightly annoyed and I understand why, no one wants to wait on a plane, no one wants a delay. As I began to get comfortable, I turned to him, slightly loud enough for others to hear [knowing they are wanting] some sort of explanation, I replied back, “Yeah I just drove your captain here from Michigan, sorry.” His demeanor quickly evolved and his condescending remark morphed into a curious and grateful expression. In a nonchalant manner, I filled him and the passengers behind me in as to why we were delayed. Their frustration turned into appreciation and said I deserved a first class seat. I replied with, “I’m just happy to be on the plane and there was a seat available.” No later than ten minutes, Tom came on the intercom introducing him self, giving a brief explanation of the delay, and reassuring the passengers we’d be in London within minutes of the scheduled arrival time. By 11:00pm we left Chicago O’Hare.
From Chicago O’Hare it’s a quick fly over to London, approximately six hours and forty-five minutes. In the years I have traveled, it is quite difficult for me to sleep sitting up. The flight attendants took great care of me, and when I did manage to dose off, Tom came up to say hi. He was on his break and informed me on where to go after we deplane at LHR. If you’re an avid traveler, you’re aware most flight crews have a different procedure than civilians. He told me where they were staying in the city and later on one of the flight attendants came to me with the hotel name and underground stop. Upon arrival, I quickly saw Tom as I left the plane, gave him a hug and kiss, breezed through customs, and headed to the underground.
As I began my journey on the underground, sitting in the carriage observing humanity interacting with their phones, I reminisced of my time well spent in the city. The musty smell of the stale seats, the notorious ‘Mind the gap,’ the breeze of the tube shooting through the tunnels like the old bank monetary transactions, and the constant labyrinths giving way for our agendas to reconvene into the abyss of bodies above the underworld.
When I was nineteen years old, I began traveling to London frequently and it became my second home. Every time I landed at Heathrow airport, there was a routine and a familiar feeling. Staying with family in west London to the point where I practically lived there. I had stuff there at home and my go to would be, “See you next week.” I spent more time there than I did back in California and as much I loved London, I simply grew out of it.
It has been a several years since I’ve explored the city and as I sat in the tube, I realized there were so many places I never went to explore. Por exempla, the area I was en route to meet my main squeeze was Kensington Gardens. How could I miss Kensington? The answer being I was a west London girl and as we all know, when you live in a city, you don’t really explore it because you’re not in the tourist mentality. Furthermore, everything was in the central part of the city and I would go into the city for fun and do all the normal living activities where I was based, East Acton.
When I finally arrived at the designated underground, I walked out into a quant yet bustling area of Kensington. With my suitcase in tow, I entered the hotel lobby and there he was sitting waiting for me. He too had just arrived from the airport, chirpy, yet exhausted. I wanted to hit the ground running, but the body was telling me otherwise. The decision was made to go up and take a nap prior to cruising around town. I couldn’t sleep. We figured one hour would be enough, but my bug eyes closed for a maximum of thirty minutes and I was ready. He puts up with me.
Making our way down from the room, we stopped by a pub attached to the hotel where it seemed to be the crossroads for yanks and the sorts to congregate having a pint mingling amongst one another. Tom and I took a quick lap around and continued on into the streets in the direction of Hyde Park. We both have busy lives despite taking mini holidays with each other so it was nice to spend extra time with him for another quick adventure. We strolled through a few posh nooks in and around the area on our way to Hyde Park. With it being September and in transition from summer to autumn, the weather was favorable with a moderate temperature. We held hands walking through the collected enthusiasts enjoying their free time shy of dusky skies, enjoying a Sunday fun day.
Walking across the park with no particular direction, we began to feel rather exhausted. The short two-mile walk put us through such a grueling and rigorous exercise, and we felt it was imperative to rest somewhere in company with quenching our thirst. We began our desperate search to find a place that would be a safe haven to relic in such necessities of life. Just moments before we were to collapse on the road, wondering where the next drink would come from, an intriguing mirage of dark wood, a few chairs, tables set up outside, a corner entry, and a sign that said, “PUB” allured us from our long journey. Bequeathed upon us was a gift from the heavens above, and without question, we entered the doorway to a satiating array of beverages and captivating smells that tickled our nose hairs. The pub even offered up grape juice, to which I knew, we have been blessed.
Tom and I hung out at the pub having an early drink of beer and wine. He felt it would be rather insulting if he didn’t have fish n’ chips while in England, and being the appreciative man that he is, a kind fixing bestowed upon our table. Add a few spices in conjunction with tasty condiments, and the plate didn’t last long enough to garner an Instagram appearance. We felt complete for the time being and off we went back on our pilgrimage across Hyde Park once again taking in the sights and sounds of humanity enjoying their early evening amusement. It was nice to feel the day turn into night as we observed the sunset melting away into the dark blue skies.
When we arrived back at the hotel, our window to wander about was slowly dwindling. I was gifted a bottle of wine from the lovely flight attendants, and of course we didn’t want it to go to waste. He had to be in bed in a few hours to collect an appropriate amount of time to sleep and be fresh for the return back to Chicago in the morning. We had a glass of wine while prepping in the room for our evening meal at an Indian restaurant. Tom had visited this restaurant before on a previous trip and initially, he had that restaurant mind, but we ended up walking down the road to another Indian restaurant. It was within the same distance in the opposite direction, which was absolutely tasty. I love Indian food. We made the most of the afternoon and the weather contributed to such an afternoon of strolling through Kensington for a mini getaway. It was time to cash in our Sunday fun day adventure and crawl into bed.
The tentative plan was to fly back on his flight to Chicago in the late morning, but the load wasn’t looking too promising. My other option was to take the last flight out at 5:00pm in the evening with nearly one third of the plane vacant, meaning I was guaranteed on with a damn good chance I would have a whole row to myself. I opted for the latter. We got dressed, packed our belongings, and made our way to the lobby where he was being picked up with the rest of the flight crew while I decided I was going into the city to walk around.
Now picture this, here’s a six foot five blonde hair blue eyed [handsome] captain going down to meet his flight crew who were all in uniform. Along with this captain, is his girlfriend next to him who is five foot five in a tank top and shorts, having a little pep in her step, carrying a small backpack standing around with a group of airline hostesses and the pilots. Just picture it, because we found it to be rather amusing. I gave him a kiss and said adios as I scampered to the underground with Covent Gardens in mind, my old stomping grounds. As I arose from the tube, the recollection of memories nudged my heart.
It has been fourteen years since I’ve experienced the cobble stone streets of this trendy hamlet. With no particular plan in mind other than to meander the streets, maybe have a coffee at a café, I found an H&M to which was perfect as I recognized the ticklish sensation from the slightly chill breeze. Usually, as one does when shopping H&M, I came out on top with a yellow sweater and a paperboy hat that I couldn’t pass up. Dressed with a bit more pizazz to enhance my ensemble, my journey carried me to Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, down to Buckingham Palace, and across St. James Park. Here I was again, older, and seeing it with the same eyes but carrying a different perspective, I checked my Google map and it showed a few underground locations to make my way back towards Kensington. I reflected on the distance I’ve come to manage already, and I figured, “What the hell?” and carried on for another hour walking.
By this time it was noontime and I felt a bit hungry to some degree but not enough to stop anywhere. I simply wanted to keep walking and see how far I could go within the time frame. I couldn’t use my phone cause I don’t have international (unless on Wi-Fi of course) services, but I paid attention to the direction I was going and as long as I found an underground entrance, it would be no sweat. Nonetheless, I did not want to cut it close heading back and checking into the flight in the event of any hiccups. After another hour of walking, I played it safe and found an entrance to head back to Kensington Gardens to collect my suitcase at the hotel and make my way to Heathrow. Security at Heathrow is quite lengthy and it was in my best interest to be there a couple hours before hand.
There I was, hanging out in Admirals club, finally eating some food, and doing a bit of reading. When it was time to head to the gate to get my seat, I walked up the agent and said, “Heard there’s room in the back, how’s it looking?” Not only to my delight, but rather, many others, the flight was half full. I would go out on a limb in saying it looked like half the plane had a whole row to themselves. Tom had several hours to wait as our plane was bringing up the rear. Chicago traffic is rather horrendous and daunting anyway, so he didn’t mind. When I landed, it was easy breezy through Global Entry and my chauffeur came in a moments notice. We bypassed the traffic as I flew in around 8:30pm and off we went, driving into the night back to Michigan. Twenty Four hours later.