I’m in the Luton airport, which is the coldest, dumpiest airport I’ve been in since . . . no, can’t find an apt comparison. My fingers are numb. Perhaps it’s a beautiful world beyond security, but I’m not there yet. Have to wait for Natalie to make it from St. Pancreas, as no one calls it. Perhaps it’s just too obvious.
Lunch? Well, yes. There’s a Burger King! Taste of home! I just wanted a single hamburger, a lone hamburger, one small modest sandwich with ketchup and American mustard and pickles. It was not to be had. Everything is a Big Thick Thing, and they’re nine dollars. I went to Marks & Sparks food for a plastic container of British Chicken infused with Mexican flavors, and a banana. Sat in a chair that had been installed in 1972 and ate it with care and deliberate slowness, so as to chew up the time.
I have this horrible feeling we’re going to be turned away from boarding. I don’t know why. Documents. Something. But no, everything’s fine.
Woke at 7:30 to the lovely Luton view:
Checked out of the hotel at noon, and since I woke at 7:30 this meant a long interval of things to do. Breakfast! Proper English breakfast, too, although I had the small amount of beans. Went to the gym. Long hot shower. Reordered my suitcase. Wrote some. After checking out I had, oh, six hours to get to the airport, which happens to be a six minute bus ride away, so I just cooled my heels in the lobby, observing the comings and goings of people. Then I crossed an extremely busy road to get to the bus shelter, where there was one man sitting hunched in the corner. When I looked at my phone he approached me and pulled out a well-creased piece of a paper with a telephone number printed on it, and asked if he could use my phone. He was barely able to explain why. He was even more difficult to dissuade.
I’m at a Starbucks, finishing off an Americano. The price was $3.85, and I had it all sorted out in my pocketful of coins. Best to divest of the cash while I’m here. I’d paid for the bus with coins, too. Dump them in a tray, the driver flicks back change. (1 pound 40p to get three stops to the airport.) The woman who came behind me used “contactless payment,” and this meant getting out her phone, futzing, cussing, adjusting, beeping, trying again, switching cards, until it worked. At the Starbucks I saw a sullen youth just touch his phone against the terminal for a 6-pound sugared drink, and I thought two things:
1. People are bored with magic, and
2. As easy as it is, and as much as I appreciate the convenience when I’m shopping, nothing beats the comfort of a pocket full of coins, or a roll of bills. It is hard to have that emotion about English money, which is slippery and ruined by folding - I wonder if they’re intentionally making the money unappealing to hasten adaptation of the digital pound. But the coins are wonders.
To my surprise I saw someone who looked exactly like Natalie, standing in the terminal, tapping on her phone. Well, it was her. She’d texted me an hour and a half before that she was leaving St. Pancreas, and now here she was, with the gigantic blue suitcase and the smaller black one she’d picked up in Brazil. You made it! Hurrah. Let’s check in, and see if there are any problems.
I was certain there would be problems. When I’d checked in the night before it said that my destination wanted proof of a return ticket. I had a pdf of the reservation. They wanted proof that I had enough money to support myself. I did not have a wad of cash.
But no one cared. We dropped off the bags at EasyJet, the ugliest airline in the world:
. . . and headed through security to the bright wonderful world of the Luton post-security area. It was . . . okay. We ate peanuts and chatted and waited for the gate to be announced. Headed to the plane, strapped in, and off into the blue once more.
The plane left at 5:20 and arrived in the dark after eight, and I was worried that this would be too late for our hosts. Hah. No. We were in a different culture now.
We were on Spanish Time. We were . . . here.