Episode One – The Plane Ride & Settling In

It has now been roughly two days since we arrived in London (I say roughly because becoming used to the dramatic time change has been a little rough), and I am pleased to say it has been quite nice – a bit cold, but clear and without (as of yet) rain. Now that I’ve said that I’m sure it will rain tomorrow. At any rate, I believe I’ll start with “The Plane Ride”.

We boarded a Virgin Atlantic 747 at around 4 PM in SF. Tina and I initially made the mistake of going up separately to get our tickets, and consequently were seated on opposite sides of the plane – something I found disappointing, as I had hoped to experience the first international flying experience with her. But thankfully, the ten long hours are over and done with, and we now know the proper way to reclaim our tickets in order to be seated together.

Following the initial chaos of attempting to fit far too many people into far too few seats arranged by an engineer who has pre-determined the maximum space a person ought to have (now I know why it is so cheerfully dubbed “economy class”), I found it rather discouraging to know that the space allocation per “economy” passenger has been set to an average body type that I exceed. All in all, however, with relatively few trips to the lavatory and a few ill-fated attempts at sleep, the flight was tolerable.

By far, the most fascinating thing throughout the trip was the “SkyMap” feature on the LCD monitors affixed to the back of every seat, for every passenger. “SkyMap” indicated exactly where the plane was on a digital overhead map with all kinds of interesting statistics. The features included current ground speed (we got up to 606 mph at one point) outside temperature (down to -84 at times), total miles traveled from departure, and what’s left to destination, as well as time since departure and ETA. Being rather dark outside (and sitting in an aisle seat), I was forced to trust the mediated representation of our travels.
I was also struck by the very reality of our situation: here we are, screaming through the atmosphere at better than six hundred miles an hour at thirty seven thousand feet in a relatively hollow metal and plastic tube that is more than likely more than fifteen years old, and I’m angry because my right butt-cheek has fallen asleep and the rest of me can’t manage to.

All I can think of (aside from my ass beginning to hurt fairly badly) is that the flight isn’t Real. I mean, in a way I know that it is of course real – I can hear the wind screaming by outside and I know, from what I’ve been told, that it’s real – but then I just keep thinking that the only actual knowledge I have of what is going on is coming to me through a four inch LCD monitor. Nobody else seems disturbed by this, or terribly interested, but I feel rather consumed to know what is going on – and to watch our progress across US and Atlantic Ocean. I don’t really think people want to realize or truly think about the reality of the situation, they are comfortable in the knowledge that what they are experiencing has been mediated and objectified through this screen and small windows on the side. The plane ride ceases to be something you are participating in, and becomes something that is simply going on around you – dissipating any fear you might have about being better than five miles off of the ground.

Once we reached Heathrow, and passed through customs (rather a joke: they didn’t X-Ray any of our baggage, only stared at us as we walked through, and were only going through the baggage of eight black people – another odd point), we got on a bus and went to stay in a hotel (The Grisham Hotel on 36 Bloomsbury St.)

A few things I’ve noticed about this country:

# Lots of stairs – it seems as though everywhere you go you have to ascend seven flights of stairs to get there.
# Speed – the cars drive fast, the people walk fast (even so far as to run up and down the escalators in and out of the tube {subway})
# Lots of walking – everything is rather far away from everything else 🙂 – I’ve probably walked more than 6 miles in the past two days.
# “Rubbish” is a much better word than “Trash”. I think I’ll use that one for the rest of my life 🙂

I am now staying at:

49 Grays Inn Road, Flat 3
London WC1X 8PP
Phone: 020-7209-0655

The best way to send me something (because I know you want to send me some Post) is to the following address, if it is sent to the flat, it might not get to me:

Tyler Smith
c/o Accent
103 Great Russell St.
London WC1B 3LA

I haven’t had a chance to go to a pub yet, but I’m looking forward to that experience as well.

If any of you are going to be so kind as to call me { 🙂 } please bear in mind that I am +8 hours ahead of Pacific Time.