Travel to Cambridge in the US in 2012

I was going to Cambridge in the US for a business meeting for British Airways. I sent this as an email to my colleagues after the journey out.

I should have paid attention to the omens. I discovered over the weekend that I’d booked my flights for a day later than I should have done, and had to change them. I should have know that I was in for something, despite the apparent confirmed seat in First.

I made it to the airport in good time, had a few minutes in the lounge, and strolled up to the gate, avoiding the heaving masses by heading for the Fast Track boarding queue. However, on scanning the boarding pass, there was a knowing ‘nuh-uh’ beep from the reader. ‘Oh’, said the boarding guy, ‘they’ve put you down’. He peered at the display, and finished with ‘quite a long way actually’. Not quite by the rear toilets, but not far away. It’s all part of the joy of the job. I know there are many people who would just love the opportunity to fly at all to the US – but you do get spoiled on duty travel, when it works. You might get First, but if the plane is full, you don’t get on at all.

So on boarding, I turned an unaccustomed right, to find at least that I’d been given a whole row of three seats to myself, whilst the rest of the flight was full. I just ignored the envious looks, and spread out.

They did a manual safety briefing rather than showing the video, so it was obvious there were problems with the IFE. It wasn’t until about 45 minutes into the flight that the system came on. I have to say that those touch screens in economy are awful. I was trying to have a look round the system to see what was
available, and kept taking random paths. It got worse when the person in front tilted their seat back, and I couldn’t even read the screen, until I discovered that you can tilt it to compensate somewhat.

Having nobly taken the (actually quite tasty) pasta for lunch as they were running out of the chicken, I settled back to watch a movie. Even with the extra space, it was too awkward to open the laptop to do the work catch-up that I’d planned.

I was in an aisle seat, and suddenly felt that someone had sprayed some water droplets on my arm. I turned, and realised that a woman in the row behind,and across the aisle, was in the process of losing her lunch. Quite comprehensively. And I’d been the beneficiary of splatter. Well, I guess there’s worse things in the world. The crew  cleaned up as best they could, although the carpet will need a good shampoo before the plane goes back. I didn’t see the woman again, so god knows what they did with her, the mind fair boggles. They removed the seat cushion as well.

On going back to use the toilet, I was, as ever, in my socks. Now I have previously been strongly advised against this, and I will in future take this advice. Foolish not to really. On walking into the cubicle I found
myself paddling. In what, I really don’t want to think about, but I think I did manage to levitate at that point.

The rest of the flight was relatively uneventful, and the sandwich towards the end of the flight was nicer than the little polite ones you get in First.

The queue at the border control was about average, so it was about 30 mins later that I handed my landing card to the inspector.  ‘Which Marriot are you staying at’? he asked.

‘Er, the one in Cambridge’, I said.

‘Which one’? he said.

It was news to me that there’s more than one Marriot in Cambridge. I had visions of being sent to the back of the queue until I could prove which one I was staying at. I fumbled for the iPhone in the hope that the confirmation email was on it somewhere.

‘Is it the one near MIT?’ he suggested. Maybe that’s where most people go, I don’t know.

‘Yes, definitely’ I replied, having no clue. He wrote an address on the card which, to the best of my memory, bore no resemblance to where I ended up. I hope this isn’t sufficient grounds for being considered a fugitive, but if you see my face on the news, you’ll know why.

Going out through customs, I got pulled out of the line for an inspection. ‘You’ve got a lot of stamps in your passport’, the man said. Actually I’m sure that compared to frequent flyers it’s probably not that many. However my ‘I work for British Airways’ seemed to provide sufficient reason for this apparent globetrotting.

Now what is it with that taxi queue? The taxis are all there in a circle, but rather than being allowed to go to the next one, you have to wait until the people in front have finished loading their fridges into a taxi that’s really too small before they can all move forward, so you get in at the allocated spot. Eventually I did get into a cab, and there was the usual conversation. Bear in mind that it’s traditional for US taxi drivers
to both have little grasp of English, and also to be completely unfamiliar with the geography of the local area.
‘The Mariott in Cambridge please’
‘Where is it?’
Actually, I’d checked on the laptop by now, so ‘It’s in Garden Street’
‘[incomprehensible] square?’
‘No, Garden Street’
‘[incompehensible] square?’
‘No, Garden Street’
‘[incomprehensible]’
Garden. GARDEN. Like out the back of your house. With plants and flowers.
‘Oh, Garden’
‘Yes’
‘Where is it?’
Thing is, I’m used to this now.
‘Cambridge’
So out came the Android handset, and the address was typed in, and we navigated to Garden Street in Cambridge with a handheld phone. What is it with taxi drivers? Is there some law against using a cheap satnav on the dash that you can see easily and doesn’t cause you to crash?

They use the same method of slowing down traffic here with random traffic lights and old people who are paid to stagger slowly across the road when the lights are green, but we did eventually arrive at the hotel, which is quite nice. Forrester, the company I’m meeting, have very nicely put me up on the Club floor, so
now I only have 45 minutes to wait until the lounge opens for free snacks. Travel really messes up the body clock, and I’m ravenous. I’m planning on going for a burger later.

I called down to complain that there was no jug in the coffee maker, but apparently it’s a
new design that doesn’t have a jug, the coffee goes directly into the cup. I recall the day when, as a child, I called down to reception in the hotel we were staying in as my bed hadn’t been made. Turned out it had been made, as it had a duvet on it, but I’d never seen one before.