In the wake of my father’s wake, we decided (well, it was big brother’s idea) to travel to Los Angeles. Take my mother out of the ordinary and get her on a plane to visit the new life of her first-born. And I would play a combination of roles: travel companion, chaperone, counsellor, general dogsbody.
But it did not exactly turn out that way. With metaphoric arms outstretched constantly, fearing that Mom would collapse in a heap of nerves at any moment, I ended up stressing myself out.
I haven’t travelled to the States since I was nine years old, but I thought, hey, there can’t be that much difference between travelling over the 49th parallel and over the Atlantic Ocean. I have never been more fucking wrong in my life. You had to take your own bags to the conveyor belt, but not before you had to backtrack to get a US customs form and fill it out, then show it to some peon who didn’t even look at it, show it to another peon who didn’t care, then finally make it to the US Customs official in her little Perspex cubicle with polarised computer screen (so we can’t see that she’s actually playing Space Invaders or something).
To say this official representative of the United States was solemn is a bit of an understatement. She was not jovial, convivial, pleasant, or even friendly. However, neither was she sarcastic, condescending, nor outright hostile. The only word that seems to describe her is … absent. Like she was playing a constant game of “anywhere but here”. To be honest, I would have rather taken the hostile option. But this absence of personality – of person – was far too unsettling.
Without knowing for certain that my UK citizen son had actually passed any tests, we were waved through without pomp or circumstance. In this anti-climactic state, we entered the USA, without actually leaving Toronto.
Waiting for the flight was about as uneventful as can be imagined: terrible overpriced food, occasionally unintelligible announcements, and sitting. It was one of these announcements – which I had missed or ignored – that caused a rising level of stress for my mother. My outstretched arms had failed me, as I watched her rising panic that there would be no seats for us on this plane.
More people turned up, standing and waiting. I watched them, convinced that at least two of them were famous, merely because they looked like they should be. I couldn’t recognise any face. (Though one struck me that he could have been David Bowie’s brother.) They appeared vivacious and fun to be around; I felt like I was back in high school, watching the cool kids, and wishing that I could join in.
The plane itself was boring, though the kid couldn’t have been happier because each seat had its own on-demand entertainment screen. I was happy for that too… But I couldn’t enjoy my own screen of (mostly) unlimited movies. Not with mother peering over to watch what I was watching, despite her earlier and vociferous claims that she does not like movies. (Last year she did. Hell, last month she did.) So rather than choose the gritty docu-drama I wanted, or the elves and orcs fest, I chose a simple-minded rom-com, possessing no obvious scenes of offensiveness that would elicit disapproving tuts and tsks from the seat next to mine.
So, in discomfort both mental and physical – for both armrests on either side of me were claimed by mother and son – I sat squashed in a surprisingly roomy economy seat, unable to relax and find my travel groove.
The headache hit just over Nevada. With it, came nausea. Followed swiftly by the pilot’s announcement that an area of high turbulence was looming ahead. Oh gods, but I couldn’t cope anymore. The stress of waiting for a meltdown that never came brought on my own meltdown instead, and for the next 45 minutes, my mother found herself comforting me and being kind and solicitous.
While I rocked myself, holding my head and hoping that this trip would be over soon.
Which it was.
I misunderstood the announcement of descent, thinking that we had another 45 minutes of flight, and was completely surprised when the wheels touched down five minutes later.
Sleepy, discombobulated, and carrying the beginnings of a hideous migraine, we exited the plane, and followed the crowd out into the airport. I was looking for Customs, but there was none, for realisation was beginning to dawn that it had already been passed. So I started looking for Baggage Claims, and nearly missed out the fact that I had passed within six feet of Andie MacDowell. Not that I’m a huge fan or anything. But still… a bona fide star. (She is much older in person, and seemed to hold her face gingerly, as if afraid that it would shatter at any moment. That and her strong jawline gave the impression that her head was entirely too big for her slim near-size-0 body.)
Desperate to get outside, away from processed air and too many people, and to have a cigarette, when I remembered that I had packed my smokes. Cue facepalmus-interruptus, because I didn’t want to aggravate the migraine. And so we waited for the bags to arrive.
Then we realised we had no way of knowing where to meet big brother. My UK phone hadn’t caught up with the roaming yet, so there was no way of contacting him. FI part two….
More later, as my humour muse appears to have gone for a coffee.