06 October 2009

The Adventures of an Itinerant Friar

It was 3am in Houston on a Sunday, and I couldn't sleep.  Up and at 'em!  Packing took all of an hour. 

When I got the downtown airport shuttle in Houston Sunday afternoon, it was raining.  The driver dropped us off at Terminal C.  My flight left from Terminal D.  Unfortunately, the Instantaneous Teleporter Devices were not working so I had do make the trip to D the old-fashioned way:  by train, elevator, escalator, and on foot.  Let the copious sweating begin!

And it did.  Thirty-minutes later I arrived at D.

No problems at the ticket-counter.  Security is always a hassel b/c I travel with a CPAP machine and a laptop.  Both have to be removed from carrying cases for inspection.  I've discovered that if you smile and say lots of friendly things to the TSA folks, the process is painless. 

Got to departure my gate to discover that D at IAH has only one restaurant and one newstand, so spent lots of time reading my novel.  As the time for departure rolled around, I noticed that the waiting area near the gate wasn't all that crowded.  Always a good sign.  Sure enough, the flight was only 2/3 full.  I got a row of seats to myself!

The flight was a bit bumpy over Canada and Ireland.  Nothing to cause a panic though.  We arrived at Heathrow about 40 minutes early. . .so early, in fact, that we couldn't taxi to a gate.  They sent a bus for us.  Since I was in the last row of the plane, I made it on the third bus. . .this process took almost 90 minutes.

Once inside Heathrow, we were herded around like livestock.  I was reminded of the 1970's sci-fi movie, Soylent Green.  During a street riot scene in the movie, police use a troop carrier with a giant scoop on the front to lift rioters into the bed of the truck.  They are unceremoniously hauled off to God Knows Where.  Later we learn that the gov't uses dead human bodies to produce a food substance called "soylent green."  The main character of the movie discovers this secret and starts shouting, "Soylent green is people!"  I suppressed the urge to follow his example.

Heathrow employees are an efficient lot.  But you get the impression that their polite efficiency is deeply rooted in a fascistic desire for control.  The British ladies in uniform issue curt, demanding orders.  You have the sense that disobedience will be met with disapproving glares, if not shots to the gut with cattle-prods.  We are inspected, stampled, digitally photographed, and sorted into even more lines.

Three of these  long lines and several processing stations later, I rush to the gate and check-in five minutes before we are due to leave.  Of course, the flight is full.  By this point in my adventure I have been awake for about 18 hours.  My disposition is not improved by the young woman who decides to carry on a standing two hour conversation with a colleague right next to my seat.  At one point, I doze off and let loose a roaring, snoring snort!  The young woman jumps, gives me a dirty look, and returns to her seat.  Though entirely accidental, I am delighted that my rude exclamation drives her away.

Once we get to Rome, things become far more relaxed.  Viva a Roma!  Few lines.  No officious British ladies herding us with their polite yet irresistible commands.  No urge to denounce secret governmental culinary conspiracies.  There's a taxi waiting for me and a longish ride to home.  Waiting for me here are my room, my bed, a stack of books, my two boxes, and a bunch of friars who seem genuinely happy to see me again.  My exhaustion, dehydration, hunger, and irritation lead me straight to bed where I pass out for six hours. 

I awoke this morning to the two sounds that mean "Rome" to me:  tolling church bells and squawkinig sea-gulls.  Now, the truly odious part of my adventure begins:  unpacking.

BUT I'm in Rome again.  And the coffee is very, very good.


  1. "...you get the impression that their polite efficiency is deeply rooted in a fascistic desire for control. The British ladies in uniform issue curt, demanding orders."

    Too true. I used to routinely fly into Heathrow when our crew would take over the sub for a three month stint. Those MOD women were the most humorless lot I've run across. The only ones that came close were workers in the Connecticut DMV.

  2. Flambeaux8:13 AM

    Glad you had a safe trip. Wish we were there. Don't do anything I wouldn't do! :D

  3. JFK has that reputation with me. Fifteen years ago I flew back to the states with a very ill infant. The customs person threw our passports at my feet and screamed at me when I gave him them in error along with our customs declaration. Welcome home?

    The British ladies at Heathrow (where I'd had a lengthy layover) were dears, on the other hand. :)

  4. good to know...i'm sticking with my philly-rome flight!

  5. Anonymous10:17 AM

    I've had flight attendants on a Dallas to Paris flight behave like gestapo. I'll spare everyone details.

    May I ask your thoughts on Karen Armstrong? She is in town tonight. If you don't care for her, please elaborate. Thank you!

  6. Anonymous10:46 AM

    My husband and I are flying to Rome via Chicago next week. Visiting our daughter who is a student at the UD Rome campus this semester. We're excited to be avoiding Newark this time.

  7. Anon (5:17),

    I've not read an entire book of hers. What little I've read strikes me the same-old, same-old "I used to Catholic but now I'm educated so I don't believe all that stuff anymore; now I believe all this other religously, vaguely Christian stuff that really highly educated people won't be embarrassed to read about" kind of ex-Catholic. Not impressed.

  8. Anonymous4:21 PM

    Father, I would suggest taking the Queen Mary 2 or the Queen Victoria for transatlantic crossings. After many terrible flying experiences, I refuse to get on another plane, so when I wnet to Italy in 2007 I went on the QM2 both ways. The trip is truly wonderful; and they hire priests to say daily mass for the catholic passengers and crew. Also, British Customs was a wonderful experience which took all of 5 minutes after breakfast in the diningroom.

  9. Someday I'll be back. Maybe as a student, yet again...