Wednesday, 2 February 2011

My Most Epic-est Post to Date! (because I owe you)

Happy New Year! And Merry Christmas! ...and Happy Thanksgiving... and happy birthday -- to me... and happy Boxing Day... and happy Australia Day ...and happy everything that I managed to miss between the end of November and now. Yes, I do realize that there is a major disconnect between the title of my blog and the frequency with which I make posts.

Nevertheless, if you're frustrated with the dearth of content on this blog recently, I assure you that my friends and family have been laying on the guilt thickly and in clumps with a trowel.

Friends here in London:

Friends back in New York:

My mom:




Over the past two months I've dealt with an onslaught of guilt about updating my blog. Now, I shouldn't complain, even though there are a lot of friends and family in the bunch, all this demand means that I have fans. That's pretty cool. However, one thing that my adoring public needs to understand is that when I'm not blogging, it means I'm busy with work. When I draw all day for money, my idea of unwinding and amusement is not drawing all night for my blog. Also, these posts take a lot of time and effort. I know the drawings look basic, but damn, it takes me much longer to make one of these posts than it did to draw this illustration from my last children's book:

Impressed? No? What about this illustration:

Behold my achievements!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!


In any event, I really do love keeping this blog about my move to London. Since Richard and I were going away for a two-and-a-half week vacation around Christmas and the New Year, I decided to get in a blog post before our trip. It started off as a progress report about everything I'd been up to since the end of November. There were cheesy liitle jokes about cooking my first Thanksgiving dinner while in Britain and a shout out to my friends Nick and Erik who hosted a cupcake pre-party on my night of drunken birthday bar-hopping. And, in the only drawing I completed for this never-to-be-posted entry, a nod to my volleyball team for celebrating my birthday at the club's big holiday party.

Unfortunately, that blog post was not to be. It was less than a week before Richard and I were due to fly back to the USA (we were going to spend Christmas with my family in Florida and then spend the New Year with our friends in New York -- we were beyond excited about this trip and it was my first visit home since my move to London) and I was just getting into making the drawings for my overdue blog post, when a blizzard struck London. When I say blizzard, I mean 5 to 6 inches of snow that fell gently and evenly with plenty of notice that they were on their way. Apparently, snow of this (um...) depth is not common in the UK capital. The city seemed to grind to a halt, and it's main international airport -- Heathrow -- cancelled all flights and shut down. Fair enough, I thought, it is probably best to just cancel everything and sort out the mess. Richard and I were positive that things would be sorted out by the next day, Sunday, and with enough time before we were due to leave on Wednesday.

However, the people running Heathrow must have spent their Sunday doing this:

Things were still grim by Sunday night when we went to our friend Geoff's place for dinner. The prospect of ruined holiday plans didn't spoil our evening, but it was never far from our minds. By the end of the night I had convinced myself that everything would be fine, and that it was ridiculous to worry about our totally awesome trip to the USA -- the trip, whose potential memories and experiences were already playing in my head like a movie; the trip where Richard and I would share Christmas and the New Year for the first time with one another, in person, instead of over Skype.

Sadly, my self-assured feelings wouldn't last. The mess at Heathrow continued to unfold on the news as the week commenced. Travelers were living like refugees at the terminals and the bungling effort of BAA (the company that runs Heathrow) to solve the problem was played up majorly in the media. It suddenly ocurred to me that things may not turn out all right, that our vacation to the US was very much in jeopardy. Watching the coverage of the debacle at Heathrow consistently raised my stress levels -- and then my anger levels. How could it be Tuesday and the airport was still cancelling flights and only running at a third of its capacity?! The snow fell on Saturday! They still hadn't cleared and opened up the second (of two) runways! My frustrations were amplified by interviews with posh twits, like the Minister for Transport, who clearly just didn't get how much of a travesty it was for the people trying to get home for the holidays.

I was so stressed and worried that I didn't work one bit on my blog post. Suddenly, the progress report on the previous month in Britain seemed so unimportant and deep in the past. Clearly, a blog post on the disaster caused by 5 to 6 inches of snow was more pertinent and was certainly consuming all of my thoughts. However, I was stressing out too much even to focus on that new idea.

Due to the fact we had booked our tickets at different times, Richard and I were flying on separate flights and separate airlines for cost reasons: Richard was on Delta and I was on Virgin Atlantic. We were both due to fly out of London at roughly the same time in order to catch a domestic flight in New York together that would take us to my hometown in Florida. As we heard continual news of more delays and cancellations at Heathrow, we constantly checked our respective flight statuses online. It was a sullen vigil, despite the fact that our flights seemed to be unaltered.

The day before we were due to fly out, Richard called me from his work around noon. His Delta flight had been cancelled. I had been worrying so much about this all week that the actual news of the disappointment just left me feeling numb. It would take me about a half hour before I actually started feeling crushed. My flight was still good to go, according to the internet, so I would be flying out of Britain without Richard. It felt like the UK was the sinking Titanic full of people frantically trying to escape and I was on one of the few lifeboats to safety.

I sent a message to our friend JR who I knew also happened to be flying to the States on Delta the same day. I wanted him to know Richard's flight was cancelled so he could check his own flight status. Apparently, I was the bearer of bad news since JR's flight was also cancelled. Meanwhile, Richard was calling Delta's US call center to desperately find another flight to America -- the UK call center, on the other hand, was completely overloaded with calls.

As for my day, I informed my devastated mom that Richard's flight was cancelled. I'm almost certain she was looking forward to our staying with her more than we were -- if that's possible. I waited around for Richard to call me about if and when he could finally escape Britain. I sat in front of the television watching Colin Matthews, the CEO of BAA, make pathetic attempts to assuage the public rage against him. 2010 had clearly been the year of the humbled and apologetic British CEO:

The BBC news would then cut to a shot of a lone excavator on the runway bashing ever so slowly against the thin layer of ice.

Team of snow specialists, my ass!

I was absolutely livid about the shocking lack of preparedness by the authorities. I sat at home stewing in my bile over those in authority whose salaries were double, even triple, what was spent on snow plows and de-icers for the coming winter. People on TV kept saying, "oh, you can't blame anyone over the weather." Bullshit. This debacle was 80% human error and 20% act of nature. Every time the media referred to Saturday's piddling snowfall as "sudden" and "heavy" I wanted to scream, it had been neither of those things! I came close to maniacally crazy when I learned that BAA had turned down an offer of help from the army -- as though BAA had everything under control. In any event, I realized I was getting entirely too worked up over something I couldn't control.

Whenever I'm devastated over something that isn't even remotely life threatening, I calm myself by thinking of a certain episode of America's Next Top Model. Two of the girls had lost some leg of the competition. The American girl was gutted and going absolutely bat-shit crazy with grief, while the Russian girl just turned to her and said:

Really puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

Despite the fact that I still thought heads should roll (figuratively, of course) for the mess at Heathrow, I was feeling much more zen by the time Richard called me to say he had managed to book a flight for the day after Christmas that would take him via both Amsterdam and New York to get him to Florida for roughly two days of fun in the sun before we had to fly up to New York for the second part of our trip. It was not ideal by a long shot, but at least he would EVENTUALLY join me at home despite having missed Christmas. It was one giant headache, but at least we were going to salvage one modicum of our Florida trip.

Then JR called me in the late afternoon to say that his Delta flight had been reinstated. There was hope! I called Richard at his office and couldn't get a hold of him. I left a voicemail and then wished and yearned my way through getting ready to go out for the plans we had that night. Richard and I were due in Wimbledon by 7pm to see a stage show with our friends Tom and Chloe.

I was on the District Line bound for Wimbledon when I got a call from Richard. He certainly had big news. After he heard my voicemail, he didn't bother calling me back and instantly called Delta. They were happy to inform him that his flight had been reinstated. Great, he thought. However, since he had rescheduled for the crazy Amsterdam to New York to Florida flight that made him miss Christmas and 4 days of his vacation, Delta had already given away his seat on his original flight to one of the thousands of backlogged passengers.




Now, Richard is usually a pretty composed individual. He really doesn't ever lose his shit. If something stressful happens, he's usually the one telling me to calm down. However:

After downright pleading in hysterics with the person on the phone at Delta -- of course, pointing out the fact that he wouldn't have ever rescheduled if it hadn't said his flight would be cancelled on the website in the first place -- Richard was finally re-booked onto his original flight to America the next day. He and I would be travelling at the same time, after all! What a relief! The ordeal was over. Christmas was saved!

Richard now had to get some work done at the office since he had spent all day sorting out this travel nonsense. He would miss the play, but it was ok. I was just relieved that it had all worked out. So, I met Tom and Chloe at Wimbledon station and we walked to the theater to see David Hasselhoff starring in a production of Peter Pan. That's right, I spent the evening watching David Hasselhoff play Captain Hook.

There were two references to Pamela Anderson and one reference to Knight Rider. It was actually pretty entertaining. Granted, I could've just been on a joy-high since our holiday to America had worked out. After it was over, we were walking back to the station when I called Richard who had called me during the play. He simply told me, flat out, that he had just looked at Virgin Atlantic's revised "winter schedule" and my flight had been cancelled. I thought he was joking. He HAD to be joking. He wasn't. I grabbed Chloe's arm as though I had heard news that an A-bomb had gone off in New York or something. This was not the kind of news that took a while to sink in, this was instant and catastrophic.

I was utterly shocked.

Do you know that feeling when you're so upset that you imagine that your rage is a monster that is so big that it can eat the universe in one act of epic cosmic destruction?

No? Well, here is what that feeling looks like:

I think the feeling was made worse by the fact that I had thought everything was resolved and I was feeling a sense of calm and optimism. It was like every horror movie ever made, where you think the killer/monster/alien is dead, but it comes back for one last scare.

So, I went home in a daze. I greeted Richard and we stayed on hold with Virgin Atlantic for an hour and a half. I finally got through to a genial guy who was very helpful and booked me on a flight for the Monday after Christmas. I couldn't be mad at him so I was pretty pleasant, and he gave me advice to keep calling back to see if earlier flights opened up. There you had it, Richard and I had now reversed roles. I was due into Florida much later than we planned, and he would be spending Christmas with my parents and my high school friends.

Since we wouldn't be spending Christmas together, we decided to have some hot chocolate, open up the gifts that we had received in London in front of our fireplace and take pictures as though it were actually Christmas -- because, hey, we're dorks and we felt like being a bit melodramatic.

Richard thought about staying with me in London for Christmas, but I told him to get to Florida and I would try ceaselessly to join him as soon as possible. Richard's family in Wales offered for me to spend Christmas with them, which I would've done gladly if I weren't holding out hope of travelling to America sooner than Monday. The last thing I wanted was to be stranded by some other snow storm out in Wales, in case a flight opened up for me to take to America in time for Christmas.

The next day I took Richard to Heathrow and sent him on his way. He would later tell me that there were dozens of free seats on his flight which made me roll my eyes at the incompetence of airlines and how they should have some system to sort out all those free seats between the companies. 

I went home alone from the airport. I then sat down to write a blog post about this whole experience. Its overall theme was BRUTAL PUBLIC HANGINGS for the authorities whose lack of foresight ruined the holidays of thousands: especially mine! A tad excessive, I know, but this was how I worked through my disappointment. If you want charity and forgiveness, there are other websites you can go to for that.

My friends offered to keep me occupied, which was very sweet, but I wanted to be alone that first night in order to work on the illustrations for my blog. I assumed I would have a couple of days to make a coherent, albeit angry, post about this travel nightmare. However, I also kept calling Virgin Atlantic every few hours and would progressively be bumped up to earlier flights. I eventually thought I had attained victory by being able to fly out on Christmas day, when I decided to call again and managed to book a flight on Christmas Eve out of Manchester instead of London.

I was thrilled to tell Richard (who had arrived safely in Sarasota) and my parents that I would actually be home for Christmas. I just had to wake up at 5am on Christmas Eve and take a two and a half hour train to Manchester Airport in order to catch my flight. Don't worry, I made it and everything worked out splendidly. Best of all, my ticket was upgraded for free to Upper Class! I flew to America in the nose of a 747, being pampered by three flight attendants who were tasked to only look after 12 Upper Class passengers. There was champagne before take-off, in-flight treats every hour or so (another Grey Goose and Cranberry, sir? You want to skip the meal and just have two afternoon teas? Fine, sir.) and my seat turned into a fully horizontal bed with a sheet, comforter and big pillow.

As it happens, it is very difficult to write a bitter blog post that ends with government ministers and airport CEOs having this happen to them:

...when I ended up getting home in time for Christmas by traveling across the Atlantic like this:

My vitriolic blog post was not to be since no more misfortune befell my journey to the USA. I was on my way home for the Holidays having lost only a couple of days from our original plans. I left behind the frozen island of Britain and looked forward to seeing Richard and my mom who had been staying together for the past two days.

Now, Richard and my mom have met numerous times and get along swimmingly, but I had apparently arrived just in time to save Richard from too much one-on-one exposure to my mom's (lovelybrand of crazy. The day I arrived, Richard and my mom were at Hollywood studios in Orlando -- my mom had free passes to a Disney park and it worked out well that I ended up flying into Orlando instead of Tampa. They would spend the day at the park and then pick me up early in the evening. They were having a very nice time, but at one point, my mom had a spark of inspiration.

She thought it would be the height of hilarity to secretly photograph people in stupid hats. Of course, her idea of "secretly" was spotting people in silly hats, running directly towards them and then pretending to be looking at something else while she blatantly snapped a photograph of them with her iPhone. 

Needless to say, Richard was beyond embarrassed. Welcome to my world, Richard!

We had a lovely reunion and headed home to Sarasota where Richard could experience our unique Christmas traditions. We always do a delicious Christmas Eve dinner at my friend Jackie and her mom Leslie's house. Followed by Christmas morning, where we gather around the Christmas ladder and open presents. Yes, that's right. The Christmas ladder. My mom can not be bothered to buy a real tree, or even a fake tree. No, she puts up and decorates a green ladder and, to be fair, the effect is not all that dissimilar from an actual Christmas tree. Judge for yourself:

It may be completely eccentric and odd, but I love it. Anyway, we then spend Christmas day at my dad's place in Bradenton soaking up the awkwardness between my divorced parents. This is followed by a homemade dinner of roast duck and Swiss dumplings (called SpƤtzleback in Sarasota. Christmas then ends with a nice outing with my friends. This year we all went miniature golfing, or as Richard and his fellow Brits call it:

We of course made good fun of him for calling it crazy golf. However, I was particularly conscious not to bring back too many Brtishisms with me to Florida. My friend Ashley has made it her duty to prevent me from getting some awful affected English accent like Madonna and gave me hell for calling the trunk of her car "the boot."

We all had fun playing miniature golf, despite the fact that we were rained out at hole ten. Nevertheless, I'm pretty certain that Richard would appreciate that he was not subjected to the hijinks my friends and I pulled the previous Christmas. Being bored, and having nothing to do, a large group of us decided to take a plastic statue of the Virgin Mary that we had found lying around at Jackie's house and leave it somewhere around Sarasota in a blatantly controversial way. We debated about which textbook liberal or textbook conservative message we would emblazon on the statue and where we would leave it. Someone even proposed covering it in blood, but where on Earth were we going to get blood at that time of night?

Clearer heads prevailed and we just ended up writing this across the chest:

Pertinent, hard-hitting stuff, I know. Now we had to decide where to leave the statue. It wasn't long before we decided to leave it on one of the sculptures along the Sarasota bay front. We weren't sure what we intended the result of the statue's placement to be, but it killed some time. We all drove down to the bay front and eventually found the perfect sculpture with an alcove that was illuminated by nearby lighting. Despite the disparate styles of the two pieces, they seemed to merge once we placed the Virgin in the alcove. The sculpture and the statue faced right on to Tamiami Trail (the main thoroughfare) and we all had a giddy (if confused) sense of accomplishment.

The next day the statue was gone. Apparently, Jackie's mom had found out about our prank (if you can call it that) and had rushed downtown to cover up the Virgin with a blanket and carry it to her car. We had some small consolation in that Jackie's mom had to wait for a group of morning walkers to stop looking at our creation and leave before she could nab the statue. Luckily (or unfortunately) Richard avoided the Christmas of the half-hearted political statement/sacrilege.

Our trip to Florida had been a success and after spending a little less than a week in the surprisingly cold Sarasota, we jetted up to New York City. I was thrilled to be back in what had been my home for eight years. Richard had only lived there for six months, but he was just as happy to be back -- despite the city having just been covered in what I will term a "real blizzard."

Our New Year started out as an intimate game-night with close friends, it then moved on to a big gay apartment-destroying house party in the West Village and then ended in a drunken dance fest at the Stonewall Inn. The walk between the house party and the bar can be summed up in one word: messy. My friend Francis and I avoided our main group of wayward drunken friends (which included Richard) who were getting into all kinds of trouble with the not-so-fresh snow on the ground.

With the New Year having been a trashed success, Richard and I spent the rest of our trip to New York enjoying the city with one another -- that is, when I wasn't rushing around trying to see everyone I had missed so dearly for the past 7 months. I tried my best to see as many people as I could. We even dropped by our friend Arnie's cat hospital since the only time we could all spare to see each other was during the working day.

All in all, the trip was worth all the stress that was piled on us at its beginning. We got back to London without a hitch (although economy really stings after flying in first class) and Richard and I returned to our normal routine.