Week 9, part 6
After two hours on a plane that went nowhere, we got to suffer through the "leaving the airport" experience again. We waited for our bags at the carousel (not for long, fortunately), then we had to go through Passport Control to be readmitted into Britain. Once we cleared customs - much as we did when we first arrived in London - we were herded toward the coaches. One by one, coaches would fill up with displaced passengers and their baggage, then head off for the hotel.

The Radisson Edwardian would be a nice place if it weren't next to Heathrow Airport. Like most major airports, this place is a long way from the city it serves, and there was absolutely nothing interesting to do out here. It was well past dark by the time we got to our room. Out our window was a perfect view of cars lining up at the drivethru McRubbish next door.

We plopped our stuff onto the bed and ourselves into some chairs, then we turned on the tv. We saw an image of a shaken Paul McCartney talking about George Harrison, saying, "he was like my baby brother." This was how we'd learned that another Beatle had gone away; watching the BBC in an airport hotel room.

The bread and butter for hotels like this are "groups." These can be big business meetings, small trade conventions, weddings, corporate parties, and the occasional load of passengers from a broken-down 747. They fed us as they would any large group; they spread out a buffet in one of their large ballrooms. We give the Radisson credit for going through their recipe books for Indian dishes. We ate well, and the Indians were happy as long as they were warned of what wasn't vegetarian.

The hotel lobby was a zoo until late Saturday afternoon, as people were either coming in or going out. The Indian crowd included many families, complete with small children and elderly grandparents. Most of them seemed to be testing the limits of their baggage allowances, as most of the open space in and around the lobby was filled with suitcases the size of small cars.

We bought a phone card and an afternoon tabloid that was full of George stories. We made a flurry of phone calls to reschedule all of our broken connections. With everything else in our world all fouled up, the computer demons left us alone, so the email went out and you received a message Friday afternoon that we weren't gonna make it that day. Our only communications problem was that our phone card wouldn't accept Chicago's new 773 area code, so we had to have someone else call our motel in Chicago for us. We left our fortress long enough to buy a couple of good beers from a nearby convenience store. Our last night in Europe (or so we thought) was spent in an airport hotel sipping Irish stout and reading the paper.

Saturday's breakfast was delivered just as Friday's dinner was: spread out on a buffet in a big eating room. It was mostly a traditional English breakfast, but the eggs, sausages and bacon weren't quite appropriate for a plane load of Indians, as most of them are vegetarian. But you can't say the hotel didn't try, because the buffet did have some intriguing vegetarian sausages as well as the usual fruit and yogurt bar.

Obbie waits in line to find out our flight status.

Having not heard anything from the airline since we'd been dumped at this hotel the previous afternoon, we went to the lobby to find out what was going on. The place was packed with Indians and their baggage. Obbie asked the concierge how we were supposed to find out about our flight status, and he pointed to a long line winding around the perimeter of the lobby. We divided up the sections of our morning paper and Obbie got in line at 10:15.

At 11:30 Obbie reached the front of the line only to be told to come back at one. Only 19 passengers had joined the flight in London, and everyone who joined in India was going to be dealt with first. The guy behind the desk suggested we go and have lunch. Having just eaten, we went back to our room and cracked open our last beer. 11:30 am may not seem like an appropriate time to have a beer, but it is in this country, and it was ESPECIALLY appropriate on this day.

At one o'clock we started milling around in the lobby with some of the other 18 non-Indians stranded in London. We shared all the rumors we'd heard about which airline was going to get us across the ocean and when. One story was circulating so widely that it must have had some truth: that our plane landed with an engine on fire. We never heard this "officially," but that might explain the alarms at the airport late Friday morning.

The airplane guy appeared in the lobby and told us to come back at 1:30. They still needed some more time to sort everything out. But by this time we'd checked out of our rooms, so we had no rooms to wait in. He suggested that we have lunch. (Remember their rule: When the natives get restless, feed them.) We decided to take a walk outside instead.

At 1:30 the airline guy still wasn't ready for us. He seemed to be sincerely working on something and to be close to nailing it down. He just wasn't close enough to tell us about it yet. Once again, he suggested that we have lunch. This time we took him up on it. While we were munching on a buffet that looked a lot like Friday's dinner buffet, our friend from the airline came to our table and announced that we would be on Air India flight 125 leaving at 3:30 Sunday and arriving in Chicago at 6:30. When we were done eating, we were given another room from which we sent out another flurry of phone calls and emails. This is when you received a message that oozed with annoyance and frustration.

We tried to close our eyes, click our heels together three times and say, "there's no place like home." It didn't work. It seems that the ruby slippers are an important ingredient to that bit of magic.

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