First off, I need to apologise to all the people I didn’t see or even contact this time around, which would be virtually everyone I know in Southern Cal. My schedule went: Friday, drive down from San Francisco; Saturday, spend time with my former stage partner, her family, and my ex-wife; Sunday, drive back to SF. And the closest I came to LA proper was the I-210/134 split in Pasadena. I’m only apologising because I really truly don’t know when I’ll be returning to America, let alone California. While the current political climate has created much of my trepidation, there are other factors that stand in the way.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Prior to leaving, I had numerous discussions with my girlfriend that began with her asking, “So why is it you’re going out there,” and me replying, “I think I need to see my friends and family, but beyond that, I’m not sure.” I can still say I enjoyed my stay, though I did find myself after the first few days counting the hours until the plane would be touching down at Gatwick. I’ve been having that attitude for much of the last decade or so, because it truly looks like UK will be my home until I join my parents and Elvis somewhere else.
On this 12-day trip, I had a total of three gigs, all with my best friend and musical collaborator Joshua Brody, but each one different. Knowing that I’ll be doing something different over there is one of the major positives that keeps me going back, and I’ve only been able to match that over the last couple years in UK with my quiz and DJ gigs. One of the gigs was a comedy gig, another was a musical, stump-the-band type of gig, the third was a Beatles sing-along gig that Joshua has been doing in SF for the last seven years, and which we did once in London last summer. All were varying degrees of fun, and two out of three also PAID well.
Actually, my biggest adventure came on the final day. I knew it would be trying, as the weather in the Bay Area this year has been doing its best to make up for five years of drought. The forecast was for heavy consistent rain to hit the North Bay around 9:00, then San Fran around noon. When I got up at 7:30 that morning, the rain was already there, about 4 1/2 hours ahead of schedule, and while it wasn’t pissing down, it showed no signs of letting up in the immediate future. To make my adventure interesting though, I would have to drive to Oakland Airport for my flight to London.
Oakland? Yes, Norwegian Airlines has a super discount fare which flies non-stop from London Gatwick to Oakland, because being a bit of a fledgling airline, they couldn’t fly into San Francisco. Until I’d heard of this flight, I didn’t even know Oakland had flights leaving California! Over the past few years, my return flight cost on United from Heathrow to SFO has averaged between £600-700, or about $1000, up until the last 9 months, when Brexit lowered the value of the pound. Norwegian, for its little inconvenience of using the smaller out-of-the-way airports, charged £352, though if you want to eat (a good idea on a 10-hour flight) and check a bag, that’s £25 more for each of those, but thankfully each £25 covers both halves of the trip. Still, £402 is pretty darn good, yes?
Well, yes, mostly, but as I would find out on this fateful Thursday, you get what you pay for. My flight back was scheduled for 5:25 PM, to arrive at Gatwick on Friday at 11:00 AM London time. I took no chance with the weather, as driving across the Bay Bridge in rainy, windy weather can try anyone’s patience. I left SF at 10:30, arrived at the rental car place just before noon, because now even in perfect weather, traffic on Bay Area freeways is horrible more than half the day. When I got to the airport, the first thing I saw was a notice that the one daily plane from London was listed as arriving at 1:00 AM, about 10 hours late, meaning my flight would not be leaving until about 3 AM, and I’d have to hang out at the airport for the next 14-15 hours.
Fortunately, that information was wrong, the flight was only about 20 minutes late, and we were going to leave as scheduled. However, once it got to a half hour before flight time, there had only been one announcement that there might be some trouble. That trouble would extend to technical problems that would keep us in the terminal for an additional SIX HOURS! There apparently was some instrument on the top of the plane that was faulty, but no one could make the repair because the equipment they needed wasn’t available, and also the rain wasn’t going to help their efforts any. I just kept thinking where the major airlines wouldn’t have such a problem, Norwegian Would, and thinking of that Beatles song title pun, and in fact thinking about anything funny I’d ever thought of in the last ten years was what got me through this ridiculous day.
They got it sorted in time for us to fly out at midnight, a whole 6 1/2 hours late, after which time I’d watched two complete basketball games and had three beers. Norwegian did give out food vouchers during our wait as a consolation. We arrived at Gatwick at 5:30 in the afternoon, and after customs and baggage, then transport into London and back to my house, my whole odyssey from door to door took almost exactly 24 hours, of which I slept maybe two.
I’m still recovering from it, and this may be the other major reason why trips to the US don’t loom in the near future. Other American ex-pats I know over here sometimes go years without visiting. I’m not sure I could do that, as I still have this soft spot for the US, even with Orange Emperor in charge.