SEVEN DAYS IN MAY
Day One: Wednesday 1st May 2013
The way British Airways ticketing now works is that you can choose your seat from 24 hours before your flight without being charged. Choosing it prior to that will cost you 35 quid. This is an outrageous sum and is yet one more example of how the airlines are trying to chisel every last penny out of you they can. Needless to say, I prefer the old system where I would turn up early on the day of my flight and always get assigned a window seat. It was obvious I would need to get online as soon as the 24 hour window opened in order to choose any half-decent seat that might still be available by that point. Unfortunately, I somehow managed to screw this up and so arrived at Heathrow with no seat allocation at all. I explaned my situation to the woman at the BA desk, she frowned at a screen and made a few phone calls, and I came away with an aisle seat. Result! And it was even better than I could have hoped. Once aboard it turned out my seat was one of those facing a bulkhead, so that meant more legroom and no seats in front of me. And it got better. When the guy who had the window seat arrived he asked if I'd mind switching with him. He was feeling out of sorts and expected to be using the toilet a lot. Which is how I ended up with pretty much the perfect seat.
What a shame my experience on the return flight would be almost the exact opposite of this.
On transatlantic flights the overland bits are worth looking out of the window for and the overwater bits are not. Draw a straight line between London and Seattle on a map and you might assume this would mean a lot of uninteresting time spent over the Atlantic ocean, but that's not how it works at all. First you head directly north, flying up pretty much the full length of Britain, then you turn west over the sea passing a little to the south of Iceland, cut across the tip of Greenland - easily the most spectacular views of the entire journey - down over northern Canada and the Canadian Rockies, and finally descend across the various mountain ranges to the north of the city before coming in to land at Seattle. The journey takes nine-and-a-half hours, most of which I spent glued to my window.
The views were glorious; what happened as we landed was not. Two days before my flight I'd had my right ear syringed. It was blocked, and flying with a blocked ear is Not A Good Idea. Take off had been fine, and my ears had 'popped' as they should. Unfortunately, landing was a different story. At some point during the flight the air-conditioning was turned on. Where I had been comfortable before I'd then started sniffling and felt my sinuses starting to fill. That landing *hurt* try as I might I couldn't get my ears to pop and I had a shooting pain between my eyes. When we did get down I could barely hear the guys in the adjacent seats talking. Fortunately, I was tired. This meant I was yawning a lot. Slowly, painfully, my ears gradually 'popped' so that by the time I eventually found my native guide I could hear again.
Suzle was waiting for me on the far side of the baggage reclaim carousels. To my great relief I recognized her immediately.
"It's only been three years," she said. "No one changes much in that time."
Tell that to Chaz Bono.
Suzle had parked her car on the top deck of Sea-Tac's enormous parking garage "for the magnificent view." And it *was* magnificent, an enormous, solitary snow-capped mountain dominating the distant skyline.
"Ah, Mount Shasta!" I said, confidently displaying my local knowledge.
"Mount Shasta is in California," said Suzle. "That's Mount Rainier."
"Ah, Mount Rainier!" I said, confidently displaying my local knowledge.
Suzle drove us several miles through the late afternoon traffic to the bus station where we would be picking up Jerry Kaufman, pointing out local landmarks on the way such as Boeing Field. Jerry's daily commute involves three buses and a ferry. Having heard Suzle describe it, I don't think I'll complain about my 35 minute door-to-door, single Underground train commute ever again. Parking near the oddly pagoda-like bus station, Suzle turned off the engine and we sat back and waited.
"Does Jerry still have a moustache?" I asked, remembering how his upper lip had gone au naturel back in 1984 and how an appalled Patrick Nielsen Hayden had apologised profusely on behalf of US fandom for me having to witness such a thing.
"Sadly, no," said Suzle. "It started to grow out unevenly and had gaps so he shaved it off a few years ago."
I was glad she had warned me. Jerry appeared a couple of minutes later, the Kaufman under-nose area exposed to the world for all to see. I bore the sight manfully.
Jerry climbed in and we drove off comparing our experiences with customs officials over the years after I told them passing through Sea-Tac had been the most civilised entry to the US I'd ever experienced. Suzle mentioned that Jerry had been taken into a small room by customs when they visited Paris.
"They wanded me!" he whispered, a look of horror in his eyes. I sympathised with him.
"Those damn Harry Potter fans get everywhere," I said, "and the French ones are the worst."
Suzle revealed she and Jerry had first met in 1968.
"That's 45 years ago," I said, dazzling them with my basic math skills.
"Oh my God, it really is!" said Suzle. Now it was her turn to look horrified.
Suzle told Jerry about our sighting of Mount Rainier as we drove, diplomatically omitting my geographical faux pas.
"Ah Rainier," I said, "a prince among mountains!"
It took a second or so for the penny to drop, then Jerry chuckled, "It's not named after him, y'know.".
"I know, but it'd be cool if it was."
As we got close to Andy & Carrie's place Jerry pointed out a local school.
"That's Nathan Hale High," he said.
For once my encyclopedic local knowledge failed me.
"Who was Nathan Hale?" I asked.
"A young patriot, famous for uttering the line 'I regret I have but one life to give for my country'."
"Must be weird to be remembered primarily for a single line you once said," I mused. "Still, better that one than the US civil war officer whose final words were 'they couldn't hit the side of a barn from....'."
The Hooper-Root residence is one of those split-level dwellings that to European eyes could not be more distinctly American. Carrie looked much as I remembered, though a little greyer, while Andy was both greyer and thinner than when last I'd seen him. I was glad to see them both, and to have finally reached the end of my long journey.
We chatted, caught up a bit, and then moved down to the back garden where Andy toked up. He explained that marijuana was now legal in Seattle but as soon as we crossed into the badlands of Oregon he would become a criminal, a miscreant who would rightly be shunned by all decent, God fearin' folk.
He had an important question for me.
"Why the fuck did you send a link to a fourteen minute video of you talking?" he asked.
"Hey, it's the only one of me out there I know of," I said, "and it's been so long since some of us have seen each other I wasn't sure people would recognize me. I only expected them to watch the first minute or so." "I watched eleven minutes," he said sadly, "it was interesting."
The plan had been that after I dropped off my bags and had a wash and brush-up we would head out to The Elliott Bay, a nearby brewpub where we would meet up with a bunch of local fans. Jerry & Suzle had gone on ahead and when we arrived they were there with Ulrika O'Brien and Randy Byers, waiting for a large enough table to come free. The bar was surprisingly popular. It was only 7pm local time yet it was already packed. It helped that as well as carrying 36 (!) listed beers, many of them brewed on the premises, they also served food. By the time we were seated Victor Gonzalez had joined us. I recognized him immediately. He seemed the least changed of any of us, but then it helps that he's also one of the youngest.
As the evening wore on we were joined by John D. Berry, Jack whose name I've forgotten, Sandra Bond, and - surprisingly - by Vicki Rosenzweig & Andy Hickmott, who had just moved to the area and were still unpacking. The final arrival was a beardless Hal O'Brien. He explained that unlike Ulrika, he wouldn't be making it to the con as he now worked on a job-by-job basis and one had come up he couldn't afford to turn down. I commiserated with him while at the same time feeling kinda guilty. I think my age cohort were the last for whom full-time salaried positions and affordable mortgages were the default. After we passed through them all the gates seem to have clanged shut behind us. I certainly know that if I was moving to London now on the (perfectly decent) salary I currently earn I couldn't afford to live there. Not only couldn't I afford to buy, I'm not even sure I could afford to *rent* a London property these days.
Ulrika revealed she has taken up square-dancing, something she does with a gay male group. Fans' other interests are often surprising. Andy Hooper, for instance, is into wargaming and later showed me his basement where there are drawer after drawer of tiny military figurines representing various armies from the past 3000 years or so.
"You can report this and open me up to the mockery of all," he intoned, "though I will point out that Mark Plummer used to faunch after these very figurines and that every now and again I mail one to him."
Your secret's safe with me, Andy.
There was a large flatscreen TV on the wall of the bar showing a basketball game in progress.
"My spectator sport of choice is rugby, "I told them. "Every year I follow the Six Nations competition (England, wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy). This year the match between Wales and England was the decider. Wales had to beat England by a minimum of eight points to take the title. As a Welshman living in England I naturally took a lot of stick from my work colleagues. One of them - Budd - said:
"You got no chance. We're gonna smash you."
The score was Wales 30 England 3. It was England's biggest loss to Wales in 132 years. I was ready to rub this in, but when I got into work on Monday I learned that Budd had been taken to hospital. As a means of avoiding my gloating this seemed a bit excessive. A get well soon card was purchased and everyone wrote messages of encouragement to Budd. I wrote: 'Wales 30 England 3'. It was the least I could do.
I intended to greet Budd on his return by wearing a T-shirt with the score printed on it, but sadly I never got round to having one made.
This being my first meal in America I opted for that signature American dish, the bacon cheeseburger. When it arrived it was at least twice the size of its British counterpart and accompanied by a plate piled high with chips - sorry, fries. I eyed these with great trepidation.
"You should all dive in and help yourselves to the fries," I said.
Afterwards, staring in dismay at my empty plate, I expressed my disappointment in Seattle fandom.
"I told you to help yourselves," I said, reproachfully. "You were supposed to prevent me from eating them all myself."
Clearly, I was going to get no help on the self-control front. This could be a problem.
The conversation ranged far and wide and I took no notes, but I do remember Andy explaining that one of the reasons he wanted to visit Seattle way back when was because of how it was depicted on an episode of 'Kolchak - The Night Stalker'.
"You mean as a place where a murderous supernatural entity stalked the city?" I said.
"That was about the size of it, yeah."
I mentioned I was hoping not to commit as big a howler this trip as I did when I visited San Francisco during my 1984 TAFF trip. Knowing the city had a big Chinese population I'd been impressed by the large signs in that language I'd been seeing everywhere, though I thought putting then on a yellow background was a little tasteless. When I'd asked Rich Coad what PED XING translated as he had laughed out loud.
"You asshole," he'd explained. "That's not Chinese; it's an abbreviation for 'pedestrian crossing'."
Around 9pm - 5am London time - the evening came to a natural end and everyone split to their various homes. Carrie drove Andy and me back to their house, and soon after getting in I retired for the night. I still wasn't particularly tired, but having been awake for more than 26 hours it would have been stupid to stay up longer. I might not be feeling the jet lag now, but I was pretty sure it would kick in tomorrow.
And so ended my first ever day in the Pacific Northwest.