Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Orlando Bloom

Right, now that title has conned at least 30 beautiful women (and you) into reading my work I can begin the real business of describing my recent trip to Florida.

I don't think I can take on this task with just one blog. Rather like America itself, the story is just too big for it's own good and so I've decided to break it down. It seems logical to take events in chronological order, so we are going to start with............

The Journey

There are always hiccoughs, cock-ups and balls-ups before any aviation ups when I visit an airport. This occasion was no different. To begin with the mini-bus driver charged us £5 more than was agreed for the ride to the airport, destroying any hope he had of a tip in the process. I noted darkly that he was from Wigan. I'll leave it there. Then there was the failure of the online check-in system to check people in online. The machine steadfastly, almost heroically refused to print out a boarding card, instead advising us to join the queue to obtain one in the traditional manner. It might just aswell have promised to dispense $50 notes or ice cold beer. Clearly it was a Liberal Democrat.

All of which is only slightly less of a stigma than being a shoe bomber, which is possibly what they thought Emma might be when they singled her out for a random search before boarding. I remain puzzled by the purpose of randomly asking passengers to remove their shoes for a more thorough search. Just because Emma hasn't got explosives in her trainers doesn't mean that Al-Ahly-Mahmoud-Hassan at the back of the queue hasn't. I was almost sure Emma hadn't anyway, but I suppose you never really know people.

The flight itself was agreeable, almost pleasant. If you have music and a book and are within reasonable distance of a toilet (fellow wheelchair users will know what I mean) then eight hours and 20 minutes isn't all that long. Having chosen to fly with Virgin Atlantic, we did have to put up with Branson delivering a smugly recorded screen message thanking us for lining his pockets and wishing us an enjoyable flight. Mercifully he quickly buggered off to run another marathon or buy another island.

Along with the music and the literature I watched a film called Invictus. Regular readers will know that I detest rugby union with every sinew of my being, yet this in itself did not prevent me from being mildly engaged by the film. It's more about Nelson Mandella and the political climate in South Africa post-apartheid than it is about another bloody successful penalty goal, although the climactic rugby action scenes are laughable in a way that would make Escape To Victory's director blush.

Before you land in the USA you have to complete one of their VISA cards. Not a credit card for buying things you can't afford and thus destroying the global economy, but a small green card recording a few personal details to pacify the immigration people. The airline staff can't stress often enough how important it is to fill this in correctly if you want to be granted entry into the USA, and so it was with some predictability that one of us filled it in incorrectly. It happened to be Emma, but it could just as easily have been me who realised too late that there was not enough space for the words 'United Kingdom' in the box enquiring as to your country of residence. New card issued, the stewardess wearily advised us to 'just put England'.

The same stewardess then made the unfortunate mistake of talking to me about wheelchair access on aircrafts when we were waiting for my wheelchair to be brought up from the hold. Yawning slightly, my ears only pricked up when she told me that her husband was himself a wheelchair user. While not exactly Helen of Troy, she had the classic air stewardess look, leaving me wondering how many millions her husband had been paid after his accident. I think about this sort of thing a lot when my eyes are half shut in the bathroom at 7.00 on a Monday morning, and will think about it even more should I ever find myself requiring new employment. If you want to make money (and therefore hump stewardesses) out of disability, don't be born with it. Ok?

On arrival in Orlando (see, I knew we'd get there in less than 2,000 words) we then had to negotiate the complex baggage reclaim system. Immigration were satisfied with our form-filling efforts, but still took the time to fingerprint and photograph each of us before they would allow us anywhere near our suitcases. When we did reach the carousel we obviously couldn't find our luggage, which it turned out had not quite managed to find it's way off the plane at that point. When it came around, only two of our three cases (what? I'm travelling with a woman) were on the designated carousel. The location of the third may have remained a mystery for all eternity had Emma not noticed during a trip to the ladies that a nearby carousel had stopped moving with only around three cases remaning on it. One of them was ours. Don't ask because I don't know.

Baggage claimed, we thought we were clear for departure to the holiday villa. Not so. We came to a staircase, which is never a good situation for me, and were told that if we could not carry our luggage up the stairs (hello!, I can't even get myself up there!) then we would have to leave it with yet more baggage handling staff and reclaim it at yet another carousel. It could not be taken in the lift (elevator, whatever), nor on the subsequent monorail we had to take to what we soon discovered was the real airport exit. Monorails were to become a feature of this trip, but for now we located our luggage (all on one carousel this time) and advanced.

We had arranged to meet Emma's family at the car hire desk. The plan was for Emma's dad to hire a car and drive us around. The villa was around 20 minutes from most of the parks and attractions, so it made sense. Unfortunately their flight from Chicago (they had been staying in Wisconsin with a friend. I know, Chicago is in Illinois) had been delayed. An amusing 20 minutes was passed listening to and watching a woman trying to leave a message on her answering machine covering the duration of her holiday. She must have done it 17 times, shaking her head more with each failed attempt. She should try checking into an airport online.

An hour or so later Emma's family had arrived and were ready to go, and I faced one more challenge. The car we hired needed to be big to allow for all the luggage. The problem with big cars tends to be that they are tall aswell as spacious. All of which meant that I spent a farcical five minutes trying to get into the back seat, before deciding that I could not, and instead climbing into the front. The manufacturer had kindly and cleverly placed a handle just above the door which allowed me to pull myself in. Had it not been for that I would have continued to look like Mini-Me trying to climb up Beyonce's leg, or worse still been left to spend the fortnight at the airport with it's multitude of carousels and lifts/elevators.

And the woman with the voicemail problems.

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