I cannot categorise my fears and phobias in order of merit, as they are all completely irrational. However, there are two on the list that appear to be encountered on a more frequent basis; flying and heights. My last day in the Big Apple included activities that ensured that I would, at some stage, manage to make a spectacle of myself. I was about to go to the top of the Empire State Building, and then fly home, to Texas.
As most of the weekend was either snowing, or overcast, the view would not have been as spectacular as if the skies had been clear, so the climbing of what once boasted to be the tallest building in the world, was delayed until our departure date. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the skies on Monday were clear and the sun was shining. The wind was not as kind, and continued to be brutal. Samantha and I made our penultimate trip to the deli, (we returned for breakfast for the rest of our party, later) and enjoyed our final coffee and croissant in our temporary home, having checked under the bed, and cupboard space, several times. It is well known that along with the passport thieves that live in my car, there are invisible individuals who unpack items from my case, and replace them in the drawers of my hotel room, then swap them from drawer to drawer. Have I ever mentioned my over active imagination? The Borrowers were never fictional in my mind!
Our ever helpful concierge explained that queues to the famous tower, even though a Monday, would be very long, and it was best to acquire tickets through her. She could print them off for us, and it would save us having to wait in line. She would then order a car for Lesley and the girls, and make sure it was at the front of the hotel in plenty of time to get them to the airport, in the afternoon. Her talents were unsurpassed, and if I didn't claim to have the job myself, I am sure she would have suggested that she was the tooth fairy.
The tickets we purchased were not actually for the top. I was content to go with the majority, but when all others decided that 86 floors was quite high enough to obtain the views necessary to cause the appropriate 'ooh's and 'ahh's, I conceded and did not need to push myself to go the extra mile, and subject myself to abject horror. As we entered the building, we were told that the 102nd floor had been closed, at least for the foreseeable future. Staff were unsure as to why, and when, indeed, it would reopen. I felt as if I had been reprieved for my phobia. We didn't bypass the queue to get to the first level, as it was non-existent. However, the queue for security was very long. The line moved very quickly, and there were more security scanners than at the airport. Once through, we had to wait for Samantha, who had inadvertently left her miniature tripod in her small backpack, rather than in her larger one, and this was considered to be of weapon proportion. She was given a ticket and then able to join us for the ride to the 80th floor, where we had to wait for a VIP to exit the lift, together with film crew, whose tripods, it would appear, were not lethal. The VIP was a Harlem Globe Trotter, who would only have had to travel to the 101st floor to see views of the 102nd!
I was suitably impressed with the view, and surprisingly comfortable, with the high brick walls and secured iron bars to ensure my safety. It was only when someone extended their arm through the railings, to take a 'better' picture, did I become a wreck. How could an extra foot make the photo any clearer. We were 86 floors high! It was bitterly cold, and once we had walked around the perimeter once, it was time to go inside. There was no Internet signal, and my effort to send pictures of me standing higher than the Chrysler building, were thwarted until I was safely on ground level. As we left the (nearly) top, Samantha asked where she should take her ticket to reclaim her property. The guard asked, 'What did you try to bring up here? A shotgun? I don't know why they wouldn't let you bring it up here!', he chuckled. We stood amazed, as did everyone else. Joking with security guards has become taboo, although presumably this official had not been to ground level for a long time!
Samantha did reclaim her offending tripod, and met us at the foot of the stairs, and once we had regrouped, we walked along 5th Avenue in search of somewhere to have lunch. The photo's that had been taken behind a backdrop of the tower, were not purchased. It seemed rather odd to offer a likeness of the building, when we could stand outside and take a picture of the real thing. Call me a spoilsport, but I like to think I am more in the way of 'practical'. We found another 'superior' deli, where we paid for the buffet lunch by the pound, and decided that perhaps we had enough time to visit the 9/11 Memorial Garden before leaving down/uptown, to get to the airport. Lunch was very enjoyable, and we all agreed that the trip had been a great success, and a great deal of fun. Lesley and I concurred that we must repeat the experience, and hopefully Elise and Emma would be able to join us, for a 'family' girly getaway.
As we left the deli, I started to fade into reality, and told Samantha she had my permission to 'take over'. She could now be 'mother', and assumed the task with great expertise, explaining that I had gone into panic mode, and would be slightly incoherent from this point forward, and to ignore me if continued to ask, 'do we have time to do this?' Unfortunately, we took the wrong train to the Memorial Garden, which caused us to have to walk further than anticipated, and I was told that it would be better if we forewent the experience so that we did not miss our plane. I did not need to be told twice. We bid a sad farewell, and I was led by the arm to the subway.
Still muttering that we were running out of time, I asked the bell-hop if he could get me a cab. The helpful employee in the morning, had been replaced by someone who obviously had a dislike for women, English people, or perhaps both. He told me that all he could do was go out onto the sidewalk and wave one down. I asked, politely, in a deep slurring voice, if he could do that, and he promptly walked past me and asked, 'what room number', to someone who was still checking in. I decided that I would add the gratuity I had planned to give to the bell-hop to the cab driver, whom I flagged down myself, by standing in the middle of the road with my suitcase by my side. (I had tried standing on the pavement and leaning slightly, but it didn't work). Being rush hour, traffic lights were overridden by traffic cops, who appeared to be colour blind. As our green light glowed, the long arm of the law went up to stop us; as the light turned red, we were waived on. We got to the airport just over an hour before we were to take off. The driver was surprised, and appreciative, with the excessive tip, and continued to thank me as we walked away from the vehicle, being rather impressed that I was once a Licensed London Cabbie.
Check in was not difficult, and we sailed through the security check, until I came to collect my bag. 'You have been selected for special screening', the guard told me. 'Special screening', I repeated, almost awed. My bags were taken to a small stand at the side of the scanner, and Samantha was told to take a seat on the opposite side. 'You been busted?', a fellow passenger asked her. 'No', she replied, non-chalant', 'My mother has!' The guard asked if I had any liquid substances; perhaps a snow-globe? One of our process servers, Jerry, has a grand-daughter whom, with a friend, has started to collect snow-globes. As Jerry has supplied us with a freezer full of venison, it was the least I could do to pick up a couple from each place I visit. It would appear that the liquid in these ornaments are considered 'hazardous'. Ready to discard them, I asked if I could perhaps buy some replacements in the airport, which were not hazardous, and continued to search my bag. 'Ma'am; I must ask you to stop. I have to search your bag, or you can take it back and check it in at the front desk'. I stood back, and then thought; 'Marmite'. I could do without the snow-globe, but they were not confiscating my marmite! I would go back and check-in my bag. Why the liquid is not a danger when in the belly of the plane, but is the equivalent of dynamite in the overhead locker, is still a mystery to me, but I was not going to argue. Still smiling, I left the area, and the guard told me to come to the front of the queue when I returned and he would let me through. Fortunately, it was not too far to the desk. The lady at the ticket booth was surprised to see me back. 'What's wrong', she asked, quite concerned, and I explained the situation, as she took my very small case.
I returned to the security check, and walked to the front of the queue, as instructed. Instead of leaving my bag, hat, boots and other items with Samantha, who had repacked the items that needed to be taken out of the case for the x-ray, I had taken everything with me. I explained that I had already been through security, and just had to walk through again, but this fell on deaf ears. I waived to the security guard who had stopped me for my 'special screening', and he looked straight through me. This was going to be a fun trip! However, this time I was not stopped, and we went to a concession stand to buy something to munch for 'supper'. Completely wound up as tight as a watch spring, I paid for two sandwiches, dropping my bag, then my purse, then my money on the floor. Stifling giggles, the staff waited patiently for me to regain composure. All I needed now was a cup of tea. The young girl at the stand apologised profusely, and went to get me a cup. She then looked confused and said she had not taken any money for tea. I laughed and told her that I had not ordered one, but would like to. This time she chortled loudly, apparently finding my inability to co-ordinate highly amusing. I found it most refreshing finding someone at an airport concession stand to be so friendly, and, dare I say, human.
Having realised that my plan to disrobe, pack my sweatshirt in my case, and remove my tights that were worn as a protection in the sub zero temperature, had failed miserably, I was starting my journey rather more uncomfortably than I had hoped. We did have extra legroom seats, and for this I was most grateful. Once the plane was full, a crew member announced that we were almost ready to leave, but someone had left their jacket in the doorway. Would the owner of the jacket please make themselves known, or they would have to leave it behind. 'Oh, and would the owner of the jacket please confirm that they are also the owner of the skateboard'. Apparently, we could leave the jacket, but the skateboard had to be claimed. Presumably, the handleless scooter was claimed, as we left, on time. The view over New York City was amazing, as it was on our arrival, but I was not sorry to be leaving the cold, nor the extra expense. I read for a while, and then we played backgammon on Samantha's 'Thrive' tablet. In order to eat our supper, we had to bring down my backpack from the overhead bin. The third person in our row was not impressed at my leaving my seat, and stepping over his extended legs. In order not to knock out the hostess with the overhead flap, I had to stand for a while, rocking, while the plane tipped slightly from side to side. The gentleman behind was ordering a snack, and the credit card machine was not connecting. Although I did not touch him, our fellow row member continued to flinch, in anticipation.
Houston is not my favourite place on the planet, but its airport has become my second home, and although I did not receive the traditonal, 'welcome home, ma'am', I did, indeed, feel home. Although not in Austin, I was back in Texas, and I felt very comfortable. Always the Englishwoman, I have become very fond of my adoptive State, and feel almost as much joy when returning as I do when I land at Heathrow. Almost.
I called Dana when we had boarded our final flight, as we were going to be slightly later, as my bag was travelling third class, and I would have to wait for it to be unloaded. We would meet him, and the dog, outside. I did not take my complimentary upgrade, and whether the seat was mine, or not, I do not know, but there was a spare first class space. I would like to think that it was my seat as it was then offered to a member of the military, who gave it up for a younger member of the service. It was heartwarming.
The snow globes were greatly appreciated, and the trip will be remembered for a long time. The photo's do provide a long lasting memory, and I do hope that the return trip happens, but for now I am back on Austin soil and happy to be here, to create ...another story.