Thursday, August 11, 2011

Moving On - Ten Years On (2)

We did stop for snacks on that uneventful drive to London. We eventually said farewell to the Volvo and continued to a small hotel a stone's throw from Heathrow Airport. There we all crammed into one room, keeping the windows closed on a warm night just in case the cats had second thoughts about emigrating. Henry and George were exercised on an eighteen inch wide strip of dead grass, whereas the previous day they had had the run of hundreds of acres. We ate poorly in the deep-fried hotel restaurant, and slept fitfully on that last night on UK soil, or rather concrete.

At the airport the following morning Sandi, Kate and the animals began the complicated process of checking in with livestock while I returned the rental van. I had the easier task. The moment I walked back into the terminal I knew something was wrong. It was a combination of Sandi’s expression and the small group of veterinary officials standing around. The large, and not inexpensive, dog crates were not large enough, according to regulations. So much for the expert advice we had received and followed. Yet the airport team proved supremely helpful and two huge crates were found. We donated ours to future, unknown traveling dogs. It all began to fall into place and the paperwork at least was correct, but it was most odd seeing our dogs and cats being wheeled away by strangers, knowing that the next time we would see them would be in another land. And so we flew.

I can’t actually recall the details of the flight except that we were able to watch the newly-released film Shrek. And that for the very first time flying to the USA I didn’t have to complete a visitors’ visa card. Like on all the countless flights I have taken the food was unmemorable, but the cocktails helpful. Did we talk about what we were doing? I don’t think so, at least not at length. We were already worrying about the (now realized) abandoned suitcase and making plans for its rescue. Before embarking calls had been made and neighbors would assist. And so we flew on, and dozed and landed ahead of schedule.

Immigration! Not for me the long passport line. I had been told that I would be directed to a special officer, and the sign did just that. Within a few minutes I was standing in a windowless office being processed by an enormous and friendly African-American official. Friendly, but the huge firearm holstered at her belt was a reminder that friendliness was conditional. She examined my papers, especially the rather grand document bearing the seal of the United States Embassy in London, before measuring my height and weight, looking dispassionately at my eyes, and taking my fingerprints. She then firmly stamped my United Kingdom passport with a design that I had not seen before, handed it back to me and said, “Mr. Lewis, welcome to the United States of America.”

Reunited with my family, our primary concern was not the luggage (we were good at losing that) but the animals, for the heat outside the building was intense and we hoped that they would be moved swiftly into the shade. They were. Crates arrived and all was well. Henry and George were released from their prisons and walked around on leads. Advice: If you ever wish to bring an American airport arrivals area to a standstill simply walk about with a couple of fine English pedigree labrador retrievers. It works wonders!

Two cars waited to take us on the ninety or so miles drive east past seemingly endless strips of car dealerships, warehouse stores, tattoo parlors and adult stores (to mention a few.) Fortunately we dozed much of the time until the countryside turned green again and our tired spirits lifted. Bridgehampton looked familiar from our previous visit in April. There was the Candy Kitchen, and there was the church. A mile east of the village we turned left and drove north to our new, temporary home. The animals had made it ahead of us, their driver commenting that after the first five miles he and they had all run out of conversation! And Phyllis was there to greet us, with goodies and home comforts. Food and wine, and a bottle of pink gin with accompanying Angostura bitters. And it was all a bit of a blur, even before those bottles were opened. We chatted, and unpacked a little. We explored the house and garden, and marveled at the small swimming pool. Friends called round, and phone calls were made. I think that Kate and I went for a swim. And we ate, although I recall not feeling at all hungry. All I wanted to do was sleep, which we all did once sheets were found and beds were made. It was only on waking that I had the persistent thought: Where are we and what on earth have we done?

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