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Flight to Florence - 1 September 2011


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Flying to Florence

Sunrise through the new windows of the solarium at the Community Center. We're waiting … and waiting … and waiting for the MTA (Mendocino Transit Authority) to pick us up as agreed. In desperation, I finally, fifteen minutes past the agreed upon time and five minutes before scheduled departure of the bus to Santa Rosa, roust Brenda for the frantic ride to intercept the bus. And just as we finish loading the baggage in the car, the bus shows up. And thus starts the trip.

Once on the bus to Santa Rosa, nearly full, we are entertained by the sheriff on the radio talking about the murderer still at large in the woods, how “comfortable” he is with the efforts to find the murderer despite the fact that the guy's been at large for almost a week.The woods just aren't that big! Sheriff Tom suggests that the other shockingly recent murder of another good guy is related.  

The big guy in the seat ahead introduces himself as James and says he's been living outside for the last 20 years. “When I have to stay in a motel, I can't sleep – can't see the stars,” he explains. He thinks the violence in our environment can be explained by the fact that we have let love go from our lives, to be replaced with money. I tell him that sounds right to me.


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The bus gets more and more crowded: a released prisoner from Parlin Fork, a father and young daughter at Chamberlain Creek. The prisoner has corn rows and doesn't say much. The father with the young daughter, who has been put on the bus by “Grandpaw,” says there isn't much in the way of help for fathers with daughters. One of the riders suggests a couple of Fort Bragg agencies for the homeless and for battered women. He's tried there, he says; the problem is he's male and his daughter isn't, and the agencies say “There isn't anything for you.”

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At SFO the agents are mostly of color and as gracious as their job permits under the sour supervision of a hard bitten. Having cheap seats, we board right after the higher classes, clear in the back of the bus. The plane has been siting in the sun for too long; it's 94 degrees inside. The reason BritAir has the cheapest prices is because they have the most crowded seating. We shoehorn in, and the aisle seat is taken (of course) by a friendly young giant on his first flight, first time out of the country. We roll back right on time, work our way through the lineup at crowded SFO, and are finally aloft, wingtip down over the Golden Gate, where the fog has gone away.

Stockton, Tahoe, Black Rock Desert, Idaho Falls, Billings, sunset over Minot, Saskatoon, the foot of Hudson's Bay, the tips of Greenland and Iceland, Ireland at sunrise, sparkling green through the clouds. Ten hours in the air, and there's London wheeling by off the wingtip; once around, and we're in the stack, and next thing we know, we're wheels down at Heathrow. The cabin temperature has dropped all the way to 85 degrees overnight.


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Immigration's a breeze, and Customs – nothing to declare, we drop a chunk of snacking cheese in the dustbin – even less of a hassle. A brief séance with an ATM, ad we're outfitted with pounds to zip through London. Heathrow shuttle zips us to Paddington in 15 minutes. It's hotter than hell, and the Londoners have that wilted, harried look they get when the sun is shining. We find our way by tube to Victoria, all of seven stops on the Circle Line. Holy shit: 16 pounds! Something like $26 for a ride that would cost $6 on BART. Who says we don't live in a socialist state? Another 43 pounds ($70) for the privilege of leaving our luggage at Victoria. We trek through the muggy heat to London Bridge in time for the 2 o'clock chiming of Big Ben. $80 for pints of good, cold beer and indifferent fish and chips at a touristy pub cattercorner from Victoria. Back to the station, where there are NO drinking fountains and it costs 30p to piss, to catch the Gatwick Shuttle. The sun is going down, and it has started to cool slightly.

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Compared to the US's TSA, screening at Gatwick is a whole 'nother experience. A sprightly young lady issues me a regulation plastic bag. “Don't you like my bag?” I ask, and she replies, “Your bag is just lovely, but you must use this one.” A grandmotherly lady checks out passports and boarding passes and helps Rochelle find her luggage checks. “Don't worry, love,” she sagely advises. A puckish sort with a lovely brogue helps me arrange our belts, bottles, pens, and the Brit-issued clear plastic bags in a minimum of plastic bins. A Helen Mirren clone feels Rochelle up, while a gentlemanly college professor type gently engages me in a colloquy about taking daughters to Florence. Then he makes me take my shoes off and says “I'll just run these through the xray for you, chief.” We survive again unscathed. I find half liter bottles of crappy bottled water in duty free, two for 1.80 pounds, or $3 the liter. Costlier than gasoline!

Our onward flight is delayed ominously, but arrives half an hour late. Refueling and catering takes longer than it should, and we lift off almost an hour late ...and our two hour flight is already due to arrive after 11pm Italian (Central European) time. We fly right over Paris, and can see the Tour Eiffel out the window. Out over the Med near Genoa, and back in over Pisa (but no visible leaning tower), then down onto the plane northwest of Florence. Miraculously, after rejecting the previous four requests, the ATM gives me euros. Miraculously, the taxis have not gone to bed. Our driver races through the maze of one way streets littered with walkers and timid drivers, all the while conducting a heated conversation with his Babo. In a narrow, curving street, he drops us off in front of an anonymous door, but to its right there is a brass plaque: Hotel Pensione Alessandra. With the push of a button, we're through the heavy doors. Up five flights, and there Leonardo greets us as if it were morning and we were just waking up. Within minutes we're in our blessedly cool room, showered, lights out, and headed for sleep.

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