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Thursday, 10 December 2009

D-Day - Arrival in the USA

Yesterday was the big move day. We woke around 5:30am and spent 4 hours doing last minute cleaning and tidying, filling about six black bin bags with junk we didn't want to carry or leave in the house. We had a slight bit of cat-juggling, as we wanted Elbie to have a chance to do his morning sniffs and perambulation, but be sure he was available when we needed to leave.

A minicab came at 9:30 to take us to the airport, via the Animal Quarantine Centre for our cat Elbie. He miowed quietly and regularly in the cab, but settled done, and we handed him over to the cat courier around 10:15. On to Terminal 5 for the humans and their luggage, we got our boarding passes quickly but couldn't check in our luggage as we were an hour too early. Lots of walking/standing space but very few seats is my main impression of the terminal.

Time to check luggage, and a minor hiccup occurs, our bags are too heavy. However we have a bigger checked allowance because we had upgraded our seats, so I nipped to a luggage shop and got a small duffel bag for £25, into which we loaded our excess weight so all 3 bags came under the limits. Phew.

On through security, the usual queues but no problem. At this point we have one carry on suitcase apiece, plus an instrument each (fiddle and bag of concertinas), and B has a laptop as well. I also have my melodeon in my carry on suitcase as well, as it's by far the most valuable small and easily broken item I have.

Still no boarding gate announcement, so we go to Boots (the Chemist) to buy some sandwiches and drinks, using the last of my loyalty card points. We sit and munch these on a couple of seats under the announcement board (design note - you can't see the board while sitting), and read books. After about an hour we have a boarding gate, A10, and move to the next stage.

I had hoped to get some duty-free Jameson's Irish Whiskey for one of our Eugene friends who had been storing some boxes for us, but they don't have Jameson's, just Scottish brands so we skip that and wait for our boarding announcement. It comes and everybody piles forward and onto a bus...

A bus? Yes, despite the swanky new British Airways terminal building, we still have to pile onto a cattle truck to drive several minutes to the plane. The good news is we get right next to the exit door, so when we arrive on the tarmac and walk to the plane, B and I are first up the boarding stairs and into our seats, so we can stuff our overhead bins full before other greedies get there. We are flying World Traveller Plus, slightly bigger seats and slightly smarmier service with a doubled baggage allowance.

So we settle into our slightly bigger seats and play with the footrests and back recliners while the plane fills, but there's a hold-up because someone has taken a funny turn, and we're delayed an hour before actual takeoff. 1st Class get drinks served during this time, but our section do not, so we read, listen to iPods etc.

We're off, the wheels lift off the ground. We have left UK soil. When will I be back?

The flight is smooth, we sleep in snatches and miss bits of the films because they're on a fixed loop, unlike Virgin Airlines where you can pause and change choices at any time. Never mind. I watch some GI Joe action movie on a screen not much bigger than my iPod screen, the guy in the seat in front lurching about like a beached whale joggling the screen frequently. Not the most edifying in-flight entertainment, but at least I have a footrest and an iPod. I finish my book and give it to B to read.

We arrive at Seattle-Tacoma airport on time (4:10pm local time, midnight:ten London time) thanks to good tailwinds, grab our baggage and shuffle off to immigration. They announced on the plane that there were three different sections, US Citizens, visitors, and US Residents, Green Card Holders and immigrants, but that was misleading. We get steered towards the right section, and I'm clutching a sealed big brown manilla envelope with my details. This is the big moment, we are first in the queue again (woo hoo) and Officer Anderson is quick, polite and efficient, a nice change from some previous experiences. In about 30 minutes I am processed, visa endorsed, fingerprints taken etc. they have our new apartment address (we had used my BIL's in Texas previously), and we're off to collect our checked bags. I should receive my Social Security Number in about 3 weeks (equivalent to a National Insurance Number in the UK), my green card not for six months, but the stamped Visa serves the place of both for now.

Due to checking in early at Heathrow our bags are ready on the conveyor belt, so we grab them and pass though customs in minutes. Then we have to put them on another conveyor belt to get to them main part of the airport while we board a train. At the other end there is slight confusion as to where to get our bags again, but we soon locate the correct baggage carousel. The carousel isn't moving yet, so we head off to the car rental desks to get that sorted while we wait. Second small hiccup of the day occurs here. The normal Budget Rental desk is closed and has been moved to a different location on a different floor, so we split up temporarily, B going to organise the car while I got back to the carousel to ensure our bags aren't stolen. We arrange to meet at the carousel.

However the bags arrive in seconds, so I stupidly decide to try to drag them to where I think B may have gone. I can only explain this madness by pleading tiredness from the flight, eagerness to be moving after ten hours of butt-numbing stillness, and my innate level of stupidity at messing up carefully arranged plans. So I start dragging four wheeled suitcases, two shoulder duffel bags (one filled with concertinas), a long fiddle case (with just one shoulder strap) and the plastic bag from Boots with my overcoat and a few munchies in. I left B her laptop bag at least. I manage to get to the car parks via an elevator, but have no idea where the Budget desk is located, and I realise B has probably done and gone back to the carousel where I am waiting. Oh no, I'm not there anymore am I?

So, t-shirt soaked with sweat but outside temperature hovering around freezing, I drag the landtrain back towards the carousel (using the elevator again, which mercifully was empty both times), just in time to see a puzzled B looking all round for me or the bags. I shout pleadingly, but she doesn't hear me and starts walking away, faster than I can drag the cases. Panic, I stop, cup my hands into a cone and shout her name again. Mercy, she hears me and comes back, still looking puzzled. I disguise my stupidity with bad temper, and she heads off to the information desk to find out where we collect the cat.

Given a few minutes to cool down mentally and physically, I manage to summon a smile for B when she returns, and we wheel and lug our worldly goods off to the rental car, which B has upgraded to a mid-size or we wouldn't get everything in. It's a good choice, a Pontiac which we haven't driven before, and we put down the back seat and load up. I put on a fresh t-shirt, and then my fleece and overcoat, and put the car heater on max, because it is now below freezing.

We set off into the dark Washington State evening, and soon find Menzies Aviation where the cat E is waiting quietly for us in his carrier. Quietly, that is, until he hears our voices (first time in 17 hours), and I comfort him with finger through his cage bars while B sorts the paperwork. We need $35 cash to pay, and fortunately I have $36 in my wallet from our last trip so all is well and we claim our prize and load up again.

As we head south on Interstate 5 Elbie is miowing again quietly, not really distress, just confusion and reminding us that he's not 100% contented, so we drive for only an hour before deciding to stop the night. Quality Inn accept pets ($15 extra), so we check in there, unload bags into our room via nearest fire escape door, and release the caged beast. In fact he's happy to be back with us, and wanders round the room as cats do checking the new arrangements, before finding a lap to sit on and start purring. We order Pizza Hut Pizza delivered to our room (we'd prefer Papa John's but it's not available here), have a swift much, quick scan of the cable TV channels, and collapse into bed around 9:30pm.

I wake at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30, finally deciding to stop fighting jet lag, and get up and shower. D+1 has started.


  1. Hello Martin - I've just been catching up on your blog - your arrival in Seattle and the stamping of your visa - was your visa a permanent resident visa? That's what we're waiting for here in Dublin. As you know, my husband needs police reports from the various countries where we have lived and worked. 4 countries still to reply.

  2. Yes, permanent resident visa.