Feb 28, 2007

The Plane Truth, London Heathrow

[This was originally written on 2 July, 2003. Still catching up...]

"If you haven't missed at least one flight in the last year, you're getting to the airport too early."

--Steve Hayman

This isn't a plane truth story in the sense that I sat next to someone famous, interesting, or with 2 left arms and a martian finger growing out of her forehead. This is a story of a month of insane travel, sleep deprivation, and how I got home at the end of it.

June was a bit of a crazy month for me. I finished May by doing a three day tour of Ontario CA, Newark NJ, and Lincoln NE. June started with a week in Atlanta, a week at home, a week in Cupertino, 3 days in Santa Cruz, and a week in San Francisco for WWDC. I ended up leaving WWDC with a Friday flight that landed in Chicago at 6:00PM, allowing me 13 hours to get home, unpack, wash my clothes, pack, and get back to the airport for a 9:00AM flight to Heathrow. Joy.

Mind you, I slept in my own bed for a grand total of 6 nights in the month of June. That is to say: I didn't sleep very well at all. I can sleep just about anwhere, but hotel beds may as well be made of scrap iron and watchsprings for all I can sleep in them. So a big fat 8 hour time shift is just what I needed to help me sleep at night. Hellooooooooo jet-lag.

And thus begins my story:

Total amount of sleep Friday night: 4 hours

I get into London at about 10:30PM and into my hotel at about midnight (the hotel is near Apple's office about 3 miles from Heathrow, which becomes rather important later in the story).

Total amount of sleep Saturday night: 3 hours

I spend Sunday wandering around downtown London trying to stay awake and soak up the sunshine to help kill my jet lag as I have 2 long days ahead of me where I have to train a bunch of people from Apple Europe. Nothing inhibits sensical lecturing like massive jet lag and a serious lack of sleep.

Total amount of sleep Sunday night: 5 hours

Monday is my first day of training. Even after a pot of tea and 3 cups of coffee, I still feel like I'm talking through a mouth full of novocaine. My veins are full of warm caramel. Everything moves in slow motion. Charlie Brown's teacher sounds like JFK next to me.

Total amount of sleep Monday night: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Tuesday I finally start to really get into the sleep deprivation thing and hit my stride at about 2:30 in the afternoon--a full hour before my class ends and 21 hours before the return flight home. Perfect.

Tuesday night I go over to a friends place in London for dinner. He cooks a *phenomenal* dinner which consists of a profound amount of homemade Indian food, great dessert and a couple of tasty BudVar "Budweiser" beers. Stuffed full and well past exhausted I get back to my hotel at around 11:45.

I have every intent of packing and getting totally ready so that in the morning I can just shower, get dressed, have a nice leisurely breakfast, and make my way to the airport with plenty of time to spare. You may recall that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I decide I might as well watch some TV before packing, so I sit down on the bed in my clothes, but not before setting my alarm for 6:30 AM just in case I somehow pass out while watching TV.

My flight to Chicago is at 10:30AM the next day. This, like the location of my hotel, is also a rather important detail.

I double check my travel alarm to make sure it's set correctly. I set the alarm clock on the desk across the room as I'm famous for beating on any alarm clock within arm's length and falling back asleep (instead of getting up, gaining consciousness, turning it off, and going about my day).

I settle in for a little late-night British television and manage to watch about 15 seconds worth before falling soundly asleep.

Packing just isn't going to happen tonight.

I have a very vague memory of waking up, looking at the LED clock on the television, acknowledging that it's 2:00AM, brushing my teeth, taking my jeans and Apple shirt off, putting on a T-shirt, and climbing back to bed. I leave the television on for company.

I wake up on my own accord (no big surprise there) and try to fall back asleep with no luck. I roll over and watch a little television, and as my eyes began to focus, I try to make out the clock on the television. It says




I get up, walk across the room, bend down and look at the clock so closely that it fills my field of vision.


I look at my alarm clock to make sure the television hasn't gone haywire. It too reads


And the alarm had somehow been turned off.

Total amount of sleep Tuesday night: 9 hours, 9 minutes.

Babies don't sleep this well.

"OK," I tell myself, "Don't panic, we can work this out. We'll make the flight."

I think about it for a moment, and then decide to give myself 30 seconds to panic.

I panic, and then I spring into action. In that 30 seconds of panic, my body dumps every available gram (not ounces--remember, they use the metric system in the UK) of adrenalin into my bloodstream. I become as focused as a laser beam. I see through walls. I have A Plan.

Call the hotel front desk. Order a cab:
"I'd like to order a Taxi to Heathrow, please" "And when would you like it, Mr. Fitzpatrick?" Thinking "An hour ago.", I reply "In 10 minutes."

Brush my teeth, wash my face, apply a double helping of deoderant, get dressed into the same clothes I was wearing yesterday, and put on my Cubs hat.

Rip the bedspread off the bed and use the bed as a staging area: put my roll-aboard and my laptop bag on it and start throwing all of my stuff (which is of course scattered all over the room) onto the bed.

Start packing my bags. Jam everything in. Jump on the bag to help it zip. Zip my fingertip into the bag. Swear loudly.

Leave the room.

Checkout and pay the bill at the front desk.

Exit the hotel to discover the taxi waiting for me. Excellent. I explain my plight to the cab driver who narrowly misses running over 4 pedestrians trying to get me to the airport as quickly as possible. I Remember to tip this guy well.

Arrive at Terminal 3 and spot the American Airlines curbside checkin. Pay cab, sprint to checkin and fumble my passport at the clerk.

"I'm on the 10:30 flight to Chicago."

Clerk looks at her watch. Clerk looks at me. Clerk blinks loudly.

"I don't have any bags to check."

Clerk makes "Ahhh" look, takes my passport, checks me in, gives me my boarding pass, my passport, and a handful of cryptic directions to the security checkpoint.

Done with checkin. 45 seconds flat.

Get in queue (no lines over here--just queues) for the security checkpoint.

Set off the buzzer as I pass through the metal detector. Get patted down by a guard who enjoyed it a bit more than etiquette dictates he should.

Reward myself by browsing the duty free stores for the next 15 minutes.

Walk to my gate.

Arrive at my gate and wait in line.

Step foot onto the plane, exactly 1 hour after waking up.

So I made my flight after all, and with plenty of time to spare. I slept through takeoff, landing, and most of the next day.

And that's the plane truth.

No comments: