Coming to America
We’ve known today was coming for a while now, but that hasn’t made it any easier. As with our experiences moving to the UK, moving back to the USA has been dramatic, eventful, emotional, etc. Apart from being awake for the last thirty-one hours and rushing about doing all of the last-minute errands that require doing before an international move, saying good-bye to all our friends and the people that have become important to us during the course of the last two and a half years has been physically and emotionally draining. But the apprehension and sense of loss that has accompanied our leaving Sheffield has been complemented by the anticipation of moving home, seeing our families and introducing them to Janelle, and seeing the friends we left behind over two years ago. At any rate, here’s a (relatively) brief account of the last forty-eight or so hours, or, How Janelle was Ripped from the Only Home She’s Ever Known.
T minus 29 hours [04:10, Wednesday, 7 December 2005]:
Of course we have been preparing for our move overseas before now: we’ve shipped about 80% of our things from the UK, followed the necessary administrative procedures with the University and with Andrea’s work, prepared our flat to be empty, and so on. But now things kick into a higher gear. Janelle has apparently been waking Andrea up for over half an hour, and Andrea decides that 4:10 is an appropriate time to get me up out of bed. Well . . . I say ‘bed’; I’d fallen asleep on the living room floor. Still, after about five minutes I realize that I’m surprisingly alert for being awake at such a pagan hour, and it is then that Andrea and I figure out that Janelle has actually (for the first time) slept for about five hours straight. So with our new-found rest we get up and begin packing the things we hadn’t packed up to this point (which is to say we started packing just about everything). I had forgotten what it felt like to have had so much sleep in one go.
T minus 24.5 hours [about 09:00, Wednesday, 7 December 2005]:
We’ve made considerable progress on stuffing most of our remaining earthly possessions into six (hopefully) well-constructed suitcases. Andrea has taken some time to attend to herself (a rare treat for her these days, what with two people expecting her to take of them) and even bathe Janelle, and I am feeling satisfied that we’ll actually be ready to leave Sheffield tomorrow morning. I’m getting ready to get about an hour’s kip as I know I have a lot in front of me today.
T minus 21 hours [12:30, Wednesday, 7 December 2005]:
I'm off to the city, really for the last time. As I walk out the door toward the bus stop my mobile phone rings, and it's my Mom and Papa calling and excited that they get to meet their granddaughter in 36 hours. We talk until the bus comes, and I head into the department in order to get some last-minute errands done before my 14:30 meeting with my supervisor. I had about 25 books to return to the library before we left the country (don't tell anyone, but I still have one with me! It's okay, though; you can renew them online), and I had some hours to turn in and a lot of good-byes to say. I left the deparment for the last time as a resident of Sheffield at about 16:30; perhaps the strangest part of this journey is that I don't have the key to the postgrad room that's been a mainstay on my keyring for the last two years. But I'm off to return a bag I'd bought but didn't need, to pick up some beer and chocolate for homegroup tonight, and to see Paul and Jen, who've featured elsewhere on this blog. There was a lot to do at Paul and Jen's, most of which doesn't merit discussion here. Paul and I messed around with computers and enjoyed a bottle of Leffe together while Jen made some dinner whose main ingredient was stinky cheese.
T minus 12.5 hours [21:00, Wednesday, 7 December 2005]:
I arrive an hour late at my last homegroup meeting. It is definitely good to see everyone again before we go, though saying good-bye was difficult and a little strange. We enjoy the beer and chocolate mentioned earlier, amongst other things, and we also share a bottle of pink champaigne which our friends Mike and Becky bought for us. Only with truly good friends can you enjoy Thornton's chocolate bars and pink champaigne in plastic cups, so this night was very special for us. Afterwards we went to Greg and Julie's house to have one last beer together and say good-bye a little more intimately. Greg will be working in the morning, so this will be the last time we see each other for a while. This is one of the most difficult good-byes I've had to go through . . . and that, perhaps, will have to suffice in this most public of fora. Except to say that I was proud as I watched my friend hold my daughter for the last time (for a while, anyway); as he would say to her quite often: "Who's your god-daddy?"
T minus 4.5 hours [just before 05:00, Thursday, 8 December 2005]:
Julie brought us home a few hours ago, and the three of us set ourselves about watching Janelle, packing our remaining things, and cleaning our flat. Rich joined us just before 05:00 to pack our luggage in his People Carrier (which, when translated, means mini-van). We shut the door on our flat for the last time at about 05:10, and Rich and I followed Julie, Andrea, and Janelle down the A-57 toward Manchester. Rich and I were largely quiet along the way, partly because I hadn't slept in the last twenty-five hours and partly because neither of us were looking forward to saying good-bye to each other. Rich has been a good friend over the last two years, not simply for bringing me a burger and chips whilst my wife was in the throes of labor (that story can be found here), but for innumerable reasons which are best left unspoken. Though I suspect he would disagree, I can assure you, faithful readers, that Rich (and his family) has been a blessing to me and my family more than I could ever hope to have been a blessing to him. And he continues to be.
At any rate, we arrived at the airport, and Rich dropped us off at departures. After an emotional farewell he drove off, and Julie, Andrea, and Janelle joined me in the airport for check-in. We did the normal queueing for security, entrusted our six very heavy pieces of luggage to Continental Airlines (aka "the Satan"), and went to enjoy a light breakfast before we had to say our final good-bye (to Julie). As we walked through security on our own - all our friends left behind - I hoped I had done enough to let them know how much I love and appreciate them. If I haven't, I pray for the opportunity to rectify the shortfall. While we may never live in the UK again, I trust we will see our British friends again, and I look forward to that reunion.
Take off [09:20, Thursday, 8 December 2005]:
Our flight left promptly on time. We sat in seats 8B and 8C, bulkhead seats which were fitted to accommodate a bassinet for Janelle. Additionally, seat 8A was empty, so we had plenty of space on our emigration. The flight attendants were fantastic, and across from us (in seats 8D, 8E, and 8F) were three British women, one of whom had a baby four days older than Janelle. Janelle was absolutely brilliant on this flight, though at one point she did start screaming while she was in her bassinet. Unfortunately, Andrea was in the lav at this point, and I had fallen asleep. For some reason Janelle's crying doesn't wake me up, so when I finally did come to one of the flight attendants was trying to comfort Janelle without waking me. We landed safely and smoothly enough in Newark, NJ, where our pleasant little tale of international travel takes a dark turn.
8 hours after take off [12:30, Thursday, 8 December 2005]:
[note: all times are local, so 12:30 EST is just over eight hours after 9:20 GMT] We've finally landed on American soil. I'm not scared of flying, but I hate doing it. It's like someone ties your legs up with duct [gaffer] tape for a few hours and lays you in a seat that reclines back about 1.5 degrees. How is that helpful? But still, the plane has safely delivered us to Newark, NJ, and it's time to see if our luggage has had an equally successful journey. As we waited round carousel 13 for our bags, watching other passengers collect their suitcases and wander off through customs, it began to appear unlikely. 30 minutes. Then 60 minutes. No bags. This is enfuriating enough, but to add insult to injury there are also no Continental representatives immediately available. After a while I notice a rotund latina woman (let's call her 'Gordita') yelling at other passengers from my flight, and I realized that this is the customer service rep. I make my way over to the developing fray, and it turns out that about a dozen of us on flight CO 021 have had 'an oily substance' spill onto our luggage. I notice that the other passengers in this situation all have some of their suitcases, but not one of my six bags has materialized from beneath the plane. After yelling at some British passengers on their way to a cruise leaving from NYC, Gordita tells us that if our bags haven't appeared by now, then they've been ruined. If New York is our final destination we're to make a claim with Continental. If we're going on to somewhere else we're to make our connecting flights and file a claim at our final destination. Of course, it's now been over ninety minutes since our flight landed, so some of us have missed our connecting flights.
Andrea, Janelle and I make a mad dash to gate C-70 (I say 'mad dash'; I mean we waited for another forty minutes in a queue to go through security, then we took out our computers, took off our shoes, and walked through a metal detector to make sure we weren't carrying any dangerous materials or weapons, such as fingernail clippers, nose hair trimmers, an excess of paperclips, or any other items that would give us the upper hand in a bid to take over the plane. Sheepishly, I was carrying some wire cutters, and these were confiscated and added to some security worker's personal tool collection) in the hopes that we hadn't missed our flight. We were almost the last three to board our plane, so we just barely made it. The head flight attendant, Jennifer, was absolutely fabulous; at first I levelled some acerbic comment at her because I was in such a bad mood. Within two minutes she had treated me so well I was apologizing for my bad mood. Sometimes, just sometimes, Americans hit customer service on the head.
So anyway, now we're less than two hours away from seeing our families, and we have the added bonus of not having to worry about collecting any of our checked luggage when we get there. Janelle was less than impressed with this flight, so she screamed most of the way. We sat next to a saint of a man from Cincinnati who didn't seem to notice that he was sitting next to a screaming four-week-old baby for two hours. When the flight attendants offered him an exit-row seat with extra leg room and, perhaps crucially, no screaming babies immediately adjacent, he smiled and said he was okay. When I asked if I could have the exit row seat, Andrea flashed me a look that froze me where I was. So I just sat there.
12.5 hours after take off [17:00, Thursday, 8 December 2005]:
We've finally reached Columbus, OH, and our families are all there to meet us just beyond the security checkpoints. They are noticeably excited to see us and to meet Janelle. Hugs and kisses are exchanged. The typical reunion, I suppose. My Papa and brother go with me to file a claim about my luggage; it should be said that the Columbus baggage people, Aaron and Mike, have been great as I've tried to sort this out. In fact, other than Gordita and her two cronies in Newark, the Continental staff were all without exception absolutely fantastic. The appropriate letter will be written, probably in the new year.
At any rate, we eventually make our way to Hometown Buffet, perhaps a strange choice for our first meal in the USA, but the food was actually surprisingly good. And anyway, we were tired, hungry, and we just wanted to be able to talk to everyone who had come to see us at the airport. It's been an experience, and after dinner I just want to get home and go to bed. Our journey is over, and so ends our experiences as residents of Sheffield, England. As the end of a phase in our lives, all of this saddens me terribly. But as the beginning of another phase, I'm terribly excited. Though it may no longer be international, the adventure of our lives continues. This is most immediately evident in the epic snow storm that fell as we were eating all we could eat. But this story has gone on long enough. Maybe we'll talk of the snow storm some other time.