Day 1 - October 9, 2009
It's 6:00pm and I am finally in the air en-route to London via Toronto. I left for the airport earlier than I normally would have because it's the Friday of a holiday weekend (Columbus Day here in the US; the connection to chocolate is that Columbus was the first known European to see cacao off the coast of the island of Guanaja on his third voyage to the New World in 1503 – it's Thanksgiving weekend in Canada) and I expected traffic out to La Guardia airport to be heavier than normal and I expected the crowds at the airport getting away for the long weekend to be larger than normal.
Of course, there wasn't any traffic and there were no crowds at the check-in and no line at security. I don't know if this is a good omen or not. I am glad that there is no stress actually making the flight but at the same time I am very short of sleep and it was really tough staying awake during the long wait - even in the hubbub of the airline terminal. The main terminal at La Guardia is Terminal B and the Air Canada gates are at the far end of Concourse A. I wait among passengers disgruntled at the delays on their flights, among the shopworn seats and walls, wastebaskets overflowing with crinkled cellophane sandwich wrappings, empty water bottles, and paper hot cups in many sizes once filled with coffee; some lipstick-stained, a furtive-bright flash of color escaping an otherwise drab Denali of trash.
Surprisingly, the inbound plane I am catching to Toronto Pearson International en route to London Heathrow arrives close on time. After a short delay to clean the most obvious evidence of occupation by the incoming passengers my flightmates and I impatiently queue up to reaffirm our identities to the gate agent and provide evidence that we are, in fact, entitled t board the plane. Although the plane is nearly full, the middle seat next to me is empty; an unanticipated but very welcome state of affairs. Another very welcome amenity awaits on the seat back. I am not talking about the interactive entertainment system – no, the geek in me is truly impressed that every seat on the plane has both a USB charging outlet and a standard household mains outlet. No worrying about batteries dying in mid-flight, I instead worry if this is an amenity of all Air Canada planes or just Airbus planes as my flight from Pearson to Heathrow is courtesy of Boeing.
The flight takes off more than thirty minutes after we push back from the gate,this is after all LaGuardia so there is nothing unusual except that those of us on the left-hand side of the aircraft are treated to a dramatic sky.
By the time we arrive in Toronto the clouds have begun to shed moisture at a rate that can only be described as torrential with water sluicing down the windows. I have ninety minutes until the flight to London takes off and I am not looking forward to passing through customs and immigration until I discover that because I am in transit and my bags were checked through from New York to London I fit into a special category which normally is a bad thing when it comes to air transportation these days. In this case however it means I get to jump to the front of a very short line by being escorted through a special door to an area containing exactly two people – one immigration and customs agent and me. I present my boarding pass for my London flight and I am on my way to my gate in under three minutes.
It takes me longer to reach my gate.
In a marvel of transportation efficiency Flight 848 from Toronto to London starts boarding on time and we end up pushing back on time. I say a silent thank you to the transport gods when I discover both the USB charger and the AC outlet in my seat back. With my next breath I curse those same gods when I find out that the seat next to me is occupied by a five-month old. I can only think that the odds are good that this is going to be a very, very, very long night.
That turns out not to be the case as the young lady demonstrated exemplary behavior by quickly falling asleep and only waking up once during the flight to cry. Morning comes much sooner than I have any right to expect.
Although the public transportation system in the NY area is one of the best in the country, it pales in comparison to the London Tube. As I arrive at 8:30 am and I can't check into my hotel until at least 2:00 I decide to go straight to the event kicking off UK Chocolate Week, a trade-show-style exhibit called Chocolate Unwrapped in the May Fair Hotel just a scones throw from the Ritz. It turns out that I can get on the Piccadilly line at Terminal 3 at Heathrow and take it all the way to Green Park tube station, the tube stop closest to the hotel where I check my bags at the bell desk before heading downstairs to the Crystal Ballroom – the home of Chocolate Unwrapped