Et viola, I have safely arrived in Jacksonville FL. This post is a little belated as I have taken some time to get myself settled, but here I am and I will try to keep a regular account of my experiences with my banjo-playing brethren.
My professional history involves a big chunk of time spent working for a financial institution best described as an Empire of Evil, and after spending around 5-years working there, slaving my way up from Branch Key Holder to the dizzying heights of acting manager of a portfolio of blue-chip clients, I realised I wasn’t getting a huge amount of job satisfaction from the big lumbering behemoths of business and instead wanted to be a part of the smaller, more fluid companies that had fire in their belly and a whole wild world to tackle
I made the decision to move away from finance and into recruitment as it was a field that satisfied my love of interacting with people, while offering a healthy opportunity to make a decent amount of money, and always seemed to be a busy and bustling field.
My last 4 career choices have been very young companies, barely one or two years out of start-up. Sadly, this fledgling size means they have the market disadvantage of still being in the process of building up their team of core professionals, weren’t as financially self supporting as larger, more established organisations, or simply were more susceptible to market changes.
I have spent the last few years in a odd state of ennui. Recruitment is a fickle market, and sadly I have more than once been on the receiving end of a terminal decision made by management for the greater good in response to various pressures, but invariably financial, that the company was enduring. As a result there has been no time for long, lazy holidays and no period of my professional life where I felt I could take a break and indulge my love of travel.
Until, lo and behold, I cracked and had a slightly early mid life crisis and realised that it had been absolutely ages since I had taken an extended period of time off of work. Sure, I had taken off the long weekend here and there, and had squeezed in a short holiday to Norway, Ireland and to attend a family wedding in Cyprus, but I hadn’t actually done anything exciting: no running with the bulls in Pamplona, no tomato fights in Buñol, no beer quaffing at the Oktoberfest, no tour down the Australian Gold Coast, no sobbing over the Aurora Borealis, no Serengeti safaris, no walking the Great Wall, no exploring the Valley of the Kings, no driving down Route 66…*sob*
I decided that before I hit 30, before I settled into a staid way of life, before I started to view a comfortable sofa, Miss Marple and a warm glass of milk as a thrilling way to spend an evening, before I started to devolve into a puddle of inactive goo, I needed to grab life by the ears and headbutt it on the nose, and so I decided to take a sabbatical and go on a lovely long holiday of exploration and fun and touristy indulgence.
So, after exploring my options – Norway is lovely, I have contacts there, however besides weeping at the beauty of nature and going on troll hunts I didn’t feel there was much else to do. They are a wonderfully humoured people, but everything feels so isolated and rural away from the bright spots of the cities and I wanted to keep things lively and fill my time with activity; Rome is a magnificent city, however I speak no Italian, don’t like the macho posturing and alpha male pressures placed upon the men there, and never got the feeling that the British were particularly welcome (especially after a stall holder asked us to leave his presence upon learning that I and my fellow tourists hailed from good old Blighty, and the atmosphere from his neighbouring retail giants was similarly frosty); Europe is full of wonderful countries and cities in which to have an adventure, but I wanted something a bit more exciting that would also compliment my absolutely abysmal language skills (an A in my German GCSE and 3-years of French lessons didn’t exactly leave their mark on me) – I settled upon America, the land of opportunity, The American Dream …I have friends in Jacksonville, and knew that there would be no language barrier, the weather would be reliably hot and sunny and my GBPs would go a lot further there then they would back in Europe. Decision made.
Jacksonville (Jax) is one of those annoyingly located cities that doesn’t have any direct flights from the United Kingdom, which means any trip there involves catching at least one connecting flight. In this instance, I opted to fly from Heathrow to Philadelphia on my way to Jacksonville based solely on the ticket price.
Upon arriving at Heathrow and enjoying a leisurely cup of farewell coffee with The Mothership, I passed the security point and, after a lovely chat with a completely wonderful security officer whose duty it was to swab my laptop (for explosives, not drugs, although why they wouldn’t think I could carry both is beyond me), who discussed the TV show Border Patrol and who explained why he was a little bored with Heathrow and wished for a more high octane work location where he got to carry out more ‘busts’ and aggressive searches, I entered Heathrow’s inner sanctum. And promptly found that my flight was delayed by 3-hours.
Why the rotters at *unnamed airline* didn’t see fit to warn me about this at the check-in desk is beyond me, but I was an absolute delight at the *UA* customer service desk when discovering that there was no human way, unless Concorde came back into use or Star Trek (other good sci-fi fantasy options are available) transporter travel became an option, that I would arrive in Philadelphia in time to make my 2-hour window to catch the connecting flight to Jax. The reason for the delay I later learned was because some of the cabin crew had not had the time to take the legal minimum hours of rest/sleep between their previous flight and my flight, and without them being able to fly without falling asleep (and honestly, who wants an air stewardess to slump over in a drooling heap right when they’re handing out the hot lemon-scented towelettes), and I honestly was very sweet and polite and British about holding my annoyance in check, and also upon discovering how apologetic they were and how, if upon arriving in Philadelphia they couldn’t find me an alternative connecting flight to Jax, they would pay for me to stay at a hotel for the night.
Freebies always put a smile on my face, so suitably placated I amused myself for 6-hours (lots of coffee, lots of subsequent visits to the ‘powder room’ because of said coffee, lots of people watching, lots of milking sympathy from my family, lots of book reading and lots and lots of walking/pacing).
Eventually I caught my flight with an overly energized and rested cabin crew, and we were off. I have to tip my hat to *unnamed airline* as they, unlike other airlines who pride themselves on the physical attributes of their staff, hire a very down to earth, not unattractive and yet not intimidating group of people that I can only describe as ‘mumsy’. Which is actually rather lovely as I would rather my Mum standing near me with pride in her eyes as I chowed down on my in-flight meal, than face the withering scorn of an emaciated clothes horse whose last meal was a tictac which they consumed in 39 bites 7-hours ago and still felt guilty about eating.
I had actually been bestowed with a window seat, but due to the tendency of my fat little calves to inflate during travel, I wanted to be able to move around the cabin easily and not have to crawl across my neighbour every 30minutes so that I could do star jumps in the aisle, and so I offered my window seat to the man who was to be my travel buddy for the next 7-hours.
He was actually a fairly normal human being, unlike some of the weirdos I get paired with, and we spent an enjoyable few hours chatting about business. He was a Sales Manager for a global company that specialised in an area that I had no idea actually had amarket, so after the inevitable sales patter and self promotion I was suitably impressed with a part of the professional world I had previously been in ignorance of. We exchanged advice and suggestions as he was keen to motivate and reward his staff without resorting to the already employed bottle of champagne and company night out tactics, so I provided a few suggestions that my past employers had used – recruitment seems to require a large amount of punishment/reward and constantly keeps managers on their toes with thinking outside the box. He was very taken with some of the suggestions that I had experienced, and therefore nice London-based company you have me to thank for the ‘Balloon Reward Scheme, coming to an office door near you.
We landed in Philadelphia without a hitch, despite a brief attempt by the Americans among us to applaud the safe flight which was rapidly shot down by the withering British contempt of any public displays of emotion, and it was about 7:30pm USA time/12:30am by my body clock, and I was rapidly devolving into a zombie. I expected the point of entry checks to be more drawn out, but I suspect they saw my grumpy face and realised I was relishing the prospect of battle and so ushered me through with no problems. I honestly thought there would be more security check points to go through, but when I found myself wandering around a car park I realised I was officially a guest on American soil.
There is a lot of faffing around at both Heathrow and Philadelphia that I’ve omitted, relating to my finding out whether I would be put on a connecting flight or not, and exactly what arrangements had been made for me upon arrival in Philadelphia. Once I got to Philadelphia I was actually relieved to learn that there were definitely no connecting flights and I would be put up in a nearby hotel overnight, as I just could not face any more changes, and although the *unnamed airline* were polite and well organised when it came to arranging my accommodation with the hotel and handing me all relevant bits of paper and vouchers, I found there wasn’t much guidance on how I would be getting to the hotel and whether I would have to pay in advance and be reimbursed later, or if it was already taken care of.
I have to mention and thank the unknown American who had obviously been in the same position I was with the delayed flight/missed connection, as he identified in me a rambling, lost soul who had no clue where to go, and kindly told me the shuttle stop number I needed to catch my hotel transport from.
So Lo, I checked into a suite on the 6th floor of the Philadelphia Sheraton Hotel, and Lo It Was Good. However, by that time it was gone 1am according to the decision making parts of my brain, and things were shutting down. All I know is that a bed has never looked so good, and I slept solidly through from approx 9pm USA until 5am USA when I had to get up and go catch my connecting flight to Jax.
All went well, I arrived here safely and soon I will update you on the goings on this side of the world in The Further American Adventures of HiggyWiggy or An English Woman in Florida (obviously sung to the tune of Sting’s song).