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An Englishman In New York: Planes, Travails And Automobiles – Part One

...La Guardia was busy even at just gone 5 am with a line for the slowest pat-down, shakedown we've ever experienced. It's amazing that people still travel with belts and lace up shoes, despite having to disrobe in front of the travelling hoi polloi. C'mon peoples, help yourselves do...

David Thomasesson and his wife go journeying Down South.

We recently left a snowed-in and slushy New York bound for warmer climes, a prospect enough to raise even her ladyship from slumber. Requiring a 4 am wake up call, her tiredness soon to be dissolved by a bracing cup of Mr. Tetley's finest.

La Guardia was busy even at just gone 5 am with a line for the slowest pat-down, shakedown we've ever experienced. It's amazing that people still travel with belts and lace up shoes, despite having to disrobe in front of the travelling hoi polloi. C'mon peoples, help yourselves do. Coffee and a bagel in Delta's new-look departure lounge fitted out with small tables and chairs totally unsuited to the modern American physique. With power ports everywhere, iPads http://www.apple.com/ipad/ galore Delta are clearly pandering to the self-important business traveler, and depriving many casual flyers of good old fashioned row seats. Such is progress. Or as my wife would say, it’s time to leave the cave.

Boarding was surprisingly prompt and swift, barring idiots who insist on stuffing their roll-ons to the gills, thereby frustrating the cabin crew’s attempt to achieve an on-time departure, or should I say, on-time push back. In time-honored tradition we start, stop, and perform the slow waltz across the taxiways until Mr. Big Shot at the pointy end deigns to tell us that we are 5th in-line for takeoff.

Full plane of course, and I'd forgotten how cramped it can be back in cattle class, and this was no exception. A year or so ago the major airlines all inserted two extra rows of seats, but Delta must have snuck in another two rows without telling anyone. Inserted into our seats like square pegs into square holes, or looking at today's flyers more like a round peg in a square hole, I may have had an inch of leg-room max, it was that close. Of course the dingbat in front of me even tried to take that away. I resisted with my usual trick, both knees firmly pressed into the seat back. Only partially successful, I nearly resorted to that other failsafe; standing up and coughing violently. Sorry mate it’s this Asian Flu, I can’t seem to shake it.

Collected the rental from Enterprise, who scared us by denying the availability of a vehicle (not our reservation you understand, just the vehicle) as they were extremely busy and many rentals were returning late. Fortunately the problem was solved by the Branch Manager who had more authority than the desk jockey. So instead of the 2nd smallest category (think Toyota Yaris), he gave us a Mazda 6 SUV, nice one! We'll lose a bit more on the gas but at least we can look down at folk in their little buzz boxes.

Blasting down I75 for a straight drive we paused to gas up. Now, I have had my "issues" with American gas pumps and this proved to be the rule. Driving into the Chevron the gas wouldn’t flow, not for me nor anyone else. It was vapor lock or something, so we crossed the road to the BP. Well, so did all the other frustrated Chevron gas seekers, so we all circled the pumps eyeing one another up, daring not to blink first and lose a coveted slot. Incredibly, half the cars at the pumps appeared to be driverless (cue "Twilight Zone" music). What were they all doing inside the gas station, having a weekly social or chatting up the skank behind the till? We didn't hang around to find out, as we raced off to find another gas-station.

Driving down one off ramp we saw signs in one store for knives, guns and ammo, gator meat, and air boats for sale. Yup, we're not in Kansas anymore Dorothy! We also passed by the Don Garlits Drag Racing Museum. Don was the Big Daddy of early drag racing years. http://www.garlits.com/
Interestingly we found ourselves rehashing conversation about the same songs heard on last year's road trip to Florida. Was that Billy Ocean? No, it's the singer that sounds like him. Oh, right, now I remember. And surprisingly we only heard Hotel California once as we skipped in and out of local FM reception. Almost at our destination we spied a huge Confederate flag, and thought this is no place for northern Yanky dogs. But a few hundred yards down the road we saw signs for the Martin Luther King Jnr. Blvd., and then the light bulb went on. Now we know who they're sticking it to!

Stocking up at Publix, the local "big box" supermarkets, with aisles you could drive a truck through I even recognized one of the baggers at the till, a tall tanned gentleman by the name of John. He was morose last year, and nothing's changed! Amazing places these big supermarkets. Busy seems to be a relative term. With miles of lighting and refrigeration units howdo they actually pay the utility bills, never mind earn a profit. Mind you they have gotten a bit smarter. Going in at 7 am the freezer cabinets have motion sensors, so as you enter the aisle looking for waffles, frozen veg. or whatever, banks of them come to light. It's quite fun to race down the aisle and see how fast they light up! Yes, yes I know, simple pleasures.

Browsing for a book to read by the pool I saw that there were 7 gun magazines in the racks. Incredible, for a country that's prudish about abortion rights and gays serving in the military, there’s no problem with disgruntled misfits going postal with Sub-machine guns. When the Constitution was amended to allow the "people" to bear arms, Jefferson should have said "using the arms we have at this time". Anyway he forgot so the National Rifle Association http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=38.8630555556,-77.3355&spn=1.0,1.0&q=38.8630555556,-77.3355%20(National%20Rifle%20Association)&t=h perpetuates gun-owning as a God-given right up there with baseball, Mom and apple-pie. The NRA, whose membership requirements run to rednecks and good 'ol boys (singing whiskey and rye!) of course says that people kill people, not guns. Gun opponents, predictably, say the opposite. Here's an idea, why not ban all non-military use of guns south of the Mason-Dixon line? http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=39.7166666667,-75.7833333333&spn=0.01,0.01&q=39.7166666667,-75.7833333333%20(Mason%E2%80%93Dixon%20Line)&t=h That way they can get on with their drinking, drinking and other manly Southern pursuits such as organizing “Does your Mom kiss better than my Sister” contests.

Perusing the shelves for items we don't get in New York, I spied jars of Fluff. Fluff for sale I tell you. Who knew we needed it? It was of course, after the required closer inspection, Marshmallow Fluff, which must mean something to Americans but what I haven’t fathomed yet. Then, it's always fun to look at the ethnic section, see what classes as foreign down in Gulf Coast Florida. Lots of Goya products on sale, presumably for the lawnmower brigades. And by the way, what is the fascination with Refried Beans, they’re bad enough the first time, frying them twice is like putting lipstick on a pig.

The good news for Anglo-Floridians was that Birds English custard powder is available, along with Ambrosia rice pudding, Aero bars and Mr. Tate & Lyles treacle golden syrup. Ah yes, there'll always be an England...

Stocking up at the local liquor store we saw a sign for Manatee oral and facial surgery. How considerate we thought, that some caring doctor is providing services for the Manatee. Have you ever seen one? I can tell you, with a face like that surgery should definitely be an option. After recuperating from surgery they can also belly up to the Manatee golf course for a few rounds, and even pop into the Manatee social center for a few rubbers of bridge. If you haven't guessed, Manatee is the county name for this area. No, no, don't tell me, you thought...

TO BE CONTINUED

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Do visit David's entertaining Web site http://www.britoninnewyork.com/

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