Monday, 23 September 2013

Days 22-25: Hampton, VA - Larrington Towers

Bridges and tunnels, oh my!  I went for some top bridge action before heading north - there's an awful lot of water around the Hampton Roads area; this requires a substantial number of bridges.  None of which have, alas, lent themselves to photography.  The 4.5 mile James River bridge is probably the most impressive.  I missed a turn and ended up taking the not-marked-on-my-map Midtown tunnel back to Hampton.  Twice.  Eventually I gave up on finding the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel and told Emily to take me to see Mr Obambi.  Her route turned out to take me through the MMM B-T anyway.

This takes one from Suffolk to Newport News, and I found myself wondering what the latter's local paper is called1.  And so to Washington DC where the President lives.  It was still warm but clouding over and generally looking like rain, so the top went up.  Miraculously I found somewhere to park less than a block from Mr Obambi's house, so went for a shufti:

Mr Obambi's back door, Saturday
 It's not very big, but it is big enough to deter a crippled Mr Larrington from hobbling round to the other, more familiar, side.  There was a Secret Service car parked in the pedestrianised street from whence this photo came.  It's a curious sort of "secrecy" to have "United States Secret Service" painted on the side of a Ford Crown Victoria in foot-high letters, with blue flashing lights and about ten radio antennae on the roof...

Now it's starting to drizzle.  It's only early o'clock, but ICBA to hang around in DC any more, especially not if the "Secret" Service types find a lighter in my pocket and conclude that I'm planning to stage a re-run of August 24, 1814, when the brave and noble BRITISH Army burned down many public buildings in the city, including White House 1.0.  Well, they started it.  Just because we were having a war with the French (WOCAB) at the time.

OK, Emily, take me to Dulles airport and don't spare the horses.  The Washington Monument, in common with many great public wossnames, is shrouded in netting, scaffolding an' t'ing, as it got rather badly banged up in an earthquake in 2011.  Dulles airport (which, I am mortified to learn, is named after Eisenhower's Secretary of State and not the bloke who set up the CIA) is located at the end of a fourteen-odd mile dedicated access road, which by now had become largely invisible behind a curtain of heavy rain.  FFS!

Return the motor-car with 7575 more miles on the clock than it had back at JFK.  Mr Dollar's gribley bats an eyelid at neither the distance covered nor the desertification of the driver's footwell.  Bus to terminal; check in The Luggage.  Long queue.  Feet hurt.  Back hurts.  Half an hour.  The bloke in the queue behind me, who is on the 18:30 flight to That London, jokes that he might just get checked in before the gate closes.  I have four hours on him, so once I've divested myself of The Luggage I wander the terminal like one, or more, of the Lost Tribes of Israel looking for a Bar.

I don't find one, so instead position myself close to an exit, that I might nip out for a smoke as the fancy takes me, and try to update the Automatic Diary.  A fully-charged flattery on this thing will start Windows, connect to the Wi-fi and then shut itself off before I can even load Firefox.  Arses.  Back to the Kindle.

I've finally had enough and decided to go airside, passing a cunningly-concealed Bar en route.  Through Security, onto the dinky little AeroTrain and out to the Concourse A/B building, where I am surprised to find this:

A Different sort of Aer-o-Plane
'tis the MIT Daedalus 87, which didn't fly 71.5 miles from Crete to Santorini in 1988, piloted and powered by Greek Olympic cyclist Kanellos Kanellopoulos, as that was done in Daedalus 88.  This one was crashed in testing in California, repaired and used as a backup for the 88.

Ho! for the Duty-Free and attempt to purchase fags and booze.  The card terminal tells me to eff off: Transaction denied; insufficient funds.  I have not spent twelve and a half grand on my credit card on this trip, plus while it has played up at the odd liquor store and "gas" station, I've had no problems with it at hotels all the across the continent.  This (Monday) afternoon I spent fifteen minutes on the blower to the card issuer.  Anti-fraud thing, apparently.  So why did it work as advertised for the whole first week and not crap out at seven different hotels in the third?

"Did you have a holiday flag on the account?" asks the Nice Anti-Fraud Lady.  No, I didn't, because I've never heard of one and in nine previous visits to USAnia have never had any issues save for stupid "gas" pumps wanting a five-digit ZIP code and the odd hotel computer not realising that USAnia is occasionally visited by people from outside its borders.  More than one receptionist ended up putting my address as their hotel out of sheer frustration.

Praise be, there is a smoking area here!  And it's way nicer than the one in Atlanta; the seats are comfortable and you don't have to dress in Himalayan-mountaineer-stylee garments just to tolerate the temperature.  Moreover, Harry's Tap Room is two doors down.  I shog over to the departure gate at least one BEER too soon.  Plane takes off, dinner is served, and the next lapse into full conciousness is when I'm being offered coffee and a croissant somewhere over the Isle of Man.

Do the Immigration thing which is as smooth and commendable as the Chatteris one-way system2 - hurrah, no incarceration in Belmarsh this year - and head for carousel number 9, there to await the reappearance of The Luggage.  "A message for passengers from BA 292" says the Tannoy.  "We apologise for the delay in the appearance of your The Luggage but we don't know where the hell it is either!"  Or words to that effect.  The Luggage finally appears; nary a Customs bod is to be seen.

Fag.  Bus.  M25.  Traffic jam.  Welcome home.  I'm not actually home, in the shape of Larrington Towers, yet but will head there on the morrow from sunny Woking as I've had to ring the credit card idiots and chauffeur Aged Parent to the chemists, Currys and the bridge club.  And that, boys and girls, almost concludes the 2013 edition of the Automatic Diary.

On why: This whole Lower 48 nonsense can be laid entirely at the feet of one man, the late Phil Llewellin.  I'd hesitate to call Llewellin a motoring writer; he was a fantastic writer on any number of subjects and his pieces mostly happened to get published in motoring magazines.  His monthly column for CAR was almost invariably the best thing in the mag, while his longer features for that journal combined a splendid sense of humour with the impression that he hadn't had to look up any of the facts, be they concerned with military history, civil engineering, the Welsh etc. etc..  A collection of some of his pieces was published by Haynes in 2004; entitled The Road To Muckle Flugga, it lives 24/7 at my bedside.  In the foreword, one Jeremy Clarkson wrote:
Phil realised that cars were dull. It was what you did with them that mattered.
One piece is titled "Ticking Them Off In A Packard" and describes a trip with friends around New England, in a 1930s Packard, during which he finally managed to visit his 48th state of the contiguous USA.  It had taken him since 1962, though of course he's also done Alaska and Hawaii as well as most of Canada.  "I could do that!" I thought on concluding the 2009 trip, but it went on hold for 2010 (Corvette only available at San Francisco) and 2011 (Project 10,000).  Back then I'd visited 17 states.

So, Phil, this one's for you.

Would I do something like this again?  Probably not as most of it was blatting down Interstate Highways with few corners, fewer opportunities to photograph Bridges and little in the way of Scenery.  Suggestions are invited for the 2014 trip; thoughts include The Continental Divide, Whither Canada? and A Bridge-Spotter's Guide To The Colorado River And Its Canyons.
  1. Joke shamelessly stolen from Terry "Narrow Dog" Darlington. And apparently it's "The Daily Press"...
  2. Or so says nb57...

1 comment:

  1. Top effort. Gold stars and all that. And unless the universe does something weird to 2014 (Hello Mr Middleton), we all have AD2014 to look forward to. Oh, yes.