PAX Log 001

I'm on the road to PAX, and I'll be trying to chronicle my journey as I go. The road tends to have sporadic internet access, though, so maybe I'm not going to update as often as I'd like. But hey - here's what I've got so far:

9:02 AM GMT

I'm sitting in the airport lounge, waiting for the plane to land so I can board. Gate 212. It's a nice symmetrical number, which puts me at ease. It's my first time travelling alone but I feel like I can handle it. Even though I have no reason to, I still feel nervous when the guy in the check-in line asks me all sorts of questions - did you pack your bag yourself, that kind of thing. Perhaps it's just the nervousness brought on by flying by myself - as well as the fact I've never been outside of Europe. All being well, though, I should whizz through and be in Madison in ten hours or so. I'll have to sleep on the plane so that I'm not dead on my feet when I arrive.

Lewie is travelling today, too. He doesn't have such a crazy schedule as I do but he's making a proper holiday out of this. He's headed to Chicago and then Seattle. I'm headed to Chicago too, but via Philadelphia. I'm not entirely sure why I have that extra stop. It would have been nice to have known someone on the journey, but I'm stuck in a cabin for however many hours with strangers, so I'm sure I'll get talking to some of them.

There's a fly buzzing around my feet. I wonder if he went through check-in. "Excuse me sir, was it you who packed your wings? I'm afraid the United States prohibits the import of foodstuffs - even the shit coating your feet."

Apparently there is a flight full of people going to Dalaman whose flight has been delayed until 7pm this evening. I've a feeling something similar happened to us the last time we flew to Dalaman. Maybe it's the same guy holding everything up. I think he just enjoys the power trip of frustrating a hundred-odd people. Apparently they have to head to another gate to be 'decontrolled'. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but I hope they'll be okay afterwards. It sounds invasive.

I've had to fill out a pair of slips for customs and immigration. One of these, I imagine, is the 'greencard' that you hear spoken about. It's definitely green, at least. It's one of those things that's both deadly serious and yet completely ridiculous at the same time. I wonder if anyone has ever answered yes to the question 'Are you a terrorist?' "Well, I was planning on making a covert entry into the country, but dammit, you asked a straight question and you deserve a straight answer." Serious but ridiculous.

This fly's still here. It seems to like landing on my shoes. I wonder if it stays on my clothes and I board the plane if I'll be accused to smuggling illegal immigrants. "Sir, you indicated here on this form that you were not importing any insects, and yet here I find you with our little friend here. And he didnt even pack his wings himself."

11:49 GMT

We're about an hour into the seven-and-a-half hour flight, and I've had my pre-packed cardboard labelled as poultry. I was a little surprised when that duration was announced - I, of course, had factored in the time difference incorrectly. A quick scan through the entertainment on offer reveals nothing that I am interested in that I haven't seen before, but even if there was it would be in mono sound due to the proprietary headsets they require with two jacks - $5 or £3. Trap you in a cabin and sell you anything they can - sounds like capitalism at its finest to me.

I'm sitting on a row with a man whose name I can neither remember nor pronounce. He's a Jewish Ph. D student from California, who has been studying in England for three months - apparently they had a grant available and he was the ideal candidate. I'd like to fall into one of those cracks some day - one that seems like it was made specifically for me.

I wonder if a kosher cardboard meal tastes any different to a standard one? Hold on - I'll ask.

Oh, he doesn't know. He's never had the other kind. I suppose I should have expected that.

15:40 GMT

We're just over half-way into the flight, and we've had our refreshments. I wonder if people who travel long-haul flights regularly use food as a measure of time. I certainly am - it's two drinks past dinner and shortly before lunch. I'm not entirely sure why they served the stir fry chicken at 11am and seem to be going backward, meal-wise, but I like to think it's because when we land, a seven-hour flight will have taken about two hours. We're going backward through time, and this is the airline's way of coping.

I heard a steward mutter "about 180, white T-shirt" just after takeoff. I'm not entirely sure why, but looking around there don't seem to be any other people in white T-shirts - just me. I have no idea what I weigh, either. I hope it isn't 180.

I've tried to fool myself into thinking that I can sleep here, but either I've drifted off and not noticed it, or I've simply been lying with my head to one side with my eyes closed. Usually I don't sleep during travel, but I don't know whether this is because I'd rather sleep in a bed or because I can't sleep while in motion. Given my normal sleeping habits I'd like to think that I'd sleep anywhere but as I've just proven to myself, that isn't the case.

I estimate it to be two and a half hours left in the flight, give or take. I've got two hours to make it through Customs when I get to Philadelphia, which according to the clerk at the check-in desk is 'tight'. I actually have no idea how often flights leave from Philadelphia to Chicago. I wonder if I could invoke Rule 240 if I miss my connection. I wonder if it even holds water any more. Worth a shot if I miss it, I guess.

15:22 EDT (20:22 GMT)

Well, that was smooth. Breezed through customs with only the single bag search. That'll teach me to take about fifteen different bits of electronics with me, but we landed roughly twenty minutes early and it meant that there was plenty of time to wait around and waste a buck forty on Coke. Coke that comes in a much larger bottle than I'm used to and tastes much sweeter. Uri - the bloke on the Manchester to Philadelphia flight - said as much; "We like things big over here."

The announcement's just come on - it's roughly an hour and a half to Chicago. I wonder if he's remembered to factor in the time difference - I know I have trouble with it. I'm sat between two other passengers - passengers who I would call single-serving friends if I wasn't afraid of being too pretentious. It's a little less comfortable than the trans-Atlantic flight, but then again, it's a lot less time in this pencil with wings than in the clanking dart I crossed the ocean in.

We arrived in Philadelphia with a shout of 'Land!' from another traveller, and when I looked out of the window I saw what looked more like a model than a city. Very regimented right-angles for streets, as if God was playing with a Lego set - and a razor-edge of a coastline. We're not in Kansas any more. Or, I guess, we're closer than ever. That's a little odd to grasp.

Some people have some oversize pieces of luggage, and have just been accused of delaying the flight by the announcer. I don't know whether that's standard procedure or if he just wanted to chastise them for rollerboarding. I'd like to think it's both. There's another issue with baggage behind me - someone trying to slam the compartment shut on a slightly larger bag than necessary. I guess Uri was right - everything is just that little bit bigger over here.

17:35 CST (22:35 GMT)

Navy-blue pleather and open-plan - this is the waiting lounge at Chicago International. There are plenty of seats but everyone seems to be standing, waiting for their flight. One thing I noticed in Philadelphia - I'm resisting the urge to call it 'Philly' - was the lack of queues. Maybe it's a distinctly British thing to notice, but on boarding it was more of a clump than a line. Everything here in Chicago seems much more organised, though. I suppose I'll see when I board.

I tried to phone home but either I chose the wrong type of payphone or I can't figure out the dialling system. 44, pause, area code minus the zero, pause, full number. Robotic voice chastising me. Oh, I need to put a 1 in before dialling. Okay, 1, pause, 44, pause - nope. Robot again. 44, pause, 1 - this time it cuts me off. It's no idea what I'm doing.

My mobile - or, I suppose, my cellphone - can't seem to find a network to attach itself to, either. WiFi access costs ten bucks and for the sake of a couple of hours that's not worth it. I'll fire off an email when I get back to my hosts' house. By that time it'll be past midnight GMT but if I know my mum she'll be waiting for soe form of contact. I'll probably text her as well once I get an American phone. I want to set her at ease - she's more paranoid than I am.

I just checked my watch - I've been up almost seventeen hours as I'm writing this. I don't really feel tired, although I imagine the sun on my back and the extra-large Coke helps that a lot. Maybe it's the excitement of the Land of the Free, who knows.

I just read that last paragraph again. Maybe I am more tired than I thought. Sun on my back? God.

19:23 CST (27/8 00:23 GMT)

I used the phrase 'pencil with wings' earlier. It's something I picked up from my old German teacher. I think when he said it, he hadn't even imagined the kind of plane that I'm on now. Barely fifty people on board, including the three-man crew, with so little extra space I'm surprised they can fit any fuel on board.

An hour and ten minutes late to take off, which means that I won't see David and Ann until at least an hour after the scheduled flight time. I hope they looked up the flight number on the internet, or they'll have been kept waiting for no reason. Is it weird that I'm looking forward to seeing them even though I've never met them? I imagine Ann to be bubbly and immediately go for a hug, whereas I see David as more of the type to wait in the background and introduce himself stiffly. It would be a ton of fun if it ended up being the other way around.

We were delayed because of delays. At least, that's according to the screen they were displaying above the gate. I wonder how many people were actually appeased by that. Once on the plane there was a miscount - we had a full plane, the boarding cards said we should be short a few people. There were some announcements, a boarding card inspection, and we were ready to take off, when one passenger complained of a fever and headache, asking for medicine, of which there was none on board, but refusing a paramedic. Eventually he decided his illness could wait an hour, and we took off shortly afterward.

I wonder if I would be that guy that everyone is supposed to hate on a movie set on an airplane. The one that tends to die first and no-one really notices, and the audience is actually quite pleased to see go. The reason I wonder this is because I know I would be the guy who would suggest that this sick guy be left behind so that the rest of us could get to our destination on time. I mean, I feel for the guy and everything, but I've got a schedule to meet. People to see, you know? Is what I would say. I wonder if I actually would say that. Probably not, in the end. Is the fact that I thought it bad enough? Is it even a bad thing? Are these just the musings of a tired young man in a foreign country? I'm going to answer 'probably' to all of the above.

According to my neighbour Chicago always has an experience like this in store. I'm stopping through in a week on my way back to Manchester, and that flight's a big one - if that's delayed it'll be much more of a big deal.

20:13 CST (27/8 02:14 GMT)

This is it! American soil. I'm sitting in the car, being driven around Dane County, Wisconsin and en joying every second of it. It's just a town, I suppose, but it's strangely exotic. Exotic and yet familiar.

I feel out of place but I feel good about it. I know that for the first day I'm probably going to be getting in the wrong side of cars and getting my biscuit, burger and cookie mixed up, but hey - that's what this kind of thing is all about. Adventure and expanding your horizons, and all that nonsense.

All I want now, though, is something familiar - a shower, a shave, and a bit of a rest. Two days of travel coming up!