Saturday, 30 April 2011

22. Meeting a pampered pooping pooch in mid-air and a return to Michigan


US Airways First Class

Charlotte Airport

Fletcher at home in East Lansing

The Union Flag fluttering proudly in East Lansing

Ellie's Country Kitchen Menu

Tom Fredericks and Ken Beachler

Lansing State Capitol

Silver Birch on Lansing Riverwalk

'The World's best blueberry pancakes' at Sawyers
The guy next to me on my US Airways’ flight to Charlotte, North Carolina, is clearly tense. He is pushing frantically at the buttons on his smart phone, then peering at the screen looking for an instant reply.
He continues to do this after the door is closed until the flight attendant tells him that it has to be powered off. At this, he flings the phone into the seat pocket and begins to aggressively turn the pages of the in-flight magazine.
After a while, I ask him why he is so stressed up. ‘I have issues,’ he says. ‘I’ll be fine after I have my vodka.’
Geoffrey, our flight attendant, appears shortly after take off, promising his First Class passengers that ‘you’ll have such a good experience, you won’t want to get off’.
He’s a bit constrained in what he can actually do to achieve that, but my companion participates fully in his hospitality and swiftly sinks three miniatures of vodka before engaging in a noisy conversation about American football with a very loud Bostonian woman across the aisle.
At Charlotte we are held up as a result of tornadoes sweeping the southern states and, in a first for me, the aircraft is pushed away from the gate before parking for an hour in a spare bit of tarmac. Eventually, we are cleared for take off and take a somewhat circuitous route to Chicago to avoid the storms.
My new companion is a woman, dressed expensively, who announces to the cabin crew and the world at large that ‘she has recently come out of rehab’. She’s brought aboard a little dog, a Pekinese I think, which she wedges underneath the seat in front, forcing me to squish my legs into the little space that is left.
The dog is fine, but she insists on constantly lifting the cover and peeking inside, eventually removing the animal and sitting it on the armrest between us. After I indicate I am not hugely enamoured with the situation, she takes it, in her arms, for a walk around the First Class cabin and galley.
A short while afterward, she reappears, having been told by the flight attendant that the animal has to go back in its box.
She does what she is told but, shortly afterwards, the nauseous smell of dog poo wafts up from the basket. I excuse myself to go to the toilet and have a short discussion with the flight attendant about the rules of dogs on aircraft.
As I return to my seat, madam heaves the dog basket from underneath the seat, knocking her cola over in the process and, without apparently noticing, heads to the lavatory to clean up the dog mess.
As the stewardess clears up the spilled drink, she tells me that the woman arrived at the gate with the dog in a stroller.
Why are we not surprised?
Poor bitch.
The dog, I mean.

Despite being over an hour late at Chicago, everything else is delayed, so I have over an hour to wait for my 30-minute flight to Lansing, which should already have left.
I have packed carefully for my flight. United managed to lose my bag on the same route last year, so I have packed enough in each of my two checked in bags to deal with any eventualities.
At Lansing, my old US Navy Captain friend, Ken Beachler, meets me and we head off to baggage claim where the luggage is already arriving. Not many people have bags to claim, but neither of my ‘Priority Luggage’ tagged bags is anywhere to be seen. After about a minute, the carousel stops and there’s an announcement ‘That concludes the baggage service. If your bags have not arrived, report to the check-in desk, where we will be momentarily.
Forty minutes later, Bill appears, in response to a helpful maintenance man going into the ‘authorized persons only’ area to find someone. This after we have asked the information desk, security staff, a police officer and a cleaner to see if anyone from United can be found.
There’s no point me documenting what happened over the next 24 hours, beyond saying United don’t cover themselves in glory, especially as we later discover, the  bags are delivered to Lansing the same evening and nobody from the airline can be bothered to tell us.

Because of my Navy connection, I have been to Michigan many times over the past 15 years. It’s a lovely state. Lansing houses the state capitol and, in East Lansing, Michigan State University. My chum was, for many years, the director of its enormous and impressive performing arts centre
I am somewhat restricted on my first day by only having the t-shirt and shorts in which I left hot and humid Florida, I busy myself indoors in almost constant dialogue with the unimpressive United Airlines, waiting in for calls that are never returned and trying numbers that appear never to be answered.
But the Union flag is flying outside the Beachler Residence in honour of my visit and, with true British ‘stiff upper-lip’ spirit, we head out to the excellent and popular Coral Gables in downtown East Lansing for a really tasty and great value soup and sandwich lunch before heading out grocery shopping.
And to buy me a long-handled scrubbing brush!
In the evening, we meet with local attorney and cornet player, Tom Fredericks, at the highly-rated Bravo Italian restaurant. It’s a fun evening, although there’s no real excuse for the restaurant running out of one of their recommended red wines and the veal dish which the server has suggested we try.
It’s become a tradition when I visit the US that I take in a least one film in the cinema. Ken and I decide to visit NCG’s Eastwood Cinema complex, where we find we are the only patrons for the lunchtime showing of the very funny, thought-provoking and beautifully-crafted ‘Win Win’.
For lunch, we would have gone to PF Chang’s China Bistro, had Matthew on reception not kept us waiting for an eternity while he dealt with several telephone calls, with not even an acknowledgement to the prospective guests. So the nearby Max and Erma’s, who ‘serve coke products’, hits the spot, although they insist in squishing us into a crowded part of an almost empty restaurant.
In the morning, we head to Williamston, where Tom Fredericks kindly hosts us to an extremely tasty and well-prepared breakfast at ‘Ellie’s Country Kitchen’.
It’s Friday, so I make a return visit to the well-attended Lansing Rotary Club where a rendition by an excellent 17-year old saxophonist, Jordan Lulloff, wows the audience. Jordan is visiting Scotland in the summer with his parents and some family friends, so his dad, who’s a music professor at Michigan State, is already in contact with me for my independent advice!
On a picture-perfect day, we make the one-hour drive to Grand Rapids, where we are entertained to a very tasty home-cooked meal at the home of my host’s brother, Fred and his wife, Ruth.
It’s sadly my last day in East Lansing on what has been an all-too-short visit.
We head out downtown to sample ‘The world’s best blueberry pancakes’ at Sawyer’s.
I am hoping the fare will give me the strength I need to wrestle again with United Airlines who, if they get something right for a change, will be getting me back to Chicago and onwards overnight to London before the final leg of my journey, to Lyon in France.
They might even manage to get my luggage there too, but that’s a tale for another day.


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A selection of images from all the destinations visited in ‘Around the World in 60 days’ is at