Tunabunny in the UK, part three
Our flight leaves Gatwick at 10am so we need to be at the airport ready to go by 7. It’s past 1 in the morning by the time the show’s finished in Dalston and we’ve said our goodbyes, so we pile in the car and head for the airport. We’ve decided to return the rental car and then nap at the airport until it’s time to check in for our flight.
Holiday Autos, who we originally booked the reservation with, had farmed us out to a place called Easirent, a company based out of a trailer in a Crawley industrial park several miles from the airport. So after calling Easirent for the last several days and getting no answer, Brigette called Holiday to find out how we could go about returning the car during off-hours. After a half-hour of dealing with a perplexed Holiday rep (you’re right, they don’t seem to be answering their phone at all), he suggests that we just park the car in the rental return at the airport and drop the keys in a return box. This didn’t sound like a workable solution, but at the time we just shrugged our shoulders and figured we’d do our best.
Now that we’re actually at the airport, it turns out we probably should have pushed a little harder. We’ve been driving around Gatwick for nearly an hour. The guy at the rental return is no help. We had no idea what to do. It’s three in the morning, we’re starving, and the best solution anyone’s come up with is to just park the car at the airport and have Brigette cancel her bankcard so Easirent won’t be able to charge it — a solution that none of us are entirely comfortable with.
I pull into a 24-hour McDonald’s and order a burger that turns out to be nearly inedible. I need to think. Brigette, who has begun to uncharacteristically slam doors and curse like a sailor, goes and sits by herself. Jesse stays in the car. Mike sits down across from me and we sit wordlessly for several minutes.
“God, that looks like the worst hamburger I’ve ever seen,” he says.
“It doesn’t taste as good as it looks.”
“It’s OK. We’re going to think of something.”
I hold up Brigette’s cellphone. “I’ve found the address of the car rental place. It’s only a couple of miles. I’m thinking worst-case scenario, we can just drop everyone off at the airport with all the stuff, and then I’ll drive the car to Easirent and just walk back.”
Mike and I agree this is a pretty shitty solution, but it’s better than nothing. We then discuss the idea of getting a taxi back.
“Yeah,” I say, “but I’m not sure I could get a taxi to pick me up out there. Plus I don’t have a phone number.”
I’m not sure who comes up with the idea, but between the two of us we hatch a plan where Mike gets a taxi at Gatwick and takes it to the rental place. I’ll follow them in the car. Then I’ll drop it off and ride back to the airport with Mike. We run it by Brigette and Mary Jane, who agree it’s the best shot we’ve got, and then we head out to the car.
As we get in Jesse exclaims, “I’ve got an idea! Why not just get a taxi to take us to the rental car place?”
Great minds, etc. etc.
The drop-off goes smoothly enough once Mike is able to get the cab driver to listen to him. We head back to find the others stretched out on a space of floor. We lay out our sleeping bags and catch a quick couple of hours sleep. I wake to find Brigette shaking me and saying we need to go. As planned, we just leave our $10 Tesco sleeping bags there in the airport. It would cost too much to bring them back with us. Walking away, a gentleman behind us shouts that we’re forgetting our sleeping bags.
“Just keep walking. Don’t look back,” whispers Mike.
Blurry-eyed and disoriented, we go through the ticketing process. I keep getting confused as to who’s claiming the boxes of records as their luggage. We’re all punchy and exhausted from a lack of sleep. Three of us are wearing T-shirts that say Skinny Girl Diet, and we have a nine-hour flight ahead of us, whereupon we will reach Charlotte International Airport and transfer to a plane that will fly us an hour to Greenville, South Carolina. Then we’ll get in our van and drive two hours to Athens.
The flight is blissfully empty, and all of us are able to nap at various points.
We land in Charlotte with an hour to make it through customs and catch our connecting flight. It’s going to be close. One last surge of adrenaline for Tunabunny, one last obstacle to overcome. I’m the first one through security, our bags have already been re-checked and are heading towards the flight, and I take off for the gate to let them know we’re coming. I arrive at the gate five minutes before the flight is supposed to leave. The door is still open. We’re going to make it. As I’m attempting to check in at the counter, the others still making their way to the gate, US Air woman stops me short.
“I’m sorry. We are no longer boarding for this flight.”
Shit. “Well what should we do?”
“You’ll have to head down to customer service and they will find another flight for you and your party.”
Oh well. We gave it our best shot, right? But then someone walks past me, she takes his boarding pass and lets him on the flight.
“Wait,” I say. “I have my boarding pass here. We got it in London.”
“I’m sorry, sir. This flight is full.”
“Right. But we’re supposed to be on it.”
And then it dawns on me. They overbooked the flight. And because we weren’t there to check in — never mind the fact that we got on the flight in London, and assuming we didn’t pack any parachutes, we were definitely going to be there — they gave our seats away.
Given my exhaustion, the bruises on my knees, and my still-visible limp, I think my bags travel a fairly impressive distance as I throw them through the terminal.
Mike comes running up, trailed closely by the others, and I tell everyone what has happened. We decide to head over to the customer service desk and see what arrangements they can make for us.
“I can put one of you on a flight leaving two hours from now, and two more of you on a flight leaving four hours from now,” the US Air lady informs us. I’m afraid to even ask what will happen to the other two. Never mind the fact that whoever flies first will still have to wait to pick up the rest of the group.
Mike pulls out his phone and calls our friend Len, who teaches at nearby Wake Forest University and coaches their debate team. Len’s kind of like the Wolf from Pulp Fiction, he has a way of figuring shit out. One time when we were on tour, Tunabunny decided to drive all night after a show and get a hotel in the morning. We pulled into Lexington, Kentucky exhausted and checked into a Days Inn. Brigette and I headed to grab some free breakfast buffet before we crashed, having done the bulk of the overnight driving. As we sat down to eat our food, Len comes walking into the room. In the kind of bizarre coincidence you couldn’t imagine, he was in town for a debate tournament and happened to have a room at the same hotel we chose out of nowhere. Said Len, “If I’d known you guys were coming, I would have just let you have my room for the day”. As if it were possible to have known something like that.
He’s just that kind of guy. So it isn’t that surprising when Mike calls him to find that Len is actually on his way to the Charlotte airport to drop off a student. He says he’ll be more than happy to drive us the two hours to Greenville. We tell the US Air people we’re just going to catch a ride. They don’t care. We ask them if our bags will be there waiting for us when we arrive. They act like this is the stupidest question they’ve ever heard.
“Well of course they will.”
We pile into Len’s Xterra. Being back on US roads is so disorienting I can’t look straight ahead without getting nauseous, or maybe it’s just the stress and lack of sleep. We’re hung up at the airport for a while trying to find someone who can unlock the US Air office and get us our luggage. On the way home we head straight to Waffle House and gorge ourselves on the endless possibilities that come with living in the middle of the American Capitalist Distribution System. By the time we’ve dropped everyone off and make it back home, it’s well past midnight
I have to be at work in less than 12 hours. Throughout the day people will keep asking me if I had fun in England. I don’t even know how to begin to answer that question.