Thursday, September 27, 2007

Journey to London: Part One

September 19th. Boston

After driving to Boston, Bobbi and I spent the night at the airport Hampton Inn, where Izzy took the opportunity to take a last look at America. After several confusing days of being shoved into cages, dragged out of cages, and driven much further distances than they’d every been before, the hotel was a nice respite for the cats. Buffy found a sunbeam and Izzy curled up on Bobbi’s keyboard while she worked.

Check out was about three hours before the cats were due at the Cargo Depot, and so we had some time to kill. For years, I had seen the Bunker Hill monument peaking out from (what looks to be from the interstate) Boston’s drab urban landscape as I drove South on I-93. I decided that the appropriate thing to do, upon leaving the States for the Mother Country, was to visit the memorial of this first pitched battle of the American Revolution.

By coincidence, I’d picked up a copy of “Patriots” by A.J. Langguth. I highly recommend this book to any one who is looking for a relatively short, highly readable account of the American Revolution. What makes this book particularly useful is that Langguth starts his work in 1761 and spends the first 250 pages on the time and events that occur BEFORE the outbreak of fighting in 1775.

John Adams is often quoted as saying that the Revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people (rather than simply something executed by the military) and this book does a great job of explaining how the people of Massachusetts spent the 15 years before the revolution gaining control of the colony’s legislature, town meeting and judgeships, so that they were able to be in constant conflict with the colony’s governors. I’ve heard scholars say that the American Revolution was actually completed before the Revolutionary War and I now have a greater understanding of what they mean.

At any rate, on the day of our departure, I just happened to have reached the chapter on the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was a bit more complicated than I’d always pictured it (I always just pictured the British charging up the hill to be shot in the white’s of their eyes, falling back, and regrouping to charge again) and I was curious to see what the battlefield looked like today.

Sadly, there is absolutely nothing left of the field itself…what was meadows and cow paths in 1775 is now covered by some of the densest urban growth in North America. The area has been build up right to the edge of the top of the hill, which alone has been kept clear.

Bobbi was glad she had come, however, because what had always looked so drab and dreary from the interstate proved to be a very charming collection of old buildings from past centuries and a very pleasant place to wonder around in for an hour or so, even if you didn’t particularly share your husband’s fascination with the war of independence.

We decided against climbing the Obelisk, because we knew that we’d have to do plenty of walking and standing in the next 48 hours and the first hundred steps were a doozy. We did, however, cross the street to the museum, where I found myself wishing that I had a lot more money and a lot more room in my luggage for both books and DVDs…I was short, however, on both. Still, there was a very detailed 3-D model of the battle which answered a lot of my questions.

I’ve also been inspired to ask more, however. The geography of Boston has changed so very much in the last 200 years- it seems that the amount of land that the city sits on has almost doubled since then, while great rivers and bays have shrunk to almost nothing. I’m sure that there have been several mighty reclamation projects…but I know nothing about them, and couldn’t find out much on a quick search through Wikipedia- so I’m looking forward to learning more when I get home.

After bidding farewell to Bunker Hill National Park, we turned around and headed for the Virgin Airlines Cargo Depot. This was quite an education in the “back stage” operations of an airport I thought I knew. Logan and it’s surrounding environs is huge…and Bobbi and I found ourselves driving through a maze of massive fuel tank farms, warehouses, and depots…because there was no need to impress customers with “brand” all were old and strictly functional, not a stitch of beauty to be seen. It was a somewhat foreboding place to be bringing two much loved pets.

Still, the folks at Virgin Cargo were very nice, and one man came over to introduce himself and say hello to the cats- he took a special shine to Buffy and opened his wallet to show us why. Inside, he carried a picture of another ginger colored cat with many toes. Apparently, this cat of his had passed on, and he missed it very much. “I’ll be taking care of these little guys until it’s time to go,” he said, “I’ll give them food and water and I’ll put them on the plane myself and make sure the captain knows they are there.”

And sure enough, when we boarded the plane, there he was, waiting for us in the entry way- “They’re all set,” he said, “they have had food and water and I’ve tied their crates in safely.” It was a really nice gesture and I think Virgin does a very good job at making people feel at ease.

The rest of the flight was uneventful…the young faces, sharp uniforms and British accents of the flight crew were just a little more upbeat than what I’ve become used to on domestic flights. While American flight crews have morphed from the “sirens of the skies” of the 60s and 70s into the rounder, older, more comfortable shape of the airborne diner waitress- this hip young crew retained a bit of the old glamour…but just a bit…it was not to be denied that we were still eating freeze-dried food with plastic forks, that the seats were only about 8 inches wide, and that our fellow passengers were dressed in pink sweat pants and grubby t-shirts. This flight was not going to be a scene from an old James Bond film- that was for sure.

The evening had one more bit of awakening for me…when presented with my beverage choices, I chose a “Stella”. Known in the States as a somewhat highfalutin, overpriced beer, which I’ve always heard referred to by it’s full name: “Stella Ar-twaw”, apparently this beer occupies a somewhat different place on the shelf in the UK where it, seems to be completely ubiquitous and is known with slightly more affection as “Stella.”

Of course, the damn thing was piss warm. Welcome to Britain, I thought.

After dinner, I got out the diary that Darcy had given me as a wedding present…among other things, I wrote: “I wish had some deep and profound thoughts on leaving my country (and my continent) for the first time…but I don’t. I’m glad I’m with Bobbi, and I’m a little nervous about how everything is going to work out, and I’ll be glad when I have my cats safe and sound again.”

Somewhere over the Atlantic, we fell asleep.

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