I made sure I had my passport for customs, my pilot licence in case there was any on-base scrutiny of who I was, and my camera so I could take pictures of anything that wasn't a military secret, and got in the car. I drove across the border to catch a cheap flight south. The customs official looks dubious at my reason for going south, but when he asks my profession a light goes on. I think you can get away with all kinds of crazy stuff on account of being a "commercial pilot." It's like having a Canadian flag on your backpack in Europe.
Check-in is painless. It's nice just carrying overnight stuff and not my massive Arctic-to-Florida work bag. It's coming up to American Thanksgiving, so the flight is chock full and the flight attendants are busy trying to get everyone's bags, coats and butts in the appropriate places. A guy is there with two young kids and they don't have seats together, so the flight attendant was obviously trying to rearrange people to create a row for them. Airline should have taken care of that at the gate before seating people, because now it's more complicated. Passengers were apparently refusing some of the offered seat swaps so it wasn't just as simple as emptying a row of individual travellers and replacing them with the family. I volunteered to move and the FA was pathetically grateful when I accepted a move into a middle seat to make it work out for the family, assuring me that she would comp all my drinks in compensation. It's sort of sad that it was that hard to get people to move over so a little kid could sit with his dad.
I liked my new seatmates better, anyway. My original neighbours were a little girl in the window seat next to me an angular mother who seemed to be checking me out for my propensity to molest little girls. And speaking to, smiling at or acknowledging the presence of counted as molestation. Okay, I'm obviously not being fair there, but I got such a cold vibe from her that I was happy to move to the friendlier spot in between an electrician from Alabama and a woman with elaborately hennaed hands and black-tipped fingers, on her way to her sister's wedding. I slept on the flight, so I can't report on the fascinating things that take place in the back of an airliner. Except that the flaps were filthy. filthier than mine, even.
As we came into land, I could see that North Carolina is a little swampy, with lots of trees, just starting to change colours for the fall. I grabbed my carry-ons and headed for the exit. About this time I realized I hadn't booked a rental car. I meant to. We'd discussed it. You could almost hear the chuckle in John's e-mail as he replied to my enquiry about buses or trains from North Carolina's Raleigh-Durham airport. It seems that North Carolina is not a public transit sort of state. "You'll need to rent a car," he'd explained. And then I neglected to. But never mind. I'm a master of flexibility. I jumped on a rental car shuttle, figure I'd go down the line at the rental car desk, and see who had one to rent me.
It turns out that at RDU all the car rental counters are on the individual companies' lots, so I just have to hope that the one I've reached has cars. I ask the gentleman who greets the van and he just gestures at the parked cars, "pick one." That's right, the cars are all parked with the keys in the ignition and you pick the one you want, drive your car to the exit and do the paperwork right there. Americans are masters of car-related convenience. The checkout clerk looks at my Canadian driver's licence and asks if I speak French. He's Arabic-looking and his nametag identifies him as Abdallah, so he's probably from a former French colony in north Africa. "Not as well as you," I say in English. Yeah. I know: chicken. I should have taken the opportunity to practice a disused skill. When we're done I say thanks and good evening in French. I'm a block away before I realize that I forgot to ask for a map. I hope my approaches in the simulator are better planned than my arrival at the base.
I know I have to go southeast, so I take the option directing me to highway 40 "east," and am lucky enough to find a gas station before I get to the on ramp. But they're all out of maps, and no one has heard of Havelock. A truck driver has a GPS unit for his car and plugs in my destination. It's easy: east on I-40 then east on US-70 and that will take me right into Havelock. I'm on my way.
It's dark for most of the drive, so I can't report on much except that US 70 kept bifurcating into the 70-bypass and 70-business and about half the time I took the wrong one, because I couldn't tell the bypass from the business sign from far away enough to get into the correct lane to make the turn. I stopped to get a map, just in case I missed one of those turns and got lost in the dark. Another customer in the store assured me that it didn't really matter which 70 I took at any point because there were about the same number of lights on either.
I stopped at an old-fashioned Chinese restaurant, the kind with the neon-edged pagoda roof. It had obviously been there a long time, and there were lots of cars in the parking lot, so it couldn't be too bad. And it wasn't. Sesame chicken, broccoli beef and ice cream for dessert, then back on the road.
A bit later my phone rang, and not knowing the local rules about cell phone driving I pulled over into what turned out to be a butcher shop parking lot to return the call. Every time I ask anyone if it's illegal to answer a cellphone while driving in their jurisdiction they say something like "sort of" or "only if they catch you." It looks as if North Carolina is okay with me talking on the cell phone unless I'm a teenager or driving a schoolbus. John is just checking up on me, then calls back again as I get into town and guides me to my hotel so we can go out for coffee.
Plans have changed now. I left out some of the previous plan changes, so suffice to say I am not surprised. The colonel has decided that it is best that I be there in the daytime, which may be good news, because I'll possibly be able to fly with an instructor or a trained pilot, to make better use of the opportunity. And it means I get to sleep in tomorrow. We get gently kicked out of the doughnut shop by the staff who want to go home, and John will call me in the morning to plan our day.
Wait, what? They just advertised a 30 calorie energy drink on TV. (I'm multislacking: blogging while watching TV). Wouldn't I burn 30 calories taking a bottle out of the fridge and removing the lid? How is this useful, unless an athlete has a purple food colouring deficiency?