*After a couple of heavy entries, here's one on the lighter side*
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a big Duran Duran fan. If you don't know, now's as good a time as any to learn.
Hey, everyone needs a hobby...
It was December 2005. The band were going to perform in their hometown of Birmingham, England, and much to my surprise, many of my new-found DC friends were planning to go. In a fit of excitement I checked my frequent flier miles, knowing that a free (or almost free) ticket was the only way I could talk myself into such a crazy idea. Discovering that I had enough miles for a ticket on Virgin Atlantic, I booked a ticket to London's Heathrow Airport and was scheduled to arrive a few hours before a good friend and another woman who would soon become a good friend. I flew up to Boston on Thursday, December 15, and caught the short five-and-a-half hour flight to London.
(As a quick, unpaid aside, if you've never flown Virgin Atlantic, I urge you to do so. I don't care if you get off the plane in London and immediately board your return flight. It is what air travel should be. The same goes for Virgin America.)
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. I have a difficult time sleeping on planes. I have to be dead tired to fall asleep in an upright position, and this flight was no exception. I slept maybe one or two hours on the overnight trip to London. When we landed it was around seven in the morning. The other two women weren't going to arrive for at least an hour, so I walked until I found an area with some chairs and sat and waited.
I eventually found both women at the baggage claim area. We then took a bus to the nearest train station, where we got a train up to Birmingham. Once there, we got a cab to our hotel and I tried in vain to take a nap while my two companions explored the hotel. That night we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant with some other Americans and Brits who were also planning to attend the concert the next night. After dinner we went to a dance club that was right across the street from the place where the band got their start - a place that is now an Australian restaurant.
From New Wave night spot to mediocre Aussie dining establishment. Well, nothing stays the same, does it?
Anyway, we entered the club, claimed one spot in the corner, threw all our coats and purses in a pile, and proceeded to cut loose. I've never been in such a crowded room in my life. A simple trip to the restroom necessitated a familiarity with strangers that in some Third World countries would require marriage. Good times. No, really.
After my group left the club we returned to our hotel with a few of the local Brits (friends, not pick-ups) and had another drink or two at the bar, then retired at the late hour of five in the morning. My friends and I awoke around ten and if you're keeping track, which I was, you'll notice that I had by this point had maybe six hours of sleep total in the past two nights.
We got ready, meandered through the center of town, and had lunch. By the time we returned it was time to start getting ready for the concert that night, as the three of us had special tickets that got us into a reception that started around five. My friends and I waited until the last minute to take our seats in the arena, and by the end of the reception we were buying champagne for the few people left in the room.
After the show we hung out at the bar of the hotel where most of the other Americans were staying. Now, there's a law in Britain that requires you to have booked a room at a hotel in order to buy drinks in the bar after 10:30 at night. This was a slight inconvenience, but we got around it by asking the others to order drinks for us, giving them money, of course. After much carousing, my friends and I returned to our hotel around five and had to get up at eight the next morning. As we're counting, that amounts to about nine hours of sleep in three nights.
The reason we had to drag ourselves out of bed after so little sleep was to catch a charter bus that took a bunch of us Yanks up to Manchester for the next concert later that evening. When I awoke, I had an ache in my stomach that both urged and dared me to eat some real food, as I had eaten nothing since lunch the previous day. The only thing I could find at the hotel was a shop selling some shortbread cookies, so that was breakfast.
I slept part of the way to Manchester. Or did I pass out from exhaustion? It's a fine line. When we arrived at our hotel my friends and I had a late lunch at the restaurant and then had to start getting ready for that night's show. I remember that when we got up to the room, I lay down on the bed murmuring, "Oh my God, oh my God" while my friends exhorted me to get up, lest I reach the point of no return.
We got ready and went to the reception preceding that night's show. Afterward, we learned the name of the hotel where much of the band were staying, and off we went. Almost immediately after we arrived 10:30 was close at hand, and we were about to turn into the proverbial pumpkins. We didn't really know anyone who was staying at that hotel who could order drinks for us. So what does one do in that situation? One walks up to the front desk and pays for a room so one and one's friends can continue drinking at the bar, that's what one does. (No, it wasn't me, but a friend of mine. You know who you are! And yes, we all chipped in and paid her back.)
So now my two friends and I had not one, but two rooms in two different hotels, not that it would do me much good in the sleep department. We hung out into the wee hours, and I had the most incredible strawberry martinis. I mean, just one right after the other. They were so good, it would have been a shame to stop drinking them. At least that's what I was telling myself.
When the bar closed at about 3:00 am we moved the party to the room of one of the Americans we knew. I was only able to stay there for less than an hour before it was time for me to leave. I had to take a cab back to our original hotel, the room where our luggage was, the room where I had spent a whopping, oh, one hour. I changed into more comfortable clothes and packed my bag and got a cab to the train station to catch a 5:30 am train back to the station near Heathrow. Keep in mind that I'm now running on a total of nine hours of sleep in four nights. I had had nothing to eat since lunch, which was about fifteen hours ago. Well, except alcohol calories, and somehow my stomach wasn't convinced that the muddled strawberries in the martinis counted as nutrition.
Do you know what it feels like to have nine hours of sleep in four nights and only one meal a day? Not good. Not good on any level. Take my word for it.
Once I got on the train I claimed a table, put on my headphones, and stayed awake due to nothing but adrenaline. Fast forward to about three hours later, and I was really starting to crash. By the time I reached my destination I was near comatose and my stomach was in revolt from lack of food. I went outside to the bus stop and couldn't find any information on the expected arrival of the bus to Heathrow. I waited outside in the cold in a state of extreme discomfort, afraid that if I went inside, I would miss the bus. When the bus finally did arrive, I was the only one on it. I hunched over in my seat, and the pure exhaustion and hunger combined to make me feel nauseous.
Because, you know, I wasn't feeling good enough already.
When I arrived at the airport at around 10:30, it was all I could do to handle my own suitcase. I was existing on autopilot and instinct. If you've never had an average of little more than two hours of sleep a night for four nights in a row and very little to eat, and been hungover to boot, consider yourself lucky. If you have, then you know that "tired" is not the word for what you're feeling - not even close. By that point you're not even feeling human; you're just a robot whose sole purpose is to do whatever needs to be done so that you can sit down someplace, anyplace, before you pass out, fall down, and spend the next twenty hours as a human speed bump in the exact place and position in which you collapsed.
I saw a place in the airport that had some prepared food and some tables, so I picked up a container of fruit salad and a bottle of water and got in line to check out. The cashier rang up my purchase and there was some dispute over the exact price and how much money I had and the fact that I had inadvertently gotten a bottle of still water instead of sparkling water, or vice versa...
See, I can't even remember the details. I do remember, however, making some barely audible, inhuman grunting noise with a face that was surely somehow contorted, and the poor cashier, not realizing that he was dealing not with me but with a comatose robot inhabiting my body, sighed and said, "Alright!" and let me go, probably grumbling something about American tourists.
Why the UN hasn't tapped me for a goodwill ambassador position is beyond me.
An hour later I took my seat on the plane. The last thing I remember was buckling my seatbelt. Later (and I have no idea how much later, Rip Van Winkle that I was), I awoke and noticed we were still at the gate. The pilot was making an announcement - something about a bad engine or leaking oil - something that if I had been sentient would have me saying my last prayers. I guess that was one good thing about being tired to the point of unconsciousness. Had the plane gone down over the Atlantic, I would have just woken up, gazed out the window, thought, "Huh, how about that?" and passed out again before we hit the water. Needless to say, my inability to sleep on planes was overcome, and it never felt so good.
Just wake me up in time for the next show.