Things I Learned In Newcastle.

Yesterday morning at 7 am, I flew up to Newcastle for a workshop. Last night at 8 pm, I flew back to Southampton. (Initially, I wrote “at 8 pm, I flew home,” and then I immediately panicked. Is England home now? Eeeps.)

When Newcastle University offered to fund my flights up there for one day, I was super impressed with myself. I’d sent out a query about attending a workshop exactly six days before the event was set to take place, and instead of the form rejection email I deserved, I received a supremely enthusiastic reply, complete with details on a flight that could get me there and back in one day. Mind = blown. As much as I loved teaching children, it was always a terrible struggle to wring $20 for new colored pencils out of the administration of the private school where I worked. So, the thought of someone I didn’t know throwing £200 at me so that I could share my infinite wisdom with a group of people who were hugely more educated and accomplished than me was nothing short of unreal.

I was so excited for my business trip.

Sadly, now, sitting on the other end of a 17-hour work day that included two planes, two taxis, two trains, and one bus, I can say that flying to a meeting in another city without also booking a hotel room is really pretty dumb.

However, the workshop was fantastic and Newcastle is gorgeous and I’m very happy I was able to go.

It was also a learning experience:

1) Newcastle Airport is staffed entirely by teenage girls. This is no exaggeration. Check-in desk: girls. Security staff: girls. Gate police: girls. I could not believe it. My air travel safety was in the hands of 18-year-olds with box-dyed pony tails and loud stories about boys. I don’t doubt the intelligence or abilities of young women, as I was one of those once, but there was something mildly unsettling about having the people scanning our carry-ons be people who were having a heated discussion about the best music festivals in England.

2) I am a demon when hungry/tired/traveling. I saw a baby struggling to get its face out of some bright sunshine at the airport and my first thought was, “God, just close your eyes, dummy.” I thought that. About a baby.

3) This is not specific to Newcastle, but it synthesized for me when I tripped over the cord of a running vacuum cleaner at the Newcastle Airport at 5:30 in the afternoon: retail England does not hide its maintenance from the public. In the United States, supermarket shelves are restocked late at night and in the early mornings. In fact, the only time I have ever seen someone wheeling a cart full of boxes around a Ralph’s was when I’d pop into one at 6:30 am for the cheap coffee and bagel I’d sometimes eat in shame in my car before I started work. Here, in the UK, supermarkets are restocked approximately 100% of the time I am inside them. I would say that one in four supermarket aisles have massive carts blocking them at any given moment in England. Also, there is always, always some sort of cleaning happening throughout the day, like in the airport W H Smith bookstore I was in yesterday, where there was a teenage girl (surprise!) wheeling a vacuum around the store in the middle of the day. WHAT.

4) Los Angeles has ruined me for public transportation – in that, there is no public transportation to speak of in LA, and I have now aged to a point at which there is no teaching this old dog new Metro tricks. (Not in a prostitute way, pervs.) I rode the Metro thirty minutes in the wrong direction yesterday and ended up in Sunderland, which is, according to the taxi driver who drove me back into Newcastle, the patchy, sad stepbrother of Newcastle Upon Tyne. (I didn’t say that, guys. It was all the cab driver. Sunderland looked great.)

5) The power of good Mexican food knows no borders. Strangely, of the twelve people at the workshop yesterday, six of us were American ex-pats. Three (including me) were from California. Two were from Los Angeles. I ended up talking to a dude from La Habra about the glory of El Cholo, my favorite Mexican restaurant of all time, for about ten minutes. All about the sauces and the chips and the burritos and oh my God I have to stop thinking about this because it is physically painful.

All in all, despite my near-death experience in the bookstore and my very real (and also very fleeting) baby judgment, yesterday was a pretty good day.

I just never want to do something like that again.

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