The Day! We struggled our bike boxes to the Continental Airlines check in ticket counter at SFO, gingerly setting them on the scale.
"Where're you going?" asked the ticket agent, flipping through my ticket.
"London and then bicycling Scotland." I was excited, proud (this was my first bike tour and I was going to be biking hundreds of miles; never mind that thousands of others had done the same thing), and somewhat scared.
"I'd like to buy excess baggage insurance." I'd read that this is a smart thing to do when traveling with a bicycle.
"I can't sell it to you," he said, looking at my bike box and frowning.
"Oh? Why not?"
"Because the box isn't sturdy enough. We can't insure it."
"Oh. But you sold me the box."
"I know." He looked down and stapled my baggage claim check to the ticket.
"You sold me the box. Make me use it. And you still won't sell me insurance?" Annoyance rippled the edge of my voice.
"No, I can't."
"Even though you sold me the box?" I was incredulous. "That's ridiculous! Why do you sell something that doesn't meet your own standards? Is there a supervisor I can talk to?" In that instant I became Difficult Passenger.
Visions of a bent and broken bicycle awaiting me at the baggage claim in London over rode all other thoughts. My twenty-three year old son Tracy, his grad school roommate Earl, and I had anticipated this vacation for months. I had spent hours reading touring books and tracing serpentine routes on Scotland Ordnance Survey Maps; miles training in the Bay Area hills so that I could "keep up with the guys." I wanted some assurance that my bike would be rideable.
Earl looked a bit seedy with his long dark hair pulled back under a faded red bandana wrapped around his forehead, wearing his favorite frayed biking shirt. We didn't present the most favorable image. My age in comparison to my companions lent the only credibility we had. We talked at length with the supervisor. As he walked away, I clutched his business card in my hand, fully prepared to call him from London if there were any problems.
We found our seats, sardined in the middle of a row of five. San Francisco to Denver. Denver to London. Fortunately Earl found a seat in a roomier section of the plane for the Denver/London leg. His rackety gasping snorts and wheezes could disrupt anyone's deepest drugged slumber.
En route we met Ms. Marian F, my Stereotypic Older English Maiden Lady, perhaps even someone's maiden aunt...roundly filling her seat, trying to commandeer our joint arm-rest (we reached a non-verbal agreement), huffing with each physical exertion, and calling everyone "Luv." She had the aisle seat, and graciously moved whenever one of us needed to stroll to the rear of the aircraft. During our flight we commiserated about the horrid air-conditioning (there was precious little), the food (it was barely acceptable; and we were even hungry), the movie screen (too small to see well, and too close to avoid neck cramps from craning our heads upward), and her travels to a radiographic conference in New Mexico (a "new state" on her ticking-off-states list). I shared our biking dreams and goals and a bit of our background.
"Here's my address and phone number, Luv. I'm in Hyde Park. Call me when you get to London after your Scotland visit. My flat's small, but I can make room for you. You don't mind the floor, do you? I might have my niece there too."
Aha! She was somebody's maiden aunt. I filed her address away with the ticket supervisor's card.