The Return

[Image: Heathrow Terminal 5, via Wikipedia].

Back in San Francisco, after a 12-hour delay at Heathrow's Terminal 5 in London. We sat on the first plane – there were three planes – for five hours before they realized that they couldn't start one of the engines; so we all filed back into the terminal while our luggage was loaded onto a second plane – which was then hit by a truck. A third airplane was thus conjured up out of the drizzling darkness of an otherwise abandoned international airport at midnight – I was reminded almost constantly of Iain Sinclair's description of Heathrow as "a Vatican of the western suburbs," a system of piazzas dedicated to geometric worship of the sky – and it rolled over to the gate to collect our bags, the lights in the cockpit still off. It was nearing 1am by then, we'd been given bags of sea-salted potato chips, and bad pop songs were playing on continuous loops through steel security grills pulled down in front of airport music shops. One or two obviously bored employees were performing day-end inventories on refrigerators full of Ribena at Boots, the guitarists for a band apparently based here in San Francisco were throwing an American football around with a kid called Nicholas, and if you stood at the edge of the glass-walled lightwells that cut all the way down to the ground in Richard Rogers's new terminal design you could watch under-oiled escalators squawking their way, from one side to the other, up the nearly five stories to arrive where we were all then sitting, filling out customer complaint forms.
So thanks, British Air, for that odd glimpse of anthropology amidst well-engineered 21st-century architecture after everyone else had gone home – although I would've preferred to arrive twelve hours earlier, on time – and thanks, as well, to everyone who came out to see the variety of BLDGBLOG events last week in London.
The other surprise worth mentioning is that, having landed at the misty, pre-BART hour of 4am, we had to take a taxi home – and as we drove up Fell Street our driver pointed out that gas prices have plunged to a somewhat unbelievable $1.79 a gallon.

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Blogger Greg K Nicholson said...

“we'd been given bags of sea-salted potato chips”

No, no, no! …crisps! You'd been given crisps!

November 30, 2008 7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And it is British Airways, not British Air.

December 01, 2008 6:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i spent a healthy delay at Terminal 5 reading non-places

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Non-places-Introduction-Anthropology-Supermodernity-Cultural/dp/1859840515

felt very appropriate...

December 01, 2008 7:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"One or two obviously bored employees were performing day-end inventories on refrigerators full of Ribena at Boots, the guitarists for a band apparently based here in San Francisco were throwing an American football around with a kid called Nicholas, and if you stood at the edge of the glass-walled lightwells that cut all the way down to the ground in Richard Rogers's new terminal design you could watch under-oiled escalators squawking their way, from one side to the other, up the nearly five stories to arrive where we were all then sitting, filling out customer complaint forms."

you are writing a book? it took me 5 minutes to process this sentence.

December 01, 2008 8:52 AM  
Blogger Ghost Particle said...

excellent depiction of the events. i've took about 8 internal flights while 'backpacking' through India, and surprisingly there was only one cancellation, and no delays.

p/s: hope to get the bldgblog book in Malaysia when its published.

December 01, 2008 9:47 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

I liked the sentence. He took you all around the space, visually, and then right back next to him and the others, all while telling about the mood that each person was in.

Keep it up. Blogging could use more style.

December 01, 2008 12:08 PM  
Anonymous Dech said...

It's like you said at the Barbican that the very near future is endless Heathrow Terminal 5...

December 01, 2008 2:07 PM  
Blogger Geoff Salvatore said...

Well written article. It makes me nostalgic for your
piece
on LA last year.

I worry about the momentum of investment in clean energy solutions is going to come to a halt as fast as gas has plummeted. The
NYT
noted this trend last week. It will be so unfortunate if all this positive momentum gets caught up in other economic issues.

December 01, 2008 5:00 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Dech, I hadn't even thought of that! Perhaps I cursed us... Good to see you last week, by the way.

And, Geoff, I'm in total agreement with you about the unfortunate energy implications of low gas prices. The idea that gasoline might be more affordable than other, supposedly "alternative" energy sources is absurd, given the literally unearthly expense of gasoline's long-term climatic effects.

December 02, 2008 1:24 AM  
Anonymous Larry Here said...

I have nothing of substance to add to the discussion, unfortunately. But - I'm with Alex. I too liked the sentence, and it took me a while to get through it because I had to click over to Ribena to see what that was. A pleasure.

December 02, 2008 1:58 AM  
Blogger Ghost Particle said...

thanks Geoff. :)

December 02, 2008 2:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just wanted to say that this seemed to me the interesting corollary to this:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/28/thai-protest-talks

-mgh

December 07, 2008 3:09 AM  
Anonymous Sujan P (Australia) said...

The launch of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 was meant to be a proud day for British Airways but instead turned into an absolute PR disaster as the failure of the baggage handling systems disrupted thousands of holidaymakers plans.

When Heathrow Terminal 5 opened last year, it was a chance for Britain to show the world what it could do, to let it know that, yes, London might be horrendously crowded, it might lack sufficient transport links for its existing ...

February 04, 2009 7:16 AM  

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