Manchester-Evening One

So I’m trying to buy a cell phone…

I’m on Verizon.  Verizon (and Sprint!) use CDMA.  Whereas the rest of the world uses GSM.  And Verizon sells a multiple band phone but not a multiple band BlackBerry, and how often am I in the U.K./out of the States.  But when you leave the mother country, well, MY mother country, to go to the REAL mother country, never mind even the third world, everybody DEPENDS on their cell phone, er, mobile.  To be without a phone is to be a third class citizen, a non-player, frightened he’s going to be abducted and not be able to call for rescue.

Actually, I experienced the problem as soon as I landed in Manchester.  When my ride didn’t appear.  I offered a mother/daughter combination cash to make a call (hell, I’ve got so many minutes I’d let you use my phone for FREE, but I didn’t want to look like a schnorrer), but the daughter’s phone was out of minutes and the mother was hoarding the few she had left.  So I went to the cash exchange and got some coins for the pay phone, which thank god existed around the corner.  And after dropping in a pound, I got ahold of Sandra who told me they hadn’t forgotten me and not long after I hung up my driver arrived.  Very friendly.  And as soon as I went into my diatribe about being unable to CALL, he told me he’d take care of it.  We’d go to the equivalent of a flea market in the morning and buy a handset.  Hell, he’d purchased one just this day for fourteen pounds (well, I thought he said forty, I’m not accent-savvy, and that seemed a bit high, but since we kept discussing it, the truth came out.)

Well, if I wanted to make do, I would have brought the phone my nutritionist gave me, with an Australian plug and no instruction booklet.  But my driver told me the Samsung he’d bought had come in a box, with even an instruction booklet, and it was UNLOCKED!

And when he’s just about finished with the mumbo-jumbo we arrived at the hotel whereupon dropping off my stuff I asked the clerk WHERE’S THE NEAREST CARPHONE WAREHOUSE?

I’d seen the billboards.

She told me it was too late.  They closed at 8.  But it was only 7:30!  She showed me where it was on the map, and I took off.

And I felt it just wasn’t that cold.  I was reminded of something about gulf/trade winds.

And not a shop was open.  But finally, I hit Carphone Warehouse.  Which was all fluorescent light bright.

I did a bit of private shopping.  It appeared I could buy a mobile for…  Well, thirty pounds including a ten pound SIM card.  This sounded good.  The clerk told me I could go with either Virgin or T-Mobile.  I know Virgin is a reseller and just when I was about to go with T-Mobile, this Indian man asked me if I was going to call the States.

Well, if I was, for FORTY pounds, with a twenty pound SIM card, I could call the U.S. for 5p, and local calls would be 15p instead of 35p with Virgin.  Yes, it turned out the thirty pound bundle was Virgin on T-Mobile.  But when I was getting this straight, the clerk became frustrated with me.  And I was fearful of a race riot.  After all, a woman at Heathrow was wearing a burka, I’m not in SANTA MONICA anymore.

But the cheap phone is locked, and the more expensive one isn’t.  But both only work in the U.K and Europe.  But it takes twenty four hours to activate the more expensive one.  And twenty four hours to fill it up again.

Confused yet?

I certainly was.

And the clerk had had it with me.  I could chalk it up to my OCD, but really, every time he went through the story he contradicted something he’d said earlier.

And it was two minutes to eight and I said…I was going to come back tomorrow.  I figured I’d sleep on it.

And this guy in a suit must not be on commission, because he wasn’t frustrated a bit when I walked out.  To find a grocery store.

Just up the mall was a Tesco.  Whatever that is.  I’d only been to the Marks & Spencer down the way, but that was already shuttered.

And we were now IN the evening, Friday night, but the place was PACKED!  And there wasn’t a soul over thirty, except me.

It was like "Dawn Of The Dead", they didn’t know where else to go.  Then again, it didn’t look like they were stoned and had the munchies, it appeared that this whole GENERATION was looking for supper.  It was a veritable SINGLES SCENE!  Fuck, just make your way to Tesco.

And I was a bit scared of the food.  After all, after being STUNNED that they served a sandwich on the half hour flight from London to Manchester I opened the box and learned what they labeled food did not fit that appellation in my book.  But eventually, I made my choices, and was confronted with a GARGANTUAN line.

But it turns out they don’t do it the same way as in the States.  There’s just one line.  and then TWELVE checkers.  All of them from the same demo.  It was a veritable PARTY!

And, of course, when the deli light went off instructing me to go to checkstand 9 I couldn’t figure out the money, which the checker promptly explained to me in an accent so heavy I just made out what he was saying as I walked out the front door.

And on the hike back either my immunity wore off or it had gotten MUCH colder.  I could feel it through my fleece.

And when I got back to my room, I opened my prepared salad and ASSEMBLED THE FORK!

Yes, it came folded.  You snapped it together.  And it worked just fine.

That’s what’s troubling about Americans.  They’re so convinced they live in the greatest country in the world, that it’s INCONCEIVABLE things could be better anywhere else.  Like the nutritional information.  Each item contained almost a BOOK!  Told you how many you had to eat to satisfy the daily requirements.  And that cell phone world.  Hell, they sold iPods at Carphone Warehouse, but only two minutes in the place convinced you that handsets were where it was at.

Not that everything’s so advanced.

Maybe it’s the Californian in me, but a lot of the people don’t LOOK TOO GOOD!

Like I’m on a bus in Heathrow…

Boy, have they got a SYSTEM!

On one hand it’s completely organized.  But on another jury-rigged.  If you’ve got a connecting flight, you follow the signs, through a labyrinth akin to the backstage in "Spinal Tap".  And then, suddenly, you’re outside, at a BUS!

And you’re thinking that no one ever checked your passport.

And the bus drives around on a magical mystery tour and you end up at an escalator.  And when you emerge in the sky you’re confronted with Wal-Mart style greeters, only they’re all under twenty five and there to tell you that you can only bring one carry-on and no…well, it’s an endless list of items.

And the girls were so busy flirting with the one guy that they didn’t see I had TWO carry-ons, and would I have to throw one AWAY?

And then, I hit it.  Grand Central.  Security lines that you can’t even FATHOM if you only fly in the States.  I appealed to the guard, to let me through the express line, my flight was in an hour, my plane from L.A. had been delayed, but he wouldn’t budge.  But after the LINE barely moved a couple who’d flown twelve hours from god knows where got into an argument with the guard, insisted on having his name and number, and they were going at it, but then he LET THEM THROUGH!  I saw them on the other side and I still had HUNDREDS of people in front of me.

But the equivalent of the TSA people…  They’re FRIENDLY!

And they don’t comment on my having two bags, even though no one else does, and there’s detritus scattered all over the place, items that are VERBOTEN discarded everywhere, with a worker picking them up with tongs, but I slide right on through, even though I learned I’d left batteries in my pocket after I jammed my wallet back into my pants.

And THEN I find passport control.

And then I hike ten minutes to a gate AREA!  Where they don’t even tell you the exact gate until you’re absolutely ready to board.  Whereupon you go down four flights of stairs and get on ANOTHER bus, driving all over the place, past these big chutes that I’m not sure the use of, until we finally get to our jet in the English rain and ascend the jetway into the most cramped plane I’ve EVER been on.

But, the reason I mention all this is on that very first bus ride, I noticed the gentleman across the way from me, holding on to his four year old in his stroller, had a very pushed-in face.  Like he’d gotten in some kind of gang fight, but had survived. 
Did he have a harelip, or had he been knifed?

And then, after noticing the tattoos on his knuckles, I realized he only had three fingers.

And that the woman next to me was his wife.  And their baby, maybe two months old, had a severe harelip.

I was so weirded out.  I felt so sorry for these people.

But at least they had each other.

Then again, was he an ex-member of the Krays and I’d better not stare for fear of getting fucked up in return?

And that half hour flight was BUMPY!

But below me was the kind of greenery you never see in Southern California.

And that brings us back to where we began.  Me trying to decide what mobile to buy.  I’m still confused.

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