Entry 2: Making friends across the pond
7 Strangers, 7 Days.
- Name: Hector
- Location: Business class airport lounge
My family and I have been trying all the tricks in the book to save up enough air miles to fulfil a bucket list ambition of one day flying business class for free. I’m like a child in a sweet shop at the BA lounge, the buffet here compared with last month’s constraints is like going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Faster than a fresher’s virtue I’m filling my boots with kettle crisps, pastries, beer and coffee.
The lounge is full of city slickers with an elderly well-to-do couple reading quietly and me, my aunt and uncle surreptitiously raiding the buffet.
I spot Hector as he leaves the kitchen and we exchange a smile. No one else in the lounge appears to be chatting and so I decide to breach lounge protocol and wander over with my coffee. I open with a chirpy “Hi I’m Alice” and take a seat. Hector smiles back and responds by introducing himself and asking if we know each other. Embarrassed, I admit we don’t and that it’s my first time in business class. Although I’m secretly pleased that my opener had the confidence and trustworthiness to have relayed that impression. The Jerry Maguire effect in action.
I ask Hector whether he’s not tempted to work his way from left to right on the array of complimentary spirits available with me and although he politely declines it breaks the ice and before long we’re talking about where we’re traveling to. It turns out he’s also flying to Vegas on a course and meeting his lovely wife out there. We chat more about background and hometowns and he tells me about an epic burger chain which has just floated on the stock market and I promise to check it out when I’m there.
We’ve been chatting for a while and I feel I ought to disturb him no more so fess up to my challenge and ask politely for a selfie to which he kindly agrees. I thank him for the conversation and follow the crumbs back to my aunt and uncle, who by this time have worked their way onto dessert pastries.
A hopeful start but my moon face suggests my selfie skills need refining!
- Name: Mario and his harem.
- Location: Vegas bar
Rob and I get in line for a Vegas bar as gradually our fellow queue dwellers start to cotton on to our English accents. One by one people turn to ask “OMG, are you English?” followed by gleeful clapping/shrieking or comments like “that is so cute”. Feeling like celebrities, Rob and I milk the situation for all it’s worth with requests for photos or impersonations keeping us in free beer and conversation.
We get talking to Mario and his harem of girlfriends who ask me if I know what “that Sh!t cray” means (a Jay-Z phrase) knowing full well what it means I opt to go with “oh you mean – that’s poppycock”. I am embarrassed for my own self and my mates from home would hang me out to dry for speaking like a Dickens reject but it causes the desired mirth and the beers keep coming “chin chin” remarks Rob aloud, as if addressing a gentlemans’ club.
Mario’s harem insist we hang out with them, well more specifically my brother, who looks annoyingly like Calvin Harris’ double and causes them all to giggle. A lot. The scene reminds of the one from Love Actually where the socially awkward parker-wearing Colin Frizzle scores a foursome with some hot texans after they too found his accent “adorable”. Looks like we could be in for an interesting night…! Mario and the harem are over from Florida for a birthday party and know each other from school. We chat and grab a selfie which Mario promises to upload to Facebook. The double act really seems to be working. Before long we’ve got the place sewn up and the pair of us are skipping around like Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews on heat. We lose the harem in the mayhem of a Vegas bar and the Facebook request doesn’t materialise (accent got amusement but not a deep and meaningful friendship) so you will just have to imagine it was something like this.
- Name: Chris and Mike
- Location: Caesars Palace
Chilling in Caesars pre Rod Stewart concert and we’ve all donned our Scottish gear for the occasion. My uncle Jim has flown his kilt and regalia over specifically for the concert and walking through the casino we look like the tartan Mafia.
Chris and Mike are watching the basketball in Caesars sports bar and have 100 dollars riding on the Warriors beating the Knicks by 15 points. They declare Jim the coolest guy in Vegas and we soon get chatting to the duo. It turns out they’re from New Jersey and are quick to dispel any misplaced association with Jersey Shore. A show they seem to loathe.
Attention turns back to the game and we are all on tenterhooks the Warriors are ahead by 14 points. Final seconds of the game and Warriors fail to sink a final hoop, it’s a hollow victory and cruel to be deprived a win by just one point. The lads are fascinated by Scotland and we invite them to stay if they’re ever in Edinburgh, we cheer them up with a spot of yo-young before Maggie May calls.
- Name: Matt
- Location: Airplane
It’s great when you meet positive people in life. In the business class section of an airplane apparently you can meet some of the best and some of the worst.
I settle into my seat and begin playing with the control panel like I’ve been let loose on a dentist’s chair, as a glamorous young couple sweep in. The pair survey the area and the female immediately demands that another passenger swaps seats and that I move my bag so she and her “Bae” can share the overhead locker. My buttocks clench at the pet name and I begrudgingly agree, grateful for the BA complimentary sick bag. Later on in flight I venture for a call of nature only to return and find my seating area has been ‘feng shui’d’ in my absence. Apparently the stunning ocean views had been distracting our Princess Jasmine’s eyeline from her in flight movie, “I hope that’s ok” is added as something of an afterthought as I sit huffily in total darkness. Humph.
I try to perk myself up and take a sly selfie in my seat with all the airline freebies and am caught red handed by the air steward who finds it highly amusing. I’m still looking pretty moon faced, so I wait 5 minutes until the coast is clear and attempt another. Just at the shutter moment the same steward returns. Painfully aware I look like a complete narcissist, I start babbling excuses and we get chatting.
Matt, it turns out he’s been flying 15 years now and Vegas can be a tough gig with just one night stop over before return. Matt’s job takes him all over the world and his favourite destination is Cape Town for the beautiful scenery. Matt begins to give my aunt and I the lowdown on Vegas but is interrupted by another stewardess who’s been asked by Princess Jasmine if we can stop talking as she’s trying to sleep. We turn around to see Jasmine sitting up, headphones on flicking lazily through her iPad. We exchange looks but not wanting to put Matt in an awkward position no-one comments outright and we comply but not before taking a quick (moon faced) selfie (above).
- Name: Emily and family
- Location: Vegas night club
The English accent seemingly gives us a natural air of sophistication and curiosity. We get chatting to a charming lady in the elevator who invites us to a bachelorette party in one of the hotel’s suites. The lady tells me she’s always wanted to be like Olivia Newton John, I don’t want to be impolite so take the compliment and don’t tell her Olivia is in fact an Aussie.
At the Encore nightclub in Vegas (famous for being the location of Prince Harry’s drunken antics). This place is off the chain. High rollers spill champagne and smoke fat cigars with elflike girls balanced on their laps. The place is a nest of debauchery and I can see why Vegas is sometimes known as Sin City. Rob and I strike up conversation with a young pair of Californians at the poolside. Emily is studying a masters in animal behaviour and hopes to be a zoologist. They’ve been together a year now and are hoping to rent a place in Florida soon. Emily is here with a whole gang for her brother’s 21st (legal drinking age) and they invite us to join them in leading him astray.
The gang soon expands and we are joined by a Justin Timberlake lookalike from Chicago getting married tomorrow, who has lost all his stags and a frenetic New Zealander called Gordy who seems to be enthused by everything and bounces around us all like Zebedee. I can’t tell if it’s natural vigour or chemically induced but he is nonetheless entertaining. The night pumps on and for the second time that night I’m mistaken for an Australian. I correct Emily’s cousin several times but he proceeds to spout forth about his adventures in Melbourne and comes over later to pick my brains on the Rolf Harris debacle. Weary from liqueur I give up the fight and just go along with it, no wuccas mate.
- Name: Scooter
- Location: Tattoo parlour
I figure tattoo artists are a friendly bunch, you’ve got to be able build trust with strangers if you’re going to convince them to let you scrape their body with a needle. We duck into a parlour for a nose about and meet the proprietor who, just as expected, is chatty and mad about ink. Scooter shows us some artwork he’s working on at the moment and he and his tattoo-clad mates kindly oblige us some yo-yo skills.
- Name: Amy and Jacob
- Location: Little white wedding chapel
No visit to Vegas would be complete without a visit to a wedding chapel, so we venture Downtown in search of luurve. The first chapel we come to is situated on the roadside next to a motel and it feels a little run down. As we stroll into reception we are hit by a pungent smell of ambi pur and the sound of organ music. The receptionist greets us and professes to host the “happiest couples right here at the chapel”. She must have used these words a thousand times and they drip with insincerity but still intrigued we have a further snoop around. There is something here to cater for all tastes from gothic dresses to Elvis costumes and batman outfits. It’s horses for courses. We wander on to a few more chapels, including the chapel of flowers with a stunning outside altar and the famous ‘drive through’ wedding facility.
Finally we stumble across the Little White Wedding Chapel, famous for celebrity quickie marriages including Joan Collins, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jordan, Bruce Willis, and Britney Spears (the first time). It has a welcoming and quaint feel and we wander into the chapel to find a young couple being briefed by the registrar. The pair are holding hands and grinning at each other nervously. It turns out Amy and Jacob have been together for four years and have travelled over from Boston. Amy remarks how odd it feels not to have any guests and we venture to ask whether they would mind the four of us staying to watch. The couple kindly agree and we sit ourselves down in the pews.
Amy wears a simple yet elegant dress and looks utterly beautiful, Jacob gazes at her like he is the luckiest guy in the world and tears begin to form in his eyes. Any cynicism I may have had before about Vegas weddings totally dissolves as Amy and Jacob recite their vows. The hairs on my arms stand on end and a feeling of warmth flows through me. I am incredibly moved and feel privileged to be part of this truly personal moment.
The ceremony is short and the four of us watch on like proud parents. Everyone has an opinion on how you should celebrate your big day. This was far from a big status driven production where love can sometimes be lost somewhere between the ribbons and sugared almonds. Instead it was simple, deeply personal and romantic. I never realised how moved you can be by total strangers and witnessing Amy and Jacob’s wedding is a memory I will keep forever.