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NEW YORK — When last we spoke I was girding myself for a few days of travel chaos as I tried to return to my home in London from Boston. Well, I'm still North America and things are getting dicey.
After my flight last Friday was canceled, I found myself at the back of the line for re-bookings on non-stops to London. "No seats available until Thursday, Mr. Goldfarb." (I haven't been called Mr. this often in my life as in calling American Airlines). I got myself re-booked on a red-eye to Barcelona changing planes for a London flight Tuesday on British Airways. I figured worst case scenario I take the train from Barca to Paris, stay with a friend and get on Eurostar the next day. No way. Eurostar is fully booked until Friday. Buses to the English Channel ports are sold out. So now what?
I go online for updates, and the British press is doing what it does best: scaring its readers half to death. It takes events like this to remind people that Britain is a medium-small island off the coast of the continent. Its supply lines to the rest of the world are tenuous. An astonishing amount of the fresh fruit and vegetables makes it to Britain by plane. Nothing has gone in since Thursday. I have visions of my wife and child coming down with scurvy, as lemons and limes have pretty much disappeared from the supermarket shelves.
Still my situation is not too bad. I'm in New York staying with a friend. But I have spied morose tourists trapped here, stuck in hotels paying New York prices for a roof over their heads and slowly coming to the realization that force majeure means their travel insurance probably won't pay out. In addition, there are hundreds of students stranded abroad (the volcano started erupting just at the end of British unversities' spring break). Cambridge has postponed its oral examinations, due to have been administered this coming week, because so many seniors can't get back to Britain.
But I still feel my own pain more. I find myself reading about the upcoming British election. The close but predictable outcome has been blown wide open by last Thursday's debate. Nick Clegg, the leader of the third party Liberal Democrats gave such a spectacular performance that the Lib Dems have vaulted past Labour and are reeling in the Conservatives. Apparently one poll due to be published tomorrow show them in first place!!! This is terribly exciting stuff. I should be in the street reporting. Instead, I don't even have time to look at the debate on Youtube. Besides debate number two is this coming Thursday and if Nick Clegg does poorly in this one, the whole Lib Dem surge will turned out to be a one-week wonder and I will have missed it.
And now, the volcano is still erupting, the ash is spreading to Spain and BA. BA is not flying Monday, and every hour or so when I check for the latest at Guardian.co.uk I get more bad news. My only hope, and it is probably a vain one, is that there is a tendency in the British press to try to keep a good story going by saying things will get worse before they get better, even when the crisis is over. But this time I think they are being accurate. That damn ash cloud has a reality all its own.
NEWS UPDATE: I JUST RE-BOOKED MYSELF ON A DIRECT FLIGHT. SHOULD MAKE IT HOME BY TUESDAY NIGHT!!! (Never has my Muslim friends' phrase Insh'allah meant more to me.)