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Manchester Airport, © Free Foto

June 21 – The Longest Day of the Year
Manchester, England

I have been dreading Customs like most Americans dread the prospect of an IRS audit, but my experience is painless. I just act as my fellow travelers in the Philadelphia airport had advised: as if I did it every day. I walk hurriedly past the inspectors and smile when eye contact is made, but don't slow my pace. Before I know it, I am in the arrival area where, like extras in a movie, people stand holding signs and posters bearing other people's names.

Dana had come up with the idea that we should wear Hawaiian party leis to identify each other, since we've not ever met; though Robin and I have shared photos online. I glance at the people standing around, looking for two redheads wearing leis, but I am being herded along toward the exit door! The cool air that makes its way through is refreshing and oh so tempting, but my neighbor's words about the Washington D.C. airport come back to me. I don't know if I go out that door for a quick breath of fresh air, if I'll be able to get back in.

Turning quickly, I head toward a small lounge with banks of chairs, studying the people waiting there as I walk. There is Robin and another woman, who must certainly be Dana, looking very relaxed, sitting back in chairs. I walk right up to them, flashing back to my standing in front of my friend without seeing her in Philadelphia. They are chattering away and don't see me at all. Of course, I am not wearing a lei. I hadn't welcomed the prospect of drawing attention to myself by stringing a necklace of silk flowers around my neck. I'm very shy, though only those who know me best believe it. I hide the fact well.

Robin looks up and her smile broadens. She laughs and says hi. Then Dana stands and hands me a lei she has brought along for me, which I tuck, hopefully very diplomatically, into my mutant purse from hell to present to my daughter when I return home. (Strange souvenir from the UK if you think about it). Off we go to rent the car that will be our means of transportation throughout northern England and southern Scotland for the next two weeks.

Taxis, taxis everywhere; wow, the taxis are so cool (I'm obviously easily amused.) Only a few are left undecorated by ads and some are painted in a manner that reminds me of John Lennon's psychedelic Rolls Royce. We wheel, lift and lug our luggage across the median and into the car rental office. Dana and I sit outside for a few moments, with me reaching for my rain jacket in the Manchester morning mist, and get to know each other a little. I am amazed by the plumpness of the pigeons strutting their stuff, and though I've never considered it before, am suddenly visualizing pigeon pie.

After what seems only a few moments Robin reappears and we learn that our car is on the other side of the airport. Unaware that there are free shuttle buses, we take a short taxi ride (much to the dismay of our driver) to the other side of the terminal. Up a few flights of the parking garage in an elevator ("lift" I tell myself) to claim our car – a Volkswagen Golf with eleven miles on the odometer - then off we go to Robin's hotel room to collect her luggage. From here I make a quick phone call to Lorna, a friend that I met in an online Scrabble game. We have made plans through e-mail to meet for lunch at the Heald Green Pub in Manchester and I am to call and let her know that I have landed safely.

The phone rings once, twice, then there's Lorna with a heavily accented "Hallooooo." But what is she saying now that I have identified myself? Oh my, her accent is wonderful. Lorna is Scots, originally from Glasgow and has lived in Manchester with her husband and three children only five years. I love the way she sounds and could listen for hours but I can't understand a word she is saying! Whew ... I think she notices the silent replies. She slows down enough for me to gather that she will be heading out as soon as she hangs up, and that it will take us about 20 minutes from the airport and her 45 minutes to get to the pub. "How will I know you?" she asks. "Just look for three crazy Americans" I reply. Certainly we will stand out like a sore thumb.

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