It’s a long trip, there are no two ways about that. Over nine hours to Atlanta from Heathrow, and another couple down to Key West, but, spoiler alert: it is worth it.
As usual, I got into my seat and started to panic that I was shrinking, until I remembered I was in premium economy, and I didn’t have to spend the flight compacted into a space a chaffinch would find claustrophobic.
Delta have an excellent line in in-flight entertainment, but they cannot compete with the oldest pastime known to travellers: being judgemental towards your fellow passengers. I’m always conscious that I’m on show, and as a man alone, try to cut a mysterious and enigmatic figure. I travel light, I move fast, I observe from the shadows, and am pleased with the comforts and hospitalities extended to me. No fussing. Of course I always spoil things by getting jam on me, but it’s the trying that counts.
Thoughtful, then, of Delta to seat me behind my exact opposite. ‘…I mean, do I look like a terrorist?’ were the first words I heard him say to his beleaguered wife as he entered the cabin. Clearly he was still taking umbrage from a pat-down an hour and a half previously because he didn’t follow the instructions at security. That’s the thing about terrorism: you can tell by looking at them whether they have a master plan to dismantle western democracy. All airport security should simply be this man of sat on a barstool at the departure gate, picking out wrong ‘uns.
So three seconds into our encounter, I thought he could certainly compel me to commit an atrocity. He seemed to have so little concept of what an aeroplane is or does. I thought he might flip out completely when we actually take off.
As we waited for taxi and takeoff, he compounded his crimes. The flight was entirely full: he responded by pretending that he was the only passenger, and affected bewilderment when he opened a locker and found it already packed with luggage. He put his bag on his lap until a stewardess told him to stow it. He sighed, and opened another locker. Seeing it full of an oxygen tank broadsided him for a second. A large sign said: ‘OXYGEN TANK. Do not use this locker for storage.’ He pummelled his bag into the gaps.
Throughout the flight, he’s incapable of sitting back without flopping into his seat juddering the tray table behind him. And he brought a carry out from Pret, ignorant that whatever you think about Delta, you cannot step off the plane without feeling fed. He ‘drank’ his nut and seed mix from the packet. Not the behaviour one would normally associate with a Telegraph reader.
Know your place, I say: don’t take the arrogance of first class into premium economy, there just isn’t the room.
Somewhere over Canada, a man in a pilots outfit heads towards the back of the plane. Immediately afterwards we hit a ripple of turbulence. It creates the perfect impression of the controls being abandoned. At least I hope it’s an impression.
I changed at Atlanta to fly down to Key West. Internal flights have wifi on board, and I was just tutting that it hadn’t been switched on when we hit a pocket of violent turbulence and I readjusted my priorities, not to say my stomach.
‘Flying is the safest form of transport in the world,’ my mother said. ‘Text me to let me know you’ve arrived safely.’ She doesn’t ask for a similar courtesy to be extended when I skip down to the shops in Hackney, so I don’t think she believes her own words.
Touching down on the short runway at Key West, the arrivals lounge is the size of a decent garage, with a bar to soothe the stunned while you await your luggage. The weather is Floridian from the get-go: close, humid, warm. Ideal for sitting out in, less good for doing actual physical labour, which is why it attracts writers. There’s nothing a sensitive person can do that’s more strenuous than dabbing at a typewriter while someone fetches you a mint julep.
Dinner was at Michael’s, and the name of the place hints at the laid back style of the place. Key West’s signature dish is the conch fritter (pronounced ‘conk’ which I hadn’t realised because although William Golding taught my English teacher English, when we read The Lord of the Flies, one of literature’s most famous McGuffins remained sadly mispronounced by the entire class, Mr Grant and all.)
Conch fritters are fishy, with a hint of spice and heat. Everybody does them, apparently, so Michael’s were an essential bar-setting start to the trip. To follow, I thought I’d go for a seafood crêpe (shrimp, scallops, crab) and ‘Our Salad’ to follow. Our salad had strips of ham, a boiled led egg, more shrimp… I’d tried for the lighter option, plumping for fibre and vitamins over the siren call of anything more fancy, and forgot that in America, there is no light option. I had to finish with a peppermint tea, as my body had taken enough hits for the day. It would’ve been worth the indigestion if I’d got it though: the crêpe tasted of tropical seas, the salad an ideal blend of crunchy leaves and chewy proteins.
Walking back to the hotel past square wooden houses, many with the doors left open to catch the soft breeze, I could feel the stresses of the journey had already lifted from my shoulders.