An Eejit Abroad: Gray Matter Travel Restrictions
By Conor Makem
‘That’s the smell of Ireland,” I said to myself as I hauled plastic bags out of the grocery store one recent morning before the sun had truly crested the horizon. Perchance it was just the scent of morning and overnight rain, but there was also a hint of smoke in the air. It made me realize how much I’ve missed traveling this year.
The pandemic has me pacing back and forth around the old homestead, wiping out my memories of better times and as such, I’ve been trying to recall my last trip to Ireland. There are only bits and pieces of crumbling reel to reel memories left stuck inside the crevices of the dusty old cobwebs of my gray matter.
I recall the excitement of watching the Aer Lingus Airbus pull up to the gate at Boston’s Logan Airport for our last trip a lifetime ago. “That’s us,” I told Libby, who rolled her eyes as if she were bestowing upon me the “Most Bleeding Obvious Award for Outstanding Obviousness Award (presented by the Department of Redundancy Department).”
We had planned ahead and ponied up the extra dough for the front seats near the entrance so we wouldn’t have some dolt in front of us dropping his seat into our laps the nanosecond the front wheels left the tarmac. There was the ethereal boarding music, Enya, I believe.
Then the red headed cartoon man showed all the befuddled passengers how easily they could unlock their safety belts and was shocked, himself, to find out that smoking was prohibited. He stored his briefcase in a cavernous area under the seat before him that, in reality is only big enough for the front half of your shoes?
The first thing I always do on the trans-Atlantic flight to Ireland is to check the entertainment in the latest issue of Cara. I’ll not say this lightly, Cara isn’t bad at all when compared to magazines on U.S. airlines, which all seem to assume that everyone is really into golf and business acquisitions.
However, Aer Lingus is a big fan of pop music, and I’m not talking the Monkees crooning out an old Neil Diamond hit for the 98 percent of adults on the plane, no. They prefer the kind that makes even tweenagers ask, “what’s this load of bullocks?” But I digress, because I’ve been informed that I’m a crusty old man and people like all sorts of music. Ah well.
Thank the stars Aer Lingus gives you entertainment choices. Life was considerably more difficult crossing the pond when there was only the one video, but then again, they used to fill you up on all the bevvy you could stomach back then and didn’t ask for anything in return.
I recall one time when the flight attendant asked if I wanted another can of Guinness. I replied in the affirmative and she asked if I wanted two. I was a bit shocked, but I answered swiftly lest she see her blunder: yes.
Of course, now they sell me one, then come by to see if I’d like to purchase a second, and that’s it. I suppose with all the airline rage fueled by alcohol I can hardly blame them.
When I’ve settled on a movie to bear the brunt of the time, I move to the grub selections. Chicken or beef lasagna? Beef lasagna or chicken? Oh, the choices! Rather than waste valuable cranium calories, I opt to wing it whenever the cart comes by.
I always close my eyes for a bit, but I just can’t sleep on planes. Still, the evening flight for me generally rolls by pretty quickly and I start to get excited when they roll out the morning tea and snack. From the entertainment console, I turn on the route tracker and watch as the plane flies over the auld sod as it’s oftentimes too dark to see out of the window. It’s a glorious feeling when the plane reaches Irish airspace; the plea from Liam Neeson for Unicef on all of the tellies, the video tour of Dublin and environs.
I can only speak for myself when I say that it’s truly like coming home. I’ve spent most of my life in the States, but I was born in Drogheda and there’s something that feels natural about being there.
And then the wheels touch down and I know it’s going to be increasingly hard to stay awake, despite the adrenaline of a new trip. The direct flight from Boston lands at an ungodly hour and there’s still customs and immigration lines to endure, the car rental to pick up, the drive to the hotel as the sun is beginning to peek out…and then the wait.
A Full Irish Breakfast
Very few hotels will let anyone check in so early, so we generally leave off our bags at the hotel and head out for some breakfast. A full Irish is usually the ticket and to be truthful, it’s probably the only one I’ll have for the trip. That’s enough arterial blockage for a couple of weeks, says I.
The juncture after eating is the hardest, knowing that there’s a bed with my name on it that’s not quite ready. All of the experts advise one to stay up for the first day, at least as long as you can, but I’ve never had much luck with that, so I hit the bricks as soon as I can with an alarm set, so I don’t sleep past 2-3 p.m.
Then, as onerous as it is, I force myself to arise and stay awake as late as I can. Honestly, that first full night’s sleep might be the best thing that exists.
Staying off the booze for the day also helps…or so I’ve heard. It’s not until the following morning that I feel awake enough to appreciate anything.
Alas, it’s all but a memory. I’ll have to settle for early morning trips to the grocery store for now.
*Conor Makem spent 22 years traveling and honing petty gripes as an Irish musician, and enjoyed a further 13 years of people not returning his calls as a journalist. He is fluent in English, American and old Kerry farmer. More of his photos are on Instagram under cb.makem.