Capclave (Part One – Getting There)

When it comes to travelling to cons, Fate has a habit of trying to dissuade me. The first con I went to – someone threw themselves in front of my train. The second con – the French train drivers called a wildcat strike and walked off my train. This time I was prepared. We set off a day early incognito and spent the night at an airport hotel in Paris.

Fate, though, was waiting. When we arrived at CDG, our flight to Washington was running ten minutes late. Not too bad, I thought. We had three hours to kill so we went and had breakfast … and when we returned, the flight was fifteen minutes late.

Being an optimistic plane, it kept to its story of running fifteen minutes late all the way up to the time we were supposed to board. Then every five minutes it added an extra five minutes to the expected boarding time. The priority passengers were called to start queuing … then told to return to their seats … then told to board. Yay! Apparently the plane had failed some very minor safety check – and who needs four engines anyway – but the problem had now been solved and the upper deck was ready for all those first class flying folk.

Twenty minutes later – with all the first class passengers aboard – silence once more descended. No one else was being called to board. The main deck hadn’t passed its safety check and no one knew when it would, or if. I wondered if the A380 airbus was like the Enterprise. Could the bridge and upper deck undock and fly off to Washington on their own?

Fifty minutes later we were told that the problem had been solved – an over-enthusiastic smoke detector had been discovered in the crew toilet. It had been reprimanded – after all, this was a French airline and no one French could possibly be expected to last eight hours without a cigarette!

We set off two hours late. I had a panel at 7pm and our ETA at the hotel was now 6pm. That is, if I made it past US Immigration. Not many people talk about the War Against Farmers. The War Against Terror – headline news. But on the same document that asks the telling question – ‘Do you intend to commit any acts of terrorism while in the United States?*’ – there’s the sinister – Are you, or have you ever been a farmer? Everyone entering the USA has to fill in this form. And it doesn’t stop at ‘are you a farmer?’ There’s ‘Have you spent any time on a farm? Have you handled any livestock recently? Are you in possession of an apple?’

We smallholders have been told to answer ‘no’ to these questions and hide our rustic accents. Some farmers are even issued with special passports – with all the pictures of cows scratched out. There’s even a rumour about an unnamed internment ranch in Cuba that awaits anyone who admits a familiarity with cloven animals or is caught carrying more than three Cox’s Orange Pippins (one or two is deemed personal use, but three is definitely dealing)

We spent an hour with US Immigration. We were fingerprinted, photographed and had sniffer dogs search us for forbidden fruit. Our shoes were examined for traces of farmyard manure.

But we passed. We found the Washington Flyer, exactly where it was supposed to be and on time. Then came the metro. Now, is it just us or is there something weird going on with the Washington Metro? Are they in financial problems? Frightened of being sued by vampires? The reason I ask is that all the underground stations appeared to be using emergency lighting. Passengers were dark shapes in the gloom. I’m used to the Paris Metro or the London Tube where stations are awash with light. Dark platforms are deemed dangerous places where muggers would lurk. But no one on this metro seemed to mind. And it didn’t feel in the slightest way a dangerous place to be. Just strangely dark. Perhaps the citizens of Washington eat a lot of carrots.

We arrived at the hotel jetlagged and with 30 minutes to spare. My plan had been to spend an hour in the bar before the first panel to lubricate my little grey cells. Now I’d barely have time to shower and get changed. But wait… there’s a package for me in reception. Jen Stevenson has sent me a box of exotic chocolate – including bacon chocolate, Icelandic chocolate and a slab of freshly dug brown rock from a genuine chocolate mine – at least that’s it what it looked like to me.

And even Fate is powerless in the presence of chocolate.

Next week: Capclave (Part Two – Being There)

* Has anyone besides George Washington ever been caught out by this question? I cannot tell a lie. I intend to raise an army and throw out the government.


Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novelette, What Ho, Automaton! was a finalist for the 2012 WSFA Small Press Award for short fiction. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
An Unsafe Pair of Handsa quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?
Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.
What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth?

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Capclave (Part One – Getting There) — 7 Comments

  1. The Chocolate Fairy visited you! Isn’t it a marvelous feeling? So glad you were not eaten by the Old Ones who run HSA. We would have had to stage a rescue, and since I’m what I believe is called “lawful good” (A $#@@@$% in these times) the breakout planning would have started from scratch.

    Hope you had a wonderful visit!

    • Chocolate is always good:) I had a great time at Capclave and got to meet Brenda and Mindy (who I’ve known for years but never met in person before)

  2. DC Metro stations are always dark, but they are generally safe. The Metro Police are always there to protect the public should someone try to eat something in the station or while riding on a train and they will definitely arrest people in wheelchairs who use four-letter words on discovering that the elevator is once again out of service. No one will spill their coffee on you on the DC Metro and your sensitive ears will not be injured by the complaints of someone who cannot take the stairs (or even the escalator, should it happen to be working) and does not want to spend the rest of their life in a Metro station. Someone may stand up and preach, though.

    I am glad you survived both airline delays and your contact with U.S. Immigration. I shudder at dealing with U.S. Immigration and I’m a U.S. citizen with both passport and birth certificate to prove it and way too chicken to try to get anything past a border guard.

      • Apparently so. The above ground stations aren’t dark, but they make up for it by being tiled with something that gets very slick when it rains or shows.

        Though despite all my complaints, I miss the DC metro since I moved to the land of the automobile.

  3. I believe that every third fluorescent bulb was removed from the Metro stations, along about the last energy crisis but one. Their initial design (the cavernous concrete waffle-iron look) did not foster energy efficiency from the outset, and penny pinching was supposed to help. The idea is that you can’t actually read in the stations anyway, since there is no place to sit down. Once you are in the cars it is well-lit and there are allegedly seats.
    In spite of being mostly underground the system is also as sensitive as a Victorian heroine, collapsing in a swoon whenever it rains hard or snows heavily. However, in spite of these problems it is still way, way, better than driving your car. Yesterday there was a 3-hour tie-up on the Beltway.

  4. On the question — it’s the little thing at the bottom that’s the trick. Where you swear under penalty of perjury that everything you said is true.

    That way they can always nail you for perjury even if the question they asked about was not actually a crime, or was not committed in the US.

    I know — a government having some method to its madness — how peculiar.