Start as You Mean to Go On


Jamie and I got married in February so we could go somewhere hot for our honeymoon. I don’t remember any of Jamie’s suggestions, but I was holding out for Hawaii. As a little girl I had been addicted to the televised exoticism of Hawaiian Eye and Hawaii Five O, but after visiting the islands with my parents a few years before I was completely seduced by the warm sand, the clear water, the waving palms, and the relaxed atmosphere so we booked three weeks at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach.

Our wedding was fantastic but the reception was interminable. No one wanted to go home. The band kept playing so the guests kept dancing for two hours longer than my dad had presumed people would desire to linger.  Since we weren’t leaving for Hawaii until early the next afternoon we had no excuse to leave, so we stayed and stayed.

When we finally made it to our hotel, we no longer resembled the shiny top-of-the-wedding-cake bride and groom we had been that morning. It had flurried and the dampness had made my hair curl weirdly; I had raccoon eyes. The eight-foot train of my elaborate Victorian gown had long since snapped the satin buttons meant to contain it and it crawled after me like bedraggled and recalcitrant swan as I staggered from the limousine. Jamie’s tie and cummerbund were crumpled and stuffed in his jacket pockets; his shirttails billowed behind him like a sail in the winter wind as he accepted the congratulations of the doorman. We looked exactly like what we were – exhausted newlyweds.

The desk clerk took one look at our disheveled appearance and nudged her manager. Seeing this I panicked, thinking momentarily that I hadn’t actually made the wedding night reservation; perhaps I had only imagined that I had. Oh, shit. Oh, please don’t let me have forgotten to make the reservation, I prayed silently; I just cannot face going outside to hail a taxi then driving to my parents’ house for our wedding night.

It turned out that I hadn’t forgotten, however, neither had I informed the hotel that the room was for our wedding night. The desk clerk was surprised to see us and wanted to upgrade us; the manager agreed. The nattily dressed bellman led us to the Secretary of State Suite, which took up most of one of the top floors of the hotel. It was breathtaking, decorated in muted blues and creamy beiges, and with more rooms than our Upper West Side apartment. Sinking into the plush pile of the carpet and staring through the glass wall at the view of the entire city twinkling beneath us, I rather thought I might like to honeymoon there. As lovely as the suite was, though, we didn’t get to enjoy it long past our room service breakfast, as my parents were coming to take away the formal clothes and drive us to the airport.

The flight was long but mostly uneventful; I had never flown First Class before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were a few more honeymooning good wishes (the crew presented us with a bottle of champagne upon disembarkation) and then we watched movies and dozed. It was early evening when we landed at the open-air Honolulu International Airport and immediately upon reaching the baggage claim felt the sultry island atmosphere.

We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. I had chosen the historic Royal Hawaiian on Kalakaua Avenue specially because it aligned perfectly with my romantic image of Hawaiian honeymoons and it had ever since I had first seen it in From Here to Eternity. It was one of the oldest hotels on the island, a huge pink stucco structure built by Matson Lines in the Moorish style; it had acres of landscaped grounds, a garden, a pool, the Cazimero Brothers performing in the dining room, and that world famous beach just outside.

I grabbed my tote bag and scrambled out of the taxi as soon as we pulled under the porte cochere. While Jamie and the doorman handled the luggage I entered the open, airy lobby. I was so thrilled to be there I was practically vibrating. Although it was still early evening, the time change coupled with the excitement of the past twenty-four hours was making me quivery.

Jamie and I held hands in the elevator as we followed the bellman to our spacious room in the original section of the hotel. After the bellman left I snapped off the air conditioning and swung open the balcony doors, then threw myself on the king-sized bed and gazed outside. The azure waves weren’t crashing but lapping gently at the nearly-empty sand and glittering in the fading gold and pink light of the setting sun. King palms swayed gently in the slight evening breeze. Musicians were playing soft island music in the barefoot beach bar under and slightly to the left of our window. It was an abrupt change from polar New York. In minutes I was asleep.

Jamie, however, was unpacking. He has never been able to enter a hotel room, toss the suitcases on the bench and relax. Or go out. Somehow he finds it impossible to do anything except unpack. It must be some deep-seated neurosis because it is the same thing he does with the groceries when we return laden with bags from the supermarket.

He woke me when he was done. “You hungry?”

I pushed my hair from my forehead and yawned. “Yeah, sort of.”

“Do you want dinner?”

“Mmmmmm, yeah, but not a lot,” I had eaten quite a bit on the plane. I glanced out the window at the sky; it was a deep grey darkening to velvety midnight blue. “ Do you want to just get room service?”

Jamie thought for a moment. “No, but I am too tired to shower and change for the dining room. Do you want to go for a walk and see what we see?”

“Sure.” I rose from the bed and turned toward the spotless dresser in the immaculate room. There was no sign that there had ever been luggage here. “Where are my shorts?”

We exited the hotel and turned right onto Kalakaua Avenue. The stores were closing and the sidewalks weren’t as busy as they would be during the day. We wandered along the street front and past the one hundred year old banyan tree anchoring the International Market, peering into darkened shop windows and hearing snatches of music from restaurants and bars. After about a half hour the events of the week began catching up to us and we were both exhausted. Having reached the end of the byzantine Market path we turned to face each other.

“Anything in here interest you?” I asked.

Jamie shook his head. “Not really. Not for dinner, anyway. That cinnamon bun place smelled great, though, didn’t it?”

I laughed. “Yeah, but not for dinner.”

“It can’t be; it’s closed. I’ll stop by early tomorrow morning. You’ll still be asleep.” His voice sounded hopeful in the dim tiki torchlight.

I pulled his hand. “Come on. We’ll worry about that tomorrow. I want to eat something light soon or I will chew up the pillow in the middle of the night.”

We wandered back through the Market and crossed the street, then entered a small open-air shopping center near a huge fountain in front of a Borders Books. Jamie thought it might be a short cut. Everything was locked and dark except for a rectangle of light at the far end of the plaza, so we followed that. Reaching it we saw that it was a small old-fashioned coffee shop called The Princess Kauilani. We both smiled simultaneously and looked at each other.

“Here?” Jamie gestured with his left hand, the hand that was holding my right one.

“Sure. Why not?”

“You don’t want something fancier for the first dinner of our married life?”

I thought. “Technically last night was the first night of our married life and we had a pretty fancy dinner at the country club. Are you sure you don’t want something fancier on the first night of our honeymoon?”

“No. But I am not the sentimental one.”

I grimaced. “Don’t I know that?” I muttered ruefully.

“Come on,” he yanked my hand and reached for the glass door.

So we went in, chose a booth, and had BLTs for dinner on the first night of our married life. And it was perfect.

The British have a saying; ‘Start as you mean to go on.’ So we did. We have had a lot of posh vacations and an even greater number of humble dinners in the past twenty-seven years. And we are still here.

To London, To London

photo“The whole thing is actually tremendously exciting. Not just getting on the plane, but getting on the plane and turning left.”

Jean Ainslie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 Jean Ainslie, the wife of a retired civil servant in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is correct; when entering a jumbo jet, turning left into First Class is a lot more fun than turning right and bumping your carry-on along the rows until you reach a tiny Economy seat. In First Class the vacation begins with the journey, not with the retrieval of your suitcase at the destination’s baggage carousel.

Because Jamie flew back and forth from New York to Los Angeles so often, he had surpassed Frequent Flyer status; he was more like Constant Flyer. In addition to the weekly cross-country trips, he also consulted with other studios in Michigan, New Mexico, London, and Dubai. His millions – literally – of air miles ensured that every vacation we planned began with our entering the plane and turning left.

Jamie had been working with some executives at a studio in England just before the Presidents Day holiday, so he suggested I join him in London for a four-day weekend. He booked me on British Airways’ Friday night flight from JFK to Heathrow at the same time he made his own reservations from LAX. I was looking forward to the entire trip. Not only would I be in London – one of my favorite cities – but also I would be carried there by my favorite airline.

I like BA’s transatlantic service so much that I would happily do commercials for it. The evening begins with a freshly prepared dinner in the white-liveried restaurant section of the modern airport lounge, followed by an escort to the gate. Once in flight, the attendants offer food, beverages, DVD players, magazines, cotton sleeping suits, shoe bags, and a pillow-top mattress cover during the turndown service when your large seat becomes a decent-sized flat bed. The staff is genuinely friendly and dedicated. It’s like checking into a flying 5 star hotel. Odd as it sounds, I was at least as excited to spend the night in the plane as I was to check in to the Connaught the next morning.

I knew I would enjoy every minute of this mini-vacation. Not only is London full of great memories – when I was at Oxford, my classmates and I took the train down nearly every weekend to shop, eat at world-class restaurants, and see West End shows – but it is cosmopolitan and sophisticated with seemingly millions of things to see and do. This trip promised to be even more fun than usual because we were scheduled to see old friends from New York who had relocated to Surrey.

On the evening I was scheduled to leave, I was bustling around, finishing my last minute packing when the phone rang. It was a representative from BA. In crisp Received Pronunciation, she apologized profusely then informed me that due to unscheduled but required maintenance, my flight was going to be delayed; she asked whether I’d like to be moved to the earlier flight. I explained that delays didn’t bother me as I had nowhere to go and nothing to do because this trip was a mini-break for me, not a business trip. After disconnecting, I kissed the cat and the dog goodbye, checked the instructions for the pet sitter one last time, and tossed my rollerboard in the car. For once, the traffic wasn’t hellacious and in no time I was checking in at the BA counter.

“Good evening, Mrs. Cella,” the ticketing agent chirped. “I see that you have been informed that your plane will be delayed for an hour and a half and that you have chosen t remain on board this flight. Is that correct?”

I nodded.

She reached into a folder and pulled out a packet. “To thank you for your patience, we have a voucher for a complimentary massage at the spa upstairs.”

“A massage?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes, madam. Since we have inconvenienced you we’d like to make your wait a little nicer.”

“You didn’t inconvenience me. I wasn’t going anywhere on a schedule, anyway. I’m not travelling on business. I am going to meet my husband in London but he isn’t even there yet. Really, you aren’t inconveniencing me at all.”

“Thank you, madam; that is very kind of you to say so, but we at British Airways know you have a choice and want to earn your satisfied custom.”

I accepted the envelope in a daze. They had ensured my satisfaction by letting my husband collect enough bonus miles to allow us fly First Class. With the gate escort. With the pillow-top mattresses. With the freshly brewed Earl Grey tea and piping hot scones thick with Devon cream and ruby strawberry jam served on the plane. The massage was above and beyond. I was going to take it, of course, but it was still over the top.

I found my way to the spa, enjoyed my massage, and wandered back to the First Class Lounge for dinner. I read my book for a bit. Eventually the gate escort came for me. We bypassed the crowds, entered the plane, and turned left. The cabin was empty. There was no one there but a flight attendant. Hmm. Well, maybe I was the first to board. The flight attendant led me to my seat where I sat down, took off my shoes, and switched on the reading lamp. No one else entered the cabin. When the steward returned with my tea I asked where the other passengers were.

“I’m afraid that it’s just you tonight, madam,” he replied arranging my digestive biscuits artfully on a small plate.

“Just me? Why?”

“All of the other travelers chose to take the earlier flight after learning that this one was delayed.”


He nodded. “As a result, you have three attendants to grant your every wish this evening.”

“Wow. It’s like being one of the super-rich with my own plane,” I giggled.

He smiled as he spread his arms wide. “Whatever you desire,” he said.

I laughed. “Except I am afraid that you will be disappointed in me. I don’t desire anything except to go to sleep since it’s nearly midnight.”

“In that case, madam, I will procure your sleeping suit and make up your bed immediately. Then, however, I must leave you to help in the other two cabins since it is not really fair on the other attendants that I have so little work to do this evening. Regardless, if you need anything, just press that little button right there and I will return,”

“Oh, no problem, really. I will be asleep in no time.”

“Then I will take your breakfast order and leave you to it.”

So that’s what happened. I changed into my BA-issue pajamas and fell asleep, waking only when the cabin lights began to shine slightly and the aroma of brewing tea danced around my nose.

After landing, I caught a taxi and met Jamie at the hotel on Carlos Place in Mayfair. The flight had been such a non-adventure that it became an adventure, something worth remembering. Departure had been delayed, it’s true, but it was handled so graciously that it caused no annoyance; there was no loss of anything, really, except for the irritation that generally accompanies such eventualities and who misses extra aggravation? I had had a great time from the moment my feet hit the carpeted departure lounge.

London was as wonderful as always. We shopped, ate well, and saw Carole and TR for the first time in several years. It was a delightfully uneventful weekend from start to finish. And that is why I remember it so fondly so many years late.