Thursday, June 13, 2013

Arriving in the Homeland

13 June 13

The rickets set in immediately. 

London hasn't seen the sun since the Norman Invasion and this day is  as cloudy as the day it was born. Dressed in black and gray, I match its gloomy countenance, my foreignness only given away by my excessively American Northfaced apparel.

Relatively well rested for an overnight traveler, and anxious to get my journey in order,  the moment the airplane aisle cleared I politely passed my seatmate whose Willy Nelson braid shifted softly in the aftermath of my departure. 

Customs stood unusually empty for one of the busiest airports in the world, and the UK welcomed me with open arms. Well, the cold, soulless, Dementor-like, open arms of the TSA.  Off to the train! The Tube ticket booth challenged me. The warning I received stateside proved true when the unmanned ticket booth refused to accept my American credit card, heartily backed by failing financial institutions. Thankful I had obtained GBP from the bank at home, I obtained a fare card to central London with minimal shame.

As I remembered, London's tube is tiny but immaculate. One of many touristas, I cradled my bag tightly to my body and apologized emphatically to everyone it tripped. The Cockfosters-bound Picadilly line train travelled through central London (as we Americans call "downtown"), and with a single Transfer deposited me a mere 300 meters from my hostel. Now I only had to conjure the ancient and antiquated rules of the metric system to understand how far that was. (A little US-centric joke for you all.)

On the flight, I had decided that I'd skip "dinner" in favor of sleep, and indulge in the ready-made breakfast I'd be served before landing in London, instead. Unfortunately, my eyes we still open when dinner service came around, and it just didn't feel right ordering a vodka sprite but refusing the sustenance. 

I poked at my mystery meat, in its appropriately mystery sauce,  inhaled a creepily warm roll encased in plastic, and took my chances on a plastic wrapped brownie that turned out to be award-winning. 

The low-grade cell-phone-sized tv on the back of the seat in front of me ( god I feel 21st century and spoiled saying that) refused to show anything in my native tongue and I took that as a sign to try to sleep. I turned it off, and in my trademark in-flight move, I pulled my hood over my eyes and wedged myself into a "sleep position."  After a couple of hours of repositioning and fighting the sandman, my body gave in. By the time I roused, Willie Nelson was licking his breakfast plate clean and the bright light of the morning illuminated the interior of the aircraft.

It was 130 (1330) when I arrived in the neighborhood of the Walrus- my bar/hostel on the South bank of London- 30 minutes prior to checkin time. After the predicable near-miss with a London double decker bus, I planted at a coffee house and order an unsweetened Americano. I was grateful for the caffeine, but I can admit that I was using this coffee house for its wifi. The wifi situation seemed simple enough. I confirmed the existence of the wifi with a sign on the door, checked with the barista that there was no password, and attempted to log in and contact my family and friends. Except, I can't. I obtained the login information and a contact code, and they asked me to confirm my code by test message. The text message is not a luxury I have here in phone-free London. I give up on wifi, and go back to the Americano. Ironic. I know.

I relax and try to bask in the moment - I am in a coffee shop, in London, hearing the joyous cacophony of Brits going about their business unbeknownst that they are in the presence of an interloper. 

Although I surely stick out, I savor my ability to drink espresso like this Is my side of the pond. 

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