London Calling

tubemapThere was no fanfare waiting at the airport – not a British flag in site, no band playing God Save the Queen. The airport seemed quite ordinary, other than signs that read Way Out and Mind your Bags.  Two security guards chatted and as we passed them.  I picked up their British accents. Slowly, things began to feel foreign.

We grabbed our packs from the carousel and headed toward customs – something I dreaded ever since seeing Midnight Express. Would I have to strip down naked in a cold, concrete walled room and stand with my hands behind my head while mustached guys in uniforms tossed my tighty-whities about?

Thankfully, it was more like checking into a hotel.

“You didn’t put your local address.” Our agent said, all the while tapping her eraser on the little card we filled out on the airplane.

“Ooops, Sorry” Donna grabbed it, scribbled the address of our hotel.

The interrogation continued. “What is the purpose of this trip?”

Donna and I stared at each other. With all the planning, we hadn’t thought of summarizing this experience into a single word.

“Holiday?” the agent suggested.

Donna started to nod, then I spoke up. “No, we are staying longer than one day.”

I felt a sharp nudged. “Jeffery, what we call a vacation – they call a holiday.” Our agent continued tapping.

“Sabbatical?” I suggested. Getting the name right was suddenly important to me. Calling it a vacation would have been like naming our first born “Boy.”

The eraser tapping got faster.

“Holiday.” Donna declared and I sighed. Regardless of my subtle disapproval, our agent stamped our passports and directed us toward a set of double doors.

They swung open to reveal a shockingly large crowd of people roped off to either side of our pathway. So many eyes were fixed on us that I felt like a rock star. We walked through eager elderly couples, anxious young women, and limo drivers holding cardboard signs – all serving as our unsuspecting welcome crew.

As we moved past them, new smells overwhelmed me – colognes, hygiene products, and floor cleaners – brands new to my senses, yet triggering memories from my past which began rapidly and quite randomly appearing in my head – the petroleum drifting inside from the street – my downtown pre-school. Perfume – the secretary in the school office. Underarm deodorant – fellow seventh-graders dressing after gym class.

Donna stood in line at the taxi counter while the kids and I watched our packs. A group of pretty young girls in matching t-shirts walked by and Alex pretended to look the other way as his eyes studied them. A well dressed woman walked by escorted by two men. Chris and Jill erupted in laughter. “What?” I asked. They instructed me to carefully look to my left where I spotted an odd looking man who appeared desperately lost.

“Doesn’t he look like Mr. Bean?”

Donna returned. “Here you go, Honey” She handed me a brochure. The cover looked like a pot of multi-colored spaghetti.

“What’s this?”

“A subway map’”


“Figure it out – it’s the only we’re getting to our hotel.”

“What about the taxi?”

“They only seat four and we’d have to take two – that would cost a fortune.”

Another stinging jolt shot through me. The taxi ride was a major part of our first day plans, “easing” us into this ordeal by providing doorstep service to our hotel. Now we’d have to lug our heavy packs through London’s subway system and search for the damn place. My muddled, sleep deprived mind was not up for this. My Tahoe seemed so far away.

I just wanted to point my remote at something and press pause.

NEXT: Could You Tatoo the DIrections on My Arm?


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