Returning to London

Oh my what a strange day. I awoke this morning, to find the sun pouring into my room. Looking out the window, I saw not a single trace of fog in the air. It was as if San Francisco had decided on mocking me one last time.

I showered, dressed and packed my bags for the final time. I went outside to meet my airport transfer. A rather grumpy man, short with long grey hair, clumped together in a ponytail that was more like a single giant dreadlock. His driving scared me more then anything else I’ve experienced in America. I was sitting up front as I’d been picked up first and he said I’d be more comfortable. In reality all this meant was that I had a better view of the oncoming traffic as he overtook cabs from seemingly impossible positions. Ignored lights, pavements, pedestrians of anything else that may have slowed him down. With each further pickup, the doors would be slung open with such voracity that a straining crack could be heard as the doors reached the limits of their hinges. The van would then shake violently as the boot was slammed shut. Knowing glances were shared with the other passengers in the rearview mirror. The unspoken words were obvious – ‘I hope we get out of this alive’.

We eventually arrived at San Francisco International. With a screech of tires we pulled up. “All British Virgins get out now” he barked. It wasn’t a request. I looked at the terminal signs and spotted one that stated – British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic check-in desks with an arrow. I turned to my fellow passengers (victims?) and said, “anyone here on Virgin Atlantic”. Two lads put up their hands. “This is our stop, he’s not not casting aspersions”. Once the van had squealed away, one of the Brits said that suddenly he’d got over his fear of flying as he’s used up all his fear when we were on the freeway.

As I checked in the BA hostess asked if I’d like to make a little money on the flight. Now I’ll admit, my first thought was along the lines of, ‘is a BA stewardess about to ask me to be a drug mule’. “What would I need to do?” I asked. As it turns out, BA had oversold the flight. In return for me volunteering to miss my flight and catch the next, BA would pay me $400. As the next flight was only two hours after my own, I was quite happy to do this.

It’s a very strange feeling watching your flight arrive, be boarded and then take off without you. But it was only a two hour delay, and it meant that I could grab a seat in the departure lounge next to a powerpoint. BA were effectively paying me to browse the next and edit photos. Nice work if you can get it. Somehow, I’d also managed to spend a lot less money then I thought I would in the States. So last night, I booked a hotel in London and changed my flight back to Guernsey. This little windfall had already more then paid for that.

Eventually it came time to board my flight. Like the one before it, this was packed as well. I sat in my window seat and watched as we taxied to the runway. But we never made it there. We sat on the tarmac for a good half an hour until the pilot announced that we would have to return to the terminal to offload a drunken passenger that had tried to assault a steward. As soon as the gangway was connected, four cops walked onto the plane and headed down the aisles behind me. Then three more followed. Then finally another couple stood either side of the exit. The cops swiftly returned sandwiching a man that I had earlier stood directly behind and watched fumble with his passport as he tried to present it at security. He’d spent 5 minutes talking to the official then, becoming more and more animated as the official tried to move him on. When I presented my passport the official had said she’s not understood a word he’d said, but if he didn’t sober up in the next couple of hours he’s probably not get on whatever flight he was on. She was almost right.

For security reasons we had to wait as they removed the drunkards luggage from the hold. This done, we waited some more. Over 90 minutes had now passed since we began to taxi and people were starting to grumble. The pilot announced that as the plane had been in motion when the idiot took his swing at the steward, we had to await permission from the FBI before we could get moving. It was only later when we were airborne did it occur to me that this meant that every passenger on board was most likely vetted before we departed. When we eventually got airborne, we were nearly three hours delayed. If I had caught my original flight, I’d have been halfway to London by now.

My usual curse of being unable to sleep in moving vehicles came back to haunt me and by the time I arrived in London, I’d been up for a good 24 hours. Astoundingly my bag was the first off the conveyor belt and so I was off the plane and on the Heathrow Express in under 30 minutes.

My hotel in London is cheap, ideally placed, and tiny. Really tiny, with a wonderful view of a wall. At least I think its a wall. The window is one of those high placed frosted glass jobs that tend to be found in toilets. Its a hell of a difference from the Little America in Flagstaff. Most of the beds I’ve slept in over the last month, could not physically fit in here. But it is clean and tidy, and in that regard is all that I need.

I made the mistake of laying on the bed when I arrived. I awoke four hours later in pitch black, with a quiet moment of terror. Where was I, how did I get here, why is it dark and where the hell is the light switch? Once I gathered my wits, I went for a very short walk around the area. Such a short walk that I didn’t make it past the first half decent restaurant that I saw.

I stopped at the Golden Dragon Chinese. The food was tasty, cheap and came in a portion size that didn’t make me gasp. Around me the waitress scrubbed tables, breaking out into a line or two of Chinese songs. On another table a couple were having a thundering row. Tears were shed, voices were raised and the arguing only stopped for the occasional “what the fuck you looking at” if newcomers so much as glanced in their direction.

I stepped out into the cramped streets, the slight drizzle and noticed the folded out cardboard and crushed cans of Special Brew where the tramps had settled in for the night. Three cop cars went past, sirens blaring, lights ablaze. I was back in London once again.

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