DriftingI can still remember everything I felt when the plan to move to London was solidified. I was ecstatic, nervous, apprehensive but mostly energized. I had so much to do. I have never been one to attach myself to things and though I love having livings just as the next person does, I can also love not having them. I listed the more expensive items such as my television, VCR, furniture, etc. in the newspaper classifieds and everything else I gave away.
When my small apartment was empty but the items I was planning on taking with me, I lay on the empty, lonely floor of the living room and closed my eyes. All my life I had been drifting from one place to another, from one relationship to another and from one situation to another. At this moment in my life, I let all these moments of drifting culminate inside my mind. Decision A led me to destination B and so on. I tend to suffer from wanderlust and the suffering was more intense at that point in my life than it is now. I have always had within me the desire to go off and explore, see new things and experience something new. Never could I have dreamed that desire to be so satiated as it was then.
All Packed!I wanted exactly one bag to take with me to London and that’s what I ended up with. Well, the one bag to go under the plane. I thought I would be clever and purchase an extra-large duffle bag so it would accommodate everything I planned on bringing which was just clothes and my Case Logic cases of CD’s. It’s funny. As I type these words I am transported back to Target where I was searching through bags and comparing sizes. This bag was around $80 but there were smaller, cheaper sizes. I felt I should invest in the larger size because, as mentioned, I wanted ONE bag.
The duffle I purchased was dark purple and was about 6 feet long! It did the trick though. I placed a layer of clothing across the bottom and then some clothing at each end, the Case Logic cases in the middle and an extra layer of clothing on top. I sandwiched in my toiletry bags where I found space. The idea was I would carry this on my shoulder but that idea did not work out as planned – unless I wanted to permanently walk like Quasimodo. Instead I had to carry it sideways with a small carryon bag and my Pioneer boom box nestled snugly (and hopefully securely) on top.
As already mentioned, I do not attach myself to things but there is one material item that I don’t think I could live without and that is recorded music and some sort of mechanism to play it on. I had a fine collection of LP’s and 45’s as early as age ten and then as I grew older, a collection of tapes, soon after a collection of CD’s and now, quite conveniently (when it comes to being mobile) a digital music collection. I must say there is a strong part of me that wishes digital music was as prevalent then. Traveling with cases of CD’s is cumbersome.
I had ditched all the jewel cases long before the trip to London in favor of large Case Logic cases that carried in all, a couple hundred CD’s. Remember the wanderlust I mentioned? Prior to this trip to London, I traveled to Texas, Florida and Rhode Island and each time I would ship all my CD’s – jewel cases and all – to wherever I went. Large groups of CD’s are heavy so not only was it expensive to ship them but also, each time several would end up damaged. I had to find a better way so I sacrificed all the cases.
Time to Fly!
Because there was no direct flight to London, I had to fly to New York first and then change flights to get to London. Back then, they were not as strict as they are now about carry-ons. I absolutely had to have my boombox as carry-on along with my other small travel bag. There were no problems the first part of the trip from Denver to New York as there was plenty of room and the boombox was safe and secure right above me. The next leg of the trip turned out to be a bit more challenging.
I had plenty of time before my connecting flight so I found a nice, comfy, out of the way spot to sit down and rest my eyes. I had not eaten since earlier that morning so I looked around for a place to grab a bite and use the rest room, etc. I didn’t fancy carrying my boombox and carry-on around with me so I looked around and decided I would ask the nice looking older couple next to me if they wouldn’t mind looking after my things. I was startled by their response.
“Look after your own bloody things!” said the man. (The couple was English)
“The nerve!” said the woman.
I just looked at them incredulously. I thought for a moment they were joking but they weren’t. I then looked at my bags then looked around me and decided I would chance it. I quickly made my way to the rest room, grabbed something quick from McDonald’s and rushed back to my abandoned property. I did a spot check and everything was there. I then thanked the couple — which was met with looks of bewilderment — and moved away from them. Unbeknownst to me but this type of encounter would become more common during my stay in England. Most English don’t really care for Americans and they are not shy in making that abundantly clear.
All Aboard Virgin Atlantic to London!
When I booked my trip, I was very careful as to which airline I chose to get me to London. I used United from Denver but I had many options to get me to London. There wasn’t really a proper Internet so I had to call all the various airlines and each one was more or less like the other until I called Virgin Atlantic. First, the lady who answered the phone was British – nice touch I thought – and she was actually pleasant to speak with. The prices were very reasonable but what sealed the deal for me was that they had individual viewing screens for every passenger – AND – each seat had their own private Super Nintendo built in! This was 1995 so not every airline had the individual screens yet. Most had the hanging TV’s and you connected your headphones and watched whatever was playing. On Virgin, you could control what you watched AND you could play Super Mario all the way to London. Yes, please and thank you!
As I boarded the plane, I was taken aback. This was my first time on a 777 and I was amazed by the sheer size of it all. Three columns of seats that seemed to go on for miles. Sadly, I was in the middle section. Important note here, if you book a flight overseas, you will most likely be on a 777. Avoid the middle section at all cost. The worst is to be in the middle of the middle. Unless of course, you are in the very first row of the middle section, then that’s fine. You will have plenty of leg room as there will be no one in front of you.
When I found my seat, my overhead area was full. I did manage to find a spot for my bag but my boombox would not fit anywhere. I started to panic. What if they make me put it under the plane? I thought to myself. I decided I would hold it on my lap. No one would notice. Well, as people were settling in and the flight staff were surveying everything with their hawk-like vision during their march up and down the plane, I was noticed.
“Sir, you have to stow that in an overhead compartment” she explained nicely.
With as pathetic a voice as I could muster, “But, there’s no room anywhere”.
“Let me see if I can find a spot.” She took the boom box and disappeared toward the front. When she came back she told me my boombox was safe and sound in first class and she would retrieve it for me when we landed.
What incredible service! I then grew jealous of my boombox. It was having the time of its life in first class no doubt enjoying lobster and champagne cocktails while I sat, cramped in the middle of the middle of the middle of the plane. I was living my own version of the train ride described by Johnny Cash in the song “Folsom Prison”. The resentment began to wear off as we were taxiing out of the gate, meandering toward the runway and then lift-off! I was on my way to London!
What I SHOULD have done at that point was go to sleep but Mario was waiting for me to guide him through Dinosaur Island, the Donut Plains, the Forest of Illusion, etc. Princess Toadstool needed me! As soon as it was turned on, I started playing and did not stop until they shut it off just before landing. I nearly made it to the end. Alas, the rescue of the princess will have to wait for another day.
Upon arrival, I am sure I looked a wreck. I hurried to the bathroom before the ‘ding’ went off and the small mirror confirmed my suspicions. Bloodshot eyes with dark circles under them were staring back at me. I looked like Uncle Fester – but with hair. I freshened up as best I could, brushed my teeth and headed back to my seat. I fished some Visine and gum from my bag, ensured my seat was in its upright position and prepared for touch down. I was officially in London, England!
I have a friend who is currently on a very similar journey. He has left London to spend a year in New York. I hope to share some of his stories in the future but for now, I leave you with this photo of his first residence in a foreign land.
- An American in London Chapter I
- Autumn Reflections in Parallel