Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

A free bit of pre-marital counseling for you August 13, 2008

V by church outside Bath, England (apologies to the owner of the tombstone I had to use to prop up my camera)

V by church outside Bath, England (apologies to the owner of the tombstone I had to use to prop up my camera)

Bath, England street scene - a rare sunny moment

Bath, England street scene - a rare sunny moment

If you are considering proposing to or otherwise permanently committing to another person, take a trip to England, rent a car without a navigation system, print out some spotty Google maps directions, and navigate your merry way to Swindon, Bath, Stonehenge, and Avebury Circle. Feel free to grab a map at the rental office, not that it will help.

Then, assuring neither of you is left-handed or originally from Great Britain, take turns driving and navigating (unless you enjoy migraine headaches and near-death experiences, do not try to do both). Then, sit back and take turns raging, criticizing, and generally freaking out on one another. Enjoy!

If you can make these journeys WITHOUT that happening:

  1. You are saints

  2. You are not human

  3. You should definitely get married

  4. Hell, write a book on how to be more like you while you’re at it.

Fortunately for me (and anyone close to me), I am on this voyage on my own, so I had only myself to blame. Further fortunately for myself, I am pretty supportive of my own efforts much of the time, and try to self-soothe with such banter as,

  • “You’re doing great.”
  • “Lots of people drive around with the emergency brake on.”
  • “Hey, you’re American. It’s a wonder you haven’t injured anyone. What more do they want?”
  • “So you had your high beams on the whole team. Nobody died.”
  • “Way to work that roundabout – and in third gear, no less!”
  • “You’re fine. Ignore them.”

Otherwise, I might still be pulled over on some English country road shaking and crying and considering slashing the tires so that someone will come and get me and drive me back to Heathrow. Let me just say, I regard it as a minor miracle that i somehow managed to get back from (truly) the middle of nowhere (if no street anywhere is identified with a name of any kind and it’s all just country roads, stone houses, and lush landscapes, you’re nowhere in my book), return my car, navigate the train and the Tube and be writing you now from London. Whew!

BTW, London (at least where I am – West End) is so much like Manhattan it isn’t even funny. Next door to the Gap is the H&M and Urban Outfitters. Don’t forget the Black Angus and Pizza Hut across the street.

Anyway, before I get any further into London, let me finish up my Bath misadventure story by noting that it’s truly a gorgeous city. Amazingly, stunningly so, I would know because I drove every square inch of it – twice – and got myself cornered in every dead end in town. At the same time, Bath also has THE LOUDEST pigeons on earth – Insane, rowdy, ridiculous, raucous pigeons. It sounded like a pigeon orgy out there: They were screaming, moaning, shrieking, cooing, and caterwauling all night long. I don’t know whether pigeons can have orgasms, but based on the noises I heard, I’m going to go with “yes.”

Of course, all this was only augmenting the ambient sound of people coughing and a guy that would work up to a snore so loud and annoying I thought I might have to climb out of my top bunk and kill him, and then he’d spontaneously fall silent for a few minutes.

This brings us to the subject of hostels. Six, eight, ten people in one room. Zero privacy. Group bed times. The weird freaking noises people make. The AWFUL beds – basically chicken wire with a few cotton balls on it. Yes, they’re damn cheap…and they should be.

Having had to quit my job to make this trip, I’m on a serious budget. The young version of me – the one that slept on trains every night so as to avoid spending any money – still lives and breathes. On the other hand, I’ve learned a thing or two. And if you don’t give the universe a chance to provide for you, how can it?

Thus, I’ve realized, to get all chummy with strangers and expose yourself like that when you’re young is one thing. I, however, am really not all that young. Which is why I’ve determined that there will be no further hosteling unless it’s a town that I’m passing through for just one night and if it’s f-ing close to the train station (this shit on my back is heavy). On the other hand, why am I making myself run around like this to a town a day? If there is anything worse than hauling your every belonging on your back like a gypsy and vagabonding to a new country every day, I don’t want to know what it is. Thus, the one-night stays will also be reduced if not outright eliminated.

A new era of sanity has begun! Amen.

 

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It’s a small world, afterall (and apologies if that’s now stuck in your head like it is mine) July 1, 2008

Okay, so now that you understand the diverse mix of critical and useless items contained in my cheap ass army/navy store external frame backpack, it’s time to talk about what happened next. Dressed like an extra on the set of Hair, I arrived – completely sleep deprived and first thing in the morning – at the Gatwick airport, and headed to downtown London. Also, and unrelated, does London have any kind of nifty nickname like the Big Apple, or Sin City, or the City of Lights, Beantown, or The Windy City or even The Town Too Tough to Die? I looked around, and came up with zilch…

Day One

Now here’s where I honestly can’t explain to you where I get my information: For some reason I was anticipating something akin to Charles’ Dickens’ London, replete with horse-drawn carriages, cobblestone streets, and gas lamps aplenty. Thus, you can imagine my horror at finding myself in a major metropolis rather like Manhattan. In fact, I was so overwhelmed, depressed, and just plain old exhausted, that I went and lay down on a park bench and slept. I am not exaggerating or making that up. Actually, I don’t know that I’ve ever admitted that to anyone, it being so out of character for me to completely abandon all common sense. Obviously, as a fairly cute 19-year old blonde, it was an incredibly dangerous and stupid (and, let’s be honest, homeless person-esque) move. Nonetheless, and happily, I survived.  Too cheap to pay the money to check my bag with an attendant at the bus station and not necessarily knowing where I was or where I was headed, I set out into the big city on foot.

I wandered by Westminster Abbey, but there was no time for tours. Plus, I hadn’t really had any practice carrying that bag around, and it was really freaking heavy. I started to realize that if someone pushed me over, I was likely going to be stuck that way for a long while.

Picture the scene: I’m feeling completely overwhelmed and even disheartened and a resounding inner dialogue of “What have I done!?!?” is not helping the situation. At one point, I realize my Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls have come loose from their place inside my sleeping bag, and a leg is dragging down the filthy sidewalk. So as I’m wandering down this insanely busy two-lane street  and trying to figure out what would be a good next move, I glance across and recognize a couple that lived upstairs from me in Santa Cruz. I swear. He always wore a black trench coat, and as a pair they were immediately recognizable. I start picking up the pace to keep up with them, and all the while I’m recollecting how she was an INCESSANT talker. I mean, the kind of person where you can not get a word in edgewise. However, I’m alone and poor in a huge, strange city and maybe they’re living here or could put me up or ??? But, then again, Angela really does run her mouth something fierce…

And at that moment they started to turn down a parallel street, and – for better or worse – I let them go. I know, I know. The odds of this are phenomenally small, and it really was an amazing coincidence, and how often in life does one get such an “in your face” of what a small world it is? On the other hand, if I hadn’t decided to let them continue on their merry way, I may have never spent all that time in lovely Liverpool.