Part I: Take Flight

HOUSTON, TX – A few months ago I was invited out to attend a festival. Nothing out of the ordinary save for this time it was in the Netherlands. Solar is a four day festival out in the woods from my understanding. I have been wanting to come to Europe for awhile, so this was a great excuse to rekindle old relationships with friends and loved ones.Getting around the world can be a taxing affair. Not only does it take a lot of time and energy toting bags around, standing in lines, finding transit from place to place, not having mobile communication; and oh… did I mention its expensive? For many years I have collected buddy passes, airline miles and special deals to make all of this possible. I hear people say all the time that it takes a lot of money to travel. Well I make enough money but I don’t make a ton of it. Its my belief that if you really want to go somewhere and travel the world then its mainly about your will to do so. This time was no different.

There are certain risks that are involved with traveling this way. There are a lot of obstacles to overcome. The most harrowing of the obstacles is not knowing exactly when you’re going to fly out. I’ve had to leave a country with 4 hours notice once just to get on a flight with an 18 hour layover that took a total of 36 hours to fly halfway around the world. Flying by buddy pass can also leave you stranded between cities arriving with your bags and sometimes not. Needless to say, I’m up for the adventure.

My original route to Holland was a 4 airplane journey. I would fly from Houston to Charlotte, to New York City, to London.  I was waiting on a rather large payment from a client to use to purchase my London to Holland plane ticket. Its a short flight and tickets are cheap. I had enough for the flight and transport so I was set. That was until I got the call at 4am Thursday morning. “I can only fly you to New York on Friday. I can change the London ticket so you will be good.” my ticket guy said. “What?!” I retorted. “I need to be in Holland on Friday.”I had to think. What was my contingency plan? Fly to Holland on Saturday and miss the main reason for coming or buy a ticket to NYC now and hope that my direct deposit goes through in time (considering the time change) to buy a ticket to Holland. Decisions… decisions. I’m weighing my thirst for travel and adventure against the realization I may not have the money in time. Fcuk it. Time to roll the dice.

I used what miles I have accumulated with United Airlines to lower the cost of a last minute flight to New York. No turning back now. Off we go. I hop on a plane to New York City and arrive in just enough time (30 minutes to spare) to board my London flight. My 6PM Thursday flight from New York gets me to London at 6AM Friday morning. That’s approximately midnight local Houston time. I figured the dd would be in my account by then and the journey would continue as loosely planned. I land, go through customs and pick-up my baggage. I should add, that due to me grinding out the edits to a couple of projects before I left, I had only 1 hour of sleep in a 48hour+ span. I was a bit loony.

Finally I get to the area of the airport where there is free Wi-Fi. I check my account. No money yet. No worries. I have a few hours till I need to be on a plane. Breathe and relax. Breathing is key to patience in moments that assuredly try it. But as I aforementioned, I was tired and a bit cranky. I started to unravel. Hours went by and the only thing that changed on my account were automatic deductions from Netflix and Spotify. It be came increasingly apparent that I wasn’t going to make this festival. At least not on the 1st day. It took a moment to accept it. Pouting about it would not help. It never does. So I started to look at the bright side… I’m in London!

Part II: Crash

LONDON – What was once considered a quick stop and change of planes became a city beckoning for its exploration. Might as well take advantage of it while I can. I grab my camera, check my bag into left-luggage and visit the ATM. In retrospect, maybe I should have taken a nap. After I get money from the ATM in the form of pounds I walk over to the charge station to power my phone for a bit.
Google Maps when traveling is one of your most important tools for traveling to unknown places. You can star all of your destinations before you set out and then save the map offline. It gives you bus, train, car and walking directions which allows you to make efficient use of your time. Gone are the days trying to decipher foreign outdated maps. I’m wearing a pair of cargo shorts with huge floppy pockets. The buttons are a bit hard to fasten so I’ve been wearing them hanging open a bit. Normally not a problem. That’s until I reach for my electrical outlet converter (another travel necessity). It is gone! Where could I have put it I thought? I searched for awhile and came up empty. “Damn.”, I have to spend another 6 pounds (roughly $10 USD) to get another one. Not that big a deal, but I’m on a limited budget until I get that deposit. I walk over to the counter to purchase one and reach for the pounds I procured from the ATM. I reach again. Like I said, 1 hour sleep in 50+ hours (at this point) will start to get to you. What the hell happened to my money? I lost all of it?? Inside of 5 minutes??! Breathe.

Now is time for the exercise of rejecting all negative thoughts. I couldn’t start thinking that some outside force was against me and dwell on how awful my luck was turning out. I knew the risks. Breathe. Luckily I still had enough money for a charger and an all-day rail ticket to explore London. “I’m ok.” I thought for I knew that at any moment my deposit would be in my account. I charged my phone, bought a day pass and took off to Central London with camera in tow. Ok… Let the adventure begin. As I’m sitting on the “tube”, what Londoners affectionately call their public train (for obvious reasons), just listening to all of the British accents a smile breaks out on my tired-looking face. The first smile since I took off from New York.

I enjoy watching Sherlock and Luther on BBC so this was truly a delight to be sitting among so many true Londoners. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the center of London or the King’s Cross Station. I didn’t know where to go or in which direction so I simply followed my instincts. I started walking towards the most magnificent looking buildings I could see. Camera at the ready I start to take pictures like the tourist I am. London Street Corner London Taxis St Pancras St Pancras Roof London Taxis Euston Street New Train Station under construction Construction Artwork Underground Wall coverings After a few blocks I see a guy standing along the sidewalk having a smoke. I decide to join him in hopes of a quick informative conversation. He points to a place down the road. I could half understand what he was saying. Yeah, we both speak English, but this was… well… England English.
I go a bit down the road. All of this walking and lack of sleep has become a drain on my energy. I need something to eat. Although your Mastercard/Visa may work in most places around the world, banks will charge you a fee just to convert the money over. I find this to be complete and utter bullshit. Who’s actually doing the work? A computer? Maybe my understanding of currency exchange is limited, but I just don’t see the justification of charging an additional $3 for each purchase other than to make an obscene amount of money off of people every single day. So the best way to keep from this happening repeated times is to take out a lot of money from the ATM. I’ll be more careful this time. My search for an ATM along Euston Street brought me to this hotel, The Pullman St Pancras. The hotel was pretty posh. Here I am in a pair of floppy cargo shorts, a pair of Converse, a backpack and a green shirt that reads “WHISKEY BENT & HELL BOUND”. Yeah, I fitted right in. Everyone has on suits and/or nice attire. I figure it’s just Londoners being fashionable.
I walk over to this large gentleman and ask him where I could find an ATM. He informs me that he is just working security for an event and I should ask the woman behind me. I approach the woman and before I could ask her where was the ATM she says to me, “Hi, you must be here for the event. Are you going on our shuttle? Just write your name down and we will leave in 5 minutes.” I was like… “Ok.” Soon thereafter I am ushered off with a small group of men (all wearing suits). I jump into this shuttle and sit in the back where I am joined by fellows named Tim Phillips and David Rios. Tim hails from Australia and David from Spain. It turns out that these are the past two year’s reigning “World Class Bartender of the Year”. David was passing around his book complete with his face on the cover for signatures from the other (unbeknownst to me) world famous bartenders. The guys were loving the story of how I had absolutely no business being on the shuttle. Intrigued with my sense of adventure they implored me to tag along. When we arrived at the destination (about a 10 minute drive) there was this very chic looking group of people waiting to receive us. Tim gave me an assumed name for check-in and that gained me entry into this prestigious affair. I explored the grounds just a bit not to stray too far away from my companions. That’s when it hit me. These guys were the guests of honor. They were due to speak to the crowd that was forming by the second.
The best part to me was that all of the drinks were free. Hell, I haven’t eaten yet but I’m sure I can find a bit of sustenance from a heavenly cocktail. I’m in full-on party-crasher mode at this moment.  Tim led me to the bar and handed me a drink menu. Well I’ll be damned. The bloke had a signature cocktail on the list. I would be remiss not to order his Strawberry Bramble. Damn it was tasty! I should expect no less from a world class bartender.
Bar Crasher Strawberry Bramble World Class World Class Mixer They then began to talk to the crowd passing the microphone around. I learned a few things about trends and methods involving bartenders. The excitement of the moment was enough to push me through not having slept; but not for long. As they kept yammering on about pre-mixed coctails vs. on the spot mixing I started to fade. I had to catch myself a few times as not to fall over flat in the middle of everybody. I just snapped photos like every other photographer in there to try and stay awake. It reminded me of economics class in high school. Finally, it was over. The gentlemen wished me luck as they got into a car. Leaving me with the nice lady from the hotel. As I was walking off a gentleman, Andrew Szwajkowski, approached me. This guy reminded me of a Guy Ritchie film. “Hey, I saw you taking pictures in there.” Damn, I thought. I was almost out of there without causing a fuss. “Are you a photographer?” My eyebrow raised as I confidently replied, “Yes. Yes I am.” “Great! Is there anyway I could possibly get your photos? My photographer was not on hand.” I instantly wished I would have gone all out in covering the event like I normally do because I could have charged him. I told him I’d send them to him and he seemed pleased. Here are the photos: 1 2 3 5 David Rios 7 Andrew Szwajkowski & Tim Phillips Back at the hotel I decided to go to the Starbucks across the street. I’m not a big fan of Starbucks unless I am out of the country. It is one of the few American establishments I will go to abroad because I know they will have reliable internet (most of the time). I go there to check out my situation and figure out my next move. That’s when I receive word that there was a missing signature for my EFT deposit and that I’d be without it until Monday or Tuesday.
My sense of adventure somewhat went out the window at this point. It was now about survival for the next four days. All the while I was getting sleepy in a way that may lend to me passing out somewhere. I couldn’t afford for that to happen. Then I got a phone call. It was my friend Nicole. She was calling me for a completely different reason. She was looking for a cheap ticket to New York. That’s when I told her about my misfortune and she offered to help until my money came through. The plan was simple. Go retrieve my bags and find cheap accommodations. I headed back to the London Underground station and caught the next train to Heathrow airport. This journey unfortunately took me about two hours longer than it should have. I hadn’t quite figured out that there were two trains you could get on in the same direction. One took you to the airport and another took you to Bum Fcuk London. Well… I went to Bum Fcuk. 4 times I visited BF before I figured it out. Somewhere near Bum Fcuk London I arrived at the airport with barely enough money to get my bags out of left-luggage. I tried to login to the WiFi. It said that my free time was over and that I had to sign-up for 45 minutes of usage. Time was against me and so was my computer. Somewhere along the line my computer started to malfunction. I later found out that there is a defect on the type of computer I have that makes it not come on at times. I was sitting there for at least 45 minutes before I could get it to come on. I know the time because once it came on, my access to the internet was over. It told me I had to wait 24 hours before I could use it again. I can’t contact Nicole or anyone for that matter so I attempt to get back on the train. The guy who sold me the ticket that morning told me it was good until 4:30AM. What he failed to mention was the airport entrance to the train closes at 11:23PM. It was 11:25 I kid you not! At that moment I was faced with a couple of options: grab my bags and have to potentially tote them around London for 4 days or stay at the airport till the morning and buy another rail ticket just so I can make communications. I took the latter option.
If anyone from the cleanup crew is reading this from Heathrow… I’m sorry, but you are underperforming at your given position. The corners of the seats were riddled with dust, snacks and trash. I know these seats aren’t made for sleeping, but at this point it’s a stretch to say they are fit for sitting. I wasn’t the only one who had to sleep in Terminal 3. Damn near all of these filthy seats were taken. Full of unaccommodated travelers such as myself. This wasn’t my first time catching Z’s at an airport however. I have extensive knowledge of the terminals in Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila & Atlanta. I consider it a right of passage to sleep in an airport. Most frequent travelers I know have done so at least once. I’m exhausted, its time to crash. I use my backpack as a pillow and shut my eyes with only one thought… “It can’t get much worse. Its got to get better from here on out.”

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