Part III: Journey
LONDON, UK – Its morning. Before I can open my eyes I am awakened to the sounds of travelers. The distinct sound of grooved plastic wheels from luggage rolling across the marvel floor; the sounds of boisterous laughs as children burn up their boundless energy playing in the distance; and the sultry voice of two French flight attendants speaking to each other with such flare as only the French can do were all telling me that it was time to wake up and get going. The first thing I do is go to the ticket booth to purchase another day pass. Unfortunately this is when I find out that I don’t have enough money on my card. “Damn my auto-payment to AT&T!”
This left me with essentially nothing. Stranded at Heathrow airport with no transport or internet. “Why do most airports have to be so far from the city?” I thought to myself. I tried to board a hotel shuttle with no luck. They all required prepayment. I had to do something. I wasn’t about to wait 14 more hours to use the internet.
I walked over to the train entrances. I stood off to the side and studied the way that it worked. Pass your card over the sensor and the doors opened, but they closed so quickly behind each person it was near impossible to piggyback. I studied a little while longer at the risk of looking suspicious. There was a wider entrance for the handicapped and folks with baggage.
This entrance allowed for me to follow someone close enough to where the sensor would think of me as baggage. Folks in London are always in a hurry. They move fast. I figured if I just acted the part I could wave my hand over the sensor whilst walking closely behind an unsuspecting patron and slip in. I waited for my chance and then… a family approached. Here’s my chance. It worked like a charm. I later found out that this method of riding the train is called “Hopping the Train.”
Still a bit sleepy I decided to ride the train from Heathrow to Cockfosters passing up King’s Cross. Cockfosters is the last stop on the Piccadilly line in the London Underground system; and it’s approximately an hour’s ride. I got another 20 minutes of sleep on the way back to King’s Cross. It was much needed for my sanity.
Once I arrived at King’s Cross I decided to stroll back over to the Starbucks. It was comfy there and I could complete some work and get my barrings. While I’m sitting there working a young American couple come in and sit down next to me. They had a lot of luggage and seemed like they needed a rest from traveling. I decided to just mind my own business until I heard the woman say “Humans of New York”
I kept seeing these posts from friends on Facebook about Humans of New York. You can figure out what the premise is about but I hadn’t clicked on a link. So I chimed in, “What’s so special about this website? I keep hearing about it.” That started a conversation between Anna, Jason and me. I found them to be a charming example of a couple traveling the world together as they shared their vocation.
So many things they get to see and experience together. I find it hard to travel with most people because people don’t always want to experience traveling in the way that you do. Some love to shop and buy things to have to remind them of their experiences elsewhere. Some people want to explore and some want to party all the time. So it was nice to see a couple that could travel together and not force each other’s personal wants or whims on each other; but at the same time experiencing life together. At least that’s what I got from our brief meeting.
During our sporadic conversation another friend contacted me about a text I sent to her about an email. She then asked me about my trip and I told her my situation, but that I was in good spirits and could manage. She then offered to help me out. I had already put it in my mind I was going to tough it out. I was already ok with the fact that I hadn’t eaten since the plane ride from New York. Hell, all I had at that point was a Strawberry Bramble! So I told her I’d be ok, but she wasn’t accepting that. My now friend plus ex-girlfriend Felicia insisted on helping me find a spot until Monday/Tuesday. She genuinely cares about me and she expressed her worry for my well-being. Not that it took too much twisting of my arm; but I ultimately accepted.
I had an extra prepaid debit card for clients who were paying cash back home. Easier than Western Union I figured. Funds sent! Instantly my mood changed. I figured I would hold up in a cheap room for a couple of nights. But before that I’d grab something to eat. Starbucks seemed as good a place as any. I grabbed a sandwich and water and then tried to pay for it. Declined. I told her to swipe it again. Declined. I put the items down and rushed over to a seat to check my balance. Something was wrong. I had the money but I couldn’t buy a sandwich?? It was starting to get late. It was after 7:30PM and starting to get dark. I still hadn’t found a place to stay yet. I could eat later.
I found this app that finds hostels. I’ve never stayed in one before so I thought it would be an experience anyway. I booked a room and walked over. The hostel is called Journeys
. There’s a lime green sign that says “HOSTEL” outside that helps you find it pretty easily. Not too far from the King’s Cross station so I figured it was perfect. I walk in the door and found a sign that says “be back in 5 min”. I wait 7.
The whole experience is interesting to me but I’m really weary. I’m just ready to check-in and relax. I hand the gentleman my card to complete the booking transaction. Declined. I call the card company on my iPad via Google Hangouts. I learned a long time ago how to avoid long distance fees. That’s when I found out that the debit card I purchased could only be used inside the United States. My mouth dropped. How can I have money now and still not have money? I needed to think.
I suggested that he complete the transaction online in the same manner in which I booked. He said since it was a third-party app he couldn’t do so. He also went on to say that it was the last bed available and if I canceled it out I would run the risk of losing the booking. Then it happened, he suggested that he punch in the number as if I left without paying. It worked!! So all that needed to happen was for each business to punch in the number to use my card. I felt a bit of relief. I gathered my things and headed to my room and locker.
This place was narrow. Every inch of space was used and needed. There were two sets of stairs because only one average-sized human being could fit going up or down. It was bustling with people going left, going right, going up, going down. It seemed like a scene from a musical and that people were going to burst out in song. Each and every one of them seeing me but not seeing me. It was like the first day of school in the middle of the semester at recess.
The first person I introduced myself to was Davide. He and another guy, Giuseppe, were making spaghetti. There was a group of people sitting at the table waiting for some. I felt a bit out of place so I walked outside.
On the way outside by the door I met a woman named Claire. She is French. I asked her to join her for a smoke and she said “…but of course.” Once outside I noticed there were others posted along the wall either smoking or drinking a beer. They all introduced themselves and asked me about Texas. When abroad I always say I’m from Texas. Its just cooler than saying American to me and sometimes people have never heard of Houston. Everyone knows of Texas though. They like to think of cowboys and the romantic feeling of the old west.
After about an hour of hanging out on the side of the street there’s a suggestion to go out for a drink. At this point it would give me a since of normalcy so I agreed to come. On this trip is where I met an interesting group of characters. I mean that in the sense that we were all from somewhere else and going out as if we all knew each other. There was Claire from France, Anna from Italy, Lautaro from Argentina, Vartek from Poland and August from Sweden. Here I was tagging along to give the American representation.
I will probably never remember the name of this club but it was full of folks from everywhere just out to have a drink and listen/dance to music. I met criminal lawyers and artists. I even met someone that was living just up the street from me in Houston for the past 6 months and this was her first night back. I met all of these people smoking outside the club. Say what you want about smokers, but many have interesting smoker’s conversations no matter what culture you’re apart of. We’re out there trying each others’ cigarettes and passing beers. Socialism at its best. I’m no advocate for smoking but communion must be one of its joys.
After dancing up a storm to around 2AM, four members of our crew (including me) head back to the hostel. It turns out that August and Anna were in the same room with six other people. I realize that I haven’t confirmed which bunk I’m in yet. I assume its the one of above Anna’s because all of the others were taken. I climb up to the top and go to sleep.
About an hour later I’m awakened by a girl and a phone light. I felt like Goldilocks from the 3 bears tale. Apparently I was sleeping in her bunk. Now I found myself with no bed. I started to go sleep on the common area couch but I needed a bed. I politely (as politely as one can be at 4 in the morning) woke up the guy in my bed who I found out was Giuseppe getting his room confused. He sleepily got up and out as I finally found some comfort on a twin-sized mattress. Finally, I can sleep.
Part IV: Journeys
LONDON, UK – The next day was obviously a bit of a late start. People were moving all about. I was late to the party. Figured I’d just work from my computer most of the day. I walked into the common area with my computer and just observed people in their natural state. It didn’t take long before I was formally introduced to the gang. These are the people who I had no clue would leave such a lasting impression with me.
The first guy to have a real introduction followed by a conversation from this group is named Dimitri. Dimitri is from France with obvious African roots. He is very unassuming in appearance usually wearing a nice shirt that goes with his smart looking spectacles. Very clean in appearance and he is as humble as they come. He’s also pretty smart. He’s a programmer that is proud of his freelance endeavors. He is learning more about his craft and came to London to study. Demitri and I talk for awhile. He seemed to be somewhat interested in what I do. I showed him some stuff and one video in particular he was just so enthused by. That’s when he began to call in the rest of the gang.
The video Dimitri liked “Cloned”
Over comes Roberto. Roberto is Italian. 100% for sure! His aggressiveness coupled with his innocence is what makes Roberto, Roberto. His enthusiasm is usually found in smaller humans than himself I might add. Roberto approaches me with great enthusiasm. “Hi I’m Roberto Simone and you should add me on Facebook.” He then grabs my iPad, finds himself and adds himself right in there. I’m intrigued with this guy. He starts to ask me questions about America and expresses his future intentions of becoming a chef and maybe one day have his own restaurant. I finally meet the others sitting at the adjacent table. Giuseppe is a quiet and gentle Italian boy with a bearded face. That’s all I know of him because he mainly spoke Italian.
There was Beatriz. Beatriz is a young lady born in Brazil and raised in Luxembourg. She’s 18 years old but looks 16. She’s from an interesting place in the world that has given her the chance to naturally learn six different languages. She speaks German, French, English, Portuguese, Itallian and my new favorite… Luxembourger. She’s accompanied by here boyfriend (in every sense of the word) Tony. Tony is quiet; but he has other things on his mind.
Last but not least is the the first guy I met but didn’t meet… Davide. Davide is one of those people who you meet who’s luminescent soul shines through before he speaks. His smile is a reflection of his heart and he speaks genuinely with earnest. “Do you care to join us?” he asks. “We are all going to Hyde Park and you are welcome to come along.” I contemplated this for a moment. Earlier I searched and starred locations on Google maps that I wanted to see. Hyde Park was one of them and only walking distance from others. I accepted his offer. Minutes later with camera in tow we were off.
We caught the Underground train at King’s Cross. Looks like I’m train hopping again. While on the train I had the sense that this was going to be a special day. These were all young 20 somethings I was with this day. I could see the ambition in their eyes as each one of them was having new experiences in life that will help shape their bright futures. It was wonderful to witness and remember the way they were all feeling this beautiful sunny day. Our train arrives. We head out into the from beneath the city into its rare sunny day. How apropos that it would be on a Sunday.
Hyde Park was full of people. The great weather was being taken full advantage of. People were riding bicycles, rollerskating and playing Frisbee with their dogs. I’ve never seen so many people rollerskating outside and not in a rink. People of all ages, colors and creeds just enjoying being alive. It was a delight to see. The park was beautiful in its landscape and attention to detail. The trees were different and interesting. One tree formed a perfect tree-tent as I call it. Every yard should have one. We all decided to go investigate this wonderful mutation and climb its branches.
We continued to walk through the park before we sought refuge near a stream full of ducks. We lay down and just enjoyed the moment for awhile. Dimitri decides to show his Capoeira and Akido skills by doing a series of maneuvers and acrobatics. Roberto, not to be outdone, makes his attempts at hand-stands and flips. Roberto feels he can do anything anyone else can. You gotta love that enthusiasm. He just needs to understand that not everything is as easy at it seems. Those that make the hard look easy spent many hard hours obtaining the confidence and ability to make it look that way. However, his willingness to try is great!
We continue on at my behest to do the semi-tourist deal. I mean, you gotta see these beautiful London sights at least once. Lets get it out of the way. We walked down towards Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. These structures truly are a sight to behold. Not only has London built their city tall, but they have done so in a grand fashion. These structures were big and long. Very hard to capture in my 50 mm lens. Although I did try:
There was a skate park under the bridge and a bagpipe player below it. There were violin players and guitar players all within designated semicircles for performers. It was a nice touch and it gave a soundtrack to the evening. By this time we are at dusk’s mercy. Through all of my stopping and taking pictures we have lost most of the group. Its only Davide, Roberto and me at the end. Finding our way to the Underground ever so slowly taking it all in until at last our visual sense is satisfied. Lets go back to the hostel. Lets join the others.
As soon as we get back we are greeted by the rest of the group that felt it was time to make an early retreat. A lot of the other hostel guests are standing outside having a smoke and/or a beer. I see August, Javi, Lautaro, Anna and the others in a very joyous mood. It would not last.
Everything was lovely and light at the hostel until I heard the English word “stolen”. It turns out that in the mere moments that Dimitri and Lautaro were outside laughing and joking with us they both had made the foolish mistake of leaving their belongings out in the open at a hostel where its hard to keep track of who belongs and who does not. Gone is both Dimitri and Lautaro’s laptops and everything that was in Lautaro’s bag. They are both devastated for different but similar reasons. Dimitri’s livelihood is based on his computer. He’s a programmer. Not only did the thieves take his computer but his hard drive as well. Lautaro’s loss was as equally heartbreaking. You see, LAT as we call him, is a very promising fashion designer. I got a chance to look at his designs and previous work. He is a real talent. He’s only 20. They both are. This is a hard lesson, but a lesson no less. I realize that most of us older folks have gone through things like this. It reminded me of hard lessons I once I had to take. This was no different. They will survive. They will learn from it.
We all took our turns to console the two. I felt it was really my duty being one of the older guests at the hostel. I took each one of them at separate times and helped them to focus on the positives instead of the glaring negative that was sitting on their shoulders. They didn’t sob. They took it in stride. They as most of the guests in the hostel are building their character on this journey. They are here to make something of themselves. To throw caution to the wind. They are not jaded by failure nor are they scared of it. Its a great thing to be around a collection of people that are wanting more from life at such an early stage. At that moment I knew I would miss them most of all.