Part One

Posted By on August 4, 2007

“My Trip To Europe”

“Do you have any liquids or gels in your bags?”

“I have gum.”

“Gum ain’t a liquid!”

“Well it has liquid crystals.”

.: So began our trip to London and Paris. Oscar wished to waste three hours being detained by airport security. We somehow made it through without being stopped, even though our incessant giggling and crackings-wise should have immediately tipped off the TSA folks that we dangerous subversives.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport — Oscar informed me that taking this picture violated at least one federal law.

.: I packed everything except a notebook, which I mistakenly believed I could pick up at any airport bookstore for a sensible price. “Forget it,” I told Oscar, “I’ll just pick one up in London.” Once in London, I purchased a notebook for slightly more than twice the original insensible price, owing to the current exchange rate (£1 = $2 + Punch in the Face).

.: I’m presently writing in that very notebook – or, rather, I’m futurely writing in that very notebook. I am six hours ahead of Houston time, which means by the time you read this, it will have already been written.

.: Back to the airport: my ticket was booked standby (free for me), so I couldn’t be certain if I’d get a seat or not. My mom called a few hours before the flight to inform me of two seats that were still available in first class, which if the gods were in a good mood would go to Oscar and me. The gods were not, however, and my mom quickly called again to retract her erroneous statement.

.: Oscar was assigned a seat near the middle of the plane, and I wound up one row from the back. As the plane took off, I noted an empty seat next to me, two to the side, and one behind. The lady who assigned our seats said it would be impossible to seat Oscar and me next to each other. This fact, coupled with the plethora of empty seats about me, most likely means some poor family did not make it to the airport on time. Sometimes the gods go out of their way to give you elbow room.

.: Once turbulence-free, I pulled out my copy of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul and began the last work of Douglas Adams I had yet to read. (The first sentence of the novel seemed aptly appropriate: “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression: ‘As pretty as an airport.’”) Reading proved nearly impossible for the first four hours of the flight thanks to a randomly flickering fluorescent light to the left of me. This annoyance vanished completely once they finally turned that light off – along with all the others.

.: Since my body refuses to sleep while others around me are snoring, I elected to finish my novel under a poorly angled personal light (which I found out much later was adjustable). Turns out my body refuses to read novels while others around me are snoring, too. Fortunately, the man next to me didn’t snore constantly, but rather between intervals of 20 minutes or so. Reading, while constantly interrupted, was possible. Sleeping wouldn’t work since the slightest irregularity in sound wakes me, and the time it takes me to fall back asleep is about 20 minutes or so.

.: An hour before landing, the flight attendants gave us landing cards to fill out. They do this beforehand to help speed things along in customs, since the lines there move far too briskly for anyone to fill anything out with any hope of legibility. The flight attendants announced sternly and often, “Please fill out your landing cards. Only one per person.”

.: I felt pressured. What if I screwed up? Would they give me another one? I knew my handwriting is atrocious, so I wrote extra carefully:

(Images reconstructed from memory and shot in a poorly lit room with an outdated digital camera)

.: I got that far when Oscar stopped me: “You know you have to write your name in block capitals?” No problem, I thought, I could save this. I fixed the b’s rather easily:

.: The o’s were a bit more difficult, but I managed:

.: The y was a cinch; I’d just extend the tips like so:

.: That d was real trouble, though. The capitalized version faces the other way, and there’s no way to write over it without a major portion sticking out. Maybe they wouldn’t notice:

.: I finished the rest of the landing card in appropriately blocked capitals, and I flipped it over to print my passport number as clearly as possible – numbers are always capitalized, so I wouldn’t run into any problems there.

“Cody, you know that side is for official use only, right?”

.: Shit. Too cowardly to ask myself, I sent Oscar to fetch another card. He came back, and with swiftness and clarity I wrote down my name in beautiful blocked letters:

.: Damnit all to hell. The embarrassment I faced for sending Oscar back to retrieve another card was greater than the embarrassment of asking for one myself, which was still prohibitively considerable. I decided to fix this one as well. The D presented no challenge:

.: Bam! Done. I had two choices with the Y: I could make a slanted B with a branch hanging off the back, or I could fudge it carelessly. I’m not always entirely in control of my person, so “I” opted for the latter:

.: How do I turn a B into a D? I wish I still had the card with me so I could check, but the customs agent took it – but I’m getting ahead of myself. It probably looked like this:

.: The trick is to bolden the lines so that the original line bisecting the B looks like a stray marking. Then there’s the other B, which I needed to turn into a Y. Bet you think I have some amazing method I pulled out of my ass that perfectly disguised the B as a Y. Nope:

.: Once in Gatwick, the customs agent asked us the typical questions:

Where’ve you come from?

You traveling travelling anywhere else?

You both students?

Where you go to school?

Where’s that?

What you stuh’ing?

Have a nice trip. Enjoy your stay.

.: Once free to roam about the country, we bought our train tickets for £8.90 each, which in American money equaled approximately three private trust funds.

.: While we later discovered it not to be universally true, at the time a disturbing fact stood out: on the train, nobody talked. The very idea of talking, it seemed, was a deportable offence. Gray, stodgy British men sat silently reading their gray, stodgy newspapers.

.: We glanced nervously about the cabin until we found a similarly confused face. She looked a couple years older than us (no more than three) and seemed equally as excited. Well, as exciting as you can seem when operating on nine hours of sleep for the last seventy two hours, as she soon explained to us.

.: She was a history major from Detroit, and she was here after winning a grant of some sort to let her study in the British Library. I explained to her what Google was, but she told me (unconvincingly) that she was familiar with what that particular search engine could do.

.: We talked for a couple of stops until an inevitable silence interrupted our conversation.

“You know,” I said, breaking the recently refrozen ice, “Oscar is an amateur historian . . . well, not really . . . he doesn’t do any ‘research.’ He has a blog.”

“Thanks, Cody.”

.: She laughed, and I wasn’t entirely convinced it was a nervous laugh, so I considered my gambit a success.

“Mumble,” mumbled Oscar, “mumble *inaudible* mumble mumble.”

“What’s that boy? This is our stop?”

“Bark! Bark! Mumble grumble squirt fart.”

“Don’t worry,” I reassured him, “I won’t misquote you when I recount this 90 hours from now.”

.: Oscar and I tried getting off the train, but the door was out of order, and we wound up still on the train but in another cabin. We were separated from our new friend for a couple of stops, thinking she was gone, but we found her again.

“Hello again.”

“Hello!” she responded, delirious from an unhealthy mixture of sleep deprivation and directional uncertainty.

.: We stayed with her for a good while at the station until the gods got sick of her and disabled her train pass.

“Just go on without me,” Judy yelled from across the barriers, and that was the last we ever saw of her. Her name’s not Judy of course; I’ve simply decided to call her that (Oscar prefers Leon). I don’t know that her name’s not Judy, though probability is certainly on my side. Whoever Judy is, she at least made the first dozen or so minutes in a new country slightly more familiar than it otherwise would be.

Next up: Further first impressions and a walk around Down
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

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One Response to “Part One”

  1. […] Ever since visiting Europe four years ago, I’ve kept a small moleskine notebook in my pocket at all times for instant […]

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