Anyone who knows me well knows about the travel curse. Some of you have been unfortunate enough to have traveled with me, and therefore have seen first hand the havoc that finds me at the airport. Or the train station. Occasionally a boat. I’m currently typing this entry while sitting on a plane, which is surely whipping the travel gods into a frenzy that will result in a lost bag upon my arrival.
Some of you might think, “C’mon. How bad can it really be?” I give you two tales, in installments, as a random sampling of The Travel Curse. It began in 1990 and has been dogging me ever since. The only time I’ve been free of the curse was when I was pregnant. I had two blissful years of mishap-free travel. Now that my good-luck charms have been born, the curse is back.
With my aunt, I fly to London to meet my cousin who has been doing a work-study abroad. I have other family in the UK, so it is marvelous to see them. The trip is a delightful mix of family bonding, gorgeous weather, and tooling around London—one of my favorite cities on the planet.
On the last evening of the trip, we all enjoy a personal boat cruise on the Thames. We sip wine. We eat cookies. We goggle at the sunset-dappled Parliament building as the summer breeze caresses our faces.
Arriving back at my cousin’s house, the phone rings. It is my father, calling from America and wondering why I didn’t show at the airport when he met my plane. Dear Lord, I have mixed up the return date and have missed my flight.
The good folks at British Airways explain to me that I will need to buy an entirely new ticket to get home, because I didn’t inform them that I would miss the flight. How could I have done that? I was too busy drinking wine and eating cookies. They are happy to provide me with a last-minute, one-way ticket home for $1400. I immediately start scouring the newspaper for deals on any other airline that can get me home for under 1000 bucks.
Success! Icelandic Air can get me home for $750, provided that I don’t mind picking up the ticket at the travel agent’s office in Wimbledon. And also provided that I don’t mind spending the afternoon in Reykjavik. This seems perfectly reasonable to me, considering I’d have to sell a kidney to get home otherwise. Off to Wimbledon I go.
My cousin gives me directions for the train, and offers her cell phone in case of emergency. I navigate the train and find the office without incident. I’m wilting in the UK heat wave, but proud of my ability to find the office and claim the ticket on the first go.
The temperatures rise as the afternoon sets in, and soon the entire region is baking in a mid-90 swelter. I arrive at the train station and it’s a madhouse of travelers. The heat has warped the tracks, and trains are being rerouted. I push through, find the right train (still running on un-warped tracks), and set off. Whew! I’m home free.
Soon into the journey, we come to a halt just short of a station. We sit. We sit. We bake in the heat. We sweat. The engineer’s voice rings out through the PA system, “The train ahead of us at the station is on fire. Everyone must disembark.” I am in a random suburb between Wimbledon and London. I look at the crush of passengers flagging down taxis. Even if I could get a taxi, I know the fare would be outrageously expensive.
A fellow train refugee, seeing me looking lost and perplexed, offers advice. “The next station up isn’t far from here. You can walk past the train that’s on fire and catch a new train.” This sounds promising. I ask for directions. He gives them. I repeat them back to make sure I have it right, and I’m on my way.
About 20 minutes into the walk, I start to worry that I’m super lost. I should surely be at the station by now. I haven’t seen any of the landmarks he told me about. I’d better stop and ask again. I pop into a convenience store and the air conditioning feels heavenly. I buy a water and ask for directions. He repeats the same directions that the Good Samaritan gave me. I have barely made a dent in this walk. An hour later, I arrive at the new train and am on my way again. My family greets me with hugs at the London station.
The next day I spent a lovely afternoon in Reykjavik. The flight home was smooth—unless you count that the guy next to me read full-color porn the whole trip. Keep your hands above the tray table, sir.