The Longest Weekend
I can not believe the weekend I just had. I just got home, 14 hours later than expected and much much happier than I could have dreamed. This weekend was by far the highlight of the year—the pinnacle—the point at which not just one but practically every single thread of my life over the past year came together in one epic climax.
I’m riding a high right now the likes of which I haven’t felt in years, and there’s nothing else for me to do now than to write a novella-length account of what happened so that I can re-live it whenever I want, and those who know me (and who have plenty of time to spare) can come as close as possible to sharing the experience without actually having been there. This could easily take me the entire afternoon and into the evening to write, but in spite of my extreme exhaustion from having slept only a total of 3 hours the entire time, this is something I simply must do right now while it’s still as fresh in my mind as it will ever be. So without further introduction, I give you my tale:
Prologue – The Diverging Road
I’ve been living in Hannover for two years and four months now. For the most part, I’ve been leading a very isolated lifestyle, keeping to myself and rarely approaching any strangers, be they beautiful women or just guys that I might get along with if I just had the wherewithal to overcome my natural shyness and approach them. In spite of this, it’s been a very enjoyable life and I’d be happy to stay on this path even longer if it weren’t for the fact that it clearly leads nowhere.
But this is not why I decided to embark on a career of overseas English teaching—I did it for adventure, to see the world, to expand my mind and grow as a person. I’ve lived long enough in Germany and for the entire year I’ve had my sights set on Japan as my next destination. The school that had been my first choice doesn’t seem to be hiring so rather than wait an indefinite amount of time for a shot at getting hired there, I decided to set my sights elsewhere.
About a month ago I got an e-mail from the TEFL website—a job alert for a company called Interac that hires assistant language teachers (ALTs) and places them in the public schools in Japan. I thought little of it when I went through the process of applying, and was actually rather surprised when I got a call from one of their recruiters asking to speak to me. When I returned the call I went through a little preliminary interview that I thought went okay but that I could have done a lot better. Still, I managed to do well enough to get me through the initial screening process, and we set a date of Friday the 17th of December for me to travel to their office in Oxford for a face-to-face interview.
When I got the details of the interview and what I’d need to prepare for it, I felt slightly overwhelmed. Not only did I need a whole slew of documents from college transcripts to a copy of my TEFL-certificate, but the interview itself would be more than just a normal Q & A type interview. I’d have to take a grammar test and a personality test, and conduct several tasks that would be videotaped and sent to Japan for scrutiny. Among these tasks were a one-minute introduction that I would give as though meeting a group of Japanese teachers for the first time, a 1.5-minute imaginary warm-up exercise for elementary school students, and a 3-minute demo lesson from materials they gave me that I’d have to teach.
Because Japan is a very conservative culture, I knew I’d finally have to get rid of the long hair if I were to have a decent chance of getting the job, so on Wednesday I went to the hairdressers in Hannover for the first time ever and did the deed. The students I saw on Thursday—including the lovely Mandy—were quite shocked by the radical change in my appearance to say the least, but it seemed that the reaction was good. Mandy certainly seemed to like it anyway, as she seemed warmer towards me than ever before.
On Thursday evening I decided to forego the usual routine and spent hours preparing, going to the Planeo office and printing out scripts of what I was going to say for the video-taped portions of the interview. For some reason the USB stick didn’t work on the computer there this time, so I had to actually go back to my flat and e-mail the documents to myself in order to get them printed out. I was feeling more stressed than I have in awhile, but also kind of enjoying it. It’s not too often that I am forced to really put my mind into something so obviously worthwhile. I practiced what I was going to say out loud in the Planeo office over and over again until I felt I finally had it down, but over the course of the evening and the entire time before the interview I kept going over it in my head again and again, convinced that I was going to choke and forget a line or mis-pronounce one of the Japanese phrases I learned when the time came.
I tried to go to bed early, but 10:00 was as early as I could make it. The interview was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. the next day, and it was a very long way from Hannover to Oxford.
Part One – Getting There
I had no way of knowing that the 5-6 hours of sleep I got on Thursday night was to be the most sleep I’d have all weekend, but when that alarm woke me up at 4 a.m. the adrenaline was right there with it, getting me to leap out of bed, take a shower, eat breakfast, and put on one of the suits my parents had bought for me when I was back in America. (Much to my delight, I still remembered how to tie a tie from working at the hotel for so long.)
I walked to the train station, appreciating pre-dawn central Hannover which I may have seen just once or twice during my entire time here. I’d just missed the S-Bahn to the airport but another one came twenty minutes later and I had plenty of time before the 7:00 flight.
I reached the Hannover airport with plenty of time to spare, and sat in the terminal reading my book until boarding. Because the ice had to be sprayed from the wings before takeoff, we started 20 minutes later than expected, but this was still within my safety margin.
I had a nice window seat close to the front of the plane which I booked in advance, and it just so happened that a very attractive girl was sitting right next to me. She looked like a young Claire Daines with dark brown hair. She was there with her family and spent most of the flight talking to her mother, so it would have been awkward to say anything. But I knew I would kick myself if I said nothing, and I didn’t want this weekend to get off to that kind of start. So after the plane had landed I turned and asked the both of them if they spoke English and when they said yes I asked, “What brings you to England?” The girl didn’t say anything—she seemed annoyed that I was speaking to them at all, but the mother replied politely that they were there for the weekend to go shopping and that was that. Nothing gained, but nothing lost.
I’d pre-booked tickets from Stansted through London to Oxford, and when I went to retrieve them from the automatic machine, only one card came out and it said “Not valid for travel”. I double-checked the machine and saw this was the only card that came out so I figured I’d just go with it. I thought nothing of it during the 45-minute train ride from Stansted to London Liverpool Street Station, but after arriving you have to put the card through a turnstile which didn’t let me through. There was a station worker letting some others through but when I showed him my card he very rudely said, “Look at the front of your card. What does it say?” And I tried to explain about the machine but he just told me to talk to one of the guys there wearing yellow vests with the words “Revenue Protection” on the back.
All of them were engaged in arguments with other people whose cards wouldn’t let them through, and at this point I knew I was running out of time. I originally had a solid 50 minutes to make it from Liverpool Station to Paddington Station via the tube, but the delay brought that down to 35 and now I had to wait for assistance. Luckily the guy I talked to was nice. I showed him the receipt for the ticket purchase I’d printed out from the internet and he let me through, but I still had to get this card thing sorted out or I’d never make it onto the tube let alone the train from Paddington to Oxford.
So I lost more time looking for the right desk to get help (lots of rude “Don’t talk to us, you need to talk to so-and-so”) along the way, but I finally just had to buy another couple of tickets. If I want a refund I have to write to the England rail services and request one.
By the time I got that sorted out I knew I was going to be cutting it dangerously close. I was originally slated to arrive at 10:48, giving me a comfortable 42 minutes to get from the Oxford station to the Interac office, but now my best shot was an 11:00 arrival. Unfortunately, I was at a loss for direction when I got to the underground trains and ended up going for one stop in the wrong direction. By the time I finally got my bearings I knew that my best shot was going to be an 11:18 arrival and that after all that hard work and preparation I was going to have to be late for this interview.
When I finally got to Paddington there was just enough time to exchange my currency and grab a bagel before having to rush to grab the train, leaving no time to find a payphone to call and let Interac know. Naturally, my German cell-phone didn’t work in England so I had no choice but to ask for help. I walked up and down the aisles looking for someone that I might feel comfortable approaching, and settled on the guy sitting directly across the aisle from me.
“Excuse me, are you from England?” I asked. Probably a strange-sounding question but when he said yes I quickly explained, quite conscious of the fact that I now had professional-looking hair and was wearing a formal business-suit: “I’ve got an 11:30 meeting that I’m going to be late for and my cell-phone is from Germany and it doesn’t work here. Could I possibly use yours?”
He turned out to be quite friendly and graciously let me make the call. The woman—the same woman who’d given me the preliminary interview—didn’t sound especially understanding but she didn’t sound too annoyed either. When I said I’d arrive at the station at 11:18 she assured me that the office was very close and I probably would be able to make it by 11:45 so it wouldn’t be much of a problem. Still, I hated having to make that my first impression before actually making the first impression.
When I arrived at Oxford I wasted no time in trying to figure out the bus situation and instead took a taxi (that was why I’d rushed to the currency exchange back at Paddington). The driver was also very friendly and helpful, even calling Interac to confirm their location when he couldn’t find it immediately. We got there at 11:40, and I gave him a nice tip and headed into the lion’s den for what I knew had the potential to be the most important job interview of my life.
Part Two – The Interview
Adrenaline is a wonderful thing. As soon as I got to the office, I could already feel my heart beating at an accelerated rate, making my mind sharper. Reception contacted the woman I’d spoken to earlier and she came out to greet me. I instantly felt much more comfortable, as she looked much friendlier face-to-face than she sounded on the phone. She greeted me warmly, seemed to approve of my appearance as she sized me up, then led me to a meeting room in the back where it would all take place.
She offered me some coffee or tea, and while I usually don’t take hot drinks I was happy to accept this time and asked for a tea. She brought it to me while we awaited her colleague who would be conducting the first part of the interview, which was just a presentation about Japan and about Interac. This woman was also quite friendly and put me at ease right away. She brought in a little lap-top and went through a power-point presentation, stopping frequently to ask me things, no doubt to get a sense of my intelligence and personality. The first question was “what do you know about Japanese culture?” and when I answered that they were much more group-focused as opposed to the individualistic nature of Westerners, it was clear that I’d given the best of all possible answers, as she explained that this was in fact the most essential difference.
The presentation gave me a lot more detail about the company and what I’d actually be doing there, as well as dispelling some of the myths about Japan such as it being a completely male-dominated culture. She explained that while it may appear that way on the surface, the women actually have a lot more power than people think because it’s the women who traditionally control the money and decide how much their husbands get to spend.
She also confirmed a few preconceptions, most notably that Japanese women are very much interested in Western men like myself, and that over there I’d be considered “exotic”. Naturally, that was very good to hear coming from someone who definitely knows what she’s talking about.
Overall, throughout the presentation and our intermittent conversation, I got the sense that she liked me and was impressed by me, which definitely helped with my confidence for the rest of the interview. She even told me not to worry about the video just as long as I was emotive enough, and that I definitely “looked the part.” She even said quite explicitly that the Japanese expect a certain appearance from teachers, and that I fit that appearance perfectly. So yeah…that was the most worthwhile haircut I’ve ever had.
Next came the difficult part, as she left to catch a flight and the first woman came in to conduct the actual interview. This time I was completely prepared, having gone over ahead of time exactly how I would answer the standard questions such as “what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” and “how do you handle stress?” My greatest strength as a teacher is that I’m very patient. My greatest strength as a person is how motivated I am—that when I set my mind on something I don’t give up until it’s done. My weakness is the flip-side of my greatest strength—being too patient can sometimes lead to time-management problems as I’ll spend too much time on one thing. As for stress, well I see it as a good thing. I enjoy having to put a lot of effort into accomplishing something.
All of this is completely true, so in spite of the fact that my answers were rehearsed I didn’t feel like I was being the least bit dishonest. When I had to take the personality-test, however, I may have exaggerated a bit as to how outgoing I am, but I justified this by telling myself that I am working on becoming more outgoing and that I will definitely force myself to be more outgoing in Japan where I’ll really have no choice. But when I tallied up the answers I found that of the four possible personality types I came out as an “Idealist” which was definitely spot-on.
As for the grammar test, it was a piece of cake except for a brief section on Active vs. Passive voice, but I was told that this is where most people screw up so not to worry much about it.
Then it was finally time for the video-taping. Much to my extreme relief, I was assured that if I screwed up we could just stop and take it again from the start. Now feeling much more at ease I even asked her for some help with pronouncing one of the phrases I’d learned for the interview: “Dozo Yoroshiko” (Nice to meet you) which when said properly actually sounds like “Do-yo-rosh-ko.”
The one-minute self introduction came first, the part I’d been going over in my head over and over again for the entire morning and previous evening. When she asked if I was ready I said I was, then as soon as she started rolling my mind drew a blank. I said, “actually I’m not ready, can we start again?” That she was more than happy to do that took the last of the remaining pressure off, and I went through my pre-planned script even more perfectly than I’d been doing in my head—as I would always forget something or phrase it wrong during my practice-takes. But having nailed the introduction, the rest was easy. I had to read a sample script, which I knew would be the easiest part because I’m quite good at speaking slowly and clearly and looking up from the page to make eye-contact with the camera.
Next was the part I was most nervous about—the elementary-school warm-up. Because we were encouraged to sing, I’d decided on singing a song I actually learned way way way way back in nursery school, only with a slight variation to make it more of an English-lesson sort of thing. It was somewhat elaborate and I kept screwing up during my practice-takes but I did it perfectly on the very first try. Finally, the sample lesson—after one minor screw-up initially—also went really well. She even told me afterwards that I’d done a great job.
The hard part over, all that was left was to fill out a little open-ended questionnaire. Once that was finished they had everything they needed. She gave me a very friendly goodbye along with a, “It was a pleasure to meet you” and I left there feeling like I had nailed it.
And I did nail it. I left there without any reservations about something I might have said or done wrong, about as certain as I could possibly be that I’d made a very good impression and that unless every other candidate is a super-genius fluent in Japanese, there’s no way I could possibly not be offered the job. Seriously, if I don’t get the job offer I will be shocked. Shocked, I tell you.
So you can imagine how great I was feeling during the bus-ride and subsequent walk to the train station, during which I busted out my I-pod and listened to Lacrimosa’s “Die Strasse der Zeit” while experiencing the ecstasy of having done what I came for and having done it extremely well, as well as the real solid sense for the first time since this whole process began that this road really is leading somewhere—that it’s now more likely than ever that I will be spending the next years of my life in motherfucking Japan!!!
Part Three – London Night-Life
All I had to do now was get back to London and find my hotel before I could officially go out and celebrate. I got to watch the sun set over the English countryside on the ride back, and it was twilight when I reached Paddington. I found an information desk and confirmed what I’d been hoping—that the hotel was within walking distance of the station. Of course getting there wasn’t so straightforward because I had no map. I tried to buy one from an automatic map-dispenser but it ate my £1 coin and didn’t give me anything. But I took advantage of the fact that I was in an English-speaking country and asked for directions from multiple people until I finally found my way to Norfolk Square where the St. George’s Hotel was located.
Normally when travelling I stay at youth hostels, but this time I really wanted a room to myself so I booked a hotel. A cheap hotel, of course, but it was still slightly more expensive than a hostel. The guy at reception wasn’t English—he looked kind of Arabic but sounded Russian—and he was extremely friendly and welcoming. After getting the key to my room, which was actually a 4-bed dormitory with its own bathroom that I had all to myself, I went inside, changed out of the suit, and lied down in the bed for a little while to recover some much-needed energy.
It was hunger more than anything else that got me out of bed, and I went off in search of some fish and chips and beer. Yes, this time I was planning to drink. The other two times I was in London I didn’t drink a drop, and while I had good reasons both of those times I’ve always regretted not getting a true sense of the night-life, something I fully intended to remedy now.
Right around the corner was a pub that sold fish and chips, but all of the tables were taken and there were no stools at the bar, and I hate standing up while eating. But right next to it was a little bistro specifically for fish and chips, and it even advertized the fact that it was seen on a BBC program called “In search of perfection.” No beer, but this must be where to go for some real, hardcore British fish and chips. So I ate there and probably would have enjoyed it more if that “perfection” idea hadn’t raised my expectations just a little too high.
After filling up my stomach I hopped over to the pub and ordered a beer. I already had a general sense of this area from wandering around in search of the hotel, and this seems to be the only pub around so unless it turned out to be really awesome I knew I’d have to take the tube to a more central part of town.
I looked around for possible groups of people I might feel comfortable approaching as I drank, but spotted none. As much of a confidence-boost as the interview had given me, I still wasn’t quite ready to go up to any strangers and hope for the best. This was just the first beer, after all, and after finishing it and getting a good sense of this place I knew I’d be better off heading further into town anyway.
I already had a destination in mind: good old Picadilly Circus, the “Broadway” of London. I remembered it clearly from the other two times I stayed in London, the first because it was where I saw Les Miserables and the second because it’s where my hostel was located during my epic Live 8 excursion. There was nothing you couldn’t find there. There were bound to be pubs.
Still without a map, I navigated the Underground easily enough (now I was finally getting the hang of it) and came out to Picadilly Circus expecting to see some awesome decked-outedness because of Christmas. One of the reasons I was looking forward to this trip was because I’ve only seen London in the Spring and Summer, but never the winter and I thought it would look especially unique during the holidays. But it was rather disappointing to see that aside from a few extra lights strung up here and there, there wasn’t much difference at all.
I walked for awhile before actually finding a pub that was strictly a pub. It was mostly theaters and restaurants and I thought I might actually have to go elsewhere to find the night-life, but I soon found a place called Max Connor’s that looked to be quite happening from the outside and I went in. This place was huge—three floors and two bars—and it was packed. I knew that there would be no avoiding that in central London on a Friday night, so I patiently endured the pushing and shoving and waiting for a long time to get a spot at the bar from which to order a beer. When I did I once again scanned the place for a group of people (or an attractive woman) I wouldn’t mind approaching, but I again came up empty.
The ratio of men to women here was staggering—about 15 to 1. It was mostly groups of three or more guys, usually bald or with buzzed haircuts and carrying on about sports (I listened in on many-a-conversation to try and gauge whom to approach) and the only women there were there with a boyfriend. (Incidentally, the ratio of men to attractive women was more like 50 to 1, meaning that there were only 3 good-looking women there in a crowd of about 150).
So I left that place without talking to anyone but now starting to feel the pressure. God fucking help me if I keep to myself the entire night. I just can’t let that happen, I was thinking.
The second place I went to—I forget the name—was slightly less crowded and they had Belgian beer, which I opted for instead of the local stuff I’d tried at the first two places and was underwhelmed by. Again I scanned the room and listened in on conversations, but still it felt that it would just be extremely unnatural to butt in on anyone out of the blue.
But when a group of youngish-looking guys who didn’t seem too intimidating carried their beers outside for a cigarette I sensed an opportunity. I followed them out, went up to them, and said, “Hey I saw you guys take your beers out here to smoke. I’m here all alone—would you mind if I join you for a cigarette?”
I could tell right away that I’d picked the right group. Not only were they very welcoming, but they were a far cry from the living stereotypes who had dominated the other place. We started off with the standard introductions as I told them why I was in town and asked them all about themselves. When the smoke was finished they invited me to come back in and continue drinking with them.
I gladly joined them and we spent the next hour or so chatting together about all kinds of things from the differences between American and British culture, awesome American TV shows, the problem with NFL football (too many commercials), and of course, politics. They were very upset with the party they’d supported in the last election—the Liberal-Democrats (did I pick the right group or what?)—for siding with the conservatives in raising tuition rates for English college students (I believe there were some riots about this issue very recently). They said how disillusioned they were that these politicians who supposedly supported the interests of the students and the working class would sell out so easily for the sake of short-term political gain. As you could imagine, I had a few things to say about the parallels between the Lib-Dems and Barack Obama.
Naturally, I took note of all of their names. There was a tall one with glasses named Nick who seemed the most interested in politics. There was a shorter one with a beard named Nat (Nathanial) who was telling me how much he loved the show The Wire. A half-Asian guy (who somehow looked a lot like Cenk Uygur) named Mike. And a younger guy named Harry who was the only one out of the five of us not born in 1984.
But as a completely unexpected added bonus, they had five tickets to a comedy show and one of their friends was apparently too drunk to leave his flat and join them, so I was welcome to take his place. I mean seriously—did I pick the right group or what?
So I found myself waiting outside of a theater with these guys, laughing and joking around with the others in line. Nat and I really had to piss, but apparently he had to go more than I did because he went and used this street-urinal thingy which is like an open-air port-o-potty if you can imagine such a thing. It’s basically a giant slab of thick plastic in the shape of a triangular pyramid with a hole for pissing at each end, obviously there to keep the public urination isolated to one spot instead of all over the street. I waited until we were inside to relieve myself.
They had really good seats—third row, stage right—and when I found them I discovered that they’d also bought a beer for me. Fucking love those guys.
The comedian was Jim Jeffries whom I was sure I’d seen on comedy central a long time ago but if I had he had a different routine this time because none of the jokes sounded familiar. I won’t recount the entire routine for you but it was well worth the free admission. There were a few parts that didn’t do anything for me—like his jokes about fucking women—but there were plenty of parts that had me in hysterics—like his jokes about struggling to masturbate while on drugs. He got a few hecklers, a couple of whom were seated right behind us, and he tore them apart like a master which was quite interesting because they seemed to really get a kick out of being ripped a new asshole.
During the intermission I bought one last round of beers—which turned out to be a mistake—and we had to leave slightly early because Nick doesn’t live in London and he had to catch the last train back to where he lives. We all said goodbye to each other with a solid recognition of the fact that we’ll never see each other again, but I thanked them all for a great evening. It wasn’t until then that I realized I really had to piss again, and wouldn’t you know it?—I ended up using the plastic-pyramid-thingy outside. After that, I went my merry way back to the hotel.
So far, both of my missions were accomplished and both went far better than I imagined. Nail the job interview? Big fat check-mark there. Have a great time drinking in London with other people? Check and double-check. Little did I know that the most incredible parts of the weekend were yet to come.
Part Four – Site Seeing
But it wasn’t all flowers and sunshine. The time between 1 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Saturday morning was quite miserable. It started when I woke up around 4 a.m. with a mouth as dry as the Sahara, both from smoking too many cigarettes and having one beer too many. Even finishing off my whole bottle of water didn’t get it moisturized enough, so I had to re-fill it with tap water. Nasty, London tap-water. The tap-water in Germany has spoiled me greatly. This stuff was shite, but I really had no other choice but to drink it, worried as I was that it might make me sick.
And once I had to go through all of that my mind was alert again, alert enough to hear the people in the room next to me, apparently some group of freakishly-early-risers who were up before the dawn talking and laughing loudly.
I simply could not get back to sleep. My head was pounding. My mouth kept re-dehydrating. The neighbors kept laughing at irregular intervals. I moved to the bed on the other side of the room but it was to no avail. The mind simply refused to lose consciousness, and it didn’t for the rest of the morning. Those three hours would be all I was going to get.
I puked once, but only once. After that I decided I could no longer handle the tap water and I forced myself to go out and buy a big bottle of trusty brand-name water from the shop across the street (this was around 9 a.m.) and went back to lie in bed, hoping the headache would subside and the sickness in my stomach would go away. I showered, which made me feel a little better, then very slowly ate some of the breakfast that they brought to my room—just the yoghurt—and was careful not to lay down too flat lest it all come spewing back out before the vitamins could work their way into my system. Meanwhile, the noise kept coming as the walls here seemed paper-thin. I was extremely glad I’d opted for the hotel and not a hostel (having privacy while in this particular state was invaluable) but whatever was happening in the other room—whether it was people laughing or later on the staff cleaning—sounded like it was happening right there in my own room.
Check-out was at 11, and I stayed in bed until the exact moment came. I gave my key to the receptionist who didn’t have a problem with my having been a few minutes late in leaving and gave me a very warm goodbye including a happy Christmas.
The headache was thankfully subsiding now and the fresh air did me good. Within an hour I’d be feeling just fine. I spent that hour getting off and on the wrong subway cars until I finally reached my destination: Westminster Abbey.
Yes, if not experiencing the night-life was my Number Two regret about what I’d missed my first two times in London, not getting into Westminster Abbey was Number One—one that it was now my primary mission to rectify. The first time I was there, the Abbey was closed to the public. The second time, it was open but it cost £15 to get in and at that particular moment I had exactly 0 pounds and 0 pence. But this time it was open and I had money—albeit a rapidly dwindling supply.
So I finally got to see the one site in London that I’d missed that I’ve always regretted having missed. I won’t bore anyone with the details—if you’re interested in Westminster Abbey you probably know about what’s there already—but I will note how awesome it was to be literally standing near the actual buried remains of all of these famous English people, among the coolest being Queen Elisabeth, Queen Mary Queen of Scots, King Edward the Confessor and other various royals, as well as writers like Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll. Perhaps coolest of all to me personally was in the final room where two scientists are buried: Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton. The audio-guide told me they were both buried there and while I found Darwin easily enough (seriously—how cool is it to be standing over the actual bones of Charles fucking Darwin?) I couldn’t find Newton so I approached one of the priests/guides there and asked him. After jibing me a bit with his slick British wit (for being from “New Joisy”) he led me into a sealed-off area and showed me the slab of rock underneath where the discoverer of gravity itself was buried. Gravity. I mean, come on.
Of course the most striking thing came at the very end where the unknown warrior is buried beneath a marble stone surrounded by poppies. It literally gave me chills to think about this guy—whoever he was—who lived a short life and died a horrible death in World War I never to have any inkling of an idea that his bones would be given such an honored place among England’s honored dead. Of course he only represents all of the unknown soldiers who’ve lost their lives in various wars, but you can’t help but wonder what his immortal soul—if it exists—must think of his fate. Would he feel honored? Or would he consider it an empty political gesture to paint over the ugliness of war?
At any rate, I left the Abbey feeling quite satisfied that I’d seen the last remaining site on my London check-list after a five-and-a-half year interval. I now had just an hour to kill before 15:00, the time I’d resolved to start heading back to Stansted to get there in time for my 18:30 flight.
So after passing Big Ben and taking an obligatory look at the Thames, I hopped back on the tube and rode it to Hyde Park. It’s important to mention that it was snowing pretty heavily when I went into the Abbey and the roads were covered with it when I came out. I was glad for it because it was the first and possibly last time I’ll ever see London in the snow, but it also caused some difficulty (a very deliberate understatement).
At first, it only meant that no one was driving so everyone was taking the tube. I had to take the Jubilee line one stop to the Picadilly line, and one stop from there to the Hyde Park Corner station. The trains were jam-packed and we had to wait for awhile before they got permission to move, so what should have been a ten-minute journey maximum became a twenty-five minute journey, which still left me with a solid thirty minutes to enjoy Hyde Park in the snow.
Hyde Park, of course, has a very special place in my heart because it’s where my life’s most intensely awesome experience took place in July of 2005 when I saw Pink Floyd perform there live at the Live 8 concert. I had no idea where in Hyde Park that spot was—it’s a very big park—and I would have no way of knowing if I saw it again because it would be barely recognizable under the snowy circumstances, so my only intention was to just walk around and not try to turn this into some kind of memory-lane type deal (tempting as that was). It was awesome enough being back in the same general area as the location of what remains to this day my life’s most memorable experience. It was hard to believe that it was over five years ago, but not because it felt like just yesterday but because it felt like that was in the distant, distant past of ancient memory. And here I was again.
The concert grounds were probably covered by the huge “Winter Wonderland” carnival they had going on there which I made sure to avoid. I just circled a lake while listening to Lacrimosa—“Kyrie” first, then “Sacrifice”. But in between those two songs I stopped in the middle of a bridge which marked the half-way point to appreciate the fact that the site-seeing was officially over and now the only remaining mission was to get back to Hannover and from there on out every step I took would be towards that purpose. The idea that I was standing on this bridge in Hyde Park right now but that tonight I would be back in my cozy little flat in Hannover struck me as somewhat incredible. That sentiment turned out to be quite literal: the idea that I was going to make it back to Hannover right on schedule was, in fact, not credible.
Part Five – Getting Back
I honestly thought that the most difficult part would be getting all the way across town to the Liverpool Street Station. And it was rather difficult. I tried at first to take the tube, but this time it was simply too jam-packed to even get on. My back-pack and I just wouldn’t physically be able to fit, and I had no desire to endure what was going to be two really long stretches of tube-riding while being crunched into such claustrophobically close quarters anyway. My only realistic choice was to take the bus, as I was now dangerously low on funds and a cab would have destroyed me.
I couldn’t make sense of the map at the bus stop so I asked the first driver to come along whether it would bring me closer to Liverpool Street. I apparently got the friendliest bus-driver on earth, because not only did he assure me that it would, he said he would give me a shout when we reached the spot where I should get off.
Actually, that’s a bit of an oversimplification of what happened, but there’s no purpose in recounting all of the details of this leg of the journey. Suffice it to say, it took three separate hoppings on-and-off of three separate busses until I finally reached my destination, but I did reach it with plenty of time to spare. Enough time, in fact, to grab a bite to eat before even going to buy my ticket to Stansted.
I got it from the machine, oblivious to what was going down all around me, then merrily checked the time-table to see that the next train was due to depart in five minutes. Perfect timing, I thought. Haha.
When I went to where the trains would be I started to get confused because there was nobody on the platforms—everyone was standing behind the turnstiles. Did I have the wrong spot? I asked a police officer where I could find the trains to Stansted.
“There are no trains to Stansted,” she said in exactly those words, giving me a chill before adding, “not at the moment.” Apparently the snow had caused some accidents and delays. Trains were being cancelled. Flights were being delayed or cancelled. It was all a big fucking mess, and all I could do was wait around and listen for the announcements.
So I went over to the turnstiles where I could see that there were in fact four “Stansted Express” trains right there but none of them going anywhere. A large crowd was gathered, staring up at the big board which just kept repeating the same message about an overturned lorry causing delays and that the situation would be fixed as soon as possible. But from the murmuring of the crowd it was clear that this could be anywhere from two minutes to two hours. I just had to stand there.
And stand there I did, as slowly the severity of the situation began to develop. The yellow-vested people behind the turnstiles would occasionally get off their walkie-talkies to inform the crowd first that they didn’t know when the trains would run again, and then that a couple of runways were closed at Stansted because of the snow and some flights were being cancelled. We should check with our airline.
Well, I had the phone number for Germanwings on the receipt for my ticket I’d printed out, but my cell-phone didn’t work. I found a payphone and dropped £1 coin in the slot, expecting to get at least four minutes to start off with because on the page next to the number it said “25p per minute.” But all I got was an automated message telling me to hold the line, and I watched my credit literally disappear by the second so that the entire pound was gone after only about ten seconds. I asked the information desk if there was internet access anywhere at the station but there wasn’t.
So I just went back to the turnstiles and waited. I figured I’d just go to the airport whenever the trains started again and find out what was going on once I got there. But very shortly after I resumed waiting, they announced that Stansted airport was now completely closed and no flights were taking off anymore.
What to do? I had exactly fifteen pounds left out of the hundred and fifty I’d brought. I have no idea where it all disappeared to but I know that’s what London does to you and I knew I couldn’t afford to spend another night there. Even the cost of a youth hostel would be pushing it, and then I’d still need to feed myself on top of that. But if the flight was cancelled and I went to the airport I might end up staying there all night. I had to approach someone who had a way of finding out what was going on.
Earlier I’d scanned the crowd listening for people speaking German—they were obviously the most likely to be using the Germanwings airline. There was a guy who’d been talking to someone in German I’d spotted earlier and he was still there. He seemed pissed off before—which was understandable given the circumstances but it still made me nervous about approaching him. If things had developed just a little bit differently I wouldn’t have approached him at all, but as it happened the moment took me and I just went for it.
“Entschuldigung,” I began, then switched immediately to English, “Are you German?” Yes, he is. “What airline are you taking?” Germanwings. “What flight?” He’s flying to Hannover on the 18:30 flight. Same as me, as luck would have it.
So I explained my predicament, from the cell-phone not working to being just about broke (seriously—between this trip, taxes, and a whole slew of other unexpected expenses in December I’m now at the lowest financial point I’ve been in all year) and that it would really help me out if he could keep me informed out about our flight.
He was in communication with someone back in Germany who was checking the internet for him, but for some reason not getting a clear answer. The flight was not officially cancelled but nor was there any delay time listed. He was also trying to decide whether to go to the airport or just give up and come back tomorrow, but he needed to know what was going on with Germanwings first. Much to my surprise, he offered to let me sleep at the place he was staying—the flat of a friend of his—if it turned out our flight was cancelled. I made sure to let him know how much I appreciated that.
The next moments were crucial. He got a call from his contact the moment the turnstiles opened up—apparently the train to Stansted was now clear for departure—but the fate of our flight was still far from clear. In a split-second decision, he decided to board the train and try his luck at the airport, and I followed. We made it on the train just in time and found a couple of empty seats next to each other. When the train started running it felt like we might be in luck—perhaps our flight would just be delayed for a few hours.
Along the way, we got to know each other a bit better. His name was Chris and he’s a techie guy, working on a team developing a new server for Nokia or something, some kind of big deal internet-related thing the details of which have escaped me. I of course gave him the run-down on myself regarding the English teaching, the job-interview for Japan, and why it is I chose to live in Germany. We had a little discussion about German culture, which he is apparently as tired of as I am of America. He currently lives in Lisbon with his Brazilian girlfriend and has no desire to move back to Germany any time soon.
[Unnecessary Grammatical Note: I’m switching to present tense now because it feels like the more natural way to tell the rest of the story.]
We get along surprisingly well and the conversation never falls flat during the entire train ride. Though there are plenty of periods of silence, one of us always breaks it with a joke. We have a similar sense of humor. At any rate, I’m glad I approached him because now I’m not completely on my own here. We’ll get to the airport together, figure out what’s going on together, and decide what to do next together.
The airport terminal is jam-packed with people, most of whom are apparently in line to try and collect a refund from Ryan Air, which has completely cancelled all of its flights for the rest of the night and into the morning. As for Germanwings, the big board says nothing but “Enquire Airline”.
We find an information desk and “enquire” about our flight. Now comes the news, both good and bad. Good news: the flight isn’t cancelled—it’s just been delayed. Bad news—it’s been delayed until 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. The time is now 5 p.m.
We now have to make a terrible decision. Either we go through all the bullshit trouble of getting back to London and taking the tube to this flat and going through the whole damned process again super-early the next morning (with no guarantee that the trains will be running properly then either), OR…we could camp out here in the terminal. Spend the next 13 hours minimum in this fucking god-forsaken airport terminal. The information desk workers make it quite clear that all hotels are booked.
I lean towards going just because it would give us something to do, but he leans towards staying because he doesn’t want to have to deal with the process of getting here again. I understand his reasoning and ultimately agree. We’ve come this far. There’s no sense going backwards. Now we just have to endure this giant gaping hole of time that lies before us. “Hey, it’s not so bad,” he jokes to me, “It’ll be an experience we can tell our grandkids about!” That sounded silly at the time.
Part Six – Stranded
Were it not for Chris, it could have easily been one of the most excruciatingly boring nights of my life. Instead, it turned out to be one of the most interesting.
We spend the first hour or so just walking around, familiarizing ourselves with our new environment—what was to constitute our world for the night. We want to find out where the Germanwings desk is and what time they’re planning to start checking people in tomorrow morning, and after asking a few people we find out where it is and that it’ll open up at 6 a.m. But now we really need to find a spot to camp because spots are rapidly filling up.
We consider using the airport “chapel” which is just a tiny little room with some chairs and a table filled with religious texts including several different version of the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita. Aside from the plain old weirdness of the vibe, the sign on the door says it closes at 11:00 so we might be kicked out if we set up camp here, so instead we finally settle on a little space underneath a giant gray column the shape of a rounded square, each side about four meters in length with about a one meter overhang. Almost all of these little shaded locations are taken up by now, but this one isn’t, perhaps because it’s under a fire-extinguisher and emergency phone. Someone might kick us out of that spot as well, but we decide to take the chance and it’s there we set up camp.
We’ll walk around a bit later, but for now I just want to rest for a little bit. I use my jacket as a pillow and he offers me a pullover which makes it significantly more comfortable, and I lie there for awhile as he makes phone calls. While on the phone he notices an airport worker outside a nearby shop with a cart full of used cardboard boxes and points them out to me. I’m not sure what he’s getting at, but when he finishes the phone call he explains that if we lie on the cardboard instead of the floor, it’ll be slightly less uncomfortable and much less cold. “Survival training,” he says.
There’s a bit of an argument with the guy who’s bringing the used boxes to the recycling bin: “If I let you have them then everyone’s going to come get them and I’ll be blamed when they’re all over the floor tomorrow morning.” But there are a couple of boxes—luckily very big ones—that we can take because apparently these can’t be traced back to him. Whatever. They suit our purposes, and turn out to have been a fantastic idea on Chris’s part.
We lie down for a little while longer until he gets hungry and the meal I had at Liverpool station starts to wear off as well. We ask one of our “neighbors”, a Spanish-looking guy against the wall near our column, if he’ll be staying put for awhile and if he could watch our stuff. He kindly obliges.
We go off in search of a place to eat, and I learn that Chris is a vegetarian which naturally earns him many points in my book even though I fell off that wagon years ago. We settle on an Italian-buffet kind of place and we each get some pasta. Over dinner our conversation starts to take a turn towards the personal, as he asks me what I think of the German women and I honestly answer that they seem very arrogant and difficult. He agrees that this is exactly how they are generally speaking—that when a guy hits on them they tend to deliberately make it hard on him, and that when they actually are your girlfriend they tend to be controlling bitches. He says that going out with a Latina girl was something of a revelation for him.
The meal took the very last bit of money I had, but he offers to buy me some dessert and anything else I need (within reason) because he’s still got about 25 “quid” left. We grab some chocolate mousse and he gets a cappuccino as well from a place called “Pret” and we also acquire a couple of bottles of water from the shop closest to our “camp-site” as it begins to close down. But we also confirm that the little supermarket there stays open 24 hours a day, which I joke makes living in an airport actually more convenient than living in Germany.
Back at our spot, we finish our dessert and lie back down, commencing with the conversation which he himself starts to take in a much deeper direction. I can’t possibly recall exactly how we got on to certain topics or what exactly was said, but there was a very lengthy discussion about the meaning of life and fundamental nature of the universe and that sort of thing—you know, my favorite sort of thing. He wanted me to explain my whole philosophy on life, which I was more than happy to do, and I was just as interested to hear what he had to say.
Apparently he’s not just a vegetarian—he does yoga and meditates (or at least tries to) in the hope of eventually reaching a higher state of consciousness without the aid of hallucinogenic drugs, which he’s never done. He used to smoke but now he doesn’t take any sort of substance including alcohol, which along with the vegetarian thing is all part of a lifestyle of physical purity which I can’t help but admire even though I’m not exactly signing up for it.
So there’s a long discussion about whether we have immortal souls, how common life is in the universe, whether evolution is a product of some kind of fundamental impulse towards greater complexity built into existence and whether humanity will ever evolve to some kind of state of God-consciousness or if we’ll wipe ourselves out before even getting close. He’s a lot more optimistic about humanity than I am, believing that everyone basically wants to do good even though some people fail at it. I have to explain Ayn Rand’s philosophy of ethical egoism to him, which he finds astounding and, naturally, quite disturbing. I also launch into my whole “waking up in a dark room with no memory and starting to imagine universes of greater and greater complexity” theory of Existence, which he doesn’t totally accept but certainly finds interesting.
Of course I’m very much in my element throughout this whole discussion but I’m not absorbed in it enough to not notice the ridiculous amount of beautiful women and girls around. In addition to one sitting very close to us whom I imagine is listening to our conversation in awe until I realize she’s listening to an I-pod, they keep walking by every few minutes. Some I only see once, and some I see again and again to the point where I really start becoming infatuated. Like sweat-pants girl, cell-phone girl, blonde-girl-with-glasses, and a few others.
As if picking up on this subconsciously, Chris suddenly shifts the conversation back to women. I’d alluded to having problems with them earlier when we were talking about our families—I couldn’t help but mention the whole father-abandonment thing—and he asks me if I could explain it further. He says I don’t have to—he doesn’t want to pry—but I have no problem spilling my guts to complete strangers (hence this blog) so I go ahead and give him the entire thorough explanation of my problems with women, all the way from the fear of rejection tied up with emotions related to my father to the suicide attempts and subsequent hospitalizations in high school over unrequited love.
I admit that I’ve never had a relationship and I’m still a virgin, which prompts a conversation similar to many I’ve had in the past but which is very important this time simply because of the timing. I’ll do my best to recount the key part of this conversation in dialog form, though it’s only a very rough approximation of what was actually said:
“It’s just that whenever I’m around a woman I find attractive I get very tense and nervous and can’t act naturally,” I say.
“That’s really common,” he assures me. “We’re all afraid of being embarrassed and nobody likes rejection. But if a girl is a bitch to you it’s probably because she’s insecure about herself. She’s afraid that you will reject her so she acts that way.”
“Come on, you’ve never thought of that before?”
“I guess I have, but that’s usually not where my mind is when I’m in that situation. I just start feeling like I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve her, and I should stay away.”
“Well maybe you shouldn’t go for the really beautiful girls.”
“I’ve heard that from a lot of people,” I protest. “They say I should start with ugly girls because ugly girls are easier, but I’m not going to use someone I’m not attracted to just to work out my personal bullshit.”
“I don’t mean ugly girls,” he explains, “just…nice girls. Of course you should be attracted to them but a lot of the most beautiful girls are stuck-up bitches. You should find someone nice who won’t make you feel shitty. Someone you could feel comfortable with.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.”
It sounds like advice I’ve heard a million times, and in many ways it is, but the significance of it being said at this particular moment in time is what makes it sink in. This is no ordinary conversation with a friend. I’ve just met this guy and already we’re already bonding on this incredibly deep level and so I’m that much more receptive to it. Plus, I’m running on three hours of sleep and rather exhausted.
But one thing he says that I haven’t considered before is that nowadays you can just make your approach via the internet. Facebook, he explains, makes the job of guys like us much easier. You just compose your message and send it without having to deal with any of the sweaty-palm bullshit. I try to protest—that of course you need to do it in person, because…well, I can’t come up with a convincing reason. He assures me that there’s nothing wrong with that at all. That’s how he’s done it and that’s how lots of people do it and there’s nothing wrong with it. So that sticks in my mind as well.
Eventually the conversation comes to a lull, and I get up to go to the bathroom. When I come back he suggests we watch a movie. He busts out his lap-top and gives me a choice of two DVDs—a Jet Li movie or a George Clooney movie called “The American”. I’m way more in the mood for one of Clooney’s slow, contemplative pictures than any kind of Kung Fu deal, so that’s what we watch.
I notice a program called “MILF” on his desktop and he explains this is the name of the server his team is working on. The first was “Mama” and the second was “Big Mama” so “MILF” seemed like the next logical step in the progression (though his female co-workers aren’t too keen on it). I asked him if he also designs websites and he says that’s one of the shittiest things he has to do and only takes that work when there’s nothing else. I decide not to tell him about Revolution Earth.
So we watch the film which is quite good, and all the while I’m distracted by all the beautiful girls walking by. I start playing the game in my mind where I look straight at their eyes and wait for them to look at me. They almost always do, but the real trick is holding their gaze as they walk by. I find that more often than not, they also maintain eye-contact, which I don’t think is usual. Maybe it’s my lack of long hair. Maybe they’re just as tired as I am. I don’t know. But one of them holds my gaze long enough to actually smile at me and that feels fantastic.
Of course I let Chris know how distracted I am because this station is swarming with beautiful women and he says he noticed. He says that London is great because you’ve got all different kinds of women, and he’s right. There are blondes, brunettes, Asians, Indians, Arabs and Africans—all different shapes and sizes but somehow the ratio of attractive to non-attractive seems bizarrely skewed. I normally think only one out of every ten girls is attractive (one out of twenty are “beautiful”) but this seems like half-and-half, and they all look beautiful to me right now. Maybe it’s because they’re mostly younger women because older ones would have an easier time finding somewhere else to stay. Maybe it’s just my mind playing tricks on me because I’m so tired.
After the film we exchange a few words about it and talk about the meaning, but now we’re both exhausted He tells me later that he managed to get about 15 solid minutes of sleep but the best I could do is reach a point of semi-consciousness because the guys sitting near us won’t stop talking and there are some girls laughing and singing nearby, not to mention the frequent loudspeaker announcements asking so-and-so to come to the desk for such-and-such. Oh, and sleeping on a hard floor isn’t exactly the most comfortable thing in the world for your bones, even with a thin layer of cardboard separating it.
Anyway, 5 a.m. finally rolls around and we each get up, walk around, use the bathroom, etc. I’m left alone for a few minutes as he’s off somewhere doing yoga, and the group near us gets up to leave, including the girl I’d fancied had been listening in awe of our deep conversation earlier. Just before she walks away, to my complete surprise, she looks directly at me and smiles. But again, it could just be my mind playing tricks.
When Chris is done with the yoga it’s nearing 6:00 and we “pack up camp” and head over to the Germanwings desk. We wait in line and receive our boarding passes. I notice that my seat reservation is gone. I’d pre-booked a window-seat near the front of the plane, and now I’m in a much shittier seat and that pisses me off a little but at this point I don’t really care. Sure, I’m in seat 26E which means I’ll be at the back of the plane sandwiched between two strangers, but at this point all I care about is getting back on German soil.
Once equipped with our boarding passes, we go through security and leave the terminal, feeling ironically nostalgic about the whole thing. As we walk through the doors to the next part of the airport, he looks back towards our spot and says “I wish I’d taken a picture”.
Part Seven – The Culmination
As we sit in the terminal and I struggle to read my book without falling asleep, I can hardly believe we’ve made it. We actually waited for nearly thirteen hours and somehow it wasn’t even the least bit excruciating. In fact, it was almost downright enjoyable. I’m almost feeling like I’m glad the delay happened. That experience was one of the most unique I’ve ever had. And at this point I’m not even aware that it was actually leading to something.
I notice myself more open to the people around me as we sit in the terminal. There’s a German mother with two really little children sitting across from us and we frequently exchange glances and occasional comments whenever an announcement comes on the loudspeaker. There is an older German couple behind us who are clearing their throats constantly, to the point that it’s really getting on my nerves. But I handle the situation by busting out the lozenges I have in my back-pack and offering some to them. They each take one, both surprised and grateful, and the throat-clearing decreases significantly. It’s all about problem-solving, you see.
Our boarding passes say Gate 3 and we’re all very nervous that there’s going to be another really long delay because we don’t see a Germanwings plane outside (the sun rises while we’re sitting there) and a completely different airline is boarding at Gate 3. Finally a guy comes around and informs us that according to the big board, the flight to Hannover takes off from Gate 11.
We head on over there and are delighted to finally see our plane, ready and waiting to take us. At long last, the aircraft that will deliver us home!
Very shortly after that, they announce the boarding call. It seems surreal that it’s actually happening. I was sure that something else was going to wrong, and even as we board I comment to Chris that we’re not in the clear yet—we could be waiting on the tarmac for hours.
As we step on board the plane he takes out a pen and scribbles his e-mail address on the ticket stub because we have separate seats and this is the last we’ll see of each other. We give each other a very warm handshake and agree to stay in touch. And that’s the last I see of Chris.
But this story has one final major part before finally coming to an end. As I move farther and farther down the plane I eventually realize that row 26 is indeed the very last row, and that the stranger I’ll be sitting next to who has the window seat is an attractive girl. Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?
Oh, but I couldn’t have asked for a better circumstance. I don’t know exactly what it is—the exhaustion, the high from just having had an incredible weekend ending with a crazily unique experience, or some combination of those and other factors—but I don’t even think twice about giving the girl a warm hello and launching directly into a conversation after confirming that she speaks English.
It couldn’t be less awkward. After all, even though we hadn’t seen each other the whole night (she was not one of the walkers-by) we did share an experience because she too had been stranded at the airport the entire time as well. It’s the perfect thing to instantly bond over, plus our mutual excitement about finally being on the plane that will take us home is palpable.
It’s a very standard conversation, except that in between the “what do you do?” and “why were you in England?” stuff we make comments about how great it is to finally be going home and what the rest of the day has in store for us. She’s on her way to see her family in Minden, a town very close to Hannover. She just spent a month volunteering to work with disabled kids in England as a physical therapist but now she wants to switch careers and become a social worker in order to help people in a more meaningful way. Naturally I’m extremely impressed with her. What would be a good word to describe her? Oh yeah: “Nice”
Neither of us got any sleep at the airport and we express our intention to perhaps try and make up for it on the flight, which leads to a completely non-awkward flight in which we both have our eyes closed and aren’t talking. I’m listening to Lacrimosa (Lichtgestalt) and planning what I’m going to say after the landing. Remembering Chris’s words from earlier, I figure the easiest thing to do would be to just give her my e-mail address or my name so she can find me on Facebook if she so chooses. That way if she’s not interested she can just go ahead and not contact me and we can both imagine that maybe she just forgot about it and my feelings don’t have to get hurt. But that’s not really my main concern. Just doing it is far more important than the potential result. It would quite clearly be the perfect culmination to the entire airport ordeal—and in many ways to the entire weekend.
The plane begins its descent before we know it and hits some incredibly heavy turbulence. I notice the sound of children laughing and look to the other end of the row to see the same mother with her two kids from the terminal (yet another crazy coincidence) who seems just as pleasantly shocked by the fact that her little kids are enjoying this as I am. The attractive girl next to me looks over at them as well and we exchange a quick comment about how funny it is.
The plane lands safely and as though there were no 50-minute break at all we resume our conversation. I ask her if she’s ever had to wait that long in an airport before and she says no, that the worst was a few-hour delay from Rome, where she and a friend of hers had decided to go spontaneously. She asks me the same question, and I say that my worst delay was only four hours while flying from America. She asks me where in America I’m from and when I say New Jersey her eyes go wide with surprise.
No way! She was just there in October, spontaneously visiting her friend’s family that lives in New Jersey! That was the only time she’s ever been to America. What are the odds, she says, that of everywhere I could possibly be from it would be New Jersey!
We’re like…totally best friends now. So I ask her for her name, finally. It’s Lea. Or Lia. I’m not sure how it’s spelled. But I also quickly ask her if she’s living with her family in Minden and she explains that she will be living there for a few weeks while she looks for a place in Bielefeld, a town that is also in the Hannover region. The unstated significance of this? No boyfriend.
I whip out the receipt for my plane tickets I’d been carrying in the most easily-accessible chamber of my back-pack just as our row is standing up to leave (it’s a good thing we were last which gave us plenty of time for that chat) and announce that I’m giving her my e-mail address. Yeah, I don’t ask. I just tell her. She can do what she wants with it. I also ask her if she’s on Facebook and she says yes, so I circle where my name is written on the receipt so she can find me that way also if she chooses. Because I told her about the Japan interview, she asks me how long I’ll be around and I say if I get the job it won’t start until August, and she seems glad to hear that. Yeah. I know.
So when I’d played this scenario out in my head on the plane I imagined her feeling kind of awkward when I gave her my contact info and then me bidding her farewell to exit the plane triumphant. But she still sticks around, still making comments about how amazing it is that I’m from New Jersey. We chat for a bit about New York City. It’s all very smooth and comfortable.
We get to the counter where they check passports, and she goes through a little bit ahead of me while the guy checking mine takes an extra moment to type the number into his computer. When I emerge from the doors I see that she has been standing there waiting for me.
We walk to the baggage claim and because I have no baggage to claim, this is where I exit. I say, “It was very nice to meet you, Lea” and she says, “Yes, you too. And I will find you on Facebook.”
It remains to be seen whether that happens, but of course that’s almost a side issue at this point. It’ll be great if she does contact me but even if she doesn’t, that was quite a major victory on my part. And it came completely out of nowhere, right when I thought that the story was over.
I walk through the doors from the baggage claim area and towards the train platforms, feeling like it’s finally over. It’s 12:00 noon exactly. Had everything gone according to plan, I would have been back around 8 p.m. the previous evening. Now I’m sure of it—I am extremely glad things didn’t go according to plan.
Epilogue – The Longest Weekend
Naturally I rode back to Hannover in extremely high spirits which continue to this moment, about five hours after I began writing this entry. The musical accompaniment was the rest of Lichtgestalt: “Letzte Ausfahrt Leben” and “Hohelied der Liebe”, the latter of which sounded so perfectly perfect while riding through the snow-covered landscapes with spirit soaring. And when I got back to good old Hannover I put on “Die Strasse der Zeit” again for the walk home and really let myself indulge in the awesomeness of the feeling the weekend has left me with.
From what is probably the best performance I’ve ever given at a job interview, through my meeting some awesome guys with which to experience the London night-life, through standing over the bones of Sir Isaac Newton, walking through Hyde Park in the snow, spending the entire night stranded with an awesome guy at an airport and engaging in extremely deep and personal conversation, all topped off with what can only be described as an amazingly successful approach to a fantastic girl—this will go down in history as one of the greatest weekends of my life.
There must be something about London. The last time I went was the greatest weekend of my life. It will require some distance before I can look back on this one clearly but it obviously stands a very good chance of being second. And depending on what comes of my contact with Chris and with Lea (not to mention Japan) I may eventually look back on it as the best.
I still can’t believe all this happened. It’s amazing how much life can be jam-packed into a period of 56 hours, and these were packed to the brim. Whether or not I ultimately decide to consider this the ‘best’ weekend, I think it’s safe to say that in terms of the variety and quality of experiences, this was definitely the longest.