International Writers Magazine: Travel UK
with Mom (I should've known better)
mightve guessed what I was getting myself into. The offer
of a major expenses paid trip to London, England had, after all,
come courtesy of a woman whose unrelenting protest had once transformed
a three-week family camping trip out west into a three-week roadside
motel trip out west. The trailer that we lugged behind us went largely
for show, its main function quickly relegated to blowing the cap
off the cars radiator every now and then.
Nor had I forgotten
my mothers crowning moment of that vacation, when, in Arizona,
she passed on the chance to join us for a hike down into the Grand Canyon,
in order to stay behind and get her hair done (her hair looked great,
by the way).
Its just that free was an awfully powerful lure, especially
to one harboring a fascination with Europe, but without the means of
exploring it on his own dime. I viewed this as, perhaps, my only opportunity
to ever set foot on that continent.
Thus, as I crumbled before the temptation, I found myself clinging with
desperate hope to the old adage from all those financial prospectusesthe
bit about past results being no guarantor of future performance. Well,
those folks had never traveled with Mom. And though we never did see
the inside of a London beauty parlor, Mom, for the most part, was Mom.
But, what the hell, free was free. And God bless Mom for that.
Ah, London, England. The land of Dickens, Shakespeare and more dead
kings and queens (headless and otherwise) than you can shake a burning
effigy of Guy Fawkes at.
I can hardly sleep on the nighttime flight over. Anticipation clearly
plays a role in this. So, too, does the chucklehead across the way,
who, for the entire run of in-flight movies, finds each line of dialogue
wittier than the last. Thats a lot of good writing.
Though I do not often fall in behind my mothers lead - come morning,
I find myself wishing that I had emulated her headlong plunge into the
wine bottle the evening before. She has slept soundly. My overnight
hours, on the other hand, have been spent contemplating the murder of
a light-hearted stranger with a smile on his face.
The reason that I had chosen to refrain from alcohol (and free alcohol,
at that) is that I thought it smarter to be well-rested and clear-headed
upon our morning arrival in London, rather than tottering off the plane
drunk with a full day before me.
In the end, a little less wisdom probably wouldve gone a long
way towards much better sleep. As a result, coffee and adrenaline shall
have to suffice.
My standing as a novice traveler on the international stage is soon
revealed on land, as well. I cannot say how or why, but, somehow or
other, I permit both my passport and subway ticket to come into my mothers
possession. This does not become an issue until she abandons me at the
The separation comes about innocently enough. One of the conditions
that I have accepted for this essentially free trip to London is that
I shall serve in the role of Baggage Boy. It is a fair trade, I think.
To make this task a little easier on myself, I take advantage of one
of the carts provided at Heathrow Airport, and I wheel our luggage out
to where well catch the subway, or tube, that will take us into
Having unloaded our bags onto the platform, and leaving Mom to watch
over them, I push the cart back to its corral.
When I return to the platform, our luggage is still there. But Mom is
not. I notice, however, that she has not gone far. In fact, shes
right there, motioning to me through the glass window of the subway
car that she had instinctively boarded when it arrived during my brief
I wouldve joined her directly, but for the fact that the train
was just now beginning to roll away from the station. The astonishment
on her expression cannot possibly match the horrification on mine.
Relief comes when I discover that I do not need my subway ticket to
board the next train. I figure that Ill simply meet up with Mom
at the Leicester Square Station, which is where we transfer to the Northern
Line. But she is not there. I suspect that Ill finally catch up
with her at our destination station, Tottingham Court Road. Again, though,
she is not there. Quite obviously, she plans on waiting for me at the
is at the Tottingham Court Station that I learn the importance of
holding onto ones own subway ticket. I cannot leave the Underground
without it. The system calls for the passenger to insert his or
her ticket into the slot alongside the turnstile, which, then, prompts
the arm to pop open and allow one passage to the world above.
There is no popping open without your ticket.
My ticket is in
my mothers purse. She wouldve been able to pop the arm open
twice, or two arms once each, if shed wished. But, for me, there
would be no popping. It was suddenly beginning to look as though Id
be spending my entire week-long vacation in London beneath Tottingham
Court Road, where it meets Oxford Street. The guidebook gives little
direction as to What to See and Do for this location. My
dining options, too, seem limited. I shall have to ration judiciously
the bag of airline peanuts that I have stashed in my pocket.
When my panic finally subsides, it occurs to me that there must be a
human employee of the system somewhere, to whom I can explain my embarrassing
predicament, along with the unfortunate circumstances surrounding my
immediate ancestry, and from whom, at the very least, I should be able
to purchase my freedom.
The closest thing to a human employee that I am able to find, however,
is the damn turnstile, and its not laughing at my mom story. My
panic returns. Am I really stuck down here, with one of the worlds
more fascinating cities rumbling just overhead? This, I cannot accept.
It is therefore time to employ some good old Yankee ingenuity. Which
means, of course, imposing ones will by use of force.
I take up my position near the turnstile. I do not have to wait long
before my unsuspecting prey falls upon my radar. Probably some local
on his way to work. I hitch the overnight bags up over each shoulder
and the suitcases I allow to slide into the crook at either elbow. The
instant this poor fellow feeds his ticket into the turnstile, I swoop
in so close behind him that he probably cannot help but question my
sexual disposition, as well as my lack of etiquette in not at least
buying him a drink beforehand.
It is not a smooth exit. I apologize.
Coupled now with my anger at Mom is the intense humiliation that I feel
over giving this gentleman the impression that my interest in him is
more profound than it actually is. I cannot flee the Underground fast
enough. Bolting up the stairs to the street, I fall smack dab into a
hornets nest of hawkers pushing courses on how to speak English.
Evidently, the string of profanities I am using to drag my mothers
name through the mud does not give them to understand that I already
have a working grasp of the language.
Welcome to London. Now, get the hell out of my way.
Needing to conserve some of my more colorful vocabulary for when Mother
and I should meet up again, I collect myself long enough to politely
inquire of a sales clerk as to where the hell I might find the St. Giles
Hotel, which Ive been led to believe is around here somewhere.
She hasnt heard of it.
Well, great. There cant be that many streets in London. I should
stumble upon it eventually. And I do. Furthermore, upon closer review
of the angle, I find it to be within sight of the shop in which Id
stopped to seek direction. Perhaps the store clerk needs to lift her
nose from her crossword puzzle a little more often.
Having become determined, by this point, to drag Mom from the hotel
and see her drawn and quartered, if that option still stands on the
books, I discover that she is not here, either. Mom, evidently, is nowhere.
It is precisely at this moment that I grimly recall Moms navigational
prowess. In particular, the trip from Ann Arbor back to Muskegon after
a football game, during which she guided her car one full hour past
the appropriate highway interchange before picking up on her mistake.
Those of us fortunate enough to have been in Car A of our two-vehicle
caravan slept that night in our own beds. Those in Car B, meanwhile,
settled for buttressing an innkeepers bottom line many miles from
home. All thanks to the person now in possession of my passport.
Well, to Moms creditand my relief, she doesnt end
up north of Flint this time. To her credit, also, she did think to wait
for me at the Leicester Square Station. Where her logic took flight
was in her conclusion that the surest way of intercepting me would be
to sit as far out of the way as possible, on the very last bench along
the platform, in the direction opposite our connecting train.
I did not see this bench, even after many turns along the platform.
And from it, through the crowd, Mom did not see me.
After watching a half-dozen trains come and go, she joins me at the
St. Giles. I now have my passport back, and shall not be letting go
of it again.
© Richard Steigelman
martinvanb at msn.com> 9 October 2008
Richard was born
and raised in Muskegon, Michigan, USA. He moved to Ann Arbor to attend
The University of Michigan, and, like so many others, stuck around afterwards
to help staff the local restaurant scene. He has published one novel,
THE HOPE OF TIMOTHY BEAN (Briarwood Publications, 2002).
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