I asked my C2C walking buddy, Joel, to introduce himself. I will add that Joel is a New Yorker, but has lived the last few decades in San Francisco. For this post, Joel decided to describe how we met and his first impressions of England, many moons ago!
Joel – The Other Guy Blog
Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is true for the story of the upcoming walk across England, and so here is the very beginning, at least from my perspective. It started the first week of July, 1981…
For the very first time in my life, I was in Europe. A brash 22 year-old, still with my curly locks (now long gone), my flight from JFK had landed early in the morning at London’s Gatwick Airport. I remember wandering around the airport for a while, trying to get my bearings, learning the hard way that a restroom was a WC. Everyone looked different, talked different, and kind of acted different; people were eating beans and toast in front of an airport café.
I was in London to finish the last six credits of my college career, so I was armed with some traveling directions from the Study Abroad Office at The University of Michigan. “Take the train to London Victoria”, it said, and so I found a train bound for London’s Victoria Station. I had grown up tethered to New York City by the Long Island Rail Road, but this train was unlike the trains I had taken all during childhood from Syosset, Long Island, to Penn Station in Manhattan. There were seats grouped in fours which faced each other, there were luggage areas, and I later learned that I had accidentally purchased a round-trip ticket. Who knew that “return” meant round-trip? That turned out to be the start of a trend in which my months of travel would outlive my money supply. But that would be more of a worry a couple of months hence, and then a major problem a few months after that.
The train arrived at Victoria Station and I was instantly lost again. Victoria is one of the major train stations in London, and it is big, dirty, and confusing. At least that’s how it appeared to me that early morning in July, 1981. I checked the UofM directions again: take a taxi to Egerton House, with an address on Egerton Gardens in London, it said. I went outside and didn’t see any taxis, and then I realized that those big black cars were, in fact, taxis, so I got inside one and sheepishly tried to tell the driver where I was going. I kind of figured that the driver would have no clue, in all of London, where this address was. But then of course London taxi drivers are required to possess The Knowledge, which means they know how to find any of the 25,000 streets in the city. The test to prove The Knowledge is known to be one of the hardest exams of any kind, worldwide. Now this is all threatened by Uber, etc. But not so in 1981.
So of course my driver knew exactly where to go, and I sat in awe as he twisted and turned on all kinds of small lanes, alleys, and mews. I was just amazed to even be there, a looky-loo in the back seat [note how my terms become more and more British], just watching London rush by my window. We arrived at Egerton Gardens in South Kensington, an affluent section of London directly adjacent to the even more upscale Knightsbridge. Clearly my stay in London was not in a ghetto. Strike two against my money supply.
Egerton House, itself, however, was quite funky. I checked in at the desk; a guy with beads was playing some guitar chords in a common lounge behind me while a girl who appeared to be high as a kite was working out some lyrics. The furniture all looked like it came from the London branch of Goodwill; the sofa was taped to hide the stuffing coming out of the pillows, and one of the lounge chairs was held up by some kind of wood block where a chair leg should have been.
I had brought two extra-large suitcases to London, each filled to capacity and each weighing around fifty pounds. One couldn’t spend a couple of months in London without four pairs of jeans, dress shoes, hiking boots, dress clothes, basically everything I owned. My room was on the top floor, which turned out to be up many flights of a long, narrow, switchbacking staircase. I squeezed and hauled those heavy suitcases until I finally reached the top, sweating profusely and quite frankly gasping for air. It had been a long journey, and now I had finally made it to my room and had just one thought in my head: a nap.
I opened the door, and inside were three beds in a single row. The two beds on the ends were empty; there was somebody sleeping in the middle bed, starting to stir as I noisily shoved open the door. But I was immediately distracted by the sound of water to my right, so I looked and saw a sink that was leaking water, a drop at a time, into a bucket. But the bucket was full, and each new drop displaced another drop of the water in the bucket, so there was a pool of water on the floor, most likely dripping down to the room below. I turned my gaze to the idiot in the middle bed and suggested that maybe something more needed to be done with this plumbing situation. He didn’t deny that, but at the same time seemed pretty indifferent. But he did at least sit up, stick out his hand, and introduce himself:
“Hi, I’m Jeff,” he said. “I think we’re roommates.”
Yes, every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And this was the beginning – the very beginning – of the story of our walk across England, some 37 years later.
A quick note to Joel’s account of our first meeting in Edgerton House, South Kensington: We were on a summer study program in London. The summer of 1981 was famously the summer of the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Di. Joel and I were, in fact, directly present that day at the wedding, together with a few million other people on the streets of London. Joel slept on a curb the night before with some other people from our program, in order to be “curbside” for the street wedding procession the next morning. Me? I had met an attractive young woman from Zimbabwe at the restaurant ‘Pizza on the Park’ at Hyde Park Corner the evening before. We all went to a ‘pre-royal wedding party’ and then went to Hyde Park to watch the fireworks. My new Zimbabwean friend was staying with relatives in northern London, far away. So, in order that she could see the wedding the next morning, I gallantly offered that she could crash that night in my dorm room, which was right nearby the next day’s action. Well, as we arrived at the procession route in the morning, the crowd on the street was already so thick that we couldn’t see anything of the parade except the tops of carriages going by and the feathers on top of some funny military hats, bouncing up and down on top of heads of Royal Horse Guards. I hoisted my new friend onto my shoulders to take photos, but they were film photos, so I don’t have a clue where they are now. After this summer in London, Joel and I – as I wrote in the fixed pages to this blog, please read the fixed pages! – anyway, Joel and I hitchhiked from London to Edinburgh. On the way up, we rode directly past Robin Hood’s Bay, the end point of our C2C Walk!