Even though I got gypped out of about seven hours, the past four days have been loooong. Sunday night, I could barely sleep. I dozed off around 12:30, so when my alarm went off at 4:30, I felt like I’d only taken a nap. But we were off in the car towards Denver by 5:15 AM—two large suitcases, a hiking backpack, and my yellow Timbuk2 bag in tow.
Checking in, my greatest hopes were affirmed: the bigger suitcase weighed 49.5 pounds, and the other was only 44.5 pounds. Weight limits ain’t got nothin’ on me. My parents walked me to the security line, and no one cried. I was impressed. The line went really quickly, and before I knew it, I was standing behind a family waiting to get our boarding passes stamped. The pre-teen boy was not a happy camper, and he made several sarcastic remarks under his breath after each adult offered their insight on the security line situation. His mom turned to him and said, “Sven, you’re being really unhelpful right now.” Which illuminated the main source of the problem—not only was this greasy 13-year-old named Sven, but his mom had a lisp. I’d get snippy too if my mom couldn’t pronounce my name. But lucky for the mom, the (presumed) uncle chimed in with an over-enunciated “Smartass!” directed at Sven, but he saw me watching the scene go down and lost some of his gumption.
I, of course, forgot to take my belt off, so I set off the alarm. When I gathered my belongings and found a bench to reload and redress, I looked up to the walkway above and saw that my parents had been watching me go all the way through the line. They waved and took pictures and blew kisses, and I pretended I didn’t know the creepsters.
After I got off the train in Terminal B, I decided to find my gate before I got some breakfast. It was one of the closest ones to the main food court of the terminal, so I turned around to go get food. I saw the Customer Service booth to my right, so I popped on over to sign up for frequent flier miles, since I’ll be getting about a billion over the next nine months.
I then located a Caribou Coffee kiosk, so I got a caramel macchiato and a cranberry muffin. Arriving at my gate once more and setting my stuff down, I realized that my folder with my passport and my boarding passes was missing in action. Not in my backpack. Not in my hand. Not on the floor. GONE. I took a breath, mumbled a few cuss words under my breath, asked a normal-looking man a couple seats down to watch my stuff, and set off to retrace my steps. I stopped at the Customer Service counter and asked if they had seen my folder. Nope. I tried not to run up the escalator to Caribou Coffee, but I felt like every passing second increased my chances of having to buy back my passport off a black market Internet site. When I got to the counter, completely out of breath, the girl at the register simply smiled and handed it to me. Somehow in the chaos of getting out my wallet, paying, and collecting my food, I’d let go off the most important items in my possession. But they were recovered, and I felt like skipping all the way back to the gate.
Then the waiting game began. A good hour before boarding, businessmen with Blackberries glued to their ears started getting in line. Why? I still wonder. We all had assigned seats. It seems to me like getting on first only increases your opportunities for getting hit with other people’s bags and having to move to let people in your row. But the closer it got to boarding time, the more I felt pulled in to their line. I stood up and made my way over to a nice-looking older woman, and made some passing comment wondering why people were so stressed out about getting in line. We started talking, and she was a Scottish woman also going to Heathrow through DC, but she lived in Boulder now. She was so cute.
The plane ride itself was completely uneventful. The woman next to me slept, and the man next to her read The Post-American World but didn’t want to discuss it with me. I watched most of a terrible movie called Easy Virtue. It starred Jessica Biel, which explains most of the terribleness.
Then came the four-hour layover in Washington Dulles. There weren’t many people around when we landed so I felt weird sitting at the abandoned gate. So I got some lunch, called my parents, and spent a long time wandering the halls of the C and D terminals with my 263-pound backpack. I went into several bookstores, trying to avoid hearing Shakespeare call my name from deep within the bowels of my pack, but I couldn’t find anything I wanted to pay money to read. Even when I was sitting at the gate, Ira Glass couldn’t tempt me with his podcast. I played the same game on my iTouch dozens of times, but nothing could beat the boredom. My Scottish friend eventually showed up at the gate, after having wandered a while herself. As we stood in line talking, a guy came up behind us and said to me, “You’re from Kansas City?”
I explained that I went to school in Kansas City and was heading to Oxford. He said, “Oh cool, my cousin goes to whatever school that is in Warrensburg, and she’s going to be in London doing an internship in Parliament. Her name is Kyla Stanwick [name changed to protect ???], I don’t know if you’ve heard of her.” I just kind of cocked my head to one side, puzzled, and he continued.
“Yeah, wow, I hope I sit next to you guys on the plane. It’s such a long ride; I’ll die if I sit next to someone who doesn’t talk. I’m going to London. I’m a professional poker dealer, yeah, I know, it’s really cool, so they always try to invite me when they can.”
The kind Scottish lady humored him and said, “Oh my! I bet you have some good stories!”
“Yeah,” he said, chuckling, “I have a lot of good stories. But they’re all, like, bad. A buddy of mine got his thumb broken over a card he dealt one time. Like it was his fault. Yeah, I live in Vegas for two months in the summer, but I’m from Kansas City originally. But I grew up in Dallas.”
And so on and so forth, until we boarded. Thankfully, he wasn’t near either one of us.
I lucked out with one of the seats in the front row of a section, so I had tons of legroom and still got a fold-out TV thingie. I sat next to Lisa, who majored in botany at Boston University and now works at the Smithsonian as a fundraiser for various forestry research projects. She was on her way to London to make a presentation to the big shots at HCSB for a project in Panama. I liked her.
After dinner, I pulled out my TV and watched The Proposal, which was just as funny as I remembered. I then popped a couple of Tylenol PM, set my iPod to the Appalachian Journey album by Yo-Yo Ma and friends (thanks, Dad), and fell asleep. That only lasted about 45 minutes. And then I was wiiiiiiide awake. I played the same game as always on my iTouch and listened to everything from Alison Krauss to Chris Brown, constantly checking the time to see how much longer I would be forced to sit there.
Finally, finally de-boarded and got to wait for 40ish minutes in the immigration line, where I saw my very first burka. Even though I had seen them in pictures and on TV, there was still something unnerving about being next to a woman but not being able to see her at all.
After that, I collected my luggage onto a trolley and emerged into Terminal 1 to wait for Megan. It was now about 7 AM, and I knew her flight was supposed to land around 6:45. After de-boarding, getting her luggage, making her way through immigration, and getting to Terminal 1 from Terminal 4, I expected her to show up around 7:45 or 8. To kill time, I got out my camera to take a picture of all my belongings on the trolley. Oh, thanks Nikon—“lens error.” I wasn’t even that surprised—of course my camera would poop out as soon as I embarked on the greatest adventure of my life.
I also discovered that my British phone wasn’t charged, so I knew my parents would panic when they couldn’t get ahold of me when they woke up. Then I thought it would be a good idea to go ask the BAA people to check on the status of Megan’s flight. “Coming out of Newark?” the man asked. “It’s going to arrive at 8:45. Yes, two hours delayed.” I decided to find a seat and park it, after I went to the bathroom. Navigating my two-ton trolley into the bathroom was no easy feat, but I did it. And then, as I was washing my hands, I got a nosebleed. Only the second I’ve ever had in my entire life. Just as I thought about laying on the floor and giving up on life completely, it stopped—just as quickly and randomly as it had started.
Back in the terminal, I people-watched for a while, feeling victorious when two separate people I’d been watching finally found each other. I watched happy reunions and cold business meetings, and I laughed every time the advisory messages came over the loudspeaker: “Attention please,” they all began, even when they would run five in a row. “Attention please, baggage left unattended will be confiscated and subsequently destroyed,” said one particularly exasperated spokeswoman. She also said, “Attention please, to avoid accidental injury, children should not be placed on the luggage trolleys.” Her voice and tone reminded me of all of Professor Dolores Umbridge’s educational decrees in Order of the Phoenix. Second Harry Potter thought to cross my mind—the first being contemplating pushing my luggage trolley through a wall to see if I could make it to King’s Crossing in time to catch the Hogwarts Express.
Finally, Megan arrives around 10, and we navigate our suitcases to the bus station below. We stand in a line forever, having no idea what we’re doing, until the nice lady at the counter tells us to just go find the bus and pay the driver. So we find him, and he yells at me for blocking his way off the bus, and he corrects the way I say “Gloucester Green,” (which I said correctly, thank you very much), and I can’t understand him when he asks if I want a single or return ticket. As soon as the bus starts rolling, I fight to keep my eyelids open for about five minutes, and then all of a sudden I’m coming to consciousness and we’re at the first stop in Oxford. I manage to stay awake and see Oxford as we drive through, but I’m feeling pretty weird at this point.
The guy that meets us at Gloucester Green to show us to Regent’s Park is fascinated that Megan and I go to the same college in the states and are going to the same college in Oxford. We haul our suitcases to Regent’s Park, probably only about half a mile, and arrive in the front of the school about three hours later than we had anticipated. We get keys and paperwork and I, of course, am missing some necessary things, and then we get lunch.
After lunch, the man who had been showing us around Regent’s Park drew us a map to our house and said, “Normally we’d have someone drive you there, but no one brought a car today!”
“That’s okay,” we said, “We can walk.”
The hike to the Banbury Road house isn’t bad at all—until you’re carrying a heavy Timbuk2 bag and a hiking pack the same size and weight as a nine-year-old, and dragging LITERALLY ONE HUNDRED POUNDS of crap behind you. The house was much further than we imagined, and we had to take several rest breaks to catch our breath and give our appendages a rest. But finally, we arrived at 110C Banbury Road, and we let ourselves in. We picked rooms and unpacked a little, but then we had to go down to the Cornmarket pedestrian shopping area so I could get passport photos taken for the missing paperwork at Regent’s. After turning those in, we kept walking—mostly for the love of exploring, partly to keep ourselves awake. Oxford seems like such a sprawling city when you look at it on a map, but the complete opposite side of town is still within walking distance. We wound up at Magdalen College, and then pulled out a map and found a different way home past the Radcliffe Camera. I can’t describe to you in words, or even photos, how beautiful the buildings are here. I am in love. I actually said that out loud, but the effect was lost when Megan had to clarify—“With Javier? Or this city?” Javier works in the dining hall. He is just as beautiful as these buildings, but in a more human kind of way.
Speaking of love, I received my first proposal within the first four hours of being in Oxford. While walking on High Street, we saw a man holding (I think) a stack of magazines. As we approached he said, “Hello, ladies,” so I smiled at him, and he said, “Will you marry me today?” Taken completely aback, I turned around while still walking and said, “Um, not today, but thank you!” Ever the British gentleman, he said, “Anytime you like, then, sweetheart.” I then pointed out to Megan that if we had been in America, this probably would have been a super creepy encounter, but here, everyone sounds so lovely, no matter what they’re saying.
Back at the house, our neighbor in Flat 2, Hannah, came by and introduced herself. Her husband, Andy, is a ministerial student at Regent’s. She invited us over for tea as soon as we got back from supper.
Well, we got to Regent’s at 7, which is when dinner is served every night, or so we were told. When we walked in the dining hall, everyone was already on dessert. For some freak reason that nobody knows, they served dinner at 6:30 and forgot to tell us. So everyone else got food, and we were stuck without even a chef. Javier offered us some dessert and apologized profusely, but we said it was fine. We wandered back up to our house (which is still about 20 minutes away, without luggage) and knocked on Hannah’s door. She gave us tea, and we sat and talked for a long time. I like her a lot. She’s a kindergarten teacher, and she and Andy are expecting their first child in March. She said she feels bad for us come that time, because the noise travels really well in this house. We offered to babysit, and she thought we were crazy.
When we left her house we were still starving, so we walked up the street to a co-op grocery store. Megan bought practical food, like cereal and bananas, and I, in my jet-lagged, unshowered stupor, bought a weird chicken-and-bacon sandwich, Hob Nobs, PG Tips tea, and stuff for pasta later in the week.
Back in the house, we ate, I showered, and got in bed around 11. Remembering that two Tylenol PM had done me jack squat on the plane, I decided to up my dosage to three. Sure enough, the first time I came to consciousness on Wednesday and rolled over to see what time it was, it was 1:30. In the afternoon. Fourteen and a half hours of solid sleep. Megan had been up since 11:30, but we’d missed lunch. Luckily, we didn’t have anything big planned. I felt gross all day.
We went to Regent’s to register our computers for the Internet, since our house doesn’t have it. Sore subject. We’re working on it. I’m not in the system, because my life always has to be complicated, so I got a week-long visitor’s pass in the hopes that it will be sorted out by then. We then went to the Junior Common Room (think Gryffindor common room plus a bar) to use the Internet, and we finally got in touch with Annie, who is doing OOSC and living in the south of town. She invited us over for dinner, so we went to our house to drop off our computers and pick up our pasta, and we took the 45-minute trek to 7 Western. It was so good to see everyone and meet the other kids in OOSC, and we spent the rest of the night hanging out with them in their various houses. By the time we got back to our house on Banbury, we were so revved up from all the exercise that we spent time sorting through the boxes the girls from last year had left us. They were full of all kinds of toiletries and electronics and books and maps and random memory cards they found in Spain. Goldmine.
After lunch today, we went with two other visiting students to Blackwell’s, which looks a lot like what I imagine heaven to look like. It’s the most glorious bookstore on the planet, and its only remote rival would be the library the Beast presents to Belle in Beauty and the Beast. I found three books I needed for my Post-colonial tutorial, all for a total of about 18 pounds. I tried dressing like a Brit today (skirt + tights + scarf), but I blew my cover when I hesitated about a second too long before handing the clerk a 50-pence piece. “Sorry,” I said. “Still getting used to the money.”
“I could tell by the backpack,” he replied.
Megan and I continued wandering, making our way into the Covered Market, which has the most bizarre assortment of smells ever to assault your nose. Think fish + leather + cookies + flowers. Yuck. In spite of its odor, I think I’ll definitely be going back when it comes time to do Christmas shopping. Or even regular shopping… there were some cute clothes.
Back at the house, we went into Extreme Makeover: Home Edition mode. We had bought some colorful wrapping paper (at Annie’s suggestion) to hang in our living room to give it more life, and then we spent time rearranging the furniture until it actually looked like a real home. It’s awesome now. When I have picture-taking capabilities again, you’ll get to see it.
After we exhausted our creativity, we left the house to check use the Internet again before going to dinner. We sat in the JCR for a while, and I had my first experience with not being able to understand someone who was speaking English to me. She was the vice-president of the JCR, and she and a guy with an Irish accent stopped in to pick something up. She asked us about ourselves, and I had to ask her to repeat herself once, and another time I just laughed along like I got the joke she had just made. With the amount of British movies I watch, I never thought I’d get lost in translation.
Then, tonight’s dinner adventure. Using the handy-dandy Oxford Handbook left to us by last year’s girls, we selected an Indian restaurant called The Bombay, located in Jericho, which seems to be the Westport of Oxford. When we got to the restaurant, no one was inside except two waiters sitting around waiting for customers. Since it was already 7 PM and no one was there, we got a little creeped out and decided to try the Standard Tandoori instead. We walked to where it should have been on the map, but it wasn’t there. We decided to go back up the road to Jamal’s (think Slumdog Millionaire)—there were plenty of Indian options on this street. A waiter welcomed us inside and commented that he had seen us walk by several times and asked if we were lost. We just laughed.
I ordered chicken tikka masala and rice, which wasn’t at all what I expected, but it was delicious. The highlight of the evening, though, was when an Indian/classical version of THE FINAL COUNTDOWN played on the speakers overhead. I almost died. I don’t know if I will ever mourn my loss of texting as intensely as I did then. Our waiter-friend asked us about the states and was shocked when we both said we’d never been to New York City. After we paid and stood up to leave, he looked up at me and started laughing. “Oh goodness! You’re taller than I am!” he said. I laughed a little, not knowing how to respond, and he said, “I like your height.” Can’t escape the Glamazon label, no matter where I go.
And here I am now, back in my awesome living room, typing away. This will hopefully be the longest blog there will ever be… there was just so much that happened. All little stories I would share in conversation, which is what I hope this blog to be.
And now, some observations:
-British girls are totally okay with wearing tights or leggings instead of pants.
-People let their dogs poop on the sidewalks. Walking down to Annie’s, we witnessed this twice. The first time, some guys across the street started honking and yelling, “Oi! Pick it up!” The second time, the dog belonged to what looked like a homeless man (i.e. trench coat and long, stringy, greasy hair) and he (the owner) looked around frantically for something to scoop up the waste. As we walked past he picked up an empty, discarded Coke can. I wish I had stuck around to see that unfold.
-I have never heard so many foreign languages being spoken as I have on the streets of Oxford.
-I have become self-conscious of my own voice, feeling like my American accent sticks out like a sore thumb and makes me sound dumb. Being with the OOSC kids made me feel okay with being loud again.
-I thought Anna was exaggerating, but British men are beautiful. Obviously not all of them, but I feel like the percentage is much higher than it is in America. Megan and I have deduced that it is related to their fitness level (thanks to bikes and walking so much) and their clothes. American men, take notes.
-Maybe we live in a swanky neighborhood, but everyone here drives a nice car. Audis, BMWs, Benzs, you name it. They’re all new. And I’m still freaked out every time I see a little kid in what should be the driver’s seat.
-Speaking of traffic, Megan and I have developed a serious complex relating to what side of the sidewalk we’re supposed to walk on. We finally have resorted to a case-by-case basis, navigating around people as required.