I wake up groggy and still drunk. I lay there in bed staring out the window trying to get the room to stop spinning. I can see construction underway across the street and I think I am on the second or third floor of whatever building I am in. It’s light outside, barely; reaffirming my belief that it is early morning. “Good God, where am I?” I utter to myself. I sit up and try to wrestle myself out of the ultra-white sheets. As I struggle to free myself I notice that there is a girl in the bed. As she begins to wake I attempt to piece together the story of the night before. I toss on some underwear and tiptoe out of the room, doing my best not to wake the girl. I descend narrow wooden steps taking me one floor down and find the bathroom. I lean over the sink and splash cold water on my face. I drink from the faucet for a moment and the cold water brings me back to life. I head back upstairs to the bedroom, but the girl is awake in bed by now. She smiles at me and says, “Good morning.” And then it hits me- I laugh as I explain to her that for a few minutes I completely forgot that I was in London
I went into the summer of 2016 with my future up in the air. In March I was granted a spot on the waitlist for Columbia University in New York City- and I would wait until the end of summer to see if a spot would open up for me, in Florida. An offer of admittance could come at anytime- including the day before classes start in August. I decided it would be wisest to wait it out in SW Florida with my parents, which would allow me to move, if need be, without breaking a housing lease. It would also allow me to get reacquainted with my parents. I hadn’t seen them for more than two weeks at a time in almost a decade due to my time in the Marine Corps and attending college 2,000 miles away. I would work at a bar in town and chipping away at some outstanding debt while I waited to hear from Columbia.
In June a good friend of mine from England reached out to me to catch up. We had been friends for almost three years and in that time he had visited me three times in Colorado as well as a trip to Australia for two week while I studied abroad. He explained that he was leaving for a training deployment to Kenya the first week of September and that I should come visit him in August before he took off. I told him that I was excited at the idea of school in New York, how it is one of the best schools in the country, and how they may offer me a spot at the last second. Naturally he understood my position, but was persistent in his efforts to get me to go. I caved. I told him I would buy the ticket immediately because it was the cheapest they were going to get, as well as the trip insurance. The deal was that if I got into school I would simply get my money back for my ticket, one way or another. If I didn’t get into school I would need a pick-me-up and a trip to London would certainly cure that. Either I would get into an Ivy League school or I would get over it by leaving the country for 18 days. A win-win situation really.
On July 20th I received an email from Columbia informing me that a admission decision was available. Naturally I logged in, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, excited at the idea of moving to New York City to attend arguably the best journalism school in the country. I quickly learned, like I have on too many occasions, that things do not always go according to plan and dreams, as nice as they are, don’t always come to be. The university had reached its cap and no more spots would be available. So, I turned to my secondary plan.
I called up my English buddy, Alex, to inform him of my bad news, which, as empathetic as he was, was good news to him. He was ecstatic to explain our travel plans to me. “Not just England mate, we are going all over Europe,” he said. He already had it laid out, loosely, as far as where we would go and approximately when we would be there. The plan, tentatively, was for London, France, back to London, Croatia, Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, back to Germany, Amsterdam, and back to London. I would fly out of Fort Myers, Florida on August 14th and return September 1st; 18 days. I knew then that 18 days wouldn’t be enough to see all of Europe; that couldn’t be done over several years. My plan was to get an idea of where I would revisit and what places I would be more than happy to leave off the itinerary in the future. Monty is an officer in the British Military and well cultured; he also speaks French, Arabic, and Russian, which didn’t hurt to have. Both of us being military guys we knew the importance of bringing only the essentials- any kind of checked luggage was out of the question. We would pack light and move fast. We wouldn’t need half the shit we brought with us anyway.
My trip from Fort Myers to England was an absolute nightmare. A series of delays came about from the equivalent to a check engine light for the plane. A part had to be replaced, which had to come from Tampa. The only person who could put the part on the plane, of course, was all the way in Tampa. My flight was supposed to leave Fort Myers at 2:27 pm, but that would be delayed time and time again. I originally had a four hour layover in Atlanta; taking off for London at 8:40 that night. If I didn’t make my flight out of Atlanta I would have to try again, at the same time tomorrow afternoon, losing a whole day in Europe. I lucked out. A last minute spot opened up on another flight to Atlanta that would arrive 20 minutes before my next flight left for London. The only reason I was able to take this flight, by the way, was because I only had a carry on; no time for checked bags. I was sat in the very last row of the plane.
I checked the status of my flight from Atlanta to London; delayed 30 minutes. This gave me a 50-minute window to exit the plane, navigate an unfamiliar airport, and swim through the idiots that occupied the terminals, all before they closed to door to the gate. I explained my situation to the stewardess at the back of the plane and asked, begged, for her assistance. She said she would make an announcement, but explained that people don’t always listen and tend to get up anyway. I acknowledged the fact that people are weasels and thanked her for her help. I had my bag read to go before we even touched down. The stewardess made her announcement, requesting passengers to remain in their seats, so other passengers could make their connecting flights. As she and I both expected, passengers shrugged off the request and prepared to disembark the plane in their typical manner-slow and uncoordinated. I tried making my way forward, politely saying “excuse me” and “pardon me”, explaining I had a plane to catch. Most passengers just stared; examining me from top to bottom, and to top again before resuming their sheepish ways. That’s when manners went out the window.
I started swimming through passengers, physically moving them out of my way, and pushing them back into their seats. I could hear their disgust and passive comments behind me as I passed. Next thing I knew I was off the plane, jumping and dodging through people in the crowds. I was at a dead sprint at one point in time, checking my phone periodically for the time, all the while I was picturing a TSA agent tackling me.
I arrive at the gate and there is no stewardess, representative, nobody, there. My heart sank into my stomach and immediately felt sick. After a moment a woman appeared, scanned my ticket, and I boarded the plane. I was shocked- there may have been 20 people on a plane that held at least 200. Naturally I found a row to take lie down in. Then, naturally, a woman and three screaming kids came and sat next to my row. Whole plane, hundreds of seats, had to sit next to me. I grabbed my shit without saying a word and retreated to the back corner of the plane in hopes nobody would be there and that I could rest. Not a soul. I kicked my feet up and did my best to relax. I drank a quarter bottle of Nyquil to help put me to sleep for the flight- a little trick we used to get to and from Iraq and Afghanistan. In eight hours or so I would land in London. I didn't know it at the time, but I would get more sleep on the plane ride over than any of the other nights of my trip.