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Entries in Travis Mooney (1)

Friday
Aug172007

English Lesson #6: The Rail Story

After Jen left on her big old jet airliner, I did what any rational person would do—I called my friend in London and told him my weekend had just opened up. I haven’t seen Travis in…quite a few years. We used to work together at El Corral bookstore at Cal Poly. Aside from visiting Travis and wanting to see more of London than just the airport, I was anxious to get a feel for the modes of transportation into the Big Smoke. Jen’s sisters are coming to visit in a couple of weeks and I thought it might be prudent to be familiar with how to actually get to London before they arrive.

Driving within the London city limits is generally considered to be a bad idea, and it was certainly not something I wanted to deal with. Although not the cheapest, the best method for getting to London is the train. The train station nearest me is Portchester, which is almost exactly two miles away—about a thirty minute walk. It took almost exactly 30 minutes to get to the train station Saturday morning, and as I walked up the steps I noticed a train sitting on the tracks. I looked up at the station marquee: London – Waterloo. Waterloo was my destination.

There’s been a bit of a donnybrook here lately over boarding trains without having a ticket. The train companies have come under fire in the media for imposing fines (in addition to the fares) to people who board without tickets, even when they board from stations with no attendants and no working ticket machines. There was no way I was jumping on any train until I was triple sure I had the right ticket for my destination. Unfortunately Portchester is a small station with no attendant and only one ticket machine and there was already a woman using the machine when I arrived at the top of the stairs. The train left. I was not on board. I wasn’t really concerned, I did some homework prior to embarking on this adventure and knew that departures to London were fairly regular and frequent. I bought my ticket a few minutes later without incident, but The Road Scholar in me was thinking “this is not a good start”.

I do love traveling by train. And it’s not just the "woo-woo" sound the horn makes because none of the trains I rode over the weekend honked at all. As rail transportation goes, I thoroughly enjoyed the British experience. Scheduling was spot on, every train departed right on time. Most of the time the conductor would stand on the platform staring at the digital clock on the marquee, waiting literally for the exact second to give the go ahead to the train’s engineer. The trains traveled smoother and were cleaner than any I’ve ever ridden, and they haul ass. The underground is a different story, but we’ll get to that.

I knew I could count on Travis to provide the mental and physical getaway I needed. After four weeks of touring emergency rooms and buying parking lots I was ready for a skinful, and a skinful is what I got. Upon arriving at Travis’ flat I met his friend “The Monsignor” (no religious affiliation) and realized I had some catching up to do—they were already a bottle and a half ahead of me. I’ll spare you all the gritty details, mostly because I don’t remember them. I know there was a pub involved, a girl named Rebecca (who I think is Travis’ next girlfriend), and a guy named Simon who is making a movie in Thailand about ill-tempered mutated rats that turn into beautiful women. I think I might have been invited to the premier in Thailand, but again—gritty details. Somehow we ended up at a French restaurant (not my idea)—Chez Gerard or something to that effect. We ordered our food, including a carafe of wine and an escargot appetizer. I know I was blooded because when Travis complained to us that this was not how escargot is to be prepared, I willingly sampled the offensive bastards to confirm (as if I would know the difference). Sacre bleu, these were NOT the snails we were looking for! Travis sent them back. This was just the tip of the iceberg.

Our meal arrived. I ordered a steak medium well. I couldn’t tell you what Travis and the Monsignor ordered, but I can tell you it was unacceptable, as was my steak. We ended up sending the whole meal back and leaving, but not before my companions lectured the maitre d' and he tore up our bill. Great, now I was drunk, starving, and had French all over me. It gets better.

We walked across the street to the liquor store and got a few supplies, after all, the night was young. Once back at Travis’ flat, we settled in, put on a movie, ordered a pizza, and realized Travis left his phone at Chez Gerard. Oh yeah, it’s that good. Obviously we were in no condition to be traipsing back into enemy territory. The phone would have to wait until morning, much to Rebecca’s dismay I’m sure.

The next morning, Travis and I picked up his phone at Chez Gerard and took what seemed like a thirty mile hike through Hampstead Heath, which is essentially like Central Park on steroids. The place is huge and offers hilltop views of London, lots of trees and foliage, athletic fields, open spaces, ponds, trails, and a ‘women only’ swimming hole. No, I didn’t take any pictures. I forgot the camera back at Travis’ flat.

It was fun having nothing to do, watching the people and reminiscing about all the grief we used to cause Preston at the bookstore. Preston, by the way, is sitting at his desk right now at El Corral reading this—or more accurately skimming this for the small words or his name—and he just laughed out loud. Presto, go take a tea break, right now, in honor of us. Just get up, tell the guys behind the counter “boys, personal time” and walk out. Job done.

Alas it was time to go. Now you’re thinking, wait, we haven’t heard what Sean thought of the infamous London Underground. What about the tube!? I’m glad you asked, let me tell you where you can shove the tube. Maybe my expectations were set too high. Not once did I hear the famed female voice tell me to mind the gap (although I did see it painted on the ground at one station), not that there really was much of a gap to mind. As a means of transportation, the Tube does get you where you need to go. That’s really about all I can say for it. As a result of my travels, I do consider myself to be somewhat of a mass transit connoisseur. The tube, while it’s not dingy, does not boast the cleanest trains or stations I’ve ever seen. It’s easy to navigate but it’s pricey and it uses a zone system. I hate zone systems. That assessment was made even before I started my journey from Hampstead back to Portsmouth.

I had no problem buying my ticket and getting to the right track, although once again I arrived to find the train I needed was now departing. No problem though, according to the marquee, another train would be along in two minutes. Two minutes became four minutes. Then, an announcement: the only words I heard from the booming voice were “communication failure”, “northern line”, and “evacuate”.

Just my luck, the entire Northern line was now shut down indefinitely. I got a refund on my ticket, made a quick call to Travis, and began a two mile walk to the Jubilee line to catch a ride back to Waterloo station. I never did find out the details surrounding the “communication failure”, but it’s no matter, the nail has already been pounded into the coffin. Final verdict: British trains—randy; London Underground—I’ve had better.