After an hour and fifteen minute delay on the Tarmac, trapped in a seat so small I couldn’t cross my legs, the plane finally took off. Apparently there had been some “mechanical issues,” which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but gratefully they had been resolved. I turned on the in flight entertainment, practically cheered when I saw “Lego Movie” among the options, and reached for my earbuds, an ordeal that reinforced the necessity of yoga in my life. I thought of my friend James, the world’s happiest Production Assistant / posture nazi, and how proud he would be of my straight-backed, neutral-leg position. Everything is awesome!! Sigh.
As soon as dinner was served (a grueling decision between chicken or pasta, either of which I would inevitably feel I had made the wrong choice), I downed a little blue pill with a glass of Cabernet, my savior at 30,000 feet (see below: “Flying Lessons”). About 15 minutes later, right after Emmet and Wild Style had reached the Old West, I found myself feeling really warm and fuzzy. Pretty soon I was lassoing some horses of my own, only they were zebras with pink and blue stripes, and I wasn’t in the desert but rather on the planet Xanaxia, where everything is sparkly and beautiful and sleepy…
“Would you like some breakfast, miss?” I opened my eyes to find the flight attendant serving croissants and coffee. “Yes, please,” I smiled, thrilled by yet one more successful drug induced 8 hour plane sleep. I started back up where I had left off in “Lego Movie,” and finished it just as we began our descent. I could see England! Everything is awesome!! While I’d been to London as a baby with my parents and had enjoyed several layovers in Heathrow over the years, I’d never been to the city properly. I could feel the excitement simmering in my body (along with the coffee that was jolting me further and further from Xanaxia.)
Aside from the usual tedious customs line made better by free wifi (I loved England already!), navigating my way from the terminal to the Heathrow Connect was painless. The train took me right into the center, London Paddington, and when I exited I got that familiar yet foreign feeling I get every time I arrive in a new city. It’s a bit like waking up from a dream, or rather, waking up in a dream. Different air, different energy, different culture. But same language. That would make the next week decidedly easier to get around, in more ways than one (yes, that pun you are thinking is intentional.)
My first stop was my friend Mike’s work, the guy who I would be staying with the next week. On the way there, I practically cried as I passed centuries old buildings, regretting the fact that my entire adult life had been spent in Los Angeles. There were so many lives to lead, jobs to be had, ways to spend my 20s. I silently cursed my friend for having lived in both New York and London post LA, then rang up to his office. Any residual jealousy immediately disappeared upon seeing him, and I chose at that moment to be the person I wanted to be over the next few weeks: open, accessible, joyous.
We walked to his place, I dropped my bags, and within 40 minutes I was having a pint with one of my best friend’s sisters and her boyfriend. I live for moments like this. Practically strangers (we had met once before 4 years ago), and yet I felt so comfortable, so wonderfully at home with Izzy and James. They are the kind of couple that makes you want to be a better person. You can’t help but smile and laugh and be grateful in their presence, and I was all three. A few pints later, and I was ready to cancel my return flight to LA.
After leaving them (much to my chagrin) I met for dinner with Mike and his friend Ben. It was healthy, fairly inexpensive, and delicious – a rarity in London according to Mike. The company was excellent, and we continued the rapport at a hole in the wall. Literally. We knocked on a door, a server approved us through a sliding window, and we entered a speakeasy of sorts in the west end. My chocolate old fashioned did the trick, and pretty soon I was tearing up the dance floor to the Eagles. How funny to fly thousands of miles only to listen to a song about California. Small world indeed.
I got back to Mike’s flat at a reasonable hour, around 1am, and completed my usual evening routine. It’s amazing, I thought, I could be anywhere in the world, and I am still me. Same face wash, same toothbrush, same ritual. But a world away. A new perspective. That’s the beauty of travel. We recognize ourselves in another light, and we are transformed by it. I said a small blessing, prayed for sleep, and retired to the couch. What a trip this would be.