*Day One: 28 December, 2003*
From Heathrow Airport we took the Piccadilly line into central London. The trip takes roughly forty five minutes. Throughout the ride I was convinced that every person standing near our bags in the baggage store area on the train was going to steal them. I watched each person carefully and was poised at any time to jump up and tackle anyone trying to make off with our things. They were terrible feelings, these concurrent waves of paranoia, and I was acutely aware of how much I despised myself for being so suspicious of each and every person that got within five feet of our bags. I attributed them to my sleep deprivation, the time away from the city, and my thoroughly American fear and distrust of mass transportation. Needless to say, our bags were not stolen.
When we eventually arrived at the Euston Square tube stop, we gathered up our bags and climbed up out of the underground station to the street to try to get our bearings and find our hotel. Taking on my usual role as Chief In Charge of Getting Us Lost While Simultaneously Ignoring Sound Advice, I led us in no fewer than three wrong directions and at least two miles of walking before stopping to try to actually find the address of our hotel in my many, many pockets. The gravity of the situation was made more severe by my ever-developing need to relieve myself of that last cup of water I drank on the plane before landing. Imagine me dancing about in the cold London streets on less than two hours sleep at what was about 4 AM Pacific Time, looking through dozens of luggage and coat pockets for a scrap of paper no larger than a postage stamp. The dampness in the air did nothing to improve the situation.
Frantically digging around, I finally found the address I had scribbled down the night before we left in my backpack and proceeded to hurriedly match its street with a set of coordinates in my pocket London A to Z map. When I found the coordinates I lined it up with where we were and set off again (admittedly with a bit more of a “spring” in my step) in what we were confident was now the proper direction. When we reached our hotel we laughed.
We had come up _directly underneath_ our hotel when we came out of the tube stop to begin with. Had we but turned around when we got to the top of the stairs, we would have seen it an hour sooner. Who would have figured that the Euston Square Hotel was so literally placed?
After checking in to our hotel we had three basic goals for the day: 1) walk around the old neighborhoods; 2) eat Cannelloni at Amalfi’s and 3) keep each other awake until at least 8 PM London time. We made our way directly to Gray’s Inn Road to look at our old flats, and to visit the small hole-in-the-wall shop where we bought so many chocolate muffins and fresh bread three years before. The experience immediately brought back hundreds of memories and erased the three year gap. We saw the street-side windows of our flats and imagined ourselves inside them again, looking down; we saw the huge oak doors and recalled five hundred openings; we saw the little shop and went inside to buy some snacks and look for sparks of recognition in either of the shop’s employees. There were no such sparks.
From Gray’s Inn Road we made our way onto Theobald’s Road and then walked back toward the Holborn area. We meandered up Southampton Row toward Amalfi’s for an early dinner/lunch/breakfast (jet lag’s a bitch), half expecting it to be replaced by a Pizza Hut or Starbucks or McDonald’s. We both breathed a sigh of relief to find it alive and well, and open on a Sunday afternoon.
What ensued was a strange conversation that is half-remembered by both of us, punctuated by flashes of sleep-deprived, silent paranoia when we were convinced that the German (or perhaps Austrian) couple sitting at the table next to us kept staring at us whenever we spoke to one another. This was complimented by the fact (or at least the perception) that whenever we began talking, they stopped. The result was a series of tentative mini-conversations, each of us focusing hard to stay awake and alert and hungry for the meal-to-come, each of us more or less failing to do so.
After the early dinner, we fled the scene (pleasantly satiated) and wandered our way back to our hotel via a circuitous route that neither of us remembers. There is a vague sense of ending up on Tottenham Court Road around dark, where I took a compulsive first photo of a furniture stored named “Bo Concept.” I remember thinking, “I know a guy named Beau, that’s neat. I should take a picture.” And taking the photo. That’s about it.
When we got back to the hotel it was still technically early (around 7 PM), so we tried to stay awake as long as we could to get adjusted to the time zone. For roughly an hour and a half it became a game of searching desperately for something interesting on TV or in a magazine to occupy the time before automatic processes took over and knocked us out cold.
There were desperate internal struggles to preserve conciousness that on more than one occassion were deceived by waking dreams and nodding foreheads. We proudly lasted until about 8:30, and then slept soundly like the worn out travelers we were.