Share a story about the furthest you’ve ever traveled from home.
The guy on the train.
I had been schooled: “In America, people say ‘come on over’ or ‘I’ll meet you next week’, but they don’t mean it.”
Even the book “Let’s Go–England” (a 70’s copy found in a Laundromat) told me that if invited somewhat casually, with no follow up plan, to a location, it would be considered rude not to show up. This would be the farthest from home I had ever traveled, and the last thing I wanted to be was rude.
The other thing that I failed to learn by reading the travel books was the train ticket advice…you will need your ticket to get off the train. Simple enough, right? It wasn’t as if I was accustomed to train travel (at least not yet, anyway), so I didn’t have any bad habits to break.
On a train from Gatwick (ultimate destination, Gower Street via the Goodge street station) I had the weariness and exhilaration that accompanies the completion of a long trek. I wouldn’t have needed this next-to-final leg of the journey had I flown into Heathrow, but I saved hundreds of dollars, and I met ‘the poet.’
He sits across from me and says ‘hello’ with an English accent so thick I had no idea what in God’s name he was saying. Since the plane was full of Americans, this was my first sip of the UK and I intended to drink deeply.
It was all that I expected. It sounded beautiful and I listened intently, picking up a bit here and there. He seemed fascinated that I was American, and I was fascinated at his fascination, among other things.
He told me he was a poet and I said I kinda was too. We dug through our belongings. In a moment he came up with a journal out of a worn, cotton messenger bag. I pawed through my luggage to get mine. I was also packing a Martin guitar in a massive hard shell case, an over-sized soft sided suitcase that said “parental property” all over it, and a purse. Nothing had wheels and I checked my passport (purse) and guitar every eight minutes.
We shared a few poems, and had that non-verbal agreement that writers sometimes have: Yes, these are poems. It is so embarrassing when someone hands you something that doesn’t seem like a poem to you. I was glad I didn’t have to manufacture some kind of reaction, I was way too tired for that. I had been awake for 19 hours, in the air for 9 of them, and I was having alcohol while severely dehydrated. I wasn’t buzzed, drunk or stoned. I was crazy, but I didn’t yet know it.
The ride was less than an hour and we exchanged numbers, mine, the student number for the house at 35 Gower street. I spoke to him on the phone a few times but this caused some issues with a boyfriend or two…ahh, the jealousies of youth!
When the train stopped, I went to hop out and the conductor asked for my ticket. I was wearing my cape and had no pockets, and I was so struck by the ride and my new poet friend that I was flustered and near tears while searching my purse and the bag that held the poems.
A hand reached out behind me holding a pale yellow ticket. The sans-serif font explained my destination to the conductor and to the world. It was as if I was freed from incarceration, the endorphin release brought the tears the rest of the way.
The hand belonged, of course, to my new literary cohort, who had come to the front of the train to see what the commotion was about. We had already said our goodbyes, simple and sincere. Now came an awkward moment and a final glance that I was sure revealed my craziness in full bloom. The last look I saw from him can only be described by the word poignant. I probably looked a little desperate, that would be the kindest word for the moment.
We had a few phone times, me on the Gower street phone where the whole house could hear even the slightest whisper; he on a pay phone in a little red booth that I got to see in a Polaroid photo he later sent me.
He sent me a few love poems but it was not “like that”; he wanted to share critiques and, while we were close in age, I believe he felt a little fatherly towards me, writing-wise. If this girl couldn’t get off the train by herself…
After a few phone calls and failed meeting attempts and new, exciting adventures supplanting this one, we stopped talking. But he that was the boy who helped me validate myself me as a writer, by way of my first European peer review.
Weeks after we met I realized he must have paid a hefty few pounds for me to exit the train (what the delay hoopla was about). In a pocket in my sweater was the pale yellow ticket with the sans-serif font.