I landed at Heathrow in London about 4am the next day to find they'd checked my baggage all the way through to Turkey. I had to spend a week in England for training and now I had no luggage. They appeased me (I was cranky from being up all night on my flight) by giving me free breakfast at the airport. Heathrow was a dirty airport.
After two hours they found my luggage, I got my rental car, and began my two-hour drive to Alconbury Airbase. It didn't go smoothly. As I tried to exit the airport, I realized I needed a little ticket thingy from the rental company to put in the machine to raise the barrier thingy and so I was caught there. I tried to put the car in reverse but it wouldn't go. I messed with it, pulled out the owner's manual and still couldn't figure it out. So I left the car, with honking British traffic backed up behind me, ran back to the rental office, got the ticket, and asked how to put the car in reverse.
Once out of the airport I kept telling myself,"Watch for roundabouts...be careful" As I was thinking this, I drove right into one and was nearly killed by a large, screaming truck. I got on the highway which loops around London, the M-1, but according to directions I'd received, I was going the wrong way. So I turned around and went the other way. Unfortunately my information was wrong. I drove clear around London...had no idea
When I'd reached my last bit of sanity, I was at a stoplight and four kids started washing my windshield. I glared at them but they didn't get the message. When they finished, one asked, in a thick British accent,"Got any change?" I said,"Did I ask you to wash my windshield?" He replied,"No..." I drove off. A few miles later, while turning around on a highway, I was caught in deep gravel. I rocked the car back and forth, trying to free it. As I was doing this, a car of Arab-looking people pulled up, and in broken English, asked directions. Irritated, I said,"Uh...I'm lost too". They left.
I was furious, and scared. I guess I lost my cool big-time, and the lack of sleep didn't help either. I got a sleeve caught in the car door and tore it clean off. The light began to glow when I started using the yellow SOS emergency telephones on the side of the roads. I'd say,"Hi, I'm a U.S. serviceman visiting England, I've been awake for over 30 hours, I'm low on gas, low on money, and I need to get to Alconbury Airbase". After a series of ten calls at different phones (one guy had me driving to the wrong airbase, and I went another hour out of my way) I finally made it to Alconbury, after six hours, and my rotting coat, a gift from Miimii in 1990, had been nearly torn in half.
The first day of training was on a holiday. I called my contact at Molesworth Airbase twice, leaving him a message, telling him where I was and how to reach me. I drove the ten miles to Molesworth on October 14, and no one was at the school. Another office, a 24-hour watch, said,"It's a government holiday...no one is at work". I drove over to the school to check, and even talked to the base gate guard who said,"Uhhh...no...it's a holiday, almost everyone is off today." I got him to find my contact's home number and leave a message there. I drove back to my room at Alconbury and left ANOTHER message. I got no calls that day.
The next morning I arrived at school and the instructor said,"I got your message. You must have gotten in last night". I replied,"No, Sunday" He said,"But we had class yesterday". I glared at him (again) and said,"I left two messages, you knew where I was, why didn't you call?" Idiot. So they condensed the class. During my week in England, I was so afraid of getting lost that I only went for a short drive near the base to photograph a church.
|On October 18, I drove back to Heathrow, and didn't get lost once. It took two hours this time. The only highlight I can recall from that is seeing the supersonic airliner, Concorde, through a maze of giant Boeing 747's at Heathrow. It looked like a toy sitting in their midst, and not very impressive among gigantic company. So forgettable that only now, 17 years later, do I recall seeing it. I flew over Bulgaria and to Istanbul, Turkey.|