I hate luggage. I hate the idea that my whole world is supposed to be stuffed into it. I hate the nagging fear that I've left one of them behind or forgotten to pack something essential. I hate remembering what I've forgotten. I hate when they don't come rolling down the damned conveyor belt. I hate getting a claim check for my baggage, and never having anyone ask to see it. I hate the fact that they're never big enough to begin with and always seem to have shrunk by the end. I hate the aroma of two weeks worth of socks and undies. I hate the way my duffelbag looks next to your Louis Vuitton.
But the thing I hate the absolute most about luggage is carrying it. I hate everything about it. The very idea of it makes me nauseous. Lugging bags and suitcases up hills and through train stations is not my idea of a good time. Toting totebags and backpacks leaves me feeling equine. Suitcases with wheels are a joke. (If the Samsonite Corporation wants to give me a break they should never have stopped with just two little wheels -- they should have added a seat and a mini-bar. Now that would be a useful suitcase.) Hell, I'd probably support the return of slavery if it meant a plentiful supply of porters.
If the truth were told, I'd have to say that the prospect of living out of my suitcase for three weeks was, in fact, the only part of my TAFF trip I wasn't looking forward to.
Once we'd actually arrived in England, Lynn and I knew what lay ahead of us and did our best to avoid the Backbreaking Hell of Luggage Transport whenever possible. Our first test occurred when John and Eve Harvey met our 7:00 a.m. flight at Heathrow Airport. Fortunately, airports aren't much of a challenge -- I simply grabbed a luggage cart in baggage claim and wheeled our cumbersome duffelbags right into the garage and right into the boot of the Harvey's car. I didn't even break a sweat.
When we ran off to Wales the next day we once again avoided any serious lifting by leaving the bulk of our luggage behind with John and Eve. We took a smaller bag with us knowing that we were only going to be gone overnight and would be returning directly to the Precursor hotel in Stevenage. John and Eve had consented to bring our bags with them to the hotel for the convention and had graciously brought them up to their room on the seventh floor. When we finally checked into the Hertfordpark Hotel on Friday afternoon, I had only to carry the bags two doors down the hallway to our room. So far, so good.
After the Precursor softball game on Sunday I had a conversation with Jack Heneghan, who'd been in England for almost a month on a business trip, and discovered that he was driving to London that evening to spend the night with Rob and Avedon in East Ham. We were scheduled to follow suit the next day -- as were Andy Hooper and Carrie Root -- and managed, with the assistance of sixty or seventy beers, to talk Jack into driving all of our collective baggage down to London with him that night. His agreement guaranteed Lynn and me another luggage-free trip through London. Our plan was working.
In the week that followed, we made daily trips from Hotel Hansen into the heart of London to meet our Native Guide, Martin "The Babe" Smith, to tour museums, drink beer, visit shops (like the Tintin Shoppe in Covent Garden), drink beer, eat in some interesting restaurants, and, occasionally, drink some beer.
Martin had taken an extra week off from work to "hang out with the Americans" and treated us to a personalized journey through the city's maze of streets and pubs. He even accompanied us when we played Ugly American Tourists, visiting the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels. Martin's good-humored patience and friendship was one of the highlights of our visit to the UK.
We were scheduled to leave for Glasgow on Thursday morning. Up until that time we had managed to avoid carrying our luggage any further than it took to put them into someone's trunk. But now we had a problem. There was no avoiding it any longer. There were bags to be carried and nobody but us to carry them. Unless ...
"What if we take a taxi to the train station?" I asked my wife over the teetering pile of duffelbags and backpacks. "We could go to that mini-cab office up the street and get a taxi," I suggested. The mini-cab office was near the tube station and we'd walked past it a dozen times that week.
"Do you think it will be all right?" Lynn asked, remembering all those episodes of Eastenders she'd seen. "Are you sure they can get us there in time?"
"Of course they can," I said, trying to forget all those episodes of Eastenders I'd seen. "They're professionals. What could go wrong?"
The next morning, a couple of hours before our train was due to depart, we carried our bags the two blocks to the mini-cab stand for our ride to Euston Station. I figured that I could carry the damned things that far, if it meant I wouldn't have to touch them again until we reached our train. Fortunately, our cab was ready and waiting. "This is a good sign," I told Lynn. "Famous last words," she replied.
Despite her cynicism, things seemed to be going smoothly. The Pakistani owner of the cab stand spoke Pakistani to our Pakistani driver (the only thing I understood was the mention of Euston Station) and they nodded to each other in agreement. My momentary worries about a potential language barrier proved unnecessary when the driver greeted us warmly and commented on the unusually hot weather.
Traffic was heavy, but I wasn't worried. We'd left plenty of time for any problems that might occur. I just sat back and enjoyed the scenery (even the slums are quaint in England). After a while I leaned forward in my seat and tried making small talk with the driver. I had driven a cab in the States for a while in the Seventies and was curious to find out some of the interesting tidbits about driving in London. "How do you like being a mini-cab driver?" I asked him. "Is it a good way to make a living."
"I don't know yet," he answered. "I have only been driving for three days."
A sudden look of panic spread across Lynn's face.
"You are going to Euston Station, yes?" he asked us a moment later. I smiled weakly and confirmed that we were indeed going to Euston Station. "Okay," he said confidently, waving his London A to Z. "You can tell me how to get there, yes?"
I let out a scream that only dogs could hear.
An hour and forty minutes later we pulled up in front of Euston Station, with about twenty minutes left to catch our train to Scotland. Shaken, but relieved, we ran through the station, gleefully dragging our luggage behind us.
We met up with our traveling companion, Martin "He Won't Leave" Smith, shortly after finding our seats and regaled him with our morning's trauma. Martin laughed and laughed. And laughed. Finally, we were forced to change seats and pretend we didn't know him for the rest of the trip. But still he laughed. (I secretly vowed to take revenge on him for his insulting behavior and did so at my first opportunity. Hah! To this day Martin still thinks he "lost" his wallet at the convention in Glasgow. That'll teach him!)
Fortunately, the day's horrors were over. Our Glasgow hotel was actually part of the rail station and required no suitcase hauling in order to reach our room. After that, the only heavy lifting we did during our stay involved pint glasses of lager.
We returned to London a week later, traveling this time in the company of Frank Lunney. Frank had flown to Glasgow for the convention and travelled south with us. The train trip itself took about five and a half hours -- most of which was spent next to two evil children who were having Much Too Much Fun with the automatic doors -- and left us exhausted upon our arrival back in Euston Station.
We had once again made reservations at Hotel Hansen but decided that we were too tired to battle the subway with all of our post-Worldcon bags, sacks, envelopes, luggage and whiskey bottles, etc., and elected to try our luck with another taxicab. "Only this time," I declared, "we're taking a real London taxi -- NOT one of those damned mini-cabs." So we hauled all six thousand of our suitcases down to the taxi stand and waited our turn in line.
It took about fifteen minutes to reach the top of the line, by which time we were all beginning to slip into a post-Worldcon coma. The sight of our cab pulling up towards us was quite a relief.
As the car rolled to a stop a few feet in front of us, we were all jerked back to reality when it suddenly slammed into the curb and jumped up onto the pavement. It came right at us, screeching to a halt within inches of our precious suitcases. The tall, pale, red-headed driver apologized profusely for nearly running us down and hopped out of the cab to load up our many bags. Despite his slight build the driver displayed considerable strength as he piled our luggage into the trunk with one hand. We gave him Rob and Avedon's address and slumped back in our seats for one of London's legendary taxi drivers -- reportedly the best trained cabbies in the world.
"I'm sorry about the disturbance back there in the station, folks," said the cab driver, stopping at a red light. "It's just that I've been having some trouble today," he continued sheepishly. "I don't know what the problem is."
Then he held up his left arm for all of us to see. It was badly swollen and red in color. It seemed to be pointing a bit too much to the left at a very unnatural angle. "Does this look broken to you?" he asked.
Lynn started to laugh uncontrollably. "Here we go again," she said. "Here we go again."