A congested highway, black skies, and a glistening tarmac-- these were my first glimpses of the UK. I landed at Heathrow in the early morning on Friday, Jan. 7th, exhilarated and exhausted. I had not slept on the the plane-- which meant I hadn't slept all night-- and wouldn't get a chance to sleep again until I arrived in York that evening. My plane, a United flight overflowing with University of Evansville students, emptied rather quickly, and it wasn't long before I found myself navigating the corridors of Heathrow alone. I made my way to baggage claim, found my luggage, and then, a bit nervous, navigated the stern faces that were supposed to grant me my entry visa. With the exception of a few disagreements with the Underground ticket machine, I managed to make it through rather smoothly. And, less than an hour after departing the plane, I found myself sitting with my luggage on the tube bound for King's Cross.
This is when I started feeling American: I took up too much room, everyone else knew what they were doing, and I had a hard time not laughing whenever the automated (yet very polite) lady's voice said that I was on the Piccadilly line bound for "Cockfosters." (Why on earth would you name a place "Cockfosters?") Upon arriving at King's Cross, I noticed that people moved quickly, mechanically. London moves fast-- much faster even than Chicago-- and I found it easy to feel like an impediment. Business people crowded around me, some conversing, many reading books or newspapers, and everyone not really minding my obtrusively gargantuan suitcases.
My first meal was a McDonald's quarter-pounder with cheese. I was already missing home. After I had severely burnt my tongue drinking cheap coffee, re-read nearly all of Sin and Syntax, and stared out at the rain for four hours, my train was finally ready to board. I got on, exhausted and hungry, sitting across the table from a clean, well-dressed business man. I dozed off a number of times once I realized the sad fact that the English countryside from London to York is actually rather ugly. It looked like a grassier version of Illinois, which did nothing to raise my spirits, and by the time we pulled into the train station at York, I felt a bit like boarding a plane headed back to O Hare.
But then through the fog of fatigue and dampened spirits came the slight whispers of excitement. I'd made it to York, and the metal and glass vaulting of the train platforms looked to my weary self like the most beautiful things I had ever seen. After queuing for a taxi, I took a black cab up to the University. If I failed now to mention how far the cab driver's disposition went to lifting my spirits, I would do the man a great disservice; he was a very kind old man, who did his best to make me feel welcome in York. As we drove along, I marveled out the window (despite the heavy rain and darkening skies) at the beauty of the ancient city walls, the quaint shops and roundabouts that took us up the hill to Heslington and the University. He waited for me while I picked up my keys and then took me to my residence off campus, making sure I got in safely before he drove away.
The first person I met was Chris, who helped me carry my luggage up the stairs to my room, and who then talked to me about York and where to find the Vodaphone store. He was a great a guy, and proved his patience over the next few days by always answering the doorbell when I rang. (They initially messed up my keys and only gave me a key to my room, not to the front door of the residence.) His kindness encouraged me. After talking for a bit, I walked down to the Sainsbury's Local for a cheap deli sandwich and then collapsed into bed. I had arrived. My time in England had begun.