The trip to London would prove to be my greatest adventure. The very quick plane ride from Hamburg to London actually took less time than getting trough Heathrow Airport. But soon we were loaded into a white Sprinter and speeding towards The Underworld on the very wrong side of the road. The English said of course that everyone else drives on the wrong side, not them. Our hosts cranked some of the most pansy ass pop and dance music I've ever heard along the way.
Once at the club we did sound check and I was very happy to have the guitar player from Abbatoir's very cool Marshall amp to use. Finally some gain and chunk! Abbatoir is a band that plays Abba covers in a heavy metal style, very cool.
So after the sound check I met up with my friend from Stuttgart named Elke and we took the Tube to see the tower bridge. It was so amazing to be in London on this beautiful day. So much so that I lost track of time and had to rush back to the gig.
The crowd was amazing and they goad us to rock harder than ever with their energy. Right after the show I change out of my sweaty Sgt. Peppers suit and hurry out to meet the crowd, but they had all gone. Only later would I understand when I heard the phrase "the fun police kicked us out". Still I got to talk to a couple of fascinating Brits out front for a little while. But I had get back inside soon after to pack up the gear not only for transport to the hotel but for the long trip home. So a little extra packing time was needed.
After we had loaded the van I knew that I could not just go back to the hotel and sit there waiting for tomorrow. I simply could not leave having never seen any significant part of London. So I get a card from our London contact Lissa and she kindly writes the name of the hotel on the back. She tells me that everyone knows this hotel and it is right next to Heathrow Airport. So I am off to meet with Elke for a thrilling walk through the streets of London. As I walk away the Brits words ring in my ears "Just to warn you ...you can't take the Tube" they tell me "cause they stop running at midnight". It is 11:58.
Alright class ...get out your Tube maps and turn to page one. I started here at "Camden Town" and slipped my Tube pass into the slot, and I was in! I was to meet Elke at "Covet Garden" so I hopped the train and, after a dodgy transfer in which the general population of London was an invaluable help, I arrived relatively chipper at the Covent Garden Station. It was well after midnight and yet the Tube carried me to the place I needed to be. God Save the Queen!
The search for a restaurant proves to be a little difficult at this time of night, but we find a surly place that forbids us to sit outside in the beautiful night air. We almost leave, but decide that this might be our only chance for food. Seeing cucumber sandwiches and apple pizza on the menu is new to me. So being the bloody yank that I am, I order some French fries and Elke gets a Sandwich. We are happy to be sitting after all the walking today, but eventually they kick us back onto the street again.
We walked south along some very twisty roads talking and laughing about how dangerous the traffic seemed to be. At every crosswalk there is a "look left" or "look right" warning written on the road pleading with you to pay attention and avoid being killed. But even when the lights are green and tempt you to walk, you better keep a close watch for cars. They seem oblivious to the traffic lights. We are wandering now and happen upon some classic London sites. Quite by accident Big Ben looms down the street and we both smile at our good fortune. We pass several other beautiful spires and monuments on the way and eventually end up at the river Thames again. Here we find the Millennium wheel, the beautiful river and many other fascinating structures.
We are getting even more tired now from walking and well, it is three or four in the morning. So we grab a park bench along the river and sit and talk some more. When we are quiet for a moment we see an amazing site. Two tiny English mice have emerged from the stones along the river. These are sidewalk stones and do not make a likely mouse home, but here they are playing in the dim light of the morning. They approaching us to see if we belong here. And it would seem that we did.
After this we grab a cab and head back to "Liverpool Street", the place where Elke must catch her train. I bid her a fond farewell and I head up to face the mighty Tube once again. It is 5:00 AM and I have plenty of time to reach the hotel by 9:00.
The Tube station is a half a block away and everything is going well. Until I approach the entrance and see a sign that says "This station closed until 7:00AM". No way can I sit here idle for two hours and wait, so I draw my two quid tourist map from my pocket and head out to try and find the next station called "Moorgate". It takes me a little while to get my bearings as the map I have is quite crude and the streets are very chaotic, but I do find the station and head into the brightly lit entrance. But there is nobody here and the ticket machine appears to be broken so I am off again to the next station.
The station called Barbican would prove to be my savior and some kind English gentleman showed me that you must first pick the type of ticket you want before the vending machine will take your money. I must be getting tired because I can't even claim that I couldn't read the directions. Maybe I am just used to everything being in German? So as I wait for the train I contemplate my tricky transfer onto the Piccadilly line. There I meet a very generous and friendly English bloke named David. He is also headed to Heathrow and we talk about his movie and Beatallica on the train ride.
I exit the train at Heathrow Terminal 4 and begin the task of finding this hotel. The first person I ask has never heard of it. The second lady kindly informs me that there are dozens of hotels with this name, but assures me that none of them are anywhere near the airport. Hmmm? So I talk to a cabby, these guys know everything. The cabby in the front of the long row tells me that the hotel is about 10 miles away BUT you have to go all the way down the freeway and back to get to the other side where the hotel is located. This, he in forms me, will cost 60 quid! That's over 100 bucks to you and me. Seeing as I don't have even 20 pounds, I realize that I am stuck here at the airport.
I don't know if you are familiar with European telephone numbers, but I can assure you that I am not. They look something like this...
++44 (0) 67-7574-3467-5729
...and dialing up someone is quite difficult when you are awake much less tired from walking 20 miles and not sleeping for about two days. So when I try the number from the card Lissa gave me I get a holding company of some sort that obviously has no Lissa working for them. I try this number several different ways with no positive result. It is now that I know I must ask for help. So I approach this older lady in the airport and begin by saying "excuse me, but I have to make a phone call and..." She interrupts me saying "I'm sorry I don't have any money for you". I look down at myself, smile and realize that she has a point, I am looking a bit rough by this time. "No no" I say "I was just wondering how you would dial this number" and I point to the card I have been clutching so tightly these past few hours. "Ooooh" she says in a musical British accent "You leave off the country code and don't bother dialing that zero". "Danke Schoen" I tell her and hurry off to a phone to try my luck.
So I call the number this time and it finally works! I talk to Lissa and ask her to pass on the message that I will meet the rest of the band at the airport. After a long wait, during which time I learn all about the British Airways terminal and it's various flight displays, I meet up with the guys. We check our luggage and head home. As I fall into my seat near the back of the very large 747, I relax for the first time in many hours. I sleep lightly on the plane and in a mere seven and a half hours I am looking at the strange buildings of Chicago. It was like another foreign place, with it's grid patterned streets and flat roof tops. But this was not some far away land ...this was home.
The sun came up over the river Thames and the Millennium wheel reached up to welcome it.