31 March 2022

Thursday

Twelve hours later, after boarding British Airways and finding I have no seat mate (a miracle), eating a better-than-expected airplane meal, reading most of one lesbian romance novel on my phone, and a restless two hours of attempted sleep while wearing a mask, we land in London. I’ve never been to Heathrow and it is an overwhelming country of chaos.

Coffee. Drinking lots of coffee from the first coffee shop I see in the terminal and then sitting and deciding what to do next. My sleep-deprived mind struggles and I wander the airport, dragging a fifty-pound bag behind me until my arm feels like it will fall off. Exhausted, I settle on a London cab to Kings Cross train station, an expensive trip as it turns out. £112. But the cabbie is kind, keeps me entertained, and sitting is once again a luxury even after ten hours on an airplane. My back is beginning to sag. He does some quick calculations and tells me that for £400, he would drive me to Halifax himself. “Maybe next time,” I say, considering it, beginning to wonder if there will be a next time or if I have gotten too old and frail to travel so far alone.

Kings Cross station, 20:04

Night is falling and Anne Lister’s thermometer would have been near freezing by the time we reach Kings Cross. My comfortable leggings and light jacket worn on the airplane are no match for the cold inside Kings Cross. I’m from the desert, unused to cold, and suddenly I am shivering and cannot stop. I have a heavier jacket in my heavy bag but I would have to stop moving, unzip the suitcase in a crowded train station to don it; I’m afraid to do this. I am traveling alone, aware of the hazards and inconveniences of this now. So I shiver and freeze and find my way to a ticket “queue,” a long line of weary travelers who need to board the trains. The line is long, I learn, because earlier in the day, a train has broken down on the tracks preventing traffic into Leeds. Now everyone who was headed into Leeds all day long is trying to get onto the last train of the day that will pass through Leeds. This is the ticket they sell me when I explain my predicament to the ticket master; I need to get to Halifax. There is no direct line this late in the day so I must go through Leeds—for £125, four times the amount I already paid for the train I missed. Not happy, but no choice.

We wait for the train in a station so crowded there is nowhere to sit down, even for an old woman like me. I find a wall away from the wind and lean against my suitcase. My back is aching now. At the appointed time, a crowd of people head toward the platform for the train to Leeds and then, suddenly, people are running, scrambling, dragging baggage bumpity behind them. What’s the rush?, I wonder, too tired to rush. And then as I walk past carriage after carriage and see people crammed into the windows and trying to cram even more into the doorway, I panic. This train is too crowded. There are no seats. If I want to get on this train, I’m going to have to muscle myself and my fifty-pound bag into the doorway.

This I do.

I find a foot of space in the thruway, pressed up against two younger men who are themselves pressed against other people. The very definition of crammed in. We are literally breathing into each other’s face and no one is wearing a mask. If I faint, they will have to catch me and prop me up because there is no room to fall down. And I suddenly feel faint, exhausted and thirsty, my back will no longer stay upright, I can’t breathe in the confines. I slump, close my eyes, summon the strength of Anne Lister to endure.

The train ride is two hours long. The operator repeatedly makes an announcement apologizing for the overcrowding…something about how you can apply for compensation…sorry for the bumpy ride of the heavier-than-usual train. I must have heard the same announcement twenty times. Somehow, we make it to Leeds.

At Leeds, most of us get off the train and head to our next platform. It is another hour till the train to Halifax arrives. By now, it is quite late, nearing midnight and the weather is cold enough to snow. Why are train stations so cold? I walk to stay warm, hunched over, dragging my bag. I have never been so tired in my life. I don’t remember the train trip to Halifax at all. Except I’m aware of getting off the train at the Halifax station and being overjoyed that the lift is working. I have been to Halifax before, I’m familiar with this station, and I know the lift is often broken. I would not have been able to drag my bag up the stairs to the street.

The world is an icy tomb now, sleet is falling in Halifax. And for the first time I’ve ever seen, there are no cabs lined up outside the station waiting for fares. Six of us have gotten off the train and stir around on the sidewalk in the falling sleet, wondering what to do, how to go. It is too cold and I go back inside the station and think. Then I pull out my phone, miraculously still charged, and pray that my international calling plan is in service. The number for  Ziggy’s taxi service is still in my contact list from my previous trip and the call goes through.

“Please come get me ASAP at the train station!”

“Okay.”

Five minutes later, a Ziggy’s car pulls up and I hop in, happily leaving behind my freezing fellow travelers. A surge of energy has hit me. I’m on the home stretch, I’m almost home! This has been my twenty-hour journey:

1. Lyft to PHX airport

2. Airplane to London

3. Cab to Kings Cross

4. Train to Leeds

5. Train to Halifax

6. Ziggy’s to Hebden Bridge B&B

The Ziggy’s driver is a cheerful fellow who has come out in the freezing cold at midnight to rescue me, and together we locate the bed and breakfast in Hebden Bridge that I’ve chosen for my two-week stay. Gleefully, I punch in the code to enter the building after-hours, grab the key to my room (an actual metal key), and then stare dumbfounded at the flight of stairs before me. Twenty-five steep and narrow carpeted stairs between me and my bedroom. Momentary despair, cursing at my solo status, my late arrival, knowing that I have to do this on my own, deep breath, grunting and more cursing, one step at a time until I reach the top of the stairs.

I have arrived at my destination.

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