Thursday, March 20, 2008

I am in London

I am in London. We arrived yesterday morning. Last night I tried to write about the trip, but was too tired, jet-lagged, and overwhelmed by the shock to my senses of my first encounter with London. My mind was a jumble. I couldn’t put together a sentence.

But now, it is morning, 5:30 am as I write this, and I have had a more-or-less good night’s sleep. It is dark outside, but I can hear sounds now, whereas earlier there were none. Cars are moving down the streets, an occasional plane passes over. London is waking up.

I am staying in Chelsea. My sense of direction is severely skewed. While ago I Googled my location and discovered that my bed (where I am writing this) is facing east, not west as I first thought. This means that the Thames River is to my south, not north, Kensington to my north, etc. It is going to take me a while to rewire my brain’s homing device.

In my last post, I wrote that severe storms were expected in Texas, but that all forecasts indicated they should have moved through the area by the time Chandra and I started on our three-hour trip to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. However, the next morning, I woke to discover that the forecast had changed. The storms had been delayed. It was very likely, then, that we would face rain. But maybe, just maybe, it would wait a while longer.

Chandra picked me up at 9:30, as planned. We got on the road. In Waco, it started raining, semi-heavy but not too bad. Later, in West where we stopped for kolaches (the Czech Stop), the rain even let up. We were encouraged. But, when we got back on the road, it grew heavier, and heavier.

I became concerned and called Diane on my cell phone, asked her to check the radar on the Weather Channel website. She called back and said storms were popping up all over north-central Texas, which was exactly where wew were. But, she said, it was clear to the north of us, starting in Hillsboro.

We reached Hillsboro, and it was clear. But not for long. After we took I-35E to Dallas, a fresh storm popped up right over us, and it was a bad one. Diane called to tell us about it. I said, “We know.” But it was clear ahead, she said. We drove on. But it didn't clear up, it got worse. I called Diane. She looked at the radar and said, “Uh-oh. What’s happening is that the storm is staying with you.”

We were driving on a stretch of 35-E that is undergoing extensive repair, thus for a long stretch there were long deep ruts in the asphalt, even some outright chug holes, that badly jarred the car when we hit them. Which of course greatly increased the danger of going into a skid. Chandra straddled the ruts and dodged the chug holes like a pro, but every moment was fraught with danger, especially when a big semi truck would pass, throwing water on our windshield and blinding us.

Diane called. She had been watching the radar and had seen a large patch of red (indicating extremely heavy rain) over Waxahachie, which was exactly where we expected to be in a matter of minutes. “You need to get off the road now,” she said.

We started looking for a safe place to exit, but just then, the sky unleashed a veritable Niagra Falls upon us. Rain poured so heavily we could barely make out the road. Not good. Ahead, through the thick white watery veil, we could see a pickup moving slowly, its hazard lights blinking. We used those lights as a beacon, and hoped we were not following the pickup into a flooded ditch. And that's what was happening in the ditches and surrounding low areas of the farmland, when I could glimpse them through the rain: they were flooding.

On the outskirts of Waxahachie, we were able to see an exit ahead and a road leading uphill to a motel. We took the exit and pulled into the motel parking lot. We looked at each other. I was still shaking.

After 20 minutes, the rain slackened and we were back on the road. Then Diane called to check on us, also to tell us that if we continued our present course, straight into Dallas, it would not be good, in fact it would be a very bad thing, because that’s where the storm was now and it had slowed down and was heavier than ever.

I got out the map and discovered that what we should do was take I-20 towards Fort Worth, then 360 up to the airport. Diane said yes, the rain was not as bad in that direction.

It was a while before we reached I-20, however, and twice the traffic on I-35E slowed to a crawl because the highway and flooded--not deeply, but just enough that it required some very careful driving to keep your car moving straight and not sideways. After negotiating the second and worst of these spots, Chandra said, "I'm going to need a drink when we get to the airport." I seconded the idea with great enthusiasm.

We drove on. At one point, we saw an ambulance heading south. God knows what had happened back there.

This morning I read that this storm system killed 13 people, one in the Dallas area and many more in adjoining states—Arkansas, Missouri, and others.

It also disrupted air traffic. As we approached the airport, Diane called. “They’re canceling flights out of D-FW,” she said. “I’m trying to find out about yours.”

We drove on. She called back. “Your flight’s been delayed 45 minutes.”

Big relief. Delay was okay. Cancellation was not.

We got to the airport, parked, checked in, went through security, performed the ritual removal of the shoes—

Actually, for me, the ritual also included the removal of my belt. When I went through the metal detector, it beeped. “Your belt buckle,” said the TSA man, pointing. “Put it in the tray.” So I did and, holding my pants up, went through the detector again, this time without a beep, then gathered up all the other things I’d had to send through the detector—liquids, shoes, laptop, coat, hat—all the while holding up my pants and sweating profusely, till I could finally put my belt back on, and my shoes, and put my luggage back together. Good lord …

Well, once in the terminal, we went straight to the nearest bar. Chandra ordered a glass of wine and I ordered a Bombay Sapphire martini, and we toasted our success in making it to the airport …

While I have been writing this, the sun has come up. I gaze out at the dark-brick residential buildings standing tall against the grey sky, and now suddenly, after reliving Tuesday’s rain storm so vividly, it all seems so far away. I am not in Texas. I am in London.

There is more to tell about the journey so far—a great deal more—but that will have to wait. I have run out of writing time for the present, and now it is time to start a new day—my first full day in London—and experience more new things …