I felt shy, self-conscious, and little, but could not resist the draw to meet her. I reached my right hand across the barrier, “Hi, my name is Brian Shimer, what’s yours?”
“Karen Cook” she said, shaking my hand. Later I learned her last name was spelled K.O.C.H
“Good to meet you. Are you seeing someone off?” I asked, wanting to keep this conversation going.
“No, I’m a standby passenger on this flight. These are my parents. Paul and Dorothy Koch.” Her dad was tall with broad shoulders, a right arm withered hung loosely at his side, but he easily swung his left hand out to shake my right. “Good to meet you, Brian,” he said with an easy smile. Her mom was small framed, beautifully dressed, and petite. Her curly brown hair rimmed her face. Her glasses had rhinestones in the frames. After meeting them, I addressed Karen again.
“So, you are heading to London? Are you on a semester abroad program?” My heart rate increased. We would be in London at the same time!
“Yes, the American Heritage Program.”
“No way! Me too! What college are you from?”
“Pacific Lutheran near Tacoma, WA.”
“Willamette University,” I answered and then asked, “So, are you from Washington state?”
“No, Portland, Oregon. How about you?”
“California. Where’s your homestay in London?”
“Muswell Hill, the High Gate Tube stop on the Northern Line.”
“It’s all the same for me! I’m staying with a woman named Mrs. Rene Curtis. So, you said you are on standby. How does that work?”
“Last week it would have been simple. The flights were going out with about 80 passengers, so, every standby passenger got a seat. This week, with the Air Canada strike over the weekend, the planes are going out with every seat filled. This is our second morning. Yesterday I was 7th in line, and they took four standby passengers. So, today we arrived at the airport early this morning and have been here all day. I am number four in line to get a seat.”
“So, you’ll get on for sure, then!”
“Well, hopefully. The agent told me it didn’t look promising.”
The gate announced boarding had begun, and I stood there talking to the girl with perfect skin, beautiful green eyes with gold flecks in them, hair with sun streaks from being outdoors, wearing tortoise shell frame glasses until my row was called.
“Well, I better go get on the plane. Hey, I’ll see you onboard!” I shook hands with her parents and her again. I liked her hands. Strong, soft, and smooth. I turned, waving once more, made my way onto the jetway.
Later in flight, as we flew in that 747 over the pole, I got up, climbing over my sleeping seatmates, and began to walk the plane. I walked aisle by aisle, from the very front, even upstairs, to the very back in the smoking section looking at every person’s face, looking for the beautiful girl dressed in brown slacks, a floral print shirt, with that bright smile, long, wavy, waist-length, brown hair, and the brown tortoise-shell framed glasses. After walking up and down the aisles three times, clearly, she had not made the flight.
After missing the flight, Pan Am had taken the first three standbys, she and her parents tried one more day. The next day, they arrived at the airport at 4 am and she was first in line, but they took no standbys. Karen’s dad, fed up with waiting, paid to fly her to San Francisco and from there to London on British Airways. She arrived two days later.
I was not as good at travel in this season of life, so arrived exhausted from jetlag at 11 am on Wednesday, August 30th. I made it through customs, so excited to be in London. Neither of my nearly 70# pieces of luggage had wheels. The duffel especially was super bulky, unwieldy and challenging to schlep.
I found a cart to push them through the underground tunnels to get to the Piccadilly Line, the tube into London. It was an hour’s journey to Leicester Square, then I schlepped, dragged, and walked down staggeringly long staircases, through a million passages, my hands indented from the straps of the duffle, panting, and finally minding the gap to board the Northern Line train. I got off at Highgate station, followed the crowd and the “Way Out” signs through passages and up, up, up, up stairways out into the air of northern London. I was so excited I could hardly breathe. Who needed to act enthusiastic when I already was? From the red phone booth, I called my homestay mom, Mrs. Renee Curtis, and she came and met me at the station.
In her 50s, Rene Curtis was a no-nonsense person. Her black, wire-rimmed glasses framed dark brown eyes, and sat on her small nose. She had a round, rosy-cheeked face. Kind of like an older Mary Poppins, I thought as I met her. Her dress was a fresh colorful print on top of which she wore a light blue sweater. In her joyful voice, with her wonderful accent, she greeted me, “Welcome to London, Brian. I am Rene Curtis. Let’s get your luggage into the boot. Oh my,” she said seeing my large, ungainly bags. Together we lifted them and shoved, twisted and forced them into the small car’s boot. The hatch barely shut, and she said, “There. That didn’t take much, did it.” she said. I laughed for indeed it had seemed like quite much indeed!
She drove away from the station through a downtown area, through a roundabout, then up one of the streets. She stopped in front of a two-story, row house. From one end of the street to the other was one, big, long row of connected brick, with white framed-window dwellings.
My housemate and classmate (another Scott) had arrived just before I did. She sat us down, communicated the house rules. “I will be doing your laundry. I’ll wash your sheets and towels on Saturdays. I would like you to put all your dirty laundry into these baskets. I fix breakfast and will have it ready at 7:45 am. And if you will be here, I’ll make dinner. Just let me know when you will be or not, for I know your program includes many evenings out.”
There was a list of things she didn’t allow, like drug use, alcohol, partying, all of which made sense to us. We’d landed on our feet with this hostess. She would even do our laundry! I was astounded.
“Now, do you have any questions?” We didn’t but thanked her profusely for her kindness.
She served us beef curry with rice for dinner, which was the most delicious food I had eaten for months and months, having lived simply all that summer. Afterward, she made custard for “pudding,” the British name for dessert. What a perfect place to land!
(to be continued…)