Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Meeting Michelle

The back stories of the wonderful women seem to be growing in popularity. Having done Kelly, Kelley, and Pam 1, I guess now's a good time to cover the next one, the Great Michelle.
In 1988, I was working as a stockbroker, back in America. I worked out of an office on Long Island, in the suburbs of New York. The firm promoted a new Sales Manager, Neal, who I liked. Unfortunately, I have a history of not getting along with managers. I am not one of those people who will just do as he's told. If I am told to do something that makes sense, there's no problem. However, if I am told to do something that makes no sense, I will resist doing it. Sometimes, I think of better ways to do things and I will vocalize such to management. A secure manager will be able to take my suggestions in stride. The problem Neal and I had, was that he was a bit insecure, as a newly promoted manager, so he was uncomfortable with me coming up with ideas that were better than his. After one such encounter, he actually told me I was fired.
Like many of his bad ideas, he came to have second thoughts about firing me, so he offered me my job back. I accepted, but decided that I might be happier in a different office. I asked to be transferred to the firm's Wall Street office, in Manhattan. My request was granted. Nothing screams "stock market," like Wall Street. I was excited to be working in the heart of it all. Okay, so the office was smaller and in an older building than the one on Long Island, but I was working on Wall Street, literally. There was only one problem: I didn't gel with the manager, there, at all. After about a week, he summarily announced that I was being transferred to the Midtown office.
I was out of Wall Street, but at least I was still in Manhattan. Little did I know at the time, but the manager of the Midtown office was good friends with the manager of the Wall Street one. It seemed that the guys in the Midtown office, possibly in collusion with the Wall Street office manager, had hatched a plot to drive my to quit. As soon as I started working at Midtown, the pranks started. Things went missing from my desk and shaving cream was put in my telephone handset. Someone rang the phone and I picked it up, only to get shaving cream on the side of my face. They underestimated my ability to endure stuff and my refusal to give up. I didn't quit. So, they escalated things. They swiped my briefcase. I had had enough. No, I didn't quit, I complained to the manager. At the time, I had a very expensive, Haliburton, Zero briefcase. It had cost me over $300 when I bought it. I marched into the manager's office and told him that I wanted him to get whomever had taken it to return it, by the end of the day. He tried to wiggle out of it, by asking me how I knew someone in the office had taken it. I wasn't having any of it. "Because the briefcase cost over $250, that's grand theft," I told him, authoritatively, "if the case isn't returned by the end of the day, I will call the police and let them handle it." I wasn't even sure that was true, but it sounded good. I went out to lunch and when I returned, the briefcase was on my desk.
It seems they decided to take a more direct course. On the Thursday of that week, the manager called me into his office and told me I was fired. The reason he gave was that, by being the victim of so many pranks, I was creating a "disturbance" in the office. Talk about blaming the victim. There I was on a Thursday, suddenly having a load of free time on my hands. I had been a regular listener to the Howard Stern radio show, in New York, since 1986. Every year, Howard used to take a group of listeners who won some contest to London, for a week, and broadcast live from there. It happened to be the week Howard was in London, that week. On the Sunday, Howard was attending the Prince's Trust Concert, at Albert Hall. I had this desire to meet Howard's newswoman, Robin Quivers. She was on the trip, as well, along with all of Howard's crew. Suddenly, I had this spontaneous idea. Why not fly to London for the rest of the week and attend the concert? Maybe I could meet Robin, there.
At that time, Virgin Atlantic Airways had started flying between New York and London. They were advertising some very low airfares for trips booked at the last minute They had a deal called a "Late Saver," for trips booked two days in advance, or less. I called Virgin and made a reservation for the next evening. At that time, Virgin was so small, they didn't have a ticket office anywhere near me. They told me I could go to any travel agent, pay there, and get them to print the ticket. I had traveled all over the USA and been to Canada a couple of times, but I had never been any further than that. Fortunately, I had acquired a passport three years earlier, "just in case." My domestic trips I had always purchased directly from the airlines, so I didn't have a relationship with a travel agency. I looked through the Yellow Pages and saw an ad for a travel agency not far from my home. It was Omega World Travel. They had a number of offices in the New York area, but the nearest was in Garden City, the next village over from where I was living, in Hempstead. I phoned them and verified that they handled Virgin Atlantic, then went to the office to get my tickets.
On Thursday evening, I was sat in the Omega World Travel office, waiting to be served. When it was my turn, I took a seat in front of an attractive woman and told her that I had a reservation with Virgin Atlantic, and had come to have it ticketed. She didn't seem pleased about this. Years later, I would learn that this is because it was a lot of work for a very small commission. She phoned Virgin Atlantic and "took over" the reservation. After a bit of paperwork, during which she seemed to be getting increasingly annoyed, the ticketing was done. Then she asked me if I needed anything else. "I don't know, I've never been to Britain before," I replied. She grew even more frustrated with me. For some reason, she asked me if I had accommodation arranged. No, I hadn't. When I traveled in America I either stayed with friends and relatives, or I just found a cheap motel when I got there. I hadn't given any thought to accommodation yet. I was making it up as I went along. She told me it was too late for her to book me accommodation anyway. Then why did she ask? I don't think this was true, but I suspect it was just that she was trying to get rid of me. Her attitude seemed to mellow and she told me that when I arrived at London Gatwick Airport, I could find a counter in the arrivals hall which would find me a hotel in London. I thanked her for this useful tip. I wasn't planning on renting a car, as I was just spending a long weekend in London. I planned on relying on public transportation. We parted amicably and I went home with my tickets in hand. This was the start of an ongoing relationship with Omega World Travel, which would last for years. I was going to London!
My flight was on the next evening, Friday. On Friday morning, I called Neal at my old office and told him what had happened to me in the Midtown office. Neal offered me my job back in the Long Island office. I thanked him, but there was one problem: I was going to London! I told him my tickets were non-refundable and that I was returning on Monday afternoon. Neal told me to be in the office on Tuesday and not to be late. So, things were working out. I had a job again and I was off to London. That night, I checked in for my Virgin flight to London. The flight departed from Newark Airport, in New Jersey, across the river from New York. Virgin only had two airplanes, back then. One flew between London and Miami, while the other flew between Newark and London. There was only one flight, each way, per day. The flights from America to London were overnight, leaving America in the evening and landing at Gatwick the following morning. I boarded the plane and saw the most beautiful flight attendants I had ever seen, dressed in sexy red uniforms, with white blouses sheer enough to see the lace of their bras through the material. What was also charming is that they were all British, so I was hearing the loveliest accents and getting a taste of Britain right from the start. We took off reasonably on time. It was my first time leaving the North American continent and somewhere over the Atlantic, after dinner, I fell asleep.
As we neared Britain, the next morning, I woke up to the smell of breakfast being heated. Landing cards were doled out and I managed to fill mine out. This was the first time I had used a passport. When I had visited Canada, American citizens hadn't needed a passport and Canada is enough like the US that it hardly seems like going to a foreign country. After landing, as the airplane taxied to the gate, at Gatwick, on a pleasant June morning, it suddenly hit me what I was doing. Here I was, in a foreign country, alone, knowing no one and I didn't even have a hotel reservation. After a brief panic, I stepped off the plane and smelled British air for the first time. That was one of the first things that struck smelled different to America. Things went smoothly. I calmed down and started enjoying the adventure. I was in Britain! I was in Europe for the first time. I found the counter that the travel agent had recommended and they sent me to a hotel within walking distance of Victoria Train Station, in London. I took the Gatwick Express into London and walked to my hotel. I was was given the smallest hotel room I had ever seen. There wasn't even a toilet. I had to share a toilet with other guests, down the hall, as well as the shower, European style. Oh well, all part of the adventure. After checking in, I started walking around Britain's capital, taking in the sights.
I spent all Saturday afternoon seeing the sights of London. I visited Hyde Park and Piccadilly Circus. I found a ticket broker and purchased a ticket to the Prince's Trust Concert, the next day. One of the things I wanted to do was visit a club in London. I enjoyed going clubbing in New York and wanted to try out London's fare. It was Saturday night and time to party. There was one problem: I had left my dress shoes back home, by mistake. If clubs in London were anything like the ones in New York, they wouldn't let me in with sneakers on, which was all I had to wear. I figured I would try my luck. I dressed as poshly as possible and hoped no one would notice my feet.
I went back to Piccadilly and started looking for a club. Wandering up Shaftsbury Avenue, I happened upon a club called, quite appropriately, "Shaftsbury's." There was a bouncer at the door, with a girl on either side of him. I walked up to him, and sought entry. He stopped me and said I couldn't come in with "trainers" on. I learned that in Britain, they call sneakers "trainers." I thought I would try honesty and throw myself on his mercy. I explained that I had traveled all the way from New York, having just arrived that morning, but I accidentally left my dress shoes at home. I wanted to see a London club and wouldn't cause any trouble. He was very nice and apologized, but said that his boss was inside and he couldn't make an exception. I ended up standing there, talking with him and the two girls. I found that many of the people I encountered on my trip were fascinated by the fact that I was from New York. At times, it was like being a celebrity. The girl on his left was blond, while the one on his right had brown hair. They were both good looking, but I found the one with brown hair to be the most beautiful. She was very tall, which I like in a woman. The bouncer had an arm around each girl. He introduced the brown haired one as his "wife," pulling her in close as he said this, but I noticed that she pulled away from him and got a slightly disgusted look on her face. I suspected that she wasn't his, after all. She seemed more interested in talking to me than the other one was, so I chatted with her. She told me she was 23 and a small time model, from Wales. She was visiting London to attend some sort of modeling expo, hoping to get big time modeling work. Her name was Michelle.
Michelle told me that she and her friend would love to visit New York. I told her that if she decided to come visit New York, I would put her up. She was with a group of wannabe models and it was eventually time for her to go catch her bus back to Wales. I walked her to her bus. I gave her my stockbroker business card and invited her to look me up, if she came to New York. She gave me her phone number, as well. At the door to her bus, she gave me a kiss on the cheek and we parted company. I made my way back to my hotel, having given up on going to a club. My first night in Britain and I had a model's phone number. Not bad for a boy from Hempstead.


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