Saturday, November 17, 2007

Stranded in Staines

Yesterday, I had an audition in London, at 11AM. I didn't want to ask the restaurant manager for an entire day off, so I came up with a more enticing proposal. I would come in to work early, at 6AM. I would work till 9:30AM, doing all of the food prep I usually do before noon. Then I would leave work, drive a rented car to London, do my audition, then race back to work and finish the day. I wouldn't need the day off, so everybody would be happy, right? As I expected, the manager accepted my deal.
In order to pull this off, I had to rent a car for a day. Unfortunately, the nearest car rental locations to where I live, like the ones in Bracknell town centre, close at 5:30PM. That's earlier than my bus brings me home. However, the rental agency locations at Heathrow Airport stay open late. I reserved a car at Heathrow. After work Thursday evening, I took the bus from Bracknell to Hammersmith. There, I caught the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow. At terminal 4, I picked up the Hertz courtesy bus, which deposited me at their offices on the airport ring road.
I had reserved a pre-paid rental online, at Hertz's website. They had quoted me the same rate for their smallest car, a Ford Ka or similar, as for the next size up, a Ford Fiesta or similar. With the price the same, I opted for the Fiesta. I might as well get as much car as I can for my money. Besides, I hate the Ka, which looks like a giant Flymo, electric lawnmower, to me. When I walked into the Hertz office at Heathrow, there were no other customers. Two guys were sat behind the counter, looking at me expectantly. Walking up, I said, "is it always this busy? Do I have to wait in queue?" They just laughed. I produced my voucher, license, and credit card, then waited while the inevitable computer records were filled out. To pass the time, I mentioned that I used to work for Hertz, back in 1986. They also noticed the button I wear, promoting Seaside Radio. I confessed that I do a weekly radio show. After a bit, the one processing my rental handed me the rental agreement. I initialed and signed in all the right places. He gave me the keys and told me the car was a Volkswagen.
As I walked outside, looking for my car, I wondered which Volkswagen model I would have. Something equivalent to a Ford Fiesta, I figured. I just hoped it wasn't a Polo. Reaching my spot, I thought something was wrong. I had the keys to a Volkswagen Beetle, convertible. When I opened the car door, I found out it was an automatic, as well. In Britain, you normally have to pay extra for an automatic and for a convertible. Here I had both. The rental agent must have upgraded me. This was a far cry from a Ford Fiesta. Okay, so I probably wouldn't need a convertible in Britain, in the middle of November. Still the car was peppy, had power everything, as well as a good stereo. I drove home enjoying being behind the wheel again. I wondered, did they upgrade me because I do radio, or because I used to work for Hertz?
The next day, things went pretty smoothly. I did my audition, as planned. I then went back to the restaurant and finished my afternoon work. When I got home for work, I was exhausted. The car was due back at 10PM. I decided to have a nap. I could sleep for a bit, then wake up, watch "Eastenders," then get the car back by 10. After setting my alarm, I went to bed. I really enjoyed sleeping. Suddenly, I sat up in bed. "What time is it?" I thought. Checking my clock, I discovered, to my horror, that it was a quarter to ten.. Panic struck. "How could I make it to the airport in time?
Throwing on some clothes, I raced to Heathrow. By the time I returned the car, it was 10:30PM. I was a half an hour late, but nothing was said. I then faced the challenge of getting back to Bracknell. Originally, I expected to be at Heathrow early, so I could take the bus back. The bus is cheaper, but the last bus leaves at 10:30. There is a train that leaves Waterloo Station at 11:30PM. I planned on intercepting it at Richmond, which would buy me a little more time.
When I got off the District Line train, at Richmond, there was a train already waiting going westbound. I ran over the overpass and managed to just make it in the doors as they were closing, I was home free, or so I thought. The display board indicated this train was terminating at Staines. I figured they must be doing some night track work further on and would send us by coaches. When we reached Staines, I saw railway staff putting passengers into cabs. Getting in queue and listening, I discovered that all the passengers seemed to be heading toward London. When it was my turn, I asked about arrangements for passengers headed toward Reading. One of the staff members told me the last train for Reading had gone already. They were putting eastbound passengers into taxis, at the train company's expense, because there was a security alert at Reading station. No eastbound trains were leaving the station. The taxis were being provided for eastbound people only. If I wanted one, I'd have to pay myself. Upon my enquiry, I was quoted more money than I had.
Since his return from Italy, Nando had bought another car. I tried sending him a text. "Where are you?" I asked. He sent me a text back, stating that he was over his girlfriend's for the night. No way he would help, then. I then tried to work out how far Bracknell is from Staines. Surely it couldn't be that far? I decided to try walking. While I walked along the roadside, I tried hitch hiking. I felt hungry, as I hadn't had my dinner. When I stumbled on the Staines McDonald's. I treated myself to a Big Mac meal. Hunger abated, I resumed walking.
Over an hour went by, when I started seeing signs for Eggham, the next town along the rail line, after Staines. Walking the paths late at night had been surprisingly enjoyable, but it was getting late and I felt tired. I'd have a rest when I got to Eggham. By the time I finally reached Eggham train station, I was exhausted. It had also taken me over an hour and a half. I decided to give up my ambition to walk to Bracknell. There was no choice but to stay there till the trains started running again, in the morning. Just my luck, the weather was freezing cold. I put up with the cold as long as I could, then strolled over to a convenience store which was still open. I spent ages in there, trying to get warm. On my way back to the train station, I slept in a phone booth, in order to save myself from freezing. At least it was dry in there, as it started to rain while I was in the booth.
Once the trains started running again, I caught the first one west. I took it all the way to Reading and commenced my northward ride to Yorkshire. I didn't have my usual food with me, but I did have my CDs. The show must go on!

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