Day -13 (Planes, Trains, and SIM cards)
I rolled out of Heathrow with a spring in my step and a vague idea of where I was going. Some quick google searching had shown me that there was a “tube” that ran from Heathrow into downtown London and, from there, I could catch a train up to Sheffield where my van was waiting for me. It was all quite simple on paper so I was prepared for it to be a complete nightmare in reality.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It was pleasant, efficient, and even as things got a bit crowded in the cars, everyone remained courteous. The conductor even apologized because we were running eleven minutes late. Eleven minutes?!?! I have never been on an Amtrak that was not at least 30 minutes behind schedule. Here they were apologizing profusely on the off chance that we would be a few minutes late!
I knew my good luck could not hold out.
I pulled up out front of the flat where the son of the previous Rascal owner was supposed to be waiting for me. He wasn’t. Given that it was only 1:30 in the afternoon, I alotted that he might be at work and so I headed up the street to the local pub for a pint, a ploughman’s meal, and some wifi. One out of three ain't bad.
The beer was tasty but the wifi was non-existent and the only food in the establishment was crisps. No one there could give me an idea of where I might find some free wifi, so I polished off my beer and headed down the street to the corner shop to pick up a pre-paid SIM card for my phone.
I sat down on the steps where the son was supposed to meet me and pondered a most pressing predicament. I had a SIM card, but I had no way of getting the card into my phone. I did not have a small pin for pulling out the old one, and the new card did not come with one. The local construction boom, coupled with the busy streets surrounding the flat led to an interesting assortment of detritus which served as likely candidates for the solution. Bits of a broken hairbrush. A staple from the insulation being pulled out next door. A sliver of cardboard. All had their merits and possible downfalls.
The winner ended up being one of the plastic bits from the hairbrush. I jammed the flexible plastic into the small hole until it stuck, and then pulled it back towards me. The SIM card came with it and continued going. That little thing must have flown a good five feet before landing on some gravel. If this keeps up, I may need a new SIM card when I get home.
I dropped in the new SIM card, ready to call home and send a few emails. Nothing happened.
I re-read the directions, following them closely.
I tinkered with it. I yelled at it. I might have even made a few ill-advised threats against it. I was tired, hungry, frustrated, and I just wanted this to be as effortless as the London mass transit system. In the end I pulled out the new card and put back in my old one. I was greeted by a message informing me just how expensive it was going to be to use my original SIM card and I began to panic. My budget for this trip is pretty tight, and the rates they wanted to charge me were enough to get me several miles down the old, and maybe even get me a house in some of the countries I will visit.
In desperation, I used my working SIM card to google what to do about my non-working card. Turns out, in order to get service from the new card, you have to already have service. So I quickly used my expensive American service to activate the new card and then went about finding a new piece of rubbish to pry out the SIM because the last piece broke as soon as it had launched the old card across the yard..
Eventually it all came together and I had a connection to the rest of the world.
But I still didn’t have a vehicle.
By now several hours had passed and I was beginning to wonder if I had the wrong address, had been taken, or just had the wrong day. The neighbors were starting to give me sideways glances for all my hanging around, but I didn’t fancy too many more trips to the pub on an empty stomach. Soon a guy pulled up in a white van and gave me the stare-down. He was a squat, burly black guy who had the powerful hands and forearms of someone in the trades. I asked if he was the son I was supposed to meet. He laughed and said, “No, that guy is white! Are you the fool who is driving that thing back to America?” I assured him I was and from then on Paul and I got along great.
Turns out that Paul works with the previous owner (who is in Greece on a sailing trip) and doesn’t think much of the son (who was still nowhere to be found). We discussed Trump (the first thing everyone wants to talk about), rugby (the first thing I want to talk to everyone about) and eventually settled on the universal topic of “what is wrong with society today”. We managed to kill another forty-five minutes chatting before it was clear that Paul had to be getting home for supper.
Paul suggested an Indian restaurant down the street for me. Great food he assured me. Much better than the fish n chips shop across the street. We shook hands and he shook his head as he got in his van. There was no way he would ever consider driving to Mongolia in the little Rascal.
I stashed my clothes under the Rascal and wandered down the street to find the restaurant. Of course, It was closed. So I am sitting here in the fish n chips shop writing this up. Paul was right: the fish n chips were pretty marginal. But I have two weeks in the UK and I am going to find great fish n chips, tasty Indian food, and a ploughman’s meal! But before I do any of that, I am going to see a man(‘s son) about a van. It is getting late and I still need to find a place to sleep for the night!