My son, Ryan, and I were nearing the end of a month-long vacation in Europe. I hadn’t been keeping track of my ATM withdrawals, but I had a feeling I was getting low on funds. We had taken a train from London’s Victoria Station to Guildford. I wanted Ryan to see a place in Surrey that I had stayed with friends in the antique furniture restoring business on my first trip to Europe in 1976. We came into Guildford at 9:30 P.M. It looked like we weren’t going to have any luck finding a place for the night. I thought we could crash in the train station, but the police said the station locks at 1:00 A.M. I decided to return to the airport even though we still had a couple of days before our return flight to Portland.
We were in Gatwick about 11:00 P.M. We found a comfortable and long seat on the upper floor of “The Village”. Ryan spotted a play area that had a television on, but then a troop of children came in to play. We returned to our bench. We woke up at 5:30 A.M.; the place was swarming with people. We spent the day taking turns watching our packs and bags. I read quite a bit; Ryan spent time in the arcade. When it was my turn to get away, I’d go to one of the pubs and nurse a beer for as long as possible.
One of the pubs had memorabilia from the 50s and 60s. The bartender was young and entertaining. He reminded me of Tom Cruise in the movie, Cocktail, except he was British. He never missed with his acrobatic juggling – tossing glasses and bottles of liquor in the air. We conversed. I learned he traveled a lot. He said London was one of the best cities to get cheap flights to various destinations around the world.
Several good looking girls wearing Hawaiian tops and sexy skirts were handing out cards, promoting some company. Each time I came up the escalator, they’d try to give me another card. It got a bit annoying.
I was beginning to feel like a bum; hanging out at the airport. I thought I was resourceful too, though. Time dragged a little, but not as much as you'd think. Ryan was a good traveling companion. He convinced me to watch a movie with him in the children's section. When the movie was over, most of the benches were taken. We had to take seats in an area that had an air conditioner running. The next morning I enjoyed taking a shower – first in three days. We checked in for our flight, passed through security and found ourselves in a duty-free area with probably twenty shops. While Ryan debated whether to buy a hand-held computer, I went into a pub that was reminiscent of Shakespeare's time. There was a blackboard with a list of crimes and their punishments.
I was proud to have taken my son on this trip. At times I wondered whether the good parts outweighed the not-so-good parts. I was tough on him, an eleven-year old who suffers from severe asthma. But several weeks later, he commented, "You know, dad, there’s hardly a day that goes by, that I don’t relive some part of our trip.” We are planning another.
When I checked my ATM balance, there was a balance of $7.00.