All text and images © Tom Franklin
Westerly Station Ceiling
Getting Lost (But Not Killed) in Edinburgh
Events: Sunday 17 December 2006 (Part I)The train from London to Edinburgh was a slow, lazy way to spend a Sunday morning. The countryside was lovely with lots of pastoral scenes – save for the odd nuclear reactor cooling towers.
Arriving in the Edinburgh train station we settled into some seats to regroup and work out the next plan of action.The Edinburgh train station was a lovely combination of Victorian-era architecture and modern-day inconveniences (i.e., Burger King) with a large kiosk selling coffee in the center of the station. (The coffee kiosk’s top was ringed by some of the most wicked looking metal pikes I’ve ever seen. Lots of the train and tube stations have at least one side of them open to the outside. This makes pigeons a regular, yet unwelcome visitors to the inside areas)
Cups of tea and coffee later we worked out how the logistics of getting the rental car: Food first, car second.The train station’s selection of veggie fare was pretty sparse so, I shuddered agreement and Bonn and I went into the Burger King and ordered Fishburgers – er, “Ocean Catches.”
While I waited for our food I someone asked if we were going to be using the table we had some of our stuff stashed on. We said no and moved our stuff. I told Bonn to take everything back to our table in the main area and I’d bring out the food once it was made.The guy at the table looked oriental, perhaps even Mongolian (Bonn’s guess). I asked him if he minded me asking him a question.
“No, sure,” he said, a bit hesitantly, his voice thick with a Scottish brogue.Now, I’m used to Asians in the US speaking with a somewhat pronounced accent. An Asian accent, that is. Not a brogue.
“Tell me,” I said, waving at the Burger King counter. “Burger King is known to be an American fast food business. It’s also known to serve crap food.”He wasn’t sure where I was headed with this, but at least I wasn’t trying to hit him up for money. “So, what I want to know is why do people in the UK put up with it? Why isn’t there something other than the stereotypical Fish & Chips shop that can compete with these American fast food places?” He smiled. “Well, ah, no, that’s about it you see. There’s nothing other than Fish & Chip shops here. As for Burger King, their burgers are bigger than McDonald’s.” Clearly he wasn’t getting it.
“It’s really a matter of convenience,” he said. “After all, why are you here?”Drats.
“Yeah, so, okay. Convenience,” I said. “It’s hot and it’s quick.”Okay. Nevermind.
Seren’s finance, Ben and I, it was decided, were going to go out to the Edinburgh Airport and pick up the rental car. There was a convenient double-decker bus that runs from the train station to the airport. Leaving all of our luggage behind, we took off on the bus and enjoyed a leisurely bus ride through the center of town – where the streets and shops looked decidedly yup-scale and trendy.
Edinburgh Cathedral and Ferris Wheel
Edinburgh is a lovely town. The buildings are a combination of 17th and 18th century architecture with cathedral towers rising from amid the stone buildings turned gray and black from centuries of soot and ash. Pubs with names like “The Conan Doyle” and “Robbie” looked warm and inviting.
Once at the airport we went to the Alamo rental counter and waited a ridiculously long time while the lone man at the counter, Arnault (not his real name. well, actually, it is his real name, but I’m only using it here because he was a major jerk) dealt with the couple ahead of us.At the counter I gave him my name and he was able to pull up the pre-paid reservation (through Orbitz) with our insurance information. He asked to see my US driver’s license (not caring at all to see my International Driver’s License, which I’d read was necessary to rent a car) and tried to figure out what to do with it all in his computer.
Then Arnault looked up at me.“I will need your credit card,” he said. “We need to place a hold on your card for £500.”
Now, I don’t use the word “f*ck” very much. I believe there is power in words and thoughts and the type of negative energy typically associated that word isn’t healthy and is usually counter-productive.However, I clearly said, “What the f*ck?!?! Are you out of your f*ucking mind?!?!” £500 is something over $1,000. $1,000 on hold for a car??? We’ve rented plenty of cars stateside in the past year or two for shows, but they’ve been content with only a hundred dollars or two at most. Add to that the fact that we’ve worked to reduce our debt over the past year or so and part of that was to get rid of some of our credit cards. My measly remaining credit cards were not quite ready for that type of sudden impact.
Besides, there was that mild smirk on his face, showing that he was enjoying the controting pain he was putting me through. B@stard.Luckily, Ben, eager to impress his future father-in-law, pulled out a seldom-used credit card and handled it all himself.
After all sorts of insurance questions were answered (as well as other things he decided he needed to know from us) we were finally given paperwork and permission by the less-than competent Arnault to go out to the car park area to actually pick up our car.
Next came driving. In the UK.
I had known driving was going to be a challenge: could I re-wire my brain to accept driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road with the steering wheel on the ‘wrong’ side of the front seat. I had figured I could do it, that I was up for the challenge and as long as I took it as such I’d be okay. (Although, thanks to Carlos from work, his last words to me, “Driving in England was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. The happiest day of my life was the day I turned those keys back in!” had begun echoing in my head from time to time on the bus ride out to the airport)Wisely, I did some practice turns in the parking lot. (Turned out to be a good thing. Reverse required some special maneuvers with the stick shift) Then, with Ben navigating, we headed out for the open road and the way back to the train station.
We knew most of the drive was going to be a straight shot, exactly the way we came. There was, however, a stretch (or two) where we’d have to detour around those parts of the road where it became a one way street going the wrong way for us. Ben had an airport map from Alamo and we seemed to have plenty of daylight left.I should point out here that my vote for Solving a Major Problem in the World, after we eradicate world hunger, AIDS and poverty, childhood abuses, etc., is to help the UK with their Solar bill. The sun comes up around 8-ish and starts doing some serious setting by 3pm. By 4pm its getting majorly dark. Nighttime dark. Obviously, someone in Parliament isn’t paying their Solar bills on time.
We made our turns off the main road when the One Way signs forced us to do so. We wandered down some side streets that turned into lanes that seemed hellbent on not letting us get back to the main road at all. Of course, none of these side roads were on the inadequate map from the car rental agency.The miles passed.
The minutes ticked by.Now, driving on the Other side of the road is bad enough. Driving on the Other side of the road while driving a stick shift is even worse. Driving on the Other side of the road while driving a stick shift on roads that are only wide enough for motorcycles is even worse. Driving on the Other side of the road while driving a stick shift on roads that are only wide enough for motorcycles when it’s quickly getting dark is even worse. Driving on the Other side of the road while driving a stick shift on roads that are only wide enough for motorcycles when it’s quickly getting dark and being hopelessly lost is about as bad as it could get.
Right?After long enough I suggested we ask for directions. We pulled over to the side of the road and asked the first person who walked by if he could tell us where the train station was.
He was in his mid-to-late fifties, wearing a leather jacket with short, spikish reddish blond hair. He raised the rolled up newspaper in his right hand and pointed back up the hill from where we’d just come.He motioned with the rolled up paper again, and then again for emphasis.
His mouth opened, then, as if he just decided to give up on the right words coming out, he reached for the door handle.“Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll take ye up there.”
As he settled into the back seat Ben and I exchanged glances. This was either an example of Fine Scottish Hospitality or We Were Gonna Die.“First thing, you’re going in the wrong direction. You’ll need to turn around,” he said.
I waited for a break in traffic and made a u-turn and drove through the intersection.“And that was a red light you just drove through,” he said, matter-of-factly from the back seat. “But that’s okay. I’ll explain it to the police if they stop you.”
He stretched out a bit back there.
“So, where are you fellows from?” he asked.
“North Carolina,” Ben answered quickly.
“North Carolina,” he responded wistfully. “I once saw a beautiful movie filmed in North Carolina.”
“Cold Mountain?” Ben asked.*
“No...” he said thoughtfully. “Last of the Mohicans. Have you ever seen it?”
Last of the Mohicans is, beyond a doubt, a beautiful film, full of the green, lush mountains of North Carolina. It’s also a very safe film. Sure there’s some death and destruction, but nothing all too weird. Nothing to worry about there.
“You also have a great hockey team, dontcha?”
“Yes, the Hurricanes,” I offered. “They just won the Stanley Cup this past year.”
Our passenger nodded. I had no idea if what I had just said had made any sense to him at all.
“There was another great movie made in North Carolina.” He paused, considering it for a moment. “Have you ever seen the movie Deliverance?”
Now, as just about any Yankee who has re-located to the South can tell you, Deliverance is the kind of film Yankees that only confirms the nightmare scenario that the South holds for us. In the film, a small group of old friends goes for a fishing trip in the mountains somewhere in the South. Along the way they get kidnapped by a family of inbred psychopaths, tortured, maimed, sodomized and killed.
And here our friendly stranger was asking us about Deliverance.
Ben and I shot a nervous glance at each other.
Cue up the Dueling Banjos and get ready to sqeeeeeealll like a pig!
Instead, our passenger suddenly announced: “Pull over here. Well, yeah, not here. Go around the buses and pull over. I’ll get out here.”
We had gone all of five blocks and were nowhere near the train station. Perhaps we hadn’t given him the proper response to Deliverance, maybe he’d just decided we weren’t that much fun after all. Maybe he suddenly realized he was going in the opposite direction from where he had been heading. Still, we weren’t about to argue with him.
I pulled over. He pointed to the road sloping sharply upward before us with his still-rolled up newspaper.
And he pointed.
Finally he leaned forward a bit. “Ye’ll take this road to the top of the hill. Then ye’ll turn onto ___________ Street. From there, ye’ll see signs for the station.”
Then he sat back in the seat, smiling at us, obviously very satisfied with himself.
He reached out to shake our hands, telling us his name again.
And sat back in the seat, smiling at us, still very satisfied with himself.
He made no move towards opening the door.
It was clear to me that either I was missing something or he was just playing with us before he pulled the gun from his inner jacket pocket.
After what seemed like a very long time he leaned forward again, shook our hands and then settled back for another moment before he opened the door and slowly got out of the car.
He leaned in the window, repeated his directions and I quickly drove off.
Hours later I wondered if he was expecting us to tip him for his wonderful directions. At the time, however, it was dark, the city streets streets seemed cramped, the driving lanes impossibly narrow and they filled not only with cars but very aggressive buses.
Along the way I only managed to drive over three curbs (or is it “kerb” over here?) and drive close enough to a bus (or something) so the passenger’s side mirror was abruptly slapped to the side of the car. (nice that they make them to fold in instead of snapping off)
The top of the hill featured a roundabout. Now, I had been warned repeatedly about roundabouts, but having grown up in DC and having done lots of my most formative driving there, “circles” (as we call them) were no big deal to me. The biggest challenge was just going in clockwise instead of counter-clockwise.
To our surprise, the roundabout actually featured the name of the road we were looking for, meaning our Newfound Deliverance Friend had been right after all.
Within a dizzying ten minutes we pulled up outside of the Edinburgh station, congratulating ourselves on finally making it.
I had no idea how long it had taken.
Ben ran in and came back out with Bonn and Seren and all of our luggage. Once in the car they began repeating the story to me that they’d already started telling Ben.
It turned out our 30 minutes out and 30+ minutes back had turned into about three hours. At first they’d decided we had gotten lost. Then they decided we’d just gone into a pub somewhere along the way and were having ourselves a great time. Then they decided we were dead on the side of the road.
Guess which one they decided to
Being Bonn & Bonn’s daughter of course the “Dead on the Side of the Road Thought” was bound to come up sooner rather than later. If only one of them had been waiting for us, things might have gone differently. Together, however, they managed to try really, really hard to not feed off of each other
Unfortunately, both tend to hide their true feelings about as well as a silent film actress working on conveying a sense of foreshadowing.
Bonn said she tried to play it off as ridiculous, but eventually they had us both dead, no doubt with our blood-spattered remains being picked over by Scottish police who had just finished using the Jaws of Life. (Or whatever the equivalent is over here)
Perhaps in a few weeks they might be able to do the proper DNA testing to confirm our identities, but in the meantime, we were hopelessly, horribly dead.
Now, there are only two reasonable paths to take after your loved ones have supposedly died a horrid, fiery death in a foreign country: pick up with your life and move along, or confirm their deaths before picking up with your life and moving along.
Since we had the car and they had all of the heavy luggage, the latter seemed the obvious choice.
(Okay, that’s being mean. They would always choose to verify, whether separate or together)
(After all, Bonn had all of our money)
Bonn eventually approached a man working at the information counter who helpfully told her that his job was to either give train information or sell tickets. “So, please move along, Miss,” was the summation of his assistance.
The local police, likely annoyed that they were forced to wear fluorescent yellow instead of any of the cool colors US television police get to wear, were equally unhelpful.
“You could drive out to the Edinburgh Airport and look for them,” was their response.
Finally Bonn started in on the pay phone and trying to contact the rental car agency.
“Hello, I think my husband is dead on the side of the road somewhere between the Edinburgh Airport and Waverley Station. Can you please help me?” she’d ask, trying to force down the panic.
After being handed off from one non-helpful person to the next (to the next and to the next) someone finally gave her The Secret Airport Phone Number to the Alamo Counter.
Arnault answered the phone.
Bonnie asked him the question that would confirm her worst fears.
Instead of offering her comforting words of dismissal, instead of giving her the time we’d left his counter, instead of simply giving her any information at all, Arnault demanded:
“Who gave you this number? You’re not supposed to have this number!”
Bonn angrily gave him a vague answer and continued on with her line of questioning.
Arnault was completely unconcerned with Bonn’s concerns. His responses ranged from (a) continued anger that she, somehow and against all protocol, been given The Secret Airport Phone Number to the Alamo Counter (b) his insistence that he could only divulge Pick Up Information to the police, should Bonn manage to get the police to call back and/or (c) (as her anger and panic began to rise) effusive regret that he couldn’t do more to help her.They had been less than ten minutes away from their self-imposed deadline to hire a taxi to go out looking for us when Ben came running into the station to find them.
With everybody loaded into the car we started off through Edinburgh to Perth and then off to Loch Rannoch.
* While set in NC, Cold Mountain was actually filmed in Prague after the NC Film Commission was unable to work out a suitable agreement with the film’s producers. Sounds simple, right?
Previously: Next Stop: The Twilight Zone