Saturday, July 7, 2007

My First Real Adventure

Scribbit has asked for contributions for her Write Away Contest. Her subject this time around has to do with one's greatest adventure. If you're interested, please consult her site for the rules and deadline.

Here's my effort::

My First Real Adventure

I was twenty-one and I had already worked full-time for the past four years while attending school. When school was out, I took a second parttime job.

My stepfather had died when I was 18 and finances were tight; nearly all of my earnings from my various jobs went into rent and household expenses for the expensive Sutton Place efficiency (no bedroom) apartment in Manhattan I shared with my mother. We were extremely close, but I was itching to go out on my own and I needed a well-deserved break. Most people considered me an obedient daughter who was extremely conservative in an age of social revolution; in short, boring. But there was also a pulsating undercurrent of defiance and resolve.

It had been my dream since childhood to visit England and go to the theatre in London and see great plays with legendary actors. At this point in time, I was apprenticing in theatre administration and had wondered how different the West End was from Broadway. There was also a particular play by Alan Bennett starring Alec Guinness I wanted to see.

I had worked at the same job for over a year so I was owed a week’s paid vacation plus sick days I had not taken and I was informed that I needed to take it within the month, or lose it.

What an opportunity!

It occurred to me that it was time to cut the apron strings and this would be the first step.

Each week for more than a year, I had squirreled away some money in the hope of doing something like this. But first, I needed to get a passport.

Just the act of ordering a copy of my birth certificate, posing for the photos, and filling out the forms was exciting! Receiving the passport itself was thrilling ! And I was doing it all myself! But that Passport was more than just a document that would allow me to leave and reenter the country, it was a passport to the rest of my life!

After I was sure I could travel abroad, I made reservations for the various theatre performances through a booking agent, bought some clothes (I thought they dressed up so I purchased a couple of hats, a pair of white gloves, and two smart suits. Of course, I owned pearls!). I rationalized that I needed these clothes anyway, for my job. I stashed the clothes and the passport at my friend’s apartment. (His parents were very supportive and helpful.)

Freddie Laker had just started his $249 round trip flights on a first-come, first-served basis and his office was across the street from my best friend’s apartment building in Rego Park, Queens. The plan was to take turns in line, and this had to be done on the day of the flight! This was a very popular deal and hundreds of people showed up each day.

Another friend offered to lend me some money and I actually accepted the offer to pay for my hotel, food, and other expenses.; he gave me a very generous payment schedule. (Please note that the theatre tickets were booked before anything else!)

So I had everything in place for my escape!

My Rego Park conspirator was accompanying me to the bank the day I was to leave. As we approached the bank, we noticed it was closed! There had been a bomb scare! (Just my luck!) It was too late for me to get to any other of the bank’s branches (this was before ATM’s and charge cards for most people). My friend’s bank was relatively near to mine and we had enough time to get to it before closing. He took my check, deposited it, and withdrew the cash I needed!

In the meantime, his mother was one of the first in line at the Freddie Laker office but I still hadn’t told my mother!

I was gathering up my courage and decided to be boldly matter-of-fact: It started with me telling my mother that I had one week's paid vacation and that I had to take it that week. She was pleased and immediately rattled off a number of things that I had to do during my vacation. Then I dropped the bombshell: I was unable to do them because I would not be around! It occurred to her that I might be going to visit my father, but was flabbergasted when I told her I was going to London! “Oh no you’re not!”

“Oh yes I am!”

She smiled sweetly, “Darling, you can’t just fly out of the country, you need a passport.”

“I know that. Gotta go, have a great week!”

It was the first time I had ever seen my mother speechless!

I rushed over to relieve my friend’s mother in the line and she and her son eventually brought me some dinner. (Oh! She was a great cook!)

But while I was standing on line, I realized that I hadn’t made hotel arrangements!

Luckily there was a lectern with a representative from the London Board of Tourism (or something like that) behind it that could book rooms, restaurant, theatre tickets, bus and rail passes etc. I told her I wanted to stay in either Kensington or Mayfair for 5 nights at L15 per night! (Unbelievably low rate for first class areas.) She took my deposit and promised that there would be something awaiting me when I got to the train station. So I flew off to England with one suitcase and two hat boxes, and no idea of where I was going to sleep!

She was right! That wonderful woman found a guest house/hostel near Harrod’s across from Old Brompton Oratory! And, as it turned out, if I made a couple of beds each morning (4) and helped clear after breakfast, they would take half off, since they were short-handed! What a deal!

I registered with the American Embassy the first day and gave them my contact information as my friend’s mother had suggested. (This gave me an excuse to visit the embassy.)

The next few days were magical! On the way to my guesthouse directly from the flight, I stopped a taxi driver from cheating me. I also foiled a mugging (of me) a couple of nights later. Being a New Yorker, I managed to figure out the Underground and buses. It was Easter, but I attended a Roman Catholic church I had mistaken for a Church of England Church (Communion was really awkward as I was waiting at the altar for wine, and the priest informed me that I didn’t get any! He later realized that I should have been next door at the Anglican church, but the service was so lovely!)

During the day, I roamed several districts of the city to get the flavor of it. I thought I would be back, so I didn’t do much sightseeing except the British Museum (had to see that Rosetta Stone) and the London counterpart of a New York City sound and light show. (The end of this presentation had Noel Coward singing, London Pride while the blitz was going on and one could see that famous photo of St. Paul's as a survivor of the intense bombing, brought me to tears.) I was given letters of introduction from Mr. John Fleming for several rare book and autograph dealers to procure items for the first WNET/PBS art and antique auction and met many interesting people, including Mr. Maggs of Maggs Brothers. I decided that no Nightingale ever sang in Berkeley Square! I taught the English how to fold a New York-style pizza slice like a native (they used knives and forks!). I tasted a shandy and learned that their lemonade is our Sprite or 7UP. I fell in love with meat pies but hated Marmite.

But the theatre! Oh! The theatre! I not only saw great plays with legendary actors, but stood outside the stage doors (or was invited in, because I not only wore a hat and pearls, but had engraved calling cards from Tiffany’s) to get autographs from Ingrid Bergman, Wendy Hiller, Alec Guinness, Leslie Phillips (the voice of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter), Ian McKellen, Simon Williams, Simon Ward, Joan Plowright, Tom Conti, Ginger Rogers, and Donald O’Connor. I saw Alan Bennett's The Old Country twice with Alec Guinness and two different leading ladies! And of course I saw The Mousetrap on my first evening!

The freedom to do whatever I wanted and even to make some minor mistakes was a joyful experience. The realization that I was a lot more resourceful, self-assured, and savvier than I had imagined, was profound.

It was the greatest adventure of my life, because it was my first adventure.

On my final day, the embassy contacted me to call my mother; she was panicking. I assured her that all was well, I was having fun, and not to worry.


Whenever my mother refers to this escapade, she labels it, "The time my daughter ran away from home"!


Scribbit said...

Thanks so much for entering, I'm glad to have your entry included.

Anonymous said...

Great tale. London's theatre scene is still on my to-do list. Some day...

This is my first time to your blog, and I like your subject matter. I used to conduct docent tours at the mission in san juan capistrano for fourth graders on field trips from schools throughout southern Cali.

Patois said...

I enjoyed reading your account of the time you "ran away." Definitely a big adventure. (I found you through Scribbit's contest.)

Daisy said...

Fantastic! Oh, the memories. Your support network was fabulous; I'll venture a guess that you provide others with support when you can to return the favor. Thanks for the story!