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The Long Journey Home

Sep 14th, 2009 | By | Category: Featured Article, snewz

Sit back and relax, citizen, while I tell you a true tale of my personal foolery while traveling home from Rome to NY via London.

The reason I was in Rome was that I had taken a course on Renaissance art and felt inspired to see things firsthand. Being a student, I booked the cheapest flight I could get (Air India), got myself a fantastically inexpensive hostel in Rome ($8/night), and traveled with only a backpack for 2 weeks. I decided to go the trip alone even though I had a fair number of friends who were going to be in Italy at the same time.

Enough of the back story, though. Let’s get to the point.

Ciampino Airport

I show up at Ciampino for the first leg of my trip home and see a huge line. People are acting crazy and I shrug and figure it’s because I’m still in Italy. I find out that my flight has been delayed, so I get on the line for information.

Ahead of me is a woman who is screaming at everyone she can think of until eventually the police come out. I don’t know what she said, but she didn’t get the nice police that help you find your puppy. All of a sudden, the room was filled with about 40 SWAT-like Italian police with automatic rifles and very… professional attitudes.

VERY effective at shutting down an insurgency

VERY effective at shutting down an insurgency

The lady went away and everything was back to normal. While I was waiting, I saw that my flight was canceled along with every other flight to northern Europe. Apparently, there was some sort of crazy storm that shut down half of the continent or something. The only thing that would get me closer to London for my Saturday flight was a flight to Beauvais airport near Paris. After doing some quick calculations, I knew I had enough money in my bank account to get a place in Paris for the night, hop the Eurail from Paris to London on Friday, and get to my hotel in London for Friday night. I had a plan and I was next in line.

I made the arrangements and got my new itinerary. I went through security and waited for my flight. The plane wasn’t scheduled leave until very late, so I made friends with an American who was on the same flight. He was a Marine on leave and just finished a tour in Iraq. He spent a lot of the time quoting a Carlos Mencia DVD that he watched for 6 months in Iraq. I was pleased to hear someone say ‘motherf—er’ several hundred times, as I was a bit homesick for NY.

Through small talk, he divulged that he was on his way to his next assignment, which was to be stationed at the American embassy in Paris. We sat next to one another on the flight and said goodbye as he went into the car that was at the airport to pick him up.

Beauvais Airport

I should have known by the crazed look in the ATM's eyes.

I should have known by the crazed look in the ATM's eyes.

At this time (11:40PM), I walked over to the ATM in Beauvais airport. I had spent the last of my euro, thinking that I would be going straight to London. I put my card in the ATM… and the motherfucker ate it. I had plenty of money in the bank and my fucking ATM card was eaten.

Normally, this wouldn’t be such a devastating event. I mean, who doesn’t have a credit card for emergencies, right? Actually, I should say, “Who has two thumbs and doesn’t have a credit card for emergencies? (pause for effect) This guy.”

Suddenly, I realize that I’m somewhere in the middle of Bumfuck, France and I have 3 coins worth a total of less than ten fucking cents. If the Flying Spaghetti Monster and I were playing chess, it would have said ‘Checkmate, bitch’ at this point. I look across the countryside and consider my options.

My options

Viva le France!

Vive la France!

1. Become French

This was the first thing that came to my head. I live here now. I could see farms and thought about trying to get a job as a farmer.

2. Try to get to Paris

Get to Paris to figure out my next move from a city that has a predominantly human population. Beauvais seemed to be more of a cow city. It was at this point that the woman at the information desk mentioned to me that she saw what happened and that she’s having sex with the guy who runs the bus company. Technically, she said “I’m dating him,” but you know what that means. It reminds me of that one Snapple commercial where the actors are sitting at a marketing meeting and after a few failed ideas, some guy says “The best stuff on earth just got… better.” He comes across as a hero and some chick says “I’m dating him.” I can’t help but feel sort of bad for her at that moment, because you know she’s not really dating him, but probably fellated him in the copy room or something. What am I talking about… Oh yeah. The information lady hooked me up with a free bus ticket.

Does he even know your name?

Does he even know your name?

3. Scheme.

At this point, I realize that I have the bus ticket and I can use it at any time. I have been told by everyone who has ever heard this story that I should be getting on the bus and going to the Embassy to find that Marine that I befriended. This never crossed my mind. I put this as option 3 because I’m sure my subconscious must have known that this was the right thing to do.

How much thought I had about the US embassy

How much thought I had about the US embassy

4. Stay at the airport

The fourth and most awesome option was to stay at the airport and negotiate a flight from Beauvais to Stansted with the people from Ryanair. My plan was to tell them that the Italians screwed up and put me on the wrong flight. Of course, everything was closed at this point, so my deal would have to happen in the morning. If the deal went south, I could still take the bus to Paris and figure it out from there… or be a farmer.

What I was ACTUALLY thinking about instead of getting on the bus

What I was ACTUALLY thinking about instead of getting on the bus

In the beginning of my trip, I spent a night at Stansted Airport. While I was planning my trip, I came across which said that Stansted was the most slept in airport in the world. There were hundreds of people sleeping there, so I felt this was something that one could do at any airport. FYI – you can’t at Beauvais.

The bus pulled away, the doors were locked, and I was screwed again; this time by my own hand (heh heh). Though I was not in the storm, it was cold and rainy. I searched for the driest bit of outdoors to crash. The best I could come up with was a dripping plexiglass waiting area for a bus. I slept there, getting wetter and colder for a few hours.

At about 3AM, a security guard found me and did a lot of talking in French. I do have a little vocabulary in the language, but it had completely escaped me as my mind was completely fried by now. Realizing that I was not a threat and also a very pathetic sight, the security guard took pity on me and asked me if I wanted to go to the bathroom (or something). At this point, I’d have been happy if he was going to arrest me because then at least I’d have a cell.

He walked me over to a small building that consisted of a large men’s room and a large women’s room. He opened the men’s room, turned on the heater, and said, “For you.” To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful for any single act of kindness than that one. I washed up, changed into dry clothes, and slept on the floor of the bathroom. According to my original itinerary, I would have been sleeping at a Holiday Inn in London at this time, but I was so glad to have a nice dry bathroom floor instead. God, I love that security guard.

I woke the next morning and met with the manager running Ryanair at Beauvais. She was from Ireland and had been with the company a long time. I talked her into getting me to Stansted for free (I paid less than $60 including taxes for my round-trip flight to Rome), but since they didn’t have a direct flight, this meant I would be going to Dublin for a layover and would be landing in Stansted at 7PM. I don’t remember what I said, but I’m glad it worked.

I go through security at the airport and make my way to the terminal. I saw some computers around that people could pay to use. I hung around until I saw one with some time left and sent e-mails out to my family letting them know what was going on and what my new plan was. Unfortunately, nobody checks their e-mail in my family and I couldn’t remember anyone’s phone number for a collect call. Stupid cell phone (that I left in the US because I wanted a Bohemian adventure) made life too easy, so knowing the numbers of the people I call was a thing of the past.

Dublin Airport

I hopped on my flight, landed in Dublin, where I had a 3-hour layover, stepped out of the airport so that I could say I was really in Ireland and when people would say “Did you leave the airport?” I could say “Yes, I did!”, and searched for more computers with time on them. People in Ireland are much more frugal with their time than they were in France. I had one computer with a minute left on it in all the time I was at the airport. I sent a second e-mail and hadn’t had a response.

While waiting, there was a gaggle of Irish lassies who had been on some sort of shopping trip. One of them had wanted to buy a pair of slippers and had failed, or so I could ascertain by her exclamation in a loud but whispered tone, “THE SLIPPERS!!! They were within me grasp!” The thickness of her Irish brogue (is there even any other kind of brogue?) made it one of the coolest sounding phrases I’ve heard.

Stansted Airport/Liverpool Street Station

I hopped on my flight, got to Stansted and took the train with no problems! I had the sense to buy a round-trip ticket when I was on my way in to Rome and still had the second half. At this point, it’s 8-9 PM on Friday night and the last time anything really went smoothly was when I took the bus from my hostel to Ciampino 40 hours earlier.

The train from Stansted got me to Liverpool station. My original plan was to walk from there to Heathrow, so I asked directions. Every single person I talked to told me it was far too long to walk. I now know that it would only have been about 20 miles and I had more than 12 hours, so I’m kind of annoyed that the English are such wimps about taking long hikes. In any event, I was convinced that it would be an inhuman effort, so I figured I’d try to see if I could talk my way into the underground for free. I figured after getting 2 free flights out of an airline, this should be a cakewalk. It wasn’t. Those guys really want the £4.

The British Empire crumbled because the English forgot how to march
The British Empire crumbled because the English forgot how to march

I decide at this point to begin begging. I’ve never done it in my life, and I highly recommend it to everyone. I can totally get what made the Buddha so hip to it. When you have nothing and are at your worst, opening your vulnerability up to the world is an immensely humbling experience. I spent about 15 minutes trying everyone I saw before I was given a sound piece of advice (though no coin) from someone. I was being honest with people. I told them about the ATM and everything. The guy told me to lie. I made up a story about having my wallet stolen in Paris and that I had got this far.

I had my £4 within 5 minutes. I think the English take the side of anyone who has ever been screwed over by a Frenchman.

I get into the Underground and get on the train. It’s the same line that would take me to my hotel and I consider getting off at the Holiday Inn to see if they’d give me the room. I had already paid for it. I decide against it because I had a bird in the hand. I was on my way to Heathrow and would be on my flight in 12 hours.

Heathrow Airport

When I get to Heathrow, I see a bench open. Coincidentally, it is the same bench that I had slept on a few years earlier after a crazy night with a jazz singer. I say hi to some of the people who are sleeping there and accidentally give them my begging version of the story instead of the truth about the ATM machine. One woman is flying home to Canada and is now worried because her daughter is in traveling in Paris. I pass out on the bench.

I wake up several hours later and the Canadian woman mentions that I had been snoring like a cheetah. What I find particularly odd about this de is the fact that it is not the first time someone had used it on me when I’ve slept while fantastically exhausted. If you do a Google search for “snoring like a cheetah” you won’t come up with any results. This is because it isn’t an idiom, but instead something that people only seem to say when talking about me.

I talk to the Canadian woman for a while as we wait to check in for our flights. I mention that I can’t wait to get home because I hadn’t eaten in 48 hours. She opens up her purse and pulls out a roll and some pieces of cheese, which we share. I wasn’t really asking for anything. She was simply a good person. I still wonder how long she had that stuff in her bag, but I didn’t really care at the time. It amounted to about 2 bites of food, but it was awesome.

When the point comes that I tell her about my begging, she asks me how I’m getting from the airport to my house and I tell her that I plan to beg one last time for the $5.00 for the train to get home. She pulls out her wallet and gives me $12.00 American, telling me that she always travels with Canadian, American, and whatever money is in the local currency. I tell her that is a very smart idea, because I just learned a very valuable lesson about the importance of money. I thank her for her hospitality and we part ways.

The time comes for me to check in for my flight, so I once again go through the security checkpoint and go to the terminal. When I get there, I see that the place that sells duty-free alcohol is giving away free samples of Bailey’s Irish Cream. They had the traditional flavor, a chocolate flavor, and a mint flavor. I sample one of each. The mint is freaking awesome and I am pretty buzzed because my stomach is still incredibly empty.

I lurk around computer stations for free internet and find an English quarter. Suddenly, my new objective is to hunt around for coins until I can get enough to buy a snack. By the time I’m supposed to board, I have found £1.38, but my flight is announced before I have a chance to buy anything.

Feeling pretty rich and knowing that I have free airplane food on the way, I make a bee-line for my gate and board my plane. I get in my seat and fall asleep.

After a while, I wake up and the stewardess is giving out some food. I get a cheese sandwich. It has some sort of green, leafy paste on it. Realizing that I’m flying Air India, I suddenly acknowledge the concept that eating Indian food on an empty stomach is going to come back to bite me in the end. The rear end. I don’t care. I’m hungry. I eat the sandwich and fall asleep again.

Suddenly, I wake up with an intense need to utilize a toilet. As I’m about to stand up, the captain comes on the speaker and tells everyone to stay in their seats, because we’re about to go through some rough turbulence. My bowels don’t care.

On my way to the lavatory, the stewardess sees me and says, “Sir, you need to go back to your seat. We’re about to get into some rough turbulence.” to which I reply, “Ma’am, this is coming out of me and I don’t think you want it to happen out here.” Her look was priceless as I rushed to the bathroom.

You really don't want to know what The Ugly looks like
You really don’t want to know what The Ugly looks like

In everyone’s life, there are a few incredibly memorable bowel movements. This one was the most memorable of mine. The best way to describe the events while inside the bathroom would be to say that I had a severe case of turbulent diarrhea. I was absolutely correct in my assessment of the situation. If that came out in the passenger section of the plane, I’m pretty sure the masks would have come down and we’d have lost cabin pressure.

After a thorough cleaning and a few flushes, I returned to my seat. I ate the vegetarian meal and didn’t have any more problems for the rest of the flight, up to and including my disembarkment.

JFK Airport

I start making my way out of the terminal only to be greeted by my loving sister and her husband. They had received my e-mails and decided to pick my sorry ass up from the airport. I immediately felt badly about not having used the Canadian woman’s $12.00.

On the plus side, I was finally home, 60 hours after I left my Italian hostel.


So what the heck? Why was my bank card eaten in France? Was it because I was traveling and making purchases out of the country? Was it because I’d gone over my balance? Nope. It was because I bought a jacket. In America. Before my trip. FOR my trip. That I didn’t even take with me because I decided I didn’t even really like the darn thing.

I bought that jacket at a Bob’s store and they had a ‘complication’ that put my bank card number ‘at risk.’ I don’t hold anything against Bob’s stores. I’ve purchased from them since, in fact. Stuff happens, even to the best of us. Just the same, I missed the letter from my bank telling me that they were going to cancel my card because I was out of the country.

The system worked exactly the way it was supposed to. I had exactly as much money in the bank as I had calculated at Ciampino. My bank protected my money the way they were supposed to. Of course, not having a backup plan, my ass was left out to dry, but I saved hundreds of dollars through my ordeal.

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  1. had fun lookin around this site! this sounds like something that would happen to me!

  2. Damm dude, thats really messed up bro, now im ready for the unexpected

  3. Excellent story 🙂

    It sounds like that one trip gave you more travelling expertise than any number of package holidays ever would have.

    Always have a second card with you.

    Always have an emergency cash stash somewhere on your body. Enough for a train/bus fare, phone calls and something to eat.

    Dont be afraid to ask for help from strangers if youre genuinely stuck. Away from major tourist traps, where con artists tend to hang out, most people anywhere in the world will help you if you’re in trouble.

  4. Props to you for thanking your sister. Props taken away for not taking her advice to get another card before you left.

  5. […] you enjoyed this article, check out Failblog’s occasional misrepresentation of failure or The Long Journey Home, a tale of one foolish man’s journey from Rome to NY via Paris, Dublin, and London using only […]

  6. […] you enjoyed this article, check out Failblog’s occasional misrepresentation of failure or The Long Journey Home, a tale of one foolish man’s journey from Rome to NY via Paris, Dublin, and London using only […]

  7. […] was under 100. During this period, she suffered what has become known in our family as a case of turbulent diarrhea, severe coughing, went through dozens of tissues, 3 bottles of water, and couldn’t […]

  8. Great story!

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