BalLin Does Oxford Part I: Planes, Trains, and Immigration Woes

A short delve into my history shows I am, in fact, Austrian on my mother’s side. Yet, when it comes to nature versus nurture, I will always say, “Entschuldigung!” (Sorry/Excuse me!), whereas the Austrian with whom I collided with will sternly bark, “Achtung!” (Watch out!) It was this cultural divide that left me desperately reaming on the door handle of a train bound for the wrong direction.

It all started with the printers.

I was getting ready to go to Oxford to meet my friend Amy Lin (Ball + Lin = BalLin. Yes?). I needed to print off several rather important documents for my trip like my plane ticket, and my pass for the Oxford Tube. I decided to leave my class early to get to the library and print out my tickets with tons of time to spare to get to the airport. As I stood by the printers, I was at a loss. All the instructions were in German, and I was surrounded by several gadgets asking for PINs and codes and various cards I had never heard of. Several days earlier when I was printing off my bus ticket to Prague, the printers had required little of me outside of entering in my student ID and password into the computer. I thought it had just deducted some money from my account. So, with little hunch as to what I was supposed to do, I just stuck my student card into a slot.

Clearly, that was a very incorrect card in a very incorrect slot as the machine began to SCREAM at me. “YOU! FOOL!” it beeped loudly, which was deafening in a library that absolutely forbids any noise. The librarian came to my aid and told me that I needed to get a different type of card, a print card that would cost only 10 Euros.

You know what? I lied. It didn’t start with the printers. It started with my International Financial Management professor. Being a true professor of business, he knew how to make money. Being a true businessman, he didn’t believe in ethics so he skimmed it from poor exchange students. I arrived in class to hear that it would cost me 14 Euros just to buy the Powerpoint slides and related materials (including several pages of his autobiography) that he would present in class. The surprise charge left me completely illiquid.

And so as the librarian explained this 10 Euro minimum charge, I prayed that my new European debit card would do the job, I had just put 10 Euros on it.

See Jen run. See Jen run to the machine that only accepts cash. See Jen run across campus to a Bankomat. See Jen withdrawal cash. See Jen run BACK across campus, through the library, and to the copy room to try it again. See Jen make resolutions to get in shape.

Panting, I stuck my printer card into the same slot, bracing myself for it to start wailing again. It worked like a charm, I printed out my documents, and checked my watch. I instantly wish I hadn’t. I was now running 45 minutes behind schedule.

I was standing on the train platform, squinting hard at the tiny screens to find the word “Flughafen” (airport). It’s moments like these that really make me wish I’d invested in contacts. I turned to an elderly woman and asked if the train that had just arrived was going to the airport. I managed to pick the one who couldn’t speak English. She began nodding and shaking her head in a simultaneous yes and no to my question. Then her rapid German trailed off and she walked onto the train. Not to be discouraged, I followed her into the car, asking, “Entshuldigung! S6 or S7 zum flughafen!” (Excuse me – there it is again- S6 or S7 to the airport?) She didn’t answer, but a teen picked up the baton to say, “No, you need the S7.” I had just climbed aboard the S6. I turned swiftly to watch the doors shut in my face. As I pushed and pulled hard on the handle, begging it to open, the teen spoke again, “Just get off at the next stop; you can transfer there.” Right! Of course. Not in the least bit embarrassing…

Everything else went relatively without a hitch after I rerouted, that is, until I landed at Gatwick.

I stood limply in front of the pompous English stereotype who refused my entry because I didn’t know my host’s address. “Next time, fill it out correctly,” he sneered over the counter. I narrowed my eyes and thought venomously, “You. I’m going to blog about you. Just wait.” If looks and blogs could kill, I’d be on every no-fly list. I didn’t have my cell phone, nor access to the Internet. I was stuck. I was Tom Hanks. This was The Terminal. I slumped into the hard blue chairs wondering how I would get the message out. I wondered if the airport staff would bring me food from the food court. I wondered if they might at least have a Subway. I was beginning to map out my life stranded there. That was until the arrival doors burst open with a plane full of people. People with smart phones. Smart phones with Internet. In no time, I was standing back in front of the counters of Immigration, with the address clutched in my hand…only to watch the entire EU-Citizen section file through by the hundreds while us Non-EU Citizens stood. And stood. And stood. We stood in our single file line for over 45 minutes waiting for someone to come to the desk while four or five attendants stood around chatting with one worker on the EU side. I was about to yell, “I’m like an EU citizen! I’m from your favourite colony!” when they finally opened up a desk. It was near 11:20PM when I finally got through and I still had two more legs left in my journey.

I climbed to the second storey of the double-decker charter to Oxford into the very front row. The view of my mini-tour through London absolved the entire airport experience in my mind. It was beyond beautiful. It was midnight, and the city lights were glowing off the sandstone buildings and modern skyscrapers. It was the Europe I was expecting.

Almost two hours later, I arrived in Oxford. It was 3:30 AM Vienna time, I had begun my trip at 5 that day, and I was exhausted. I climbed out the bus, anxious to know if Amy had gotten my mental vibes to pick me up. No one was there. I had remembered she told me that she would be at a café near the bus station, but by that time everything was closed. As I wandered around Oxford, I asked several students staggering home from the bars if they had smart phones. Their unfocused eyes looked sympathetic when every single one told me no. Feeling hopeless and exhausted, I decided to head back to the bus station to reevaluate.

This time, like a miracle, I saw two blurry figures (really need those contacts). As I got closer, I could see a shock of pattern, a planet of hair, and fierce outfit especially for this hour. I knew it had to be my friend Amy. I ran into her arms and half-hugged/half-supported myself against her.

As she and her roommate Meg walked me home, they told me they’d been standing vigil since midnight, leaving their post only once for 15 minutes to warm up.  I had arrived during that tiny 15 minute window. If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any at all.

Though, when I was a dancer, we had a superstition that a terrible dress rehearsal meant a perfect show. As I closed my eyes on the dress rehearsal of that trip, I smiled at the promise of the following week.

XOXO Jennifer Navorski

P.S. The next time I go anywhere, I’m bringing a phone book and a carrier pigeon.

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About j.ball

I took all the thoughts rumtumbling in my head, and I put them in this blog.
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