English my ass, I have no idea what the hell they are saying.
Years ago, in what seems like another life, I was a sales rep for software giant, Oracle. As part of my account territory, I covered a company called National Grid. As luck would have it, National Grid was actually headquartered in the UK. I say luck because covering this account gave me an opportunity that I will never forget: a trip to the UK.
The Email I Never Read
The meeting in the UK was meant to be a gathering of the global account Oracle account team who covered National Grid. The way Oracle sales teams were structured meant that there was in fact a global account team manager. I cannot remember her name but I can remember the email she sent out to all those who were to convene in the UK for this global “summit” of sorts.
In her email, she explains that we are to meet at Straford-upon-Avon, and that it was commutable from Heathrow Airport. This is important to remember as this little bit of misinformation was the cause of an almost 7 hour commute from hell through the bowels of a country where no one either knows where they are or how to speak English.
I call it misinformation because shortly after she sent out her email informing people like me that Stratford-upon-Avon was commutable from Heathrow, another person, again whose name I do not recall, and who clearly knows her country better than the other woman, sent out an email saying without doubt, Stratford-upon-Avon is NOT commutable.
Sadly for me, I never read her email and used the initial information to govern my trip plans.
The meeting was on a Monday morning which meant I need to take a red-eye flight across the Atlantic. Not a problem at all. I booked my flight to allow my arrival at Heathrow well before the meeting started, assuming of course that after landing in Heathrow, I was only a commute away.
My flight got me to Heathrow in the early morning hours, London Time, at the peak of morning rush hour. This is another bit of data that will be useful in a moment.
It wasn’t long after I gathered my massive suitcase and other belongings and headed to the taxi stand. I felt great. Armed with the address of my destination and all the excitement one could feel being in the UK for the first time, I took my place in the line for a cab.
While waiting, a man who was working to get people on their way approached me. I confidently showed this man the paper I was holding in my hand, thinking he was going to show me to a cab and I would be on my way.
The look on his face was more than enough to tell me that I had no business feeling good. What he said next was confirmation.
“Sir, this cab ride will cost you about $1000”
What??? $1000 dollars is NOT a representation of commutable. In fact it is the exact opposite of commutable. But the problem wasn’t the money. The problem was the realization, the awakening to the notion that I was a long long way from my destination and had absolutely no idea how to get to where I was going.
The Express Train to Hell
This man could clearly see that I was a bit stressed. He suggested, in what appeared to be a simple solution, a trip on this express train. He indicated that it would be about 15 minutes away.
What I heard was that my destination was 15 minutes away. What he actually said was that I could get on another train that would then take me to where I was going, in 3 hours!
The time of the trip, alone, wouldnt have presented much of a problem even if I were aware of it. No, the problem was the train station itself and the people, from the UK, working at the station, who apparently don’t speak an English that I understand, and even if they did, don’t have a clue how to navigate their own country.
The Fun Begins
Anyway, I hop on the express rail to hell thinking I was on my way to where I needed to go. When I arrived at this intermediary destination, it quickly occurred to me that I was at a massive train station and not Stratford-upon-Avon.
The worst part of my trip was yet to come and would be influenced by the fact that I had no idea where I was going, people who should know had no idea where I was going and I was in a massive big city train station in morning rush hour with a suitcase the size of the Titanic, surrounded by rude and hurried Brits fighting their way to the train that would take them to work.
The normal thing to do, for anyone in my shoes, was to look around for anyone sign of anyone who could help me out. So, I saw what looked to be a useful fellow and asked him how to get where I was going.
I have no idea what he said other than that I needed to go down stairs. At the time, I had no idea that this train station had a massive subway complex and that this tool was telling me I need to be on it. All I understood was, go downstairs.
I assumed that when I went downstairs all would be revealed to me. Boy, was I mistaken.
I went downstairs, fighting all these wacky and pushy Londoners on the escalator only to find myself still lost, but just a level lower than I had been before.
It is then that I saw the window of hope that read, “Information”.
You Are Here
I am not going to bore you with all the details of this part of the saga other than to say, I went up to the window marked “Information” with the hope I would get some information.
Instead, what I got was a doofus, sitting behind a bullet proof window, who looked at my paper, rummaged through some book, looked at my paper again and then looked up at me and said…
“You are here.”
I was in no mood to argue, nor was in a position of power, strong enough to tell this idiot he was an idiot. So instead I said, “I am sorry, what did you say?”
He looks at me and says, “Here, you are here.” I said, “Are you trying to tell me that I am at where I want to go?” He said, “Yes”.
I grabbed my paper from him never to return. Being in the UK for all of about 1 hour, even I knew that I was not where I wanted to be. So much for information.
A Few More Trips Up and Down and Finally, Hope
I went up and down the stairs for what seemed like an hour, trying to find my direction or anyone who could speak an English I could understand well enough to understand what I needed to do. In all my trips up and down, I never found one person who I could understand or who could tell me where I needed to go.
Turns out they all knew where I needed to go, but none of them could use a version of the English language I understood until the cop, or bobbie to be precise.
This man was my hope. He finally presented me with a version of English I could understand, as well as a clear path to stage three of my trip. He wasn’t very clear about stage 4, but at least I understood what I needed to do next.
The people I encountered before the bobbie were all telling me to go downstairs. What they were not telling me was what I needed to do once I went downstairs. The bobbie did. Unfortunately, the sad reality was that I needed to, with my Titanic sized suitcase, get on the subway, packed with Londoners who had no use for me blockading their way to work.
Three levels down, I got on the subway headed for phase 4 which was only two stops away.
Seriously, Does Anyone Know Where I am Going?
So, I was able to fight my way onto the subway and then off of the subway two stops down. With a suitcase on a packed train, this is a lot harder than you think.
That said, having arrived at what I thought was the final phase of my journey, I felt great. That feeling was quickly replaced when I showed a woman behind another solid window my paper.
She looked at me as if I was showing her an address in Russia. Seriously, she literally had to ask someone next to here where I was the destination I was headed to.
People, you should know, William Shakespeare was born in the town I needed to be at. Yes, that is correct. The dude who wrote the plays. Pretty important guy. To say that someone in the UK doesn’t know where Stratford-upon-Avon is like someone from America drawing a blank when shown the address of the White House.
It is Bill Freaking Shakespeare!!!
Yet there I stood, in front of a ticket window, being served by a woman from London who had no idea where I was going, or how I was to get there.
This woman said Warwick. I heard it and latched onto it. I focused on Warick assuming that if I got to Warwick all my troubles would be solved. I distinctly remember that she said there was a train station in Warwick and that my destination would be a cab ride away.
The problem? She wasn’t real clear on which train I needed to be on in order to get to Warwick.
I took a shot in the dark, asked a few people some general directional questions, and found myself on a train headed to phase 5 of my trip. Laughably, without really knowing if I was on the right train, I got on and prayed it was the right train.
To give myself a sense of comfort, I asked a young lady who was sitting near me if I was headed in the right direction. Surprisingly, she spoke an English I could understand. Sadly, this young woman, looks me dead in the eye and says, “I dont know.”
You live here yes? Yes. You are on this train, yes? Yes. You know who Bill Shakespeare is, yes? Yes.
How the hell can you not know if I am headed in the right direction. The distance to where I was headed was about the same as the distance between Boston and Philly. Can anyone even imagine landing in Boston and asking someone there if they know how to get to Philly, and the response being, “Huh?”
Seriously people. I am on a train headed in a direction that until about 10 minutes later, I had no idea was the right direction. And then I saw Warwick on the screen above and my blood pressure went back to a normal less lethal level.
Warwick Train Station
The train ride through the country side of England was nice. I was tired though and really just wanted to get where I was going.
With that, after about 3 hours or so, I found myself looking at the Warwick train station.
Now, you have to understand, I assumed I was going to a big city train station where there would be cabs waiting to take me where I wanted to go. LOL, ya, no. Warwick is an old English town with a train station the size of a shoe box.
In fact, the train station was smaller than a shoe box and showed no signs of a cab ride to take me to see Shakespeare’s home.
So, not knowing what to do, and again, assuming that Warwick was a small city, I just started to walk, assuming that I would run into a plethora of cabs to take me where I wanted to go.
So here I am, after no sleep, battling the London subway at rush hour, the stress of not knowing where I was going and really frustrated, walking with my Titanic sized suitcase, in the misty morning, toward “down town” Warwick.
After about 20 minutes, it occurred to me that Warwick didn’t have a down town, and also didn’t have a fleet of cabs waiting for my arrival. What I did see was a man, sitting in a car, with his window cracked open a bit.
I saw it as a beacon of hope, so I walked up to his car to ask him where I could find a cab. His response, “At the train station.”
What??? Where? I didn’t see anything even close to resembling a cab or a cab stand at the shoe box. But what choice did I have. I had to take his word for it and walk all the way back to the shoe box.
It was then, after clearing the rain off my glasses, that I saw, buried in the back quarter of the shoe box, a sign that Superman wouldn’t have seen, that indicated there were cabs available.
I am dead tired and in no mood. I dragged myself up to this cab stand, opened the door and found a woman sitting behind yet another three inch thick window. I asked her where I could get a cab, and as god is my witness, no sooner did the words exit my mouth, when Mr You Know Who walks in behind me and proclaims, “right here.”
Yes, the same dude who was sitting in his car 20 minutes away, with his window cracked, who told me to walk back to the train station, WAS MY CAB DRIVER!!!
If I wasn’t so happy to see him, I might have punched him in the face.
Suffice it to say, I loaded up my Titanic and was on my way, only a few minutes from Stratford-upon-Avon.
My trip to the UK ultimately was one of the coolest weeks of my life. A three hour trip took almost 7, but once I arrived, I was fine.
The moral of this story is, never assume that anyone who tells you that someplace is commutable from the airport is telling you the truth.
Also, if you are going to England, don’t assume English is the spoken language. It is not. I don’t know what they speak, or if there is a dictionary to help you out, but you should be prepared to lower your expectations. Many of the people you will need will not be able to help you unless you speak their version of gibberish.