08 July 2005

A London Journal—Day Eight

An amazing week in London

PyromaniacOK, it goes without saying that this week was absolutely unforgettable. It's a week that will surely go down in London history as one of the busiest, strangest, most hectic, most glorious, and most tragic weeks ever. It began with the massive Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, built up to the euphoria about winning the Olympic bid, and then finished with the trauma and outrage of the terrorist bombings. For London, the first week of July 2005 was like the summer of '69 packed into one week.

For me, however, it's been a more or less typical week on the road.

Someday when I have nothing else to blog about, I might post a long chronicle of all the weird things that have happened to me on various trips around the United States and overseas.

Meanwhile, here's an abbreviated summary:

My very first excursion to a foreign land was to India in 1984, and it happened to be the week of Indira Ghandi's assassination. On that same trip, I was caught in a massive hurricane in Madras—locked down overnight in a horrible hotel with no electricity. I was in the Philippines during the overthrow of Marcos. Once during the apartheid era I was in Johannesburg, South Africa when a massive riot there made international headlines.

In 1997-2000, I was in six different earthquakes on four continents: one in Pune, India; one in New Zealand; three in California; and one in Italy. On my way back from India in 1997, I nearly died when a series of unfortunate incidents on a Tokyo-Los Angeles passenger jet landed me in hospital for emergency surgery. (That whole tale is legendary; read it for yourself.)

Once when I was boarding a cruise ship, the baggage handlers dropped a piece of my luggage in the ocean. Another time, I was stranded in the desert when the transmission on my car burned up—forced to spend a miserable week at the height of the summer heat in a crummy motel in the middle of nowhere in Arizona while a guy who had no clue what he was doing tried to fix my transmission. (He ended up in jail for spousal abuse before my car was fixed.)

I've experienced every imaginable kind of bad weather, volcano eruptions, canceled flights, emergency landings, car trouble at 1:00 AM on a deserted road, and (just last year) a high-speed blowout at midnight, 50 miles from the nearest tow truck.

Stuff always goes wrong when I travel.

I admit I feel somewhat guilty about it. Good friends of mine refuse to travel with me. I've been told I'm like Fearless Fosdick, the character in Li'l Abner who always left disaster in his wake. Fosdick somehow survived everything, but people around him were always getting hurt. The Fosdick Syndrome.

P. J. O'Rourke wrote a book called Holidays in Hell about his experiences in the middle of some of the 20th Century's greatest catastrophes, while he was reporting for Rolling Stone and National Lampoon. He may be the only person on the planet who has met with more disaster on the road than me. But he sought out trouble deliberately. It was his idea of fun. I don't have to look for trouble; it finds me.

So let this be a warning to the citizens of California: I'm on my way home.

Actually, things have gone very smoothly so far this morning. Last night when we got back to our hotel, we tried to book a taxi service to Heathrow. The hotel desk told us it was hopeless; all their regular airport transport services were fully booked until noon today. (Our flight is at 11:00 AM.) Their suggestion was that we simply hail a city cab on the street in the morning.

I knew from experience that would be futile in the early morning on a difficult travel day in Central London (like today is expected to be). So we decided the prudent thing to do would be to get up very early—around 4:00—and get started, in case the trip to Heathrow turned out to be a four- or five-hour ordeal (as it apparently was for some people yesterday). We packed, went to bed after 1:30 AM, got up early, and left the hotel by 4:30.

There were absolutely no cars—and no cabs, either—on the road that early. Just as I expected. So we decided to schlepp our luggage over to Waterloo Station (about half a mile away), where I figured we could most easily get a cab.

Immediately upon leaving the hotel, we conveniently and unexpectedly spotted a trolley from Waterloo abandoned in the sidewalk. (A half mile from the station. Go figure.) So I loaded the heavy luggage on the trolley, and we made it to Waterloo easily in about 12 minutes. The station was virtually abandoned. We saw no one at all but maintenance people. So we went to the nearest cab stand, where we found one cab waiting. I had planned to have him drive us to Paddington, where we could catch the Heathrow Express, but I suddenly had a change of heart, decided the cost of the cab fare was no issue today, and told him to take us to Heathrow.

Amazingly, there was virtually no traffic on the road. It was the fastest, easiest trip to Heathrow I have ever made. We arrived at the terminal at 5:30—just one hour after we walked out of the hotel with all our luggage. We're already through passport control and sitting in the huge departure lounge, surrounded by an eclectic assortment of interesting shops. Darlene got me a drip coffee, extra cream (Venti) and a granola bar from Starbucks.

Things rarely go that smoothly for me.

The Burninator waits for his plane to boardAnyway, we now have 4 hours to kill in the departure lounge. Fortunately, it's a T-Mobile HotSpot®. (I subscribe to T-Mobile. I love it, except for one irritating thing: you have to pay an additional fee to use it in London.) So I turned Darlene loose in the shops, found an electrical outlet, plugged in, logged on, and checked my e-mail. And while I'm at it, I figured I could post this one last blog from London.

School of TheologyBy the way, let me tie up a few loose ends. First, here's a picture of part of the crowd at the School of Theology. For the second year in a row, the conference broke all attendance records. The people at the Met Tab are always very responsive and encouraging. This year, however, the fellowship was unusually warm and friendly. Darlene and I have always been made to feel very much at home when we are here, but this was something special.

It's amazing whom you might meet at the Met Tab. (The first year we were here, we met Jamie, who was a student in London at the time. Now she is Wrigley's vet, working at an animal hospital in Van Nuys.) This year, as usual, people had come from all over Europe and from as far away as Singapore and Australia. It was a great week and a wonderful conference.

Something I haven't followed up on is the computer problem I experienced our first day in London. I'm pretty sure it's a problem with the battery. The computer has shut down without warning four times; always when it was operating on battery power. If I leave it plugged in, it will run indefinitely. So the burning-electrical-component smell I noticed on day one was probably a core meltdown in the battery. I'm glad the computer itself held up.

That's about it. I think I'll go browse through some of the shops in the departure lounge, sample the cologne in the duty-free shop, and see what the morning news readers on the BBC are saying. See you in LA.


Matt said...

Hi Phil,

Thanks for your company and ministry this week. We all at the Tab very much appreciate seeing you here, and I was heartened by the Spirit's guiding, encouraging and cautioning hand during and after your lectures on Tuesday evening on the atonement of Christ.

Would to God that all His true children kept this, kept Christ, as their one delight and goal. After all, 'who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died ... who also maketh intercession for us' at the right hand of God on high. Would to God that He would continually make us ABLE to do so!

Thanks again, God be with you and all your family, safe journey.

Jeremy Weaver said...

I used to think you'd be a good guest speaker at our church, now I'm not so sure, what with the riot inciting, terrorist activity and all.

Jeri said...

Four Hours!
Just enough time to start SECRET RADIO.....

(hee hee!)

Paul said...


All these years we have been blaming that poor goat, and then there was Bartman...
Based on what I have read about your travels maybe it is the curse of the Phil. And if that is the case then the bobble head is not helping.

Baseball fan and Cubs observer,

Frank Martens said...

I agree with the Arizona heat, it sux!

I've been living here for 6 years now and still can't handle it.

Brian Mann said...

It has really been a blessing to hear what was going on in London from your perspective; I have enjoyed reading of your adventure and consider myself blessed that I am not traveling with you, but I get to hear all the good stuff!

fickett said...

I’ve traveled with Phil several times. On one trip to India we had a small earthquake, a major train derailment (we were on the afternoon train, and the evening train to our destination is the one that derailed), the building across the street from where we were staying went on fire, we had several black outs, and the lavatory door on the airplane came off in Phil’s hand. Other than that it was without event.

I always check to see where Phil is going before booking holiday plans. I suggest you do the same.

David said...

Yeah, I was going to invite you over to the house for barbecue next time you were in the Baltimore area. But on second thought . . .

TulipGirl said...

I'm so glad that you're okay.

SoccerReformer said...

Phil - your travel stories could be a blog of their own.

I still remember getting frantic calls from LA asking about a hijacked flight from Indonesia when I worked on the Hill - and then being able to tell people that the plane was in LA after all.

You also must be a leading contender for the Christian Dave Barry column should CT ever decide to print one. Did I say CT? I mean, umm, some other Christian periodical.

Let's go mountain-biking sometime...........NOT!

Michael Bates said...

Where Fosdicks are concerned, better Fearless than Harry Emerson. (The latter did far more lasting damage.)

Anonymous said...

Phil enjoy reading about your various adventures in London. If you ever go to York I can suggest a good Indian restaurant there. BTW are you sure you meant Fearless Fosdick? From reading about your various travel exploits I would have thought you were more Joe Btfsplk.

God bless safe journey.

Phil Johnson said...

Hey, you're right, Peter. It was "Joe Btfsplk," another Al Capp creation. So it's "the Btfsplk Syndrome"? No wonder I haven't been able to find a cure!