Flashback - 1999: Expedition Scotland
Page 4

Day 4: Friday - December 3rd, 1999

Platform 9 ¾.

I woke up at 6:30 on Friday morning after finally settling down and getting to bed between 2 and 2:30AM... Actually, that's a lie; you have to be asleep in order to "wake up." I got zero sleep that night. I simply laid in bed alternatively staring at the plaster peeling off the ceiling or trying to force myself into an REM-styled coma by shutting my eyes tight and counting Scottish sheep — but soon the sheep turned into dishes of haggis and that made me feel queasy. The point is I got out of bed at 6:30, showered, and paid for the hotel room before ultimately departing (oh man was THIS a big ordeal.... At the previous night's late dinner Baldwin made a mammoth stink about why I should pay for the room and then get reimbursed by the rest of them when we got back to the States. I honestly cannot remember why I went along with his plans looking back on those events today. I should have just up and left them, in hindsight, seeing as the morning desk guy kept insisting that if I was paying for the room at that moment I had to turn in all keys and kick everyone out that minute. This arguing actually made me miss the first train of the day to Edinburgh which then snowballed the rest of my trip into the frozen Hell that it soon became........ but I digress).

I skipped breakfast at the Lonsdale mostly because I wasn't hungry (too excited, and the butterflies in me stomach would have sent a couple dozen hurricanes loose on the other side of the world if freed), but also because I figured that I'd be in Scotland's largest city no later than 1, 1:30PM — Just in time for a fried Snickers or some early afternoon Forfar Bridies. And of course plenty of Scottish whisky.

Anyway, I ran all the way to King's Cross Station (a few blocks away) and arrived at the ticket booth at around 7:50. I told the grumpy old British fart behind the window, "One one-way ticket to Edinburgh, please." I couldn't stop smiling, though he did his best to try and extinguish my grin.

"One way? Yeh sure? Yeh might as well get a return ticket for only a dollar more."

"Ummmm, I don't know when I'm coming back — could be tonight, tomorrow morning, or even the following day. Just a one-way ticket, please. Thank you. Ummm, yeah."

"*Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh* Sonny, I don' think yeh clearly understand me. The one-way ticket is £99..... A round trip is only £100. If yeh buy one one-way here today, and then another whenever you git it in yer head to ever return, tha'll be £198. 'At's a lot of extra quid that is. Seriously, lad, don't be a dingus — jus' git a round trip ticket an' change the departure date from whenever to whenever at the other end. I'm trying to save you a fortune, yeh daft sonovabitch."

"Okay, okay! Thank you, guy. When's the next train for my round trip to Edinburgh?"

(Looks at watch.) "Yeh kin just make it if you hurry. It's at 8."

"When's the next next one?"

"That'd be at 8:30."

"I'll take that one, thank you." (Big goofy grin again.)

"*Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh* Whatever yeh say. Yeh daft soddin' blotter."

The day had just begun, and this was my second major mistake. Had I only skipped on paying the hotel, or listened to that crusty old Brit at the ticket booth and hustled to make it to the 8 o'clock train to Scotland my day would have turned out much differently... Though really, it probably wouldn't have been half as memorable, and I more than likely wouldn't have gone out of my way to do all the shit I did that night and the following morning in order to make up for the later train... Hmmmmmmmm. I wonder if an alternate dimensional me — who actually did catch that 8AM train — had one of the best days of his life too, or just an average one, or even one that ended up shitty despite a pleasant or uneventful trip. Well FUCK alternate universe me! I wouldn't trade my day (in hindsight) for all the Belhaven brew in the Highlands!

So with a half an hour to kill before my 8:30 departure, I found myself wandering around the huge train station looking for a certain platform that I was bound and determined to find. I had already read the first two Harry Potter books at that time, and thought it might be cool (in a geeky sort of way, seeing as the books wouldn't really EXPLODE onto the public's consciousness for another year or two) to get my picture taken at where Platform 9 ¾ should be. This was years before London Transit made the special (cheese filled) photo-op brick wall with a "Platform 9 ¾" plaque above it. Back in '99 Harry Potter was not really a phenomenon, it was a kiddie book. And when I found Platform 9 (in a separate building from the fancy main station) I looked around its wide open space (where Platform 10 was separated from it by a large expanse of tracks) and wondered just what the fuck JK Rowling was talking about.

"Excuse me, my kind sir," I asked another crotchety old man in a railway uniform (I don't know if grumpy old wrinklefests were all that London Transit would hire, or they were the only ones who'd work the early morning shift). "Where the bleedin' hell is Platform 9 ¾? There aren't any walls or even any real pillars here to lead to it."

He looked at me just like a typical muggle. I felt like a tool. "What the 'ell are yeh talking about, boy? Make some sense, yeh fume-sniffin' nancy'boy, you... What the 'ell is ¾ of a platform? Do yeh want a better look at the train's tracks or somethin'?" Then he turned away and started muttering to himself, "Daft young wanker of a Yank.... 'Platform 9 ¾, please?' Kids today're crazier than a biter in the loo with a wobble nose 'n wickey bocker..."

I then slowly backed away and retreated to the main building where my train was going to depart from soon. It was waiting for me when I got there, and so I boarded and quickly found a place in the general seating area (i.e. not in a separate compartment like Harry, Hermione, Ron, et al. always shared to and from Hogwarts) where I could spread out and keep others from getting near me. It was like a scene from Forrest Gump: Whenever anybody'd try to sit next to me I'd throw myself upon the seat in question and say "Seat's taken!" in the worst fake Southern accent I could muster. Everybody who boarded after me looked at me strangely (even if they didn't try to sit next to me), like I was cross-eyed with a bit of drool on my chin; though only by looking back at my photos now do I see why: I was an unshaved, 6'4" doofus in dirty jeans, a red American baseball cap, and a grubby DUKE sweatshirt that I'd been wearing for a few days (new t-shirt underneath it each day, but still), and I was still grinning like an idiot. I looked like such an obvious and oblivious American tourist. So sad.

100 Pipers Were Piping (out of sad despair)

I remember that all I kept thinking about for the first hour and fifteen minutes of the ride was "I'm going to be in Scotland soon! I'm gonna be in SCOTLAND sooooooooooooon! Fuckin' A! Scotland! Yay!!!!" I even thought the snow flurries and the harsh winds outside the train car were beautiful and "very British" Then, it happened.

The train started to slow down a few minutes from Grantham Station (about a third of the way to Edinburgh). We reached the platform at a crawl, and then we waited. All the passengers and I were very patient for the first half an hour, but hunger was really starting to strike me seeing as I hadn't had a bite to eat since the Italian cafe the previous night — about 12 hours before. Some of the other travelers began to get their knickers in a bunch at about this time, but they started doing something about it. Granted, they were starting to do something about it in a "soccer hooligan" sort of way, but at least it was proactive.

After some drunk git tried to start of chant of "Feck no, make it go! Feck yes, rip off 'er dress!" (or something that sounded like that) I decided to get some fresh air. As soon as I stepped off the train my hat was blown clear off my head and down the open platform. Some guy in a business suit talking on his cell phone kindly stopped it for me (by fucking stepping on it — you can still see his foot print on it today), but he was too busy bitching and moaning on his call about how he'll never make it in time to Edinburgh before the meeting, and how "we're all scrrrewed! We.... Are..... SCRRRRREWED!", to hear me thank him properly. I walked around a bit, looking for a meat pie vendor, or a certain Mr. Dibbler with some sausages in a bun for a hearty early lunch. After a few minutes with no such luck I got back on board the warm train just in time to hear the voice on the PA tell us that the train had stopped due to the high winds knocking down some electrical wires ahead of us, thusly blocking the previous line. I never did find out if that was the 8 o'clock train that I had first passed on at King's Cross or some other line entirely. I'd like to think that it was the 8 o'clock, and that it was stranded in the middle of nowhere. I don't know why, but that makes me feel so much better.

Grantham Station
Feel the biting wind, stare at the never blinding or bothersome unsunny skies, and long for the shitty cuisine (if you can find a place to goddamn eat)... Vacation at Grantham Station this Winter! Just pick up the phone and call today!

Three hours after we initially stopped at Grantham and I found out through the grapevine that another train coming up from London behind us would be able to take everybody back into the big city from whence we came. It was made to sound like we had no choice in the matter — we HAD to go back. I was depressed (my dumb grin had long since faded from my face). I really wanted to go all the way to the land of my people, but what the fuck could I do? If the train was stopped I was fucked, I thought, but then several people in the car with me (including Angry Business Man [aka Hat Stomper McGavin]) decided that we wouldn't head back, only forward.

We confronted some train company guy (as he was trying to get everyone switched over to the new line that just arrived that would head back South to London) about any way to continue North, and he finally broke down and told us that this train (the one we came up in) would wait at Grantham for the electrical lines to be fixed. We were happy, and got back on board. After a little while longer the disembodied PA voice told us that it was going to take too long to wait for any sort of fix, and that OUR train would head back South too, seeing as the weather was only going to get worse throughout the day. The voice was way too goddamn cheery.

That's when Hat Stomper McGavin, about 5 other new friends, and I rose up and surrounded a ticket taker and demanded that the company find a way to get us to Scotland. The scared, short, tiny gimp nodded in agreement and disappeared for a few minutes before coming back to tell us that some buses were on their way to take us around the electrical problem on the tracks, and up to the next stop, where another train would be waiting for us to take us the rest of the way. It must have been around 2 o'clock that we finally boarded the buses (and there were quite a few of us who waited for them... If I remember correctly I think we filled two up completely). They smelled of fermented English piss and used baby wipes. Ahhhh, the old country!

The buses took us through Sherwood Forrest, and we got to see some truly gorgeous panoramas of the English countryside.... If only that annoying twat on the microphone on our bus would've shut the fuck up and let us enjoy the scenery. I wondered if we had commandeered a tour bus or something. She just kept going on about how something happened in the field on our right about 800 years ago, that patch of land on the left once belonged to some guy long dead, over there is where the drummer for Def Leppard lost his left arm in a car accident, and how no, to answer my question there was no food for me to eat on the bus. I thanked her for her information by giving her the reverse "Victory" sign. Ever since that trip I've always kept some Rice Krispies Treats or something edible as a last resort in my coat pockets wherever I go.

After driving for an eternity our bus caravan pulled into Doncaster Station and everybody hurried onto the already tooting train that was waiting for us. Despite being chilled to the bone and starving like Oprah after she finishes her 4th helping of dinner and has to wait those 5 excruciating minutes for her indentured servants to bring out the 5 pounds of ice-cream and 7 bowls of tapioca pudding for dessert, I was more determined than ever to make it to Scotland.

Oh Flower of Scotland,
When will we see your like again?

Dusk and then evening and then full-on night came as the train slowly but surely made its way, stop by stop, to the borders of the Northland. I could have sworn that I could already see the kilts and hear the melodious bagpipes playing (and if you think that bagpipes are hideous-sounding instruments of torture then you obviously haven't heard someone good playing them... Oh, and go fuck your mother's greasy cunt, yeh arse bandit. Away an bile yer heid!).

I think I fell asleep at a few points, because I recall being somewhat refreshed as the train pulled into Edinburgh Station at a little after 7PM, but that may have just been adrenaline and 120%-proof excitement fueling me. That was a 10 and a half hour fecking trip... I felt for sure that my entire holiday was fecked up beyond all recognition at that point, but still, I figured I might as well make the most out of it. I was there, Scotland was there, and what the bloody 'ell else did I need?

I walked around the station for a little bit, and found the tourist kiosk in the back. I realized how I must have looked (no real sleep for two days, starving, desperate, cheezily bearded, and oh so American), but I didn't care, even when I noticed that the only person in the mini office was a really cute girl named Kate.

Scotland Kate
This is Kate. Kate is great. Kate is whom I appreciate. Two, four, six, and eight.

"I.... need... place... to stay. Food. Please, food. I need some of that too. And Scottish money. Is Scottish money different from that godless English money?"

"Aye," she started off so perfectly. "Welcome to Scotland, me cromulent man. Aye, we cannae have you dyin' o' the hunger so soon inta yuir stay in our fine, fine country."

I just stared. She and her accent were just so awesome — so perfect.

"Oh, 'ere we go, me neebs, jus' up the block there you'll find a very respectable hotel by the name'a The Jury's Inn. They'll take good care'a you. Tell 'em Katie sent yeh. You'll have a soft bed 'n a warm meal in yuir belly in no time."

I just stood smiling at this beautiful woman who just promised me food and shelter for the night, and I think I mumbled something about taking her picture, and she must have agreed, because I have a photo of her, and it doesn't look like she was angry about me snapping it... But that's fooled me before. I was then bumped out of the way as some ass with a cockney accent then started yelling at my Katie for something that was obviously not the poor girl's fault, but seeing as Katie was handling herself just fine on her own (she did a fantastic job of asking a simple set of three questions that, when answered by the dingus who was creating a stir, made him look like a complete choad... I wish I could remember their exact exchange, but it had something to do with his briefcase, his fat ass, and her foot). I left the station for find this Jury's Inn.