One fine traveling day
Yesterday I wrote about the existential angst of solo touring, the flailing and the loneliness and the deep desires I have for both traveling the world for the sake of performing, AND for being loved and embraced in some sort of home base. These things remain true, but they are layered on top of other challenges. Today, you get the sheer, grinding logistics from yesterday, May 26, from Hull to Bath, in one beautifully agonizing and yet pretty standard day of travel. The details change, but the shit remains the same.
Background item 1: My roadie cart dropped a pretty important bolt back in Montreal, which I only noticed when it was too late to retrieve it or find a replacement. I’ll fix it when I get to the UK, I thought, not realizing that bolts in the UK follow metric measurements and a bolt with imperial sizing would actually be a specialty purchase. I have been making do since April 25 with a metric bolt that DOES NOT FIT, and does not reliably keep the wheel in place if that part of the cart is lifted off the ground.
Background item 2: I had forgotten or misread my travel itinerary on the bus ticket, and had originally showed up at the bus depot the day before. Getting up at 6:15 with four hours of sleep, loading my kit into the cab, loading out of the cab, assembling the cart (see above), trundling it into the depot… I had already done this 24 hours earlier, and paid an extra 10 quid for the privilege. I really was not enjoying the inexorable, unavoidable sense of déjà vu.
So! On with my day!
At the station in Hull, I shelled out £30 in extra baggage fees, but I was expecting something like that. It was a choice between this (a total of £56.80, including baggage fees, with one change) and the train (£117, with TWO changes). I have more time than money right now; I took the nine-hour bus ride. The driver and his assistant stared in disbelief at my loaded cart, and I said, I’m not moving house, honestly. The driver gave a sort of snorting laugh, but I could tell that’s what they were thinking. It was right there on their faces, the same look that every train station crew member has when they watch me pass. The bus driver and assistants conferred amongst themselves and then the assistant came over and said, “Right, we’ll do £30.” This was a kindness, actually, because with all the tiny pieces, the smut stand chair and table and the pull-up poster and the typewriter bag and the folded-up cart, technically speaking I had way more than three pieces, but his logic was, it all took up about three extra pieces of standard luggage. They loaded it all in, and I was on my way.
Okay, “on my way” sounds way faster than it was. The bus stopped at a bunch of smaller towns, and those smaller towns were definitely not right off the freeway. Could be a 10-minute detour to get into some places. We also had a lunch break at a rest stop, where I got harassed by a few construction workers and couldn’t access the promised wireless.
At the Victoria station in London, all the buses pull into the same spot to unload, and as soon as everyone’s off and all the luggage has been claimed, the next bus pulls in and disgorges its passengers. Me, it takes about five minutes to assemble and balance my cartload, so I ended up being surrounded by a whole new heaving, anxious mass of people. One lady on that bus actually had her suitcase taken in the frenzy; she was the last one off the bus, and by the time she got to standing in front of the cargo hold, there was nothing left. I put the last item on my cart and tugged it away, silently hoping that her missing suitcase was an accident and someone would come back with it.
I rumbled and rattled my way across the road to the departure station—a dusty string of pack mules with several cursing handlers in big hats would have hardly been more conspicuous—found the new bus, and rolled right up to it. They don’t allow passengers out in the loading area until the bus is actually loading, but why am I going to force my way into the passenger part of the station when I would just have to roll this shit right back out again in 25 minutes? The new driver was super shirty, and expressed profound disbelief that the folks on the first bus had only charged me £30. He then made me load all my bags into the cargo hold myself. Of course, I totally bonked my head on the door. Ow.
We pulled out from the station but after 10 minutes he drove around back to the station, stopped the bus, stood up and said “they informed me that I didn’t pass my breathalyser test, sit tight, I have to go in and clear that up.”
False positives happen, but still: not confidence-inspiring. After that, uh, delay, we were a good 30 minutes late getting out into London, smack in the middle of rush hour.
When we finally got to the station in Bath, the driver helped unload at least, but I think he was just looking to get out of there quickly. I lugged the cart over to the taxi stand. The first cab up was a big ‘un, all good. I told the cabbie the address and he says, “Oh, that’s just around back of the bus station, you’d be halfway there before we loaded up.” Didn’t want the tiny fare for all the hassle, I guess.
No hills? I asked.
“Not a hill,” he said.
That wasn’t a deliberate misrepresentation, I’m sure, but “no hills” means one thing to a normal pedestrian and another thing to a sweaty-ass artist aching from 10 hours on a bus, pulling a fully loaded cart. There weren’t any hills worth noting on a map, like, no hills as landmarks, but there were undulations and “gentle” slopes, and that easy bridge the cab driver mentioned was steep enough that a drunk passerby insisted on helping me push the cart up to the middle, and I LET HIM.
On the other side of the bridge, I was only two blocks away, but the pavement was under construction; that cart wheel almost dropped out twice. And the intersection that I needed to cross to get to my billet was TOTALLY under construction, with no wheelchair ramps.
So I just … made six trips back and forth across the four-lane road.
Once I got my kit into the house (only five steps up from street level, thank god), I found the notes my amazing hostess had left, splashed my face, signed onto wireless, poured a glass of cider, unfolded my smut-stand chair in the back yard, and just breathed. This was not an unusual travel day, and as usual, at the end of it, I emerged recommitted to my dream:
When I start making more money, I’m shipping my set and props. Or hiring some pack mules.
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