It’s hard to say how far away Central Station actually was from the terminals at Heathrow airport, but I would guess that it was half a mile or more. Central Station was where we’d find a bus to take us to Gatwick Airport. We’d recently discovered that we’d arrived at the wrong airport only an hour and a half before our flight took off.
When we got to the Central Station ticket booth we found out that the bus wouldn’t arrive at Gatwick until after our plane took off at 1:30. A nice man in an orange vest helped us call a taxi instead. Then he took us to a little non-descript piece of sidewalk outside the airport near a giant flowerpot where an old woman stood with a small plaid bag eating a sandwich.
“How long does it take to get to Gatwick?” I asked John after we’d reached the spot and we were all alone.
“An hour?” He said. “I don’t know.”
“What time is it?”
“When do we have to be there?”
“Our plane leaves at 1:30.” He said.
“How much is this gonna cost?” I asked.
He was silent for a moment.
“I don’t know.” He said. We were all silent. John would periodically lean out into traffic, looking for something that looked like a taxi. The old woman continued eating her sandwich apathetically and I felt angry at her just for existing. I opened our emergency food bag and took out a half-jar of peanut butter that we’d mixed with chocolate and honey the night before.
“Want some?” I said to Lydian, my mouth full. Though John wasn’t hungry, I knew that things could get serious if Lydian and I didn’t eat something soon. We consumed it all spoonful-by-spoonful within a couple of minutes.
Soon, a blue car pulled up to us at the sidewalk and a funny-looking man with an odd British accent got out of the car. He chided us for having so much luggage and exclaimed that he couldn’t fit us and all those bags in his car. I’d unfortunately been expecting someone much more welcoming and helpful.
“We’ll sit with the bags on our laps.” I said to him coldly.
“Yes.” John said. “Whatever we have to do…we just need to get to Gatwick by 1:30.”
“Oh Gatwick…” the man said, “Gatwick is at least an hour away. You’ll never make it.”
“We’d like to try.” John said.
The man pretended to be convinced and opened his trunk. I moved bags over to his trunk, ignoring his sentiments about not having room and the impossibility of making it to Gatwick. As I turned away from him to get another bag I heard him say, “We can try, but it’ll cost ya.” The part of my brain that revolts against getting ripped off stood up, ready to fight.
“How much?” I said knowing that I’d just have to pay whatever his price was.
“Awwww…100 Euros?“ He said. It was a question because the cost was clearly exorbitant, but I didn’t really have any bartering power at all.
I wanted to say, “No way. Forget it.” But he had me by the metaphorical balls.
“Okay.” I said. “Fine.”
We shoved our bags and ourselves into the little car. Each of us held a bag on our laps. The taxi driver talked about how congested M25 is this time of day. I had a hard time warming up to him.
“If M25 is clear, then we’ll make it. Otherwise no.” He said.
“Are we gonna make it?” Lydian whispered to me. She was really excited about Rome. It was one of the most important destinations to her.
“I don’t know.” I told her.
Halfway there, the taxi driver had to stop for gas. That’s right. HE STOPPED FOR GAS.
While he filled up, I got money from an ATM to pay him. There are no words to capture just how impatient and irritated I was about this “stop”.
“I asked to go ahead of some ladies in line. “He told us when he returned to the car. “I told them that there were some Americans who were going to miss their plane if I didn’t hurry!” He’d been kissing up to us for the last half of the journey in an effort to secure a big tip on top of the hundred euros. My nerves were so frayed by this time I wasn’t sure if I was angry at him or appreciative. I decided I didn’t care as long as we made it to Gatwick. I hadn’t mentioned the Ebola thing (it had been declared an epidemic) to John or Lydian yet. I figured there was no need to add anything to the already high-pitched stress level in the car.
“Is Gatwick a big airport?” John asked the driver.
“No. No.” He said convincingly. “It’s small. Just two terminals, north and south.”
By this time, the driver was optimistic that we’d make it to Gatwick by 12:45 which would theoretically be plenty of time for us to make it to our flight and for him to get a big tip. He described the layout of the check-in area and I envisioned John running straight into a building while Lydi and I stacked the bags on the trolley. John would alert the bag checkers that we were there. He’d already checked us in the night before online. Then, Lydi and I would roll in victoriously with our bags. From there, it would just be about making it through security.