I knew we were in trouble when the rotary path took us around Buckingham Palace and not directly to the Comfort Inn, Hyde Park, where we were aiming to roost for our stay. Never mind that the steering wheel on our dark blue Vauxhall was set to the right, opposite the American style. Or that Cliff drove on the left side of the road in order to turn right. Or that I as volunteer navigator was gripping the fine print of a touring map of London, my head bobbing up and down trying to match street signs with landmarks, occasionally screaming.
Our kids were through college, we had celebrated Joel’s wedding just days earlier, so as empty nesters off to London we flew in early August. We were not exactly neophytes to travel out of the country. After all, we’d been to Montreal, Banff, and Jasper in Canada. Why England should be a snap. They speak English there too, and I love the British accent.
We got some rest that evening and were up the next morning eager to explore London. The concierge at the hotel recommended a nice place to get some lunch. We finally found a car park (aka parking lot) close to our hotel before having lunch at the Swan Pub.
Now we had to figure out whether there was a parking time limit on the spot we had chosen. Okay, it looked like we were in a 2-hour time limit parking zone, plenty of time. So we got a sticker for one hour from the kiosk and affixed it to the windshield as directed. Mind you, we paid in British pounds sterling (clinky-clanky coins – not paper) so we heard the payment registering in the kiosk like in a slot machine.
Lunch was taking longer than we expected, so I leaped over to the car park to buy another windshield sticker to extend our parking time. Of course, we wouldn’t want to get ticketed on our first full day in London.
On our return, we were relieved to see that there was no parking violation displayed on the windshield. But we looked again, and “Oh, no,” we groaned, “there IS a suspicious piece of paper hidden under one of the windshield wipers!” I sprung into action and yelled to Cliff, “This must have just happened. I’m going to track down the policeman who gave us the ticket!”
Galloping down the sidewalk with citation in hand, I spied a London bobby who looked as though he could be on our parking patrol.
“Sir, (trying to hold my emotions in check) you gave us this parking violation ticket, but we have paid for two hours of parking, sufficient for the time used.” I urged him to check our windshield and he complied, walking back to the car with me.
With careful scrutiny, he replied, “I realize, Ma’m, that you paid the full amount, but the total parking time has to be reflected on one sticker, not two, even though the amount you paid was sufficient.”
“Well, that makes no sense at all,” I retorted. “We have paid the City of Westminster/London the full amount, why should it matter how many stickers are displayed on the car?”
Unruffled, the gentle bobby restated his case, emphasizing once again the city’s policy.
Now I have shifted into a higher gear of ire. “Well, I am shocked that you do not recognize that you have received payment in full. This is not right. I want to speak to your supervisor,” I insisted.
Reasonable, the patrolman made an effort to accommodate me. “I can call him, but you’ll have to wait. He is not available right now.”
“Fine! I’ll wait for as long as it takes,” I retorted, now more determined than ever. With this assurance, Cliff and I drove back to the street by our hotel, awaiting justice.
Soon I saw two bobbies both in black jackets, official hats, and shiny badges heading toward me.
By now, husband Cliff, usually the confrontational one, had ambled slowly toward our room in the hotel. Oh, so I see he’s not getting involved in this brouhaha. In fact, the next time I saw my husband was out of the corner of my eye as he was filming the spectacle from the second floor of our hotel while I was shouting at the bobby and his supervisor on the street below.
Determined, I stated my case again to both, and I was going to make sure that Mr. Bobby Supervisor saw my point of view. “I want you to rescind this ticket. The City has gotten more than enough pounds for the time our car was parked. It is unjust to give us this citation when we have done nothing wrong.”
And so it went on:
They: But you . . .
Me: But we . . .
At one point I was aware of being out of control but felt powerless to stop myself. So, like a crazy woman, I dug myself in deeper.
Apparently the officers had met deranged travelers before and to be conciliatory, they concluded that “By the time your case comes up in court, you will be gone.” Were they going to shoot us?
Moral of the story: When jet lag and culture shock collide, watch out for an explosion!
Can you relate to this experience? Do you have a tale of your own to tell? Add your story to my confessional . . .
Coming next: Finding Silver