Hyde Park

I’m in London! Notwithstanding a two-hour delay leaving JFK (about which I was none too happy but also too sleepy to fuss), my flight to Heathrow went about as well as any economy-class transatlantic flight could have. The flight had more no-shows than expected, leaving me with two seats to commandeer as my own. I once again demonstrated my ability to contort my 6’6″ frame and lie flat across two tiny airplane seats. No, I’ve never done Yoga – I have Tae Kwon Do to thank for any flexibility carried over from childhood. Whenever I wanted to sit up, my legs had at least a few inches of clearance against the seats in front of me. The dinner meal, featuring chicken, rice, spinach, a crumpet, cheese, crackers, and a choice of wine, was also surprisingly tasty. And what better way to wake up than to a cup of English Breakfast tea whose deep color and powerful aroma make it easily mistaken for coffee. 

After taking an express train from Heathrow to an Underground station, then taking the subway to the hostel, I could hardly pile enough praise on London’s rail network. Its above-ground trains, subways, and buses put all other public transit systems I’ve seen in the U.S. to absolute shame. Any government purporting to be a democracy owes its citizens a public transit system that’s expansive, accessible, and affordable, and while the weak dollar makes hopping on the Tube sting slightly for Americans like me, London’s public transportation is one of the many things I love about this wonderful city. I hadn’t lived here or even visited since I was a toddler, but London is quickly becoming one of my favorite cities in the world. I’ll know more definitively after seeing more of the sights tomorrow.

I checked into the hostel in the late afternoon. An unexpected benefit of the delayed flight leaving New York was getting to carefully research where I’d be staying my first night in London. The trans-European tour didn’t begin until the day after I arrived, so I needed a place to lay my head down, get a shower, and maybe even wash clothes in the meantime. After reading some reviews and comparing locations (i.e. proximity to Tube stations and downtown London), I settled on the Palmers Lodge in the Swiss Cottage neighborhood. I chose well. The building is a massive, renovated Victorian mansion with comfy beds, friendly staff, and plenty of lounge space (I’m writing this from a leather chair in the main lounge). They even offer free wifi and breakfast, along with a coupon for a one-pound pint from the downstairs bar. The neighborhood itself, while not particularly “charming,” had plenty of everyday fare, allowing me to get a cheap haircut (where they even treated me to a spot of tea and conversation about Obama’s candidacy), some miscellaneous travel supplies like baggage locks and power converters, and a tasty bacon, brie, and avocado panini for dinner.

It was too late in the afternoon for me to do much tourist-y stuff (visiting museums, historical sites and the like), so I decided to save that for later. After dinner, though, I took the subway downtown and managed to find an amenable tree in Hyde Park to do some reading. Walking around the park, it finally started sinking in that even though today was Monday, I wasn’t going to the office today. Or the next day. Or the day after that… “Really?” I thought. “Isn’t there something I should be doing right now?” Well, besides enjoying myself, no, there isn’t anything I should be doing. My job required me to juggle all manner of dates and tasks while being ready at a Blackberry buzz’s notice to come to the office and assist with a project. But no longer – no attorneys to update, no vendors to hassle, no filing deadlines to remember. Finally realizing this at first made me slightly uneasy, but it wasn’t long before that uneasiness was replaced by a warm, fuzzy, “Hooray, by brain can at last relax!” feeling. It could be initially difficult to slow my mind down from the whizzing pace to which it’s become accustomed for Lord-knows-how-long, but I’m optimistic 🙂

The day had been pretty exhausting, so after returning to the hostel and enjoying a brew, I hit the hay at about eleven. Today’s plan is to take a walking tour of the area with other hostel-mates and visit Westminster Abbey in the afternoon. Chaucer’s grave is, of course, a must-visit… any others folks would like me to see / photograph?

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So it begins…

June 29, 2008

It’s my first post since March! And what better way to celebrate being back from the dead than to say that, after a somewhat sobering but fun-filled weekend in NYC, I’m sitting at JFK awaiting my flight to London. With that, my global galavant will officially begin. 

Stay tuned!

Getting my cast off warrants a much-needed vacation, and by God, I’m taking one. February 28 through March 3 I’ll be enjoying some L.A. sun (assuming the weather improves after this week).

Northwest Airlines gave me a $200 flight credit from a DC-Minneapolis ticket I had canceled last year (long story), and the credit has to be used before March 11 for it not to go bye-bye. Hmmm… where best to celebrate, I thought. The prime candidates were New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Fransisco, and Jonesboro, Arkansas. Eliminating four of them was easy. First up, I wanted somewhere car-friendly and not requiring a huge amount of walking. Sayonara, NYC, walking with a boot/cane combo would be a nightmare. Next, somewhere I hadn’t visited in a while. Hit the road, Jonesboro, we had fun over Christmas. After that, somewhere warm. Adios, Minneapolis, your subzero temperatures won’t react well with my still-healing foot or my proclivity to slip on ice. Finally, somewhere I wouldn’t be visiting anytime soon. See ya later, San Fran, I’ll stop by in August after returning from China. So, from a wholly selfish standpoint, the city of angels was the remaining, easy choice (come to think of it, New York came in dead last insofar as it failed all four criteria: too many stairs, went there in December, freezing cold, and visiting in May for a trial and probably in late March to see friends).

Hell, the warmth factor alone was nearly enough to sell me. For being so close to the Mason-Dixon line, DC gets quite cold in the winter. Before getting the walking cast, not a day went by without a passerby glimpsing me hobbling through the crisp January air and saying, “Your toes must be cold!” Stupid open-toed cast… I mean, what else was I supposed to do? Wear a Christmas stocking? They just don’t make socks big enough to cover a leg cast without also being festively-colored or adorned with pom-poms. Besides, on cold enough days, I took my scarf from my neck and wrapped it around my toes instead. A close encounter with frostbite on my middle toe (better known as “roast beef”) taught me that the little piggies shouldn’t be left in freezing temperatures for long. On most days, though, I much preferred that the blood bound for the brain be given warmth priority over blood bound for phalanges, so most of the time, scarf around the neck it was.

Process of elimination and icicles on toes aside, the real reason for the trip is my little sister and current Claremont McKenna student Lauren (AKA Durf, the Durfster, Durfee, Lurfee, and the name that started it all, Lurfen). She had a particularly rough time last semester and, especially after the roughness continued through winter break and even into this semester, could use some cheering up. Everyone needs something to look forward to. I know I do.

My expedition to L.A. in September was quite fun. I hung out with Lauren, played video games involving lightsabers, caught up with a few friends, and discovered a new favorite beer which, true to my word, is stocked in my fridge even as I type. Having chosen to brave four Minnesota winters in seeking a bachelor’s degree, the visit did have one drawback: becoming green with envy toward the Claremont colleges’ students with their relaxed lifestyles and sunny, palm tree- laden campuses. Getting to study by a pool in the middle of March… that just doesn’t seem right! Not when my brethren and I would spend the month locked in the library as snowfall barricaded the exits, dashing any hope of escape. Experiencing a Claremont kid’s life firsthand made it tough to avoid the conclusion that I sure had bet on the wrong horse…

The trip should be packed with perks. Provided she’s not busy with Classics geektressing, it’d be good to see Libby’s awesome former roommate Kathy again. I’m also hoping to catch up my long-lost friend Kirby, whom I’ve known since first grade and I last saw in Dallas several summers ago. She’s a film student at the AFI in Hollywood and thus bound to know how best to live it up in hills. Also on the list of things to do: spend a Disneyland day with the Durf, eat my weight in In-N-Out burgers, bask on a sandy-yet-slightly-sketchy SoCal beach, enjoy “free” dining hall cuisine, and enjoy me some glitzy L.A. nightlife. Necessary armaments: a Mickey Mouse hat, pregnancy-paneled pants, board shorts, Lauren’s student ID, and my sharpest navy blazer and fashionable $100-but-got-for-$30 jeans.

Everyone needs something to look forward to.

Five weeks after my should-have-been-more-memorable accident, my right foot is finally cast-free. Not only do I feel like doing a happy dance, but I am finally capable of doing a happy dance! Albeit… carefully.

Today was the day. I had been talking it up since the cast was first put on. To anyone who has asked about the prognosis of the injured appendage, the answer has been a variant of “Well, I’ll know on February 4th when I get another round of X-rays.” As the day drew closer, containing my excitement became increasingly more difficult. There was hardly a moment in which I felt unencumbered – in one way or another, I’ve been all too aware of my ailment… and all too eager to be rid of it. Today would be the day on which I’d find out whether I’d be able to start walking, or continue hobbling.

The first bit of good news came just after being called from the waiting room. The doctor said that healed or no, the cast had to come off so that X-rays could be taken. Hooray! A few cast-free moments at a minimum. Often a doctor will introduce you to the tools he will be using: in my instance, what looked to be a small circular saw with tiny, sharp teeth. Not this doctor – he revved the saw and got right to cutting. Having had a cast removed at age 13, I knew that an oscillating saw can’t break skin, but that didn’t quite hold back an initial panicked feeling when the saw first hit the cast.

Once all of the cuts had been made and the cast pieces removed, I damn near leaped from my seat. The next bit of good news: I could balance on two feet! Double hooray! My biggest fear at that moment wasn’t falling down (though I could immediately sense that my right leg had weakened significantly). I was afraid of the smell. Thankfully, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected. Given that feet start stinking after just a day in normal shoes, I was braced for a noxious knockout once my right foot met fresh air. There wasn’t really an odor, much to my surprise. No bed of roses, certainly, but not bad.

There were, however, several other surprises. First, my right leg was not initially strong enough to support my whole body weight. “Duh” in hindsight, but my initial triumphant stand caused excitement and cockiness to get the best of me. I immediately tried putting my whole body weight on my right foot, and it damn near gave out. I saved myself from a nasty stumble by catching the table at just the right moment. Guess I’ll have to work on strengthening those muscles. Next, as I was massaging my leg and foot to soothe the muscles and get the blood flowing freely again, I was surprised to see hairs caught between a few of my fingers. So I tried pulling at some hairs near my ankle. They all came out with ease! Ack! Better not rub against that leg too much, unless I’m going for a silky-smooth look. The real freak show, though, was hiding on the other side of the foot. To all those women I’ve ever mocked for using special podiatric exfoliant products, I beg your forgiveness and humbly request your assistance. The skin on the forefoot and heel was rubbed raw with jaundiced, peeling edges. The sight was so horrendous that I snapped a camera-phone photo for posterity. For y’alls sake, I’m not posting it here. Icky, indeed. I’m in desperate need of expertise here, though, so anyone offering info on how to get the soles of my feet looking normal again will instantly become one of my favorite people.

It wasn’t long before I was sent to the X-ray room, and after all of the snaps were taken, I anxiously awaited the verdict. I wasn’t expecting a declaration that it had fully healed and that I could walk normally again – even I knew that neither was true. The hope instead was that partial healing and good bone position would allow me to get fitted with a walking cast. And that’s just what happened. The orthopedist said that there was some new bone growth, but that the bones were perfectly aligned and healing nicely inclined him toward prescribing “the boot.” The device is pretty nifty: consisting of a hard plastic shell and neoprene lining with fasteners and air cushions, it keeps the foot immobilized while allowing full weight bearing. In other words, I can walk in it! The walking motion with the boot is more natural than I had expected, too. Of course, the doctor’s orders were to minimize walking time in the very beginning and steadily increase weight bearing over time, but the feeling of being mobile again was too good to take in small doses today. I walked around the office and my apartment more times than I could count. I even lifted weights in the upstairs gym. In my defense, I did use crutches on the longer trips to and from the office. I’m stubborn, not stupid.

Ah, freedom. Not full freedom just yet, but I have an appointment in three weeks that will hopefully bring even better news. Now that I’m rid of the peg-leg gizmo, I’d sure like to be rid of comments about how fitting an eyepatch / cutlass / parrot would be to complete the pirate ensemble. This calls for celebration… not too much, given what can happen when equal parts champagne, white wine, beer, whiskey, vodka, and moonwalking are mixed. There’s a good chance I’ll be toasting my newfound mobility in Charlottesville this weekend (keeping the toasts light), and I’ll definitely be basking in some California sun later this month (stay tuned).

Again, big thanks to everyone who has put up with my complaining, offered car rides, extended niceties, or otherwise accommodated my gimped-out self. You guys rock.