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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015

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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Getting out of London--It's harder than you think

I have to get this all out because it is just so unbelievable. It’s a crappy end to a great trip, but bear with me, we’re hoping for a happy ending.


A remarkable and unbelievable tale of woe, hopefully with a happy ending, that takes a lot of space, but is well-worth reading—especially if you are planning to travel overseas


I ran out first thing this morning to shop for gifts for DD & DW. Got a couple lovely pieces that they will really love in Covent Garden. I’ve been seeing a lot of these longer tunic type dresses on young women, worn over jeans usually because they are short. I thought my daughter would love one (she always likes me to pick up something in the latest European styles when I travel. But it was really hard to find something either in a size she could wear (5’4” and 102 pounds, about a size zip) that wasn’t inappropriately cut for a 14-year-old. I found the most beautiful white angora tunic with a cowl neck in just her size and snatched it up. Then, both for homecoming and because DW’s birthday is fast approaching, I picked up a beautiful hand-crafted broach and a glass perfume bottle with a dragonfly on the stopper. Both are just the kind of thing that she will love.

I rushed back to my hotel, having forgotten that check-out was at 11:00, not noon. I hastily threw my stuff together in the suitcase, packing the Scotch in dirty socks and underwear in the middle of my suitcase and checked the luggage with the desk at the hotel. But my flight wasn’t until 5:00, so I thought I’d spend a little time at the British Museum. It was just a few blocks from my hotel, and I’d saved it for last.

Let me tell you, I’ve had my fill of really old things. FCS, I was wandering among the friezes of the Parthenon, remnants of Ramses tomb in Egypt, and the Rosetta Stone. I ended up in the great library hall where there were examples of all ages and the best preserved busts and heads. I had my fill after a little more than an hour and left the museum to try to get fish & chips at a little place across the street. I ordered and then pulled my bag up to grab my notebook when I saw that both compartments of the bag were unzipped and my wallet was gone.



What to do in London if everything you have is stolen


I always carry my passport and cash in a money-belt, but in the haste of packing at the hotel, I thought “Oh, I’m heading for the airport and I’ll need my passport,” so I put my passport and cash in my wallet and packed the money-belt.

Yup. Cash. Credit Cards. ATM card. Passport. Drivers license. Insurance card. Microsoft ID. AAA card. Business cards. Even the train ticket to the airport.

Gone.

I stood with a little over £3 in my pocket with no ID in London.

I cancelled my order at the restaurant and went directly back to the British Museum to report the theft. They kindly gave me use of a phone to call American Express. American Express cancelled my corporate card and immediately directed a re-issue. The connected me to emergency services. Emergency services gave me the number for the American Embassy (which the museum had already done as well). I called the embassy.

If you are going to have your pockets picked in London, plan to do it on a weekday between the hours of 9:00 and 4:00. The emergency line at the embassy was so helpful in stating that all passport re-issue had to be done on a working day. If my passport was lost or stolen and I was scheduled to fly before the next business day, please call the airline.

I didn’t have the airline phone number, but the museum staff kindly provided me with directions to the nearest police station.

On my way to the police station, I called DW (got her out of bed at 5:30 on a Saturday morning, and she went to work cancelling my ATM cards and Credit Card, and notified Microsoft that my ID had been stolen. All I would need is having my ID open doors at Microsoft London! She also told me what my phone number was so I could tell people where to reach me.

I went to the police station and reported the theft. They were very frank about the fact that there was little that they could do. In fact, they couldn’t even report it as stolen since I hadn’t seen the event take place. It might have just fallen out of the bag. But, they did fill out a lost wallet form of which I got a copy, and helped me get in touch with the airline.

British Airways (after a long wait on the phone at the police sergeant’s desk) told me to go to the airport. They would get me on the plane and I could sort things out with passport control when I reach the US. Well, being in the US would be a help, I reasoned, but there was still the matter of getting to the airport on three pounds.

I am normally a very cautious traveler, and I always keep a hundred dollars zipped into my dress belt. I stopped at a Travelex shop and changed a hundred dollars to about 45 pounds. (Outrageous!) I went back to the hotel and got a taxi (£12) and bought a ticket to the airport (£15.50). In the meantime, DW called to tell me that she’d contacted everyone and we were safe. During that call, unknown to me, British Airways called me back, but didn’t reach me. I saw the icon on my cell phone that said I had a message, but my voicemail number didn’t work.



Boarding an international flight without a passport


At Heathrow, I found the customer service representative for flights heading my direction and she said, oh no, we can’t put you on a flight without a passport. You’ll have to wait and go to the embassy Monday. I said I didn’t have any money left (let’s see: 48-28=20—okay, I had £20 give or take a few pence). She called security and as it happened, the very nice security agent said, “We’ve got a person from Homeland Security working with us this week (reasons unknown). I’ll call Jennifer.” Yes, he told her, I had a police report. I had no identification. I had no money. After she spoke to me, she told them to issue me a boarding pass and she’d send a message to passport control in Seattle.

Security check at Heathrow does not require you to show your passport with your boarding pass, so I sailed through security, used a few pounds to buy a quick snack (I was starving) and on the way to the gate saw that the Duty Free shop had Malteasers, which I promised to bring to a friend, so I used the remaining pounds to make that purchase.

Of course the boarding gate wanted to see my passport, but when I showed them the police report, they said Oh yes, they’d been notified and good luck with Passport Control in Seattle. Didn’t I have any form of ID? No. Well, go ahead and board.

So, I got on a beautiful brandy new Boeing 777 in World Traveler Plus class and proceeded to dump my first glass of wine in my shoe and all over my feet. I told the flight attendant the abbreviated version of my story and she brought me another bottle of wine and two bottles of cognac along with black coffee.

The afternoon started, for the first time to look up. Right now, I’m 37,000 feet over the North Atlantic (Maybe Iceland by now) writing up my notes before I forget all that happened.


Now do you want to hear the weird part?


Possible salvation in the form of an old SD card


Two years ago when the family traveled to Amsterdam, Paris, and London, I was hyper-protective and conservative about everything. I made photo-copies of our passports (that were stolen when my last bag disappeared in London, come to think about it!) and I also shot pictures on the camera of the passports and stored them on a SD card.

By some incredible miracle, I tossed all my SD cards (in a case) into my carry-on before I left on this trip, thinking that I might need a back-up card if I took too many pictures. (Didn’t anticipate my camera going to hell in a handbasket.) I didn’t remember this until I was on the plane. As soon as I could safely get out from under the dinner dishes I got out the computer and started searching through my SD cards.

YES! I have the card with the picture of my passport on it. I set the picture as my desktop background on my laptop. I have no idea whether it will help or not, but when I get to passport control, I can at least turn on my computer and show them the picture of my passport. I guess I’ll finish this message after I make that next great encounter in Seattle.



Tap your heels together and repeat,”There’s no place like home!”


Before the flight arrived, I got myself looking my businessman best, tied my tie and put on my vest and jacket. Then when the plane landed, I headed for Passport Control. The guy from Homeland Security at the first stop asked if they had given me a letter in London to board the plane. I said no, they’d just written “OK to board” on my boarding pass, but of course they collected that part of the boarding pass at the gate. He did a lot of tapping around on his computer and didn’t want to see my picture of the passport. He handed me a red card and told me to follow the arrows behind the control point to talk to an agent there. I explained to the next agent what my situation was and he was very sympathetic. He started tapping around on the keys, looked at my police report, asked me my name, address, date of birth, social security number, place of birth, etc. etc. Then he told me to stay at his counter while he disappeared into the “rooms” just beyond. In a few minutes he re-emerged, then wrote several things on my customs and immigration form, stamped it with two or three stamps and said, “OK you can go collect your luggage. If anyone else questions you on the way out you can have them call me at this number.” He circled the number on the card and said, “Hope your day improves.”

I was through in about 20 minutes. Which was about perfect since that’s when the baggage actually started coming down and in five more minutes I was in line at Customs explaining why I didn’t have a passport, then at immigration explaining why I didn’t have a passport, then I handed in my C/I card and boarded the train from the International terminal to the main terminal where my wife and daughter were waiting for me to emerge from the depths. Everyone was really nice and helpful.


All through the process, I kept calling DW and updating her on everything, but my daughter was downright clingy. She kept saying “Dad, Dad, Dad. I’m so glad I can say Dad with you right here.” It was so sweet.


Well, that is my story of my last day in London and the mad flight home. There’s no place like home!

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Comments

“Dad, Dad, Dad. I’m so glad I can say Dad with you right here.”
What a sweet thing to say, really! How cute<3

Ugh, what an... eventful trip. Still, you got to see that side of England- you could use it to write \o/! And you still had a good time, which is the important :D
A little stressful, but it all worked out okay. I'm definitely going to write this into a book sometime!
Well, gadzooks! And thank heaven for being paranoid (I always travel with extra money zipped somewhere). I'm glad you had so many helpful people along the way, and glad you're back safe and sound.

And wow, what great writing fodder! ;)
Yes. I will have to figure out a way to work this into a book somewhere along the line. I tell you, seeing that white room at the end of the hall at passport control and carrying my red card down the line was quite the experience. I wrote something similar into debriley for December 25 or 26, long before I'd ever thought of having the experience myself. Prophetic?
i'm so glad it all worked out for you! good thing you're smart and always carry that $100. my mom keeps telling me i need to do that for emergencies... next time i have $100, i know what i'm doing with it!

glad you're home and safe and fed and happy. keep up the good work! :)
Oh man... what a nightmare! What kind of bag do you carry?

Good for you for making copies of your passport. I do that and generally give a copy to someone at home and keep a copy in my luggage.

Not that it would do me that much good through immigration/customs. They'd probably lock me up in a small room cuz they're usually pretty close to doing that anyway. :P

Glad you made it on your flight and back in the country!