After forty-five minutes on the airport shuttle, ten hours in the air, forty-five minutes in a bus followed by two-and-a-half hours on the train, I’d finally reached my destination: Great Malvern, Herefordshire County, England. Waiting for me was my long-time friend, Jan, who is celebrating her ninetieth birthday. As the train slowed, I donned my backpack, slung my laptop bag over my shoulder, and wheeled my suitcase to the end of the car, where I waited for the exit door to open.
“How do you get the door to open?” I called back to the nearly empty car. A young woman who’d been sitting across from me quickly rose from her seat and ran to the door. By the time she reached me, the train had begun rolling again. She whipped out her phone to consult the train schedule.
“The next stop is Colwall. You can get off there and wait for the next northbound train back to Great Malvern. They won’t charge you,” she assured me. The train pulled up to Colwall, which offered nothing more than a small shelter, like you find at city bus stops. There was no one around.
“Will you be alright?” she asked with concern. I assured her I would be. I was not at all sure as I stepped into the rainy, English countryside. An electronic sign promised the northbound train would arrive in thirty-five minutes. Before long, a weathered, older-looking man showed up.
“This [bleeping] weather, you can’t do [bleep]!” he exclaimed. He continued to complain about the “[bleeping] rain.”
“Where I live, we welcome the rain,” I said brightly.
“Where’sat?” he asked.
“Western United States,” I answered.
“Oh, well,” he shrugged dismissively.
He’d recently retired from farming, I learned: “Seventy years old, and I decided fifty-three years o’ it was enough,” he said. He was headed south to Hereford for the afternoon, he said. Might as well, because in “this [bleeping] weather, you can’t do [bleep]!” he repeated.
The train to Hereford arrived.
“Nice to meetcha,” he grumbled in farewell.
It was my first conversation with a Brit since landing in England hours earlier. I missed the customs officer from my last trip who asked me why I didn’t visit more often. Going through customs is all automated now. You slide your passport through a scanner that simultaneously takes your photo. Ticket sellers at the bus and train stations don’t have time or inclination to chat amidst the throng of passengers. I would’ve struck up a conversation with the young woman on the train, but she’d been concentrating on her phone the entire time.
Finally I boarded the northbound train and planted myself next to the door. Back at Great Malvern, I pushed the exit button with fierce determination.
“MIND THE GAP,” the traveler is consistently warned. This time the door opened and I stepped across the “gap,” a space of thin air between the train and concrete landing. Minding the gap, I’d arrived at last at my destination.