There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.Henry James
The Portrait of a Lady
Before I was married, a friend and I attempted a road trip from L.A. County to New York City (and back). She and I had met in seventh-grade homeroom, a class we shared because our last names started with the letter T. Who knew that alphabetical order could be the basis for a lifelong friendship? Our road trip plan involved mapping out couches we could sleep on along the way. We also brought enough bedding to sleep in her Jeep on the nights we didn’t make it to a free couch. It was one of those nights with the back seat almost flat, and she and I and her very leggy dog nested together that I thought we were all about to die.
We’d pulled into a parking lot for the night, and it seemed a safe enough place to sleep until the dog started growling in the middle of the night. We woke up to see the Jeep flooded with a bright light getting brighter and closer and then the unmistakable sound of a train horn. I swear I did not remember any train tracks in the parking lot earlier, but there was a train headed straight for us. Frantically, we tried to make the driver’s seat accessible so she could get us out of harm’s way, and then the train turned. I knew I would have remembered if we’d parked on the train tracks. Well, we were definitely wide awake after that.
Sometimes, things don’t work out as planned. We made it as far as the Grand Canyon before heading to Seattle for a family matter on her end. Almost nothing went according to plan, but we had an adventure and made memorable stories, and really wasn’t that the point?
I’ve spent most of my life wanting to wander footloose and fancy-free, but at the end of the day, I love to have someone going through it all with me. Misadventures are so much better with someone to turn to and be all OMG, that just happened! Someday, when her kids are older, I hope that she and I can be travel buddies again.
That said, there is something very satisfying about invading England alone. I’m the Irish-American/Chicana middle-aged mom version of James Bond that absolutely nobody ever asked for. I like to think it would make my ancestors proud, aside from the part where I had just given a lot of money to British Airways and was really only on a quest for even more tea. I have been influenced by my grandmother, who was influenced by her grandmother, who was the daughter of Irish famine immigrants. I have strong feelings about the history between England and Ireland. When we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, it is political. Our continued existence is our protest.
All the same, my mother loves classic British literature and contemporary British TV, and we both love a good cup of tea. In my defense, I was introduced to good tea by the owner of an Irish imports store on Laurel Canyon. One afternoon a red-haired friend and I slipped in out of the rain, a couple of soaking wet, freckle-faced junior high girls. My love of tea only deepened under the influence of my mother-in-law, who was born and raised in County Roscommon, Ireland. I take it with milk, no sugar, feel free to bring me a cup any time.
With a six-hour layover in Heathrow, which didn’t seem like quite enough time to really see the sights but was too much time to loiter about the terminal satisfactorily, and it being two in the afternoon, I was determined to have afternoon tea at the Sofitel.
Getting out of the airport was unnervingly easy with an American passport. Getting out of the Victorville Walmart may be more difficult. Honestly, I sought security when I realized I was already landside just to ensure I hadn’t skipped a step. They looked at me like I was crazy. I was trying to leave the airport. I had successfully left the airport without hassle. They failed to see why I thought this might be a problem. I don’t think I’ll be taking any job opportunities from James Bond based on my polite uncertainty at this point.
There was a part of me that felt like I should make a run for it. I was set loose in a foreign country. I could do anything! Well, aside from gaining legal employment, which would be necessary to fund any prolonged doing of things. So I stuck with my original plan of afternoon tea. Despite hours of careful planning, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to find my way there. The Sofitel is an easy walk from the international terminal. The international terminal is an overwhelming spectacle worthy of it’s own zip code, but walking from the exit to The Sofitel was easy-peasy.
I was nervous about the whole interaction with humans, part of going out for tea, but that’s normal for me. People who make their livings in hospitality are generally very nice, even to socially awkward, underslept Americans who feel like they just invaded the country. It was a little more awkward realizing that I was the only person having tea alone. There was definitely too much snacky stuff for one person (at least for one person, who had been incredibly sedentary for the last twelve or so hours on an airline that kept the food and beverages flowing). I ended up with even more food stashed in my purse. The tea (and the accompanying food) was really good, though.
In my youth, I used to have romantic imaginings of traveling alone. For whatever reason, these mostly involved me dressing like a girl reporter from the 1940s with a pencil behind my ear and a pocket-sized notebook at the ready. It never occurred to me that I would be a divorced forty-eight-year-old undergraduate or that, under those circumstances, I would deeply wish my mother and daughter were there with me. Afternoon tea at the Sofitel seems like a really perfect way for three generations of women to have a grand time together. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to take them there with me anytime soon.
When I finally set out on my solo world-traveling adventure, It turned out that I wanted someone there with me. I wanted someone to have a taste of the yummiest things and agree with me that it was amazing. I wanted someone to make eye contact with and wordlessly communicate volumes with. I wanted someone to make up unlikely stories about strangers in the airport with. I believed it wasn’t about the destination but the journey. Now I believe that it’s neither of those things. It’s about the connections you make and grow along the way.
Loving you the way I doCarole King
I know we’re gonna make it through
And I will go
To the ends of the earth
to me that’s what you’re worth
Where You Lead (Gilmore Girls Theme Song)