I’d organized my things in piles around my suitcase in a corner of the room, and laid out my clothes for the day. By 6:30 AM I was walking to the train station. It was scarcely dawn, misty and cold; I put my gloves on. The green-grocers were open again, their sidewalk bins redeployed like mushrooms. Everything else was shut.
In the little station, I found the Departures board. The next run to Heathrow wouldn’t come for half an hour, and the one after that in 90 minutes. I’d assumed they ran every 15 minutes, but now I realized that many of the runs from Paddington skip H&H. Worse, no platform number was displayed for the 7:28 Heathrow run. It was the Hidden Platform Game again; and, with the pressure of a morning takeoff and trains stopping only hourly, this was the worst round yet.
A sign on the wall said Platform 3 was for Heathrow; and I’d arrived on that platform on a Heathrow-bound train last night. I knew there would be a more specific Departures board at each platform. So I carried my suitcase down the stairs to Platform 3 (all the platforms were at the bottoms of long flights of stairs). But the board there showed no Heathrow runs.
On the upstairs board I’d read that the 8:28 Heathrow train would be at Platform 1. So up I went, and down the only other staircase in the station. But this was Platform 4, not 1. Back upstairs, I searched for the real Platform 1. I found the sign for it over the exit door. I checked the station Departures board; the platform number for my train was still undeclared.
Outside the building and across a bridge, I found the stairs to Platform 1. I lugged my suitcase down there. That Departures board showed only the 8:28 Heathrow train. Perhaps it reflected the same system glitch that was blanking out the platform number on the main board–or did it?
Back upstairs and across the bridge to the station. No number on the board. No human attendant in sight. The trains only pause for a minute or two, not enough time to go up one flight of stairs and down another with a suitcase once a train has arrived. I asked in general, “Does anybody know the platform for Heathrow?” No answer. So it looked like I was going to have to commit myself based on a guess.
I’d arrived on 3; and the sign on the wall said 3. The 8:28 was stopping at 1. 3 seemed to be winning, so down those stairs I went.
Three minutes before the train was due, I got so nervous that I decided to go upstairs and have a last look at the main board. If the platform number was still blank, I’d go back to 3.
At the top of the stairs, the board said 1! Two Indian women were looking at it. “Where is Platform 1?” I heard one of them say.
“It’s outside, across the bridge,” I told them, pointing. They looked away; they didn’t believe me. Or maybe it was contrary to their culture to be spoken to by a strange man. I should have tried harder, but I was in panic mode. I should have shown them the sign behind them, over the exit. I hope they didn’t miss their flight.
Back across the bridge and down the stairs I ran, thanking my stars I hadn’t brought a larger suitcase. Now the Platform 1 board showed the 7:28 run, and a big headlight was approaching from London.
Despite another bag search, I made it thru Security in time for a second breakfast at Giraffe (a chain restaurant I’d seen in London, with good simple food).
My British Airways flight to Seattle in a spacious Boeing 777 was nine hours long, but very pleasant. My seat was a recliner with a footrest, a TV folding out of one arm-rest and a table folding out of the other. On the seat waiting for me were a pillow, a blanket and a package of all sorts of comforts–even a toothbrush. Free drinks, a hot lunch, tea and snacks, and even warm, wet towels were brought around.
On the other side of Customs, Pat picked me up. We had dinner at Applebys–lunch for her, because I’d gained seven hours. We went for a walk on the pretty University of Washington campus. Too bad the cherry trees in the Quad had finished blooming; but we enjoyed the warm sunshine. She’d already stocked up on my favorite foods, cleaned the house and washed my laundry; and she made me baked salmon for dinner. What a lucky boy I am to have such a good wife!