[This is my last daily post for a little bit as I wing off to New Zealand tomorrow in search of fresh new Wow Places. 187 posts down…178 more to go to reach my goal of 365! 😊 I’ll be back writing again in the new year. See ya in 2024 folks, and thanks for taking this journey with me! Dave]
Back in the pre-internet days, before Expedia, Orbitz and Kayak, making an overseas hotel reservation was a whole lot more difficult than it is today. You either needed to 1) hire a travel agent to do it for you 2) locate a hotel in your guide book then contact them by mail or expensive phone call), or 3) just show up in the location and hope to find a place. By and large in my early days of travel, I would opt for choice #3, which inevitably worked just fine in most Asian cities but not so well in the more-popular European capitals.
It’s 1988 and I’ve just arrived in London after 11 months traveling around the world. Do I have a hotel reservation? Of course not; I don’t roll that way. My “Let’s Go Europe” guidebook suggests a few neighborhoods with a high density of hotels, so that’s where I start. “Do you have a vacancy? No, okay thanks.” “Do you have a vacancy? Darn!” “Oh, YOU have a vacancy, for $300! Too rich for my blood. No thank you!” After being turned away by 5-6 guest houses on this busy summer night, I decide, “The heck with it. I’m going back to Wimbledon.” You see, I’d spent the afternoon watching matches at Wimbledon, founded in 1868, England’s premier tennis venue. A long-time tennis fan, I’d grown up watching Borg, McEnroe, Connors, and Evert. Wimbledon was kind of a dream location for me – the cathedral of tennis. It’s the first place I headed – even before securing a hotel room for the night. And they had a pretty cool deal at the time, too; for a small fee, you could enter the grounds and just wander around, watching the juniors and non-ranked players hash it out on the less-crowded “side courts.” For my money, this is the way to go. Great tennis, no crowds, little money – and you can still buy your traditional strawberries and cream. Do I see any famous players that afternoon? Nope. But that’s okay. Better to watch lower-tier matches than shelling out exorbitant prices to scalpers. In my mind, a little Wimbledon tennis is better than none at all.
So there I am, turned away by some of London’s most mediocre hotels at 11pm at night, thinking, “Wimbledon was sure fun today. I bet if I line up over night, I can nab a “real” ticket tomorrow at a discount price for one of the better matches.” Once again proving that the 25-year-old brain is painfully unfinished and unformed. An hour later, I’m sitting amongst the fans lined up outside Wimbledon — at midnight — cold, under-dressed, without a sleeping bag, preparing for a damp, sleepless night on hard pavement. It’s just about this time, at my point of deepest despair, when something wonderful happens. A couple of security guards from the venue come up to those of us in line, holding up a heaping platter of sandwiches! “Anyone like a bite?” Needless to say, we are all over that plate like pigeons on bread crumbs. In a world of all-to-frequent inhumanity, kindness sometimes arrives in life like a rainbow on a cloudy day. As it turns out, I do survive the night and end up purchasing a cheap ticket the next day for a doubles match starring Martina Navratilova. To be sure, it’s awesome seeing one of the best players in the world … at Wimbledon for gawd’s sake … but what I’ll always remember about this trip is the kindness of the guards, and the fact that I trusted the world to provide…which it did.
(It’s all-too easy to fall into a “glass-is-half-empty” mentality, imagining that the world is out to get us. And sometimes it DOES get you, and life stinks for a while. But most of the time, the universe is actually “for” us rather than “against” us. About all we can do is learn from our mistakes and teach those lessons to others, while continuing to trust ourselves to take calculated risk, confident we can handle whatever life throws at us. The more you put yourself out there, the more that kindness and generosity eventually and remarkably present themselves.)