Cooling My Heels in London

London, United Kingdom - 19 / 12 / 01

I ventured forth on the 11th of December in the year 2001 to start my journey to the wilds of Afghanistan.  I left Denver at 1230 local and arrived in London at 0730 local the following day (12th).  I was picked up by the driver for CBS London bureau, and was whisked away to the office.  Along the way, I heard rumors of an early departure to Pakistan, as opposed to a leisurely week in London.  Once at the office, the introductions were short, yet friendly, with an overhanging mood of doom.  Much to my surprise, I was informed that I was to catch a flight at 1345 local to Quetta, Pakistan.  The only problem was that the office had yet to acquire a visa for me and my traveling companion, John Leeburn, but the head of the office was optimistic that we could procure them before we had to leave for the airport.

At 1130, a distraught driver came back with no visa, but it was decided that CBS would try and sort it out by the time we got into Pakistan.  We got the airport about 45 minutes before departure time, only to find out that Emirates Airlines would not even allow us to board the plane without visas.  We began to look at other options, and decided that our best bet was to try and catch a flight with Pakistan Airlines.  Unfortunately, we had been caught in the busiest week of the year for people traveling to Pakistan, and the plane had no available seats.  We tried and tried to get seats, but were ultimately shot back since they were hauling dead bodies back.  The one upside was that the station controller promised we could get seats the next day.  John and I caught the train back to London and proceeded to the pub.  By the time I arrived at the hotel, I had been awake for 32 hours.

The day of the 13th, John and I left for the airport around 1600, and went directly to the ticket counter, visas in hand.  We were able to coax ourselves onto business class and the only thing left to do was deal with the hoards of people flying to Pakistan as well, many for the first time.  We boarded the plane a ˝ hour late and settled in for an 8-˝ hour flight.  An hour later, we were still sitting at the gate, and were graced with the visit of mechanics in yellow coats.  We were then told that they would be serving dinner while we waited for the problem to be fixed.  2 hours later we were taken off the plane to await buses to send us off to hotels for the night while they fixed the problem.  Tensions were running high by this time, and there was a made dash for the available coaches.  John and I fell behind so we could get more information from the employees, a stroke of good luck, because the business and first class passengers had different accommodations made for them.   Of the 45 business and first-class passengers, only 8 of us went to the 5 star hotel.

The day of the 14th, John and I sat down for breakfast at the hotel.  A call from the bureau informed me that I would not be taking the flight that day, but would be taking a military charter flight on the 17th, directly into Kabul, Afghanistan.  Therefore, I needed to get my luggage off the plane, and I only had 1-˝ hours to get it done before take off.  We were able to contact the station controller to make arrangements to retrieve my luggage.  Once we were at the gate, an employee informed me that I would have to identify my baggage, so she took John and I down to the tarmac.  Now one would think that they would have placed the luggage next to the gate, but instead we had to walk under the 747 jet, next to the jet engines, being wary of the intakes.  Luggage was identified, we were escorted back to the gate and I bid John a safe flight as I went back to baggage reclamation.  As I walked back to the terminal, I passed a bunch of Pakistan Airline employees and airport security with machine guns, in some conversation in which they were deeply concerned about the access that two gentleman gained down at the gate.  I walked slowly by, thinking that if it pertained to me, they would wrestle me to the ground and take me away.  Since they paid no notice, I continued walking on and still don't know what it was all about.

It is now the 15th, and I continue to sit in my hotel.  I was just informed that John arrived in Quetta, and was now on his way to Kandahar and possibly Tora Bora.  Poor guy, considering he just thought he was going to Quetta for a week.  I, on the other hand, am broke since the hotel charged my card instead of CBS, and thus get to spend my last remaining days in poverty before entering a land of poverty.  The one upside to this is I am in the neighborhood that I lived in when I was in London 6 years ago.  It's good to hang with my old peeps in the hood.  Nigel is still flinging poo on a stick and Mahmoud still won't buy my watch for some hummus.  It's good some things never change.

Promise I'll find my voice soon enough.  Pictures will be on the way.

- Michael Brandenburg