Imagine you’re a taxi driver and you frequently pick up fares at the airport. It’s one of the busiest airports in the world – London-Heathrow (LHR). Where do you suppose most people stepping into your cab want to go? Home or office, sure. Probably more than a few have a hotel in mind. And surely tourists from foreign lands with all kinds of odd requests, but how often do people with suitcases want to go directly to a car dealership?
The 2012 Gearbox Magazine World Tour began with just such a scenario, but let me backtrack a bit and give you the full story. After all, if we want you to one day experience an international gearhead adventure of your own, you need to know all the gory details.
Note: This is a tremendously huge story, so we’re breaking it up into multiple pieces. We’ve got hundreds of pictures, more than an hour of 1080p video, and the word count required to share this adventure with you is likely in the tens of thousands. (!!!) For that reason, we’re breaking this up into something like a dozen parts – one for each day of the tour. Sound good?
Day 0 – Friday, 8 June
We wanted to get to the airport at least two hours before our 13:30-ish flight, but I had things I needed to do before we left the house at 11AM. I needed to get to the local autoclub office to get an International Driver’s Permit before we left. It’s $15-20 and translates the basic driver’s license into multiple languages to hopefully make any unscheduled stops in foreign countries a little easier if you know what I mean.
From there, I had to get in to a T-mobile store to get my account adjusted. This is neither the time nor place to discuss my disappointment with the level of customer service of late (only with the Indian call center staff they apparently do not trust to actually resolve customer issues), so let’s just leave it at I was first customer through the doors at the local store, where local reps had everything resolved in about five minutes.
It was a lovely day in Los Angeles when we stepped out of the terminal onto the sidewalk. 2-strapping our backpacks, we made the quick walk a quarter mile up the street to the international terminal, where we went back through security again.
PRO TIP: Unless you are on a non-stop, direct flight, be prepared to exit the airport and go through security before you make your connection. Not saying you always do, but it’s worth thinking about.
Now, maybe it’s because we changed airlines, from US Airways to Virgin Atlantic. Maybe it’s because we were connecting between domestic and international terminals. I dunno, but although our bags were checked through to LHR, we were supposed to go to a special counter somewhere and re-check in or something. To be honest, I still don’t understand this part (and neither did anyone else we spoke to at LAX who wasn’t a Virgin Atlantic associate, for that matter), but fortunately the gentleman behind the counter at the gate manged to get our bags manually transferred for us. Whew!
We paid an extra US$250 or so for extra legroom seats. I was a little worried they wouldn’t live up to their names. I was dead wrong. Worth. Every. Penny. Not as much room as the next step up to Economy Plus or whatever, but not another US$1000, either. Last time we went to Europe, my knees were firmly smashed into the seat in front of me. On this flight? I could easily put my fist between knee and seat – with room to spare. Glorious. If you can. DO THIS.
So we had pretty good seats. It was 3-5-3 across where we were sitting. Vanessa had the window, I was in the middle, and some talk guy from Newport Beach was on the aisle. We had personal TV screens in the seatback and could pull up multiple movies and TV as we desired. They even had basic video games like Bejweled, Tetris, and Solitaire.
Since I can never really sleep on air planes, I watched a bunch of movies. I started with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (which I’ve seen multiple times). Then they served dinner. There was a choice, I can’t remember what, but I had something like a Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes, carrots, Caesar salad, and a roll.
PRO TIP: Those little butter packs are always cold and hard to spread. Setting them on the heated portion of the meal is a great way to soften them up. Just don’t let them sit too long or you will open molten, liquid butter, which will pour right out onto your pants, just two hours into a 10 hour flight. #facepalm
Like I said, I can’t sleep, so I ended up watching Safe House and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the Daniel Craig version). I think I might have checked out some of the TV shows too, but three movies eats up the lion’s share of a 10-hour flight.
PRO TIP: Make sure you bring your own headphones with you on the plane, preferably high quality ones – big cans or gel insert buds to block out the background noise. They’ll offer you freebies, but they’re cheap and have poor sound quality.
I saw a LOT of people watching movies or playing games on tablets. This was the first I’ve ever really felt like I was missing out for not having one. If you’ve got a tablet, make sure to load it up with TV and movies just in case. Better to have it and not need it than the other way around, ya know?
The sun never completely set during the flight. It got dark, but there was always a sliver of blue on the horizon. We landed at Heathrow just after noon local time on Saturday, the 9th of June. This was pretty much 4AM our time, and I had been awake for most of it. Now we were collecting luggage and preparing to strike out across the UK to meet Cat in Northampton.
Knowing full well I’d take a financial hit for using data on my phone, I fired it up to send Cat an email letting her know we’d landed and were heading her way. I also needed to get her address so we could enter it into the satnav (GPS) and find the place. Within five minutes of powering up my Galaxy S2, I got an SMS from T-mobile.
Your Intl Data Roaming Charges in this bill cycle have reached US$100. To turn Data off Dial #ROF# SEND
I knew I would be facing US$25/MB data roaming charged, but I didn’t realize my Android would immediately download updates for all the stupid shit I’ve installed (or can’t remove). Most expensive Adobe Reader and Flash updates ever.
PRO TIP: Contact your carrier about unlocking your phone for international travel before you go. Consider buying a prepaid SIM off Ebay (or have a friend where you will be visiting get one and send it to you before you leave) if your phone uses a SIM card. Don’t expect wifi to be as ubiquitous as it is as home (or necessarily free).
PRO TIP: Go into your phone settings and disable any and all automatic updates before you take off. Turn off data roaming while you’re at it. There’s another setting for turning off packet data (used for SMS text messages), but those are maybe only a buck or two apiece.
Which brings us back to the taxi ride we started with. We hopped into the back of a bright blue London Taxi and handed the driver the printed email with the address to SMC Mitsubishi in Hillingdon.
If having tourists step into your taxi looking for a ride straight to a car dealership is odd, I have to think seeing tourists pulling huge suitcases walk into the showroom of your dealership has to be just as – if not even more – odd. Yet the people at SMC were expecting us.
We met Lourance (like Lawrence), who helped us load our luggage, walked me through all the bells and whistles like how to use the satnav, adjust the automatic climate control, use the backup camera, and safely shift the 6-speed manual transmission into reverse. Then he let me borrow his computer to log into my gmail account to get the address I’d already paid US$100 to not find on my phone an hour earlier, before giving us his personal cell phone number, should we have any trouble with anything – day or night.
We had a quick chat about how the Mitsubishi Warrior (L200, truck) is one of the most popular trucks in the UK, but not sold in America thanks to crony capitalism. Likewise with the Colt, and all the diesel models available on their lot. It was really interesting to talk to a real gearhead who works in the industry on the other side of the planet about the geo-political differences in model offerings from a single brand.
I didn’t mention it and neither did anyone else. Not Darin, who vouched for me. Not Shona, who provided the brand new ASX4. Not Lourance, who handed me the keys. But I had to think they knew. Here I was, a foreigner, jetlagged almost out of my mind, awake for close to 24 hours straight, having never driven a RHD (right-hand drive) vehicle before, let alone on the left side of the road, and I was pulling out into traffic in a brand new crossover with less than 2,000 miles on it.
We cannot thank our Mitsubishi friends in the UK enough for everything, not the least of which being trusting us – complete strangers – with something so valuable.
You have reached your destination.
We made it to Cat’s place at Delapre Abbey without any problems. RHD isn’t really difficult. It’s just all the roundabouts they have over there, which you run clockwise (the automotive equivalent to dividing by zero, imo), and often have to shift gears in, meaning you’re trying to maintain a lane which ends, whilst shifting gears, and watching out for traffic lights.
PRO TIP: The “right” lane is not the slowest lane. It is the OUTSIDE lane. Chalk this lesson up to jetlag, but it doesn’t take very long to realize all the slow trucks are on the left and that Jaguar in the rear view mirror will be upon you in a moment.
Upon reaching Cat’s place, we had a quick chat about things and hit the sack for a much needed nap. Then it was time for dinner (Cat prepared a Lamb stew and dumplings) and discussion of the week’s events.
So where’s all the pictures?
As you can see, just getting there was an adventure in and of itself. Tomorrow, we’ll get into Day 2, complete with Stonehenge, drunk drivers, old world roads and scenery, and more. Thanks for coming along with us on this adventure.
- What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled by plane?
- Does your favorite brand offer a model elsewhere you wish you could buy at home?