Every year when Wimbledon rolls around, I am reminded of one of the greatest travel coups of my life.

In 1985, my parents pulled up stakes, left Mid-Missouri, and went to England for six months.  They rented a flat in Henley-on-Thames, tootled around the UK in a little car they bought, and had a ball learning the ropes.  They were like characters in a British buddy movie, buying duvets, eating Richardson jams, getting hooked on EastEnders, delighting in the sight of spring lambs bouncing through the meadows.

Naturally I had to go visit them.  It was my first trip abroad, and more significantly, it was the only time I, the third out of four, was their “only” child.   This was before cell phones and email, and when I heard that LIVE AID was going to play at Wembley Stadium on my birthday, whilst I was to be in England, I sent my parents an urgent postcard from Philadelphia saying ‘Please get me a ticket for the big concert on July 10.” 

Not having paid any attention to Live Aid, my parents were baffled about which concert I meant, but they asked around and learned there was to be a community chorus performing church music on the banks of the Thames in their village on July 10, so they gamely bought me a ticket to that.

Why they would think I had heard about this homespun songfest back in Philadelphia, and requested a ticket to it, I don’t know.  It was a mix-up, but I enjoyed the little village sing-song anyway.  Instead of being crammed into a wild throng, watching Madonna and a bunch of rock stars swaying on a stage, I saw a group of English songbirds singing the Hallelujah chorus on a floating platform in the Thames at night with fireworks in the background.  And no, that definitely wasn’t my coup.  That was a digression.

The coup was this.  My dad and I decided we had to Wimbledon.  My mom wasn’t interested, so she stayed home.  Bright and early one morning, my father and I bought train tickets (amusing the vendor by specifying “round trip” tickets) and took off for London.  We successfully found our way to the large Wimbledon complex and hearts pounding with excitement, quickly took off looking for the ticket line.

Then our racing hearts sank.  There was a queue.  A massive queue.  Hundreds upon hundreds of Brits snaked back from the ticket window, standing quietly, reading the newspaper, staring into space.  We asked how long they’d been waiting and the answer was crushing.  “Hours.  This is such a BORE.”  “We may not even get in today.”  “Don’t even try, you’ll just be wasting your time.” 

We decided not to join the queue.  Discouraged but not yet beaten, we agreed that at the very least, we owed it to ourselves to stroll around the compound and see what it looked like.  Rounding the second corner of the very structure where the queue had formed, we saw – hullo luv, what’s this? – another ticket window.  Nobody was in line.  A vendor sat there, cobwebs forming, crickets chirping, with absolutely no customers.  And it was for CENTRE COURT.  We bought our tickets and sailed right in.  Service ACE!

We saw John McEnroe.  We saw hotpants on men. 

We saw Boris Becker (it was the year Boris won for the first time, and everyone wondered who he was.) . My dad heckled McEnroe (“Shut up and play!”), and I was mortified, then proud and relieved when the well-behaved Brits around us laughed and egged on the tall rebel Yank to continue his commentary.

We had strawberries and cream, we saw Martina and her girlfriend watching in the stands, we hobnobbed with the Center Court swells, and we felt like complete winners – champion travellers in a foreign land. 

We also learned a very important lesson about the English.  Always go look for another ticket window.  Because what the book “Watching the English” says is true - ”an Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one.”    

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