Part of a Series of Travel Stories: Five Truths and Two Lies
In the summer of 2015, I was rushing to leave Harrods, the fanciest department store in England, maybe anywhere in this universe. I had just walked past a dining table that cost $400,000. Yes $400,000! It had glass artwork embedded in its base.
In my sweaty American fingers I carried a plastic bag that said “Harrods,” in which I had three little treasures that I had picked in the 15 minutes my schedule allowed: first, a little sparkly blue notebook that was the size of my hand and said “Harrods” on the cover. It was a present for my mother.
Snuggled next to the notebook in the Harrods bag was a box with some pretty pink luggage tags and a small orange leather holder for credit cards.
Harrods was bustling and I was hustling to leave with my three travel mates, Beth Goldstein, Karen Soskin and Lauren Metzendorf, because we had a dinner reservation in an hour for our last night of a two week vacation.
We almost walked out the front door onto Brompton Road, but stopped when we heard a BEEP BEEP BEEP. Darn. No walking arrogantly out the door like I have done in TJ Max, where the common-as-dirt alarm is another way to say “have a nice day!” A guard in a white crispy shirt and black pilot-type hat walked toward us.
“Can I see your packages please?” he said with a cockney twang. One by one he held my friend’s bags up to the sensor. Silence. Then he held up my bag. The sensor squawked BEEP BEEP BEEP.
He stuck his hairy arm in my bag, pulled out the box and held it up to the sensor. Silence. Then the notebook. BEEP BEEP BEEP.
He palmed the little notebook into the air with a triumphant look of discovery like he had just tripped up a crafty Oliver Twist. He flipped the notebook around. “You see, they didn’t take the tag off here.”
I folded my arms and looked at him. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. I just bought that!”
My friends stood by, shifting their feet, one chewed her cuticles.
“Have you got the receipt?” asked the guard.
My stomach was starting to churn a little, like a washing machine on delicate. I knew I didn’t have it. I had rushed away after signing the receipt for the teller, thinking my friends are waiting for me and they think I’m always late because… because… I am always late.
“I need to leave!” I said to the guard. “We have dinner reservations!” I motioned to my friends, who put on their hungry faces, laced with a touch of worry.
“Yes, you can, as soon as we get this all sorted out.” He picked up a black phone.
“I have to call the manager of the department. She’ll come to meet us.”
“What can I do?” asked my friend Beth.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Do you want to go back to the hotel?”
I hated holding up the group.
“No,” she looked surprised. “We will wait.”
A young lady finally walked toward me, red sweater, 30ish flouncing black skirt, high heels, blonde hair tied back in a pony tail.
“So sorry about this. We will get this sorted out.” she said. Her professional swagger was swaddled in an accent I’d place somewhere between guttersnipe and Oxford.
“Is this the way your treat your customers?” I raised my voice, pursed my lips and locked my eyebrows into an angry unibrow.
“We’ll just have to go back to the department to get this sorted out.”
I firmly placed my arms akimbo and widened my stance, an angry teapot about to steam.
I had to follow her. What else could I do? I chatted with her as I did.
“How long have you worked at Harrods?”
“Just three months, actually” she said, barely breaking stride.
“Oh, did you work in another shop before this?”
“Actually, I was a London police officer.”
I realized then she wasn’t the department manager. She was security. I was in the clutches of a cop. A private dick, so to speak. And a cop that might be a little lost in this big store too.
“Did you drive a car?”
“No, I sat behind a desk. I was a detective.”
For a second I hoped that she would pull out a pair of diamond clad handcuffs with a six-figure pricetag hanging down from a string, clamp them on my wrists, snap a picture for Instagram, and then start to laugh as she typed in the hashtag #DorkyAmericantourists and maybe #howtheenglishcelebrate4thofJulyhahaha
No such luck.
In a weird way I may have been preparing for this kerfuffle all my life.
I knew that things didn’t always go right in stores. I’ve known that since I wrote this poem in third grade, “The Mad Storekeeper.” (mad as in “ANGRY!)
The woman in Harrods didn’t start to holler, but she walked off quickly.
Clump, clump, clump in her high heels. She darted and weaved through the crowd.
She sure could clump along fast in those heels. I wondered for a second if they were her major weapon.
“Where did you make your purchase?” she asked.
“Do you mean the department? I have no idea,” I said, “but it was a room near “the Great Writing Room.”
I know how I had gotten there, though. Harrods has a destination escalator. I had taken it minutes earlier — an ornate golden Egyptian escalator. Unfortunately, it had been built as a memorial to Princess Di and Dodi by Dodi’s father, the former owner of Harrods.
2015 Harrods’ Egyptian Escalator.
But after we got up at the 6th floor, I desperately tried to keep my eyes glued to her bobbing pony tail in the crowded store.
“I’m taking you a slightly different way,” she said, as I breathlessly followed her at a pace that probably beat my best 5K ever. We ran through rooms crowded with people in sneakers and soft tasseled loafers staring at carved wooden display tables and gleaming glass shelves. This is not going to end well, I thought. I had not been in any of these rooms. I had no idea where to turn.
Then, miraculously, we were in the Great Writing Room. Which wasn’t so great, I might add. Just some fancy pens. Meh? Who cares. I’d lose them anyway.
Leaving it meant choosing door number one, or door number two, or…up to door number six. I exited the not-so -great -writing room via Doorway # 1. I darted in and out of doors, trying to find the one I had take. Finally, something had changed in my dance with the shopper copper. She was following me.
I darted for the other doorways, my t-shirt starting to stick to me. This was a Harrods tour on steroids with the sword of Damocles hanging over my passport.
I finally found the room crowded with displays of notebooks and leather wallets. Relief washed over me.
“This is it!”
“Can you find the till?” asked My Fair Lady shop cop.
Fortunately, I speak English. It’s rath-ahhh different than American.
Translation “Can you find the cash register where you paid?”
We had lived in Cambridge England from 1982–1983, just an hour from the iconic Harrods. I had never visited the store. But my mom had, which is why I was buying her this friggin’ little notebook to begin with.
It’s a miracle that Harrods was open the day mom visited it in 1983. Harrods display windows were all gone, shards of glass glistened in the sidewalk cracks. Someone supporting The Irish Republican Army had been planted a bomb there days earlier, sadly killing six people.
Mom had been as determined to visit Harrods as I was to leave it.
I stared at the till teller. She looked different.
“The young lady who had been there was African-American.” (Not true — she was African-English but the cop must have translated this Americanism on her own head.) The redhead at the till went to search for the brunette.
The detective explained the dilemma to the till woman who checked me out. “Did you sell something to her?” Vivian asked, motioning toward me, her prisoner. (By this point I had learned the detective’s name was Vivian.)
The saleswoman froze and mutely nodded. Perhaps she remembered my bright green glow-in-the-dark t-shirt, my wild and willful curly hair, or the fact that she had given me her professional opinion, “I like the orange wallet best, it’s warmer looking,” when I started to salivate in lust and indecision over the purple wallet.
“This notebook still has the tag on it,” said the cop, Vivian. The till-then saleswoman winced, her chin dipping down.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“And do you have the receipt?”
The till-woman picked up the keyboard at the cash register. Underneath, neatly folded in half, was my receipt. She handed it to Vivian, who glanced at it and handed it to me.
The hum of voices in the room quieted. The leather in the display cases seemed to soften. Someone much cruder than me might have said I now had the dick by her balls.
“We owe you an apology,” said Vivian.
Damn straight you do, you English bitch. A lady next me in white sneakers and wearing a Wisconsin baseball cap high fived me. Then my top-bitch fantasy ended.
What actually came out of my mouth was, “Thank you.”
Vivian stopped and asked directions three or four times to get me back to the door where my friends were waiting. They rushed toward me when I emerged from the men’s shirt section and Karen said, “our hero.” Ha. At least I didn’t have to eat worms to finish my own episode of “Survivor: Harrods.”
Vivian and I hugged and promised to send each other Christmas cards and meet next year at Harrods door 8 for a gin and tonic to remember this amusing International kerfuffle. Ha. That didn’t happen.
But really, she then said she would send me a 10% coupon from Harrods as their way of apology. I wrote my email address down neatly for her. I’m still waiting for coupon. I expect it will arrive at the same time I receive Vivian’s xmas card and another heartfelt apology.
“How was Harrods?” asked my mom when I returned. “I saw you went there. I remember when we went how tight their security was. They looked through my bag on the way in.”
“Not much has changed, mom. Except now they look in your bag on the way out.”
Part of a Series of Travel Stories: Five Truths and Two Lies