When we didn't see Geoff, our driver, waiting for us with a sign bearing our names (as promised), we weren't quite sure what to do. The Stansted arrival terminal is fairly small. And yet, there was a whole crowd of drivers with signs bearing other people's names awaiting us, but none with ours. We sat and waited for 15 minutes, believing that Geoff would arrive.
After those minutes passed, we took turns wandering through the airport, carefully double-checking each sign to make sure it didn't say our names.
Nope, our names -- and Geoff himself -- were still nowhere to be found.
I gathered up a few pounds and some pence I had in my wallet from the last time I was in the UK, and headed over to a pay phone. I had saved Geoff's phone number from the confirmation email. I called him once, then twice. I was hesitant to leave a message since he couldn't call us back, but at the same time, I wanted him to know we were waiting. On my third attempt at reaching him, I left a message that said: "Hi Geoff, this is Jennifer and Joseph, and we are waiting for you at the Stansted airport. We hired you to take us to Oxford but we can't find you. We're calling from a pay phone so don't call us back, just come pick us up if you can. Otherwise....." I then trailed off as there really wasn't an "otherwise." I think I ended the convo by saying, "Just please pick us up, thank you."
We waited until half an hour had passed. We hadn't paid for our driver in advance, so really, there would be no harm in hiring another driver, we decided. In fact, it would be entirely reasonable to hire another driver since we had to get to Oxford in time for our formal dinner that night, and obviously couldn't wait around all day. I decided to head back to the pay phones to call Geoff one last time and let him know we were making other arrangements. Before I did so, Joe casually approached the crowd of other private drivers to ask how much they would charge for a ride to Oxford. He came back to me, shaking his head, suggesting, "Yeah, let's just wait for Geoff."
Turns out, it would cost us 220 GBP to hire a driver on the spot to drive us to Oxford.
Back to waiting for Geoff it was.
By that point, over 45 minutes had passed since we landed, and we were growing increasingly impatient. So we did something we had promised ourselves we would not do not, ever, except in cases of emergency: we turned Joe's phone off of airplane mode.
Had we had wifi, this wouldn't have been a problem, but without wifi, we had to find a way to email the minicab company, and turning Joe's phone off of airplane mode was the only way to do it.
I am cringing as I type this. Why? Because even turning on your data for a few minutes while abroad can add hundreds of dollars in roaming charges to your cell phone bill.
I know from experience.
My fingers moving furiously, I logged into my email and saw that the minicab company had actually emailed us to let us know Geoff was on his way, but running late. They informed us he'd pick us up outside on the curb (with no signs bearing our names, though; our #firstworldproblem of the day), and even provided us with his license plate number to verify we found the right Black Mercedes.
We grabbed our bags and scrambled out the door (but not before switching Joe's phone back on to airplane mode!). Joe and I split up -- he went to the left, I went to the right -- as we scoured the line of cars for Geoff's Black Mercedes. I immediately saw one -- with a man in the driver's seat! -- and without bothering to verify the license plate (because this had to be Geoff), I opened the back door and threw my bag in the backseat. The most dapper, charming, handsome, British-looking thirty-something Englishman turned his head from the driver's seat and offered me a friendly -- but surprised -- smile.
"Hi!", I sighed with relief, preparing to jump inside. We've finally found Geoff!, I said to myself victoriously. But then I noticed Geoff staring at me curiously, and I felt compelled to ask him, "Are you..... Geoff?"
"No", he answered politely. "I'm afraid not."
Geoff was not Geoff, after all.
I quickly excused myself from not-Geoff's car, briefly apologized, and carried on, shamelessly undeterred. That's when I glanced behind me and saw Joe waving me down from the other side of the street. "I found him!", he called out to me, pointing to another Black Mercedes, this time with the real Geoff inside.
The real Geoff was a bit older than the fake Geoff, and reminded me a lot of my mom's older cousin who we affectionately refer to as "the Monopoly man." Geoff apologized profusely for his delay, and that point, we were just so happy to be in the real Geoff's company, that we didn't care in the slightest. And honestly, the delay would have been no problem had we been able to check our email. Regardless, we hopped in the backseat and it was on to Oxford we were!
I experienced a bit of flashback-to-DC-deja-vu, watching Joe and Geoff bond. Becoming fast friends, they talked about everything: soccer (of course), Geoff's children and grandchildren, French work ethic (???), other political matters, and Uber (which has come to London, we learned). My main role in the conversation entailed my interjecting, "Excuse me!?", when Geoff mentioned that there was yet another tube strike in London.
But then we arrived in Oxford: our new home! And who cared about London tube strikes then? Not me.
If you want to hire a private driver of your own to travel from Stansted to Oxford, you can do so here. Or, if you'd like to book through Geoff specifically, shoot me an email at: contact at jenniaustriagermany dot com and I will provide you with his personal contact information. Thanks!