A night in jail with friend

THAT I was celebrating both the onset of the vernal equinox and the finale of a junior year abroad does not seem to constitute truly mitigating circumstances. Except, of course, to my parents, who now find the episode roseate with memory and rife with hilarious conversational possibilities. They trot out references to my temporary incarceration like some trained animal act. As in, ``Darling, tell us again how they locked you up that spring.'' Grrr.... I, on the other hand, prefer to blame the vagaries of Scottish hostelries and the obduracy of British geography. That is, what looked to a 21-year-old American college student as a mere afternoon's jaunt became an expedition requiring a far hardier constitution - or at the very least a credit card - than I possessed.

I should have, perhaps, recognized the trouble signs earlier when they arrived in the form of a semitrailer driven by Ian (I think I've got that right), a native of Glasgow. He and the semi served as our transportation north between London and the Scottish border.

It was to be a four-hour drive bereft of communication in my native tongue. Not that all of us weren't speaking English. Me in my Midwest twang. Patience, my traveling companion, in the proper Queen's dialect. Ian... well, whatever Scottish vernacular he was uttering was impenetrable. After 20 minutes of listening to Ian, during which I comprehended not a word, I cast a semiamused, semipanicked glance at Patience. I received the same semiamused, semipanicked glance in return. I knew we were in for a long trip.

That was the fun part. (I think I've got that right.)

It was nearly 10 p.m. when Ian dropped us off. We tossed our backpacks onto Glasgow's cobblestone streets and clambered down, bleary-eyed from the semi. Glasgow seemed a city plunged into utter darkness. Not a streetlight, not a Holiday Inn marquee, not a Tourist Information sign pierced the darkness.

``No problem,'' I said, perhaps too blithely. ``We'll find a hotel.''

Two hours later many desk clerks had silently pointed to many ``No Vacancy'' signs. I acknowledged to Patience that it was harder to find a room in Glasgow than a comprehensible word in Ian's conversation.

What with the '60s campus riots as my legacy, however, I roused myself and, in my best imitation of an American Express cardholder, summarily hailed a taxi. ``To the jail, please,'' I instructed. My resourcefulness impressed Patience. I was simply relieved.

Arriving at the jail, I initially attempted an imperious attitude with the night sergeant - as if Glasgow's lack of affordable lodgings was akin to international hostility. But as my chin only reached the edge of the precinct rostrum, I was forced to assume the position of a mollified child.

After signing what appeared to be a guest book, we were ushered to our cell. Yes, they locked us in. And no, it was not like the comparatively plush accommodations I'd seen on ``Escape From Alcatraz.'' In fact, I never removed my shoes. I simply lay down. On a wooden bench bolted to the cement block wall. I added the jail's standard issue Day-Glo orange blanket to my travel ensemble: pea jacket, blue jeans.

It was, as they say, either laugh or cry. To the consternation of our fellow detainees, Patience and I cackled the night away. Our jailmates signaled their displeasure by dragging tin cups across steel bars. Repeatedly.

We were ignominiously routed out at 5:30 a.m., apparently the jail's standard wake-up call. As we unfolded ourselves from the wooden benches, we saw that the Day-Glo blankets had left a fine coating of orange lint all over us.

To say that the trip subsequently picked up is putting it mildly: lovely country inns with apple-cheeked innkeepers, down comforters, and piping hot kippers. I also went on to further exploits: a pension in Rome reeking of roast peppers (but costing only 95 cents a night); a bed-and-breakfast in Rhodes reeking of garlic, stored in the bathroom (but costing only $5 a night). To say that I did all these things and that I lived to tell about them over chic candlelight dinners that I pay for with my American Express card is a sure sign of the vernal equinox.

Now if I can just get my parents to stop urging: ``Go ahead, darling. Tell us about the time you spent the night in jail.''

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