March 26, 2009

London Is Calling … But Only Till Midnight

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Last Saturday, I touched down in London-Town with my eyes wide, my hopes high and my fake British accent well-rehearsed and ready to go. I turned my back on the more obvious, tropical, MTV-sponsored locales for the first time and packed my bags for a sun- and body shot-free zone. Just hours into my journey, high above the Atlantic, I was certain I’d made the right choice. Although I admit this may have had something to do with the combination of sitting next to an empty seat on the plane and/or the Valium my lovely mom slipped in my carry-on, my excitement prevailed and after seven pleasant air-borne hours I approached the friendly-looking immigration officer with a skip in my step and a smile.
Officer: “Passport?” … Why of course, sir.
Officer: “Address where you’ll be staying?” … Uh …
Me: “I’m actually meeting a friend (Whatup R!) at the tube station (‘tube’ is fancy British terminology for ‘subway’) near her dorm … I don’t know the exact …”
Officer: “Excuse me? You don’t know the address where you’re staying?”
Me, matter-o-factly: “Well I know it’s a Kings College dorm …”
Officer: “Oh really? (Seething sarcasm.) Well that narrows it down to perhaps a thousand places.”
Maybe five.
“You have absolutely no respect for Britain, do you?”
“Showing up here without an address.” Scoffing: “No respect at all.”
Super-confident-history-buff-imaginary-alter-ego-me: “Excuse me? Disrespect, you say? I guess that whole taxation without representation thing must’ve slipped your mind, huh pal?”
I slay myself.
Now-quivering-real-me: “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I needed …”
Self-Important-Douchebag: “Can I see your return ticket?”
Still-quivering-real-me: “Well you see, I uh [stammering] … I … umm …”
S.I.D: “Unbelievable.”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
It was.
“Do you know what would happen if I showed up in the States all willy-nilly with no address and no return ticket?”
I promised myself I wouldn’t cry.
“I should send you back to where you came from.”
Me: “Well, if I can’t stay here can I at least go to Mexico instead?”
Tears filled my eyes as I walked away, broken and jaded, my enthusiasm a distant memory. Stupid London. Did you know they call soccer “football?” Or that they only intermittently pluralize their plural nouns? Or that my cell phone doesn’t work there? (I suspect that last one is new information to most.) Sullen, I navigated multiple tube lines and stations until at last, an hour and a half later, I arrived at Borough, where everyone’s trusty friend R was to meet me and guide me to her dorm, the mysterious spot whose elusive location almost got me deported.
But things soon began to look up. Mere moments after my arrival, R, me and my dearest old friend B were back on the tube and on our way to Fabric, where I happily discovered the following:
1. You’re not supposed to tip bartenders. Sick.
2. It’s actually more acceptable to dance like a crazy raving lunatic than a skank-ass-ho.
But was later disappointed to learn …
3. The tube shuts down around midnight
4. Bacon is basically served raw. Think pig sashimi.
So that morning I went to sleep with the score dead even. With the jury still out on the whole “London: Good or Bad?” quandary, I resolved to keep an open mind: I’d forget about my run-in with border patrol, suck it up and pay for cabs and remember to order my bacon extra well-done.
And forget/suck/remember I damn well did. For the next eight days I put on my best British-fancy-face and did it up big, as they say, and along the way I discovered everything you probably already knew about London, but was hoping I’d tell you anyway. And because I have no profound or collective thoughts, I’ve made a list of the things I enjoyed and dis-enjoyed for you to enjoy:
Things I Did Not Like:
1. Feeling guilty about not caring about monuments/sightseeing
2. The tube shuts down around midnight (this I never entirely got over)
3. And forgetting that pounds are not the same as dollars.
Things I Did Like:
1. The culture of acceptable day-drinking
2. Top Shop
3. Chain restaurants meant to look like they aren’t chain restaurants
4. A preponderance of markets
5. The lovely weather*
6. Fancy accents
7. Mad sandwiches
And because this is an “arts” column …
8. Tate Modern Museum
*Here I should probably note that every day I spent in London was sunny and 60 degrees. R has since told me that after I left, BBC News announced that due to my departure, thunderstorms and tornadoes were likely, as London was terribly sad to see me go. But believe what you want.
So despite its shortcomings, London proved to be a lovely, fancy, sandwich-full city, and what it lacked in opportunities to tan it more than made up for in opportunities to get drunk enough to forget where you are all together anyway. So fuck immigration officers, fuck cabs, London’s cool, I’m out.