Sunday, January 20, 2008

Escaping: getting out of London

View from the Tate Modern: People were evacuating. I didn't know that. I thought it was just cool to watch all of the people down below. Then I was told to evacuate.

Up and away. After three days in London, I’m headed home. I’m perched in row 12, mindful of my business class position as I stretch out to nearly horizontal bliss. Somehow, I have a terrible pinch in my neck which seems to be causing far more discomfort than the comforts I receive by sitting in my seat. Every time I lean forward or shift or prop my head up, I am fighting such severe pain, I am aware of my body’s newest limitations. Every seat adjustment, each time I try the tools designed to make the business class traveler more comfortable, I am more cognizant of this sharpness.

The three days were supposed to be a last posture against the overwhelming stress that seems to consume me. With luxury accommodations, museums and shopping, surrounded by London’s masterpiece architecture and throngs of culturally upbeat theatre-goers, the trip was to refresh me. I would be joined by a friend visiting from Paris. Together we would explore the Soane Museum, return to the Tate Modern and wind our way past the dinosaur bone casts and giant plastic whale in the Natural History Museum. We would peruse the shops along Kings Road, Fullham Street, and join the throngs of deal-seekers filing under the awnings on Portobello Road. Later we would carefully select a pub and kick back a couple of pints. I would seek out new places to shop, like undiscovered Hammersmith.

Everything I would do in London was actually done. It was not enthralling. It was a getaway. But the cold British with their odd interactions, the rush of traffic past Hyde Park, conversations overheard, and unreasonable prices make London exactly what it was to me. Quick getaways can make us appreciate our own hometowns, our own lives, and even our own stressors.

I liked London, as a city, on this trip. I had never really cared for it much in the past. I saw beautiful neighborhoods and interesting shopping districts. Manicured parks and circles looked inviting, but were gated to prevent entry from common passersby. The diversity is curious, with Africans in colorful folds, Indians in saris, the Chinese in Western wear, and pale English people -- fat and thin – with the empty expressions that are the trademark of the British.

Before and after: I sucked down a very rich hot chocolate at Paul, the French chain patisserie, in London.

Outspoken bigots. Being in another land, riding a different subway, listening to new voices, seeing prices in pounds. That’s what a quick jaunt to London should be. But I also heard much of the same and saw much of the same. Yesterday when I ducked into a local chicken shoppe, I quietly ate my chips, peeking up at the posters on the yellow walls. In wandered a Black man, with an accent suggesting he may have come from the Caribbean or Africa. He wandered table to table, asking to bum a fag and some pence. After he’d left the immediate area, the woman seated near the window turned to address the two of us who has been approached by the man. She was stout with a black top hat and a red-and-white striped scarf.

“Those people really should be removed. They emigrate over and simply beg. He’s not worked a day in his life. He spends it in front of the shop, doesn’t contribute to our society at all.” She smirked. “I know they make immigrants sign a form that says they won’t be on the dole, but these people just come and become indigents.”

I looked at her for a moment and returned to the chips, trying to dip them in what was left of my ketchup. She continued to talk, but the other person in the room listened to her and served as her sounding board. Her accent was one of those that sound like clips of English. I’d probably call it Eliza Doolittle, but I don’t know one bad British accent from another. I just heard lots of words. “Oh yeah, they certainly do.” “Never a day in his life.” “Lazy, they all are.” “Used to be a better neighborhood.”

It was a conversation that easily could take place anywhere in the US. I could hear it in Mississippi about the local Blacks, or in Michigan about the Mexicans. But you don’t usually hear it between female strangers in the presence of others. At least, not in 2008.

Americans don’t have a reputation for being the quietest and most polite citizens. But after hearing the boasting and loud shouts and the general lack of civility in London, I feel a lot better about Americans. Americans with their slight smiles and pleasant “Have a nice day.”

Being upsold. This morning, when I left my hotel, I waited for a hotel-marketed Hoppa bus. A shuttle that runs between Heathrow-area hotels and the airport terminals. Passengers must buy a £4 ticket. When I inquired about the next bus at the hotel, the first person told me it would arrive in a few seconds. The second told me it would come in two minutes. The bus came 15 minutes later. All the while I watched the free public buses passing by every two or three minutes in the direction I was heading.

I had taken one of those free public buses the night before. The ride from the airport took about five minutes and the bus had dropped me just a block from the hotel. Now I was wasting my time because they had sold me a ticket for an inferior service. I could have taken bus Route 140 again and skipped the Hotel Hoppa. Don’t listen to the people at hotels.

Louise Bourgeois' spider under gloomy London skies: I 've seen this in a few other cities.

Protecting us from terrorists. This morning, I arrived at Heathrow and headed toward the security lines. I was stopped by one of Heathrow’s 4,000 employees who have menial security jobs. I was told to put my suitcase into one of the metal cages to see if I could take it on the plane. This is a suitcase I’ve carried on at least 500 separate planes. It fits in the overhead bin, front window to aisle, minimizing the amount of space taken up in the bin. When the woman at the airport set it on top of the cage, it didn’t slide right in. I took at and pushed it in. I showed her it fit and she said, "OK.” Then I tried to remove it and it wouldn’t come out. I picked up the giant stand attached to the cage and turned it over to shake out the suitcase. Suddenly four of these employees surrounded me telling I had purposely jammed it in there. One employee helped me remove it and then told me I would have to check my bag. I told him I would absolutely not check my bag, I would take out more stuff so it would fit in the cage and then I would put the stuff back into my suitcase.

I did exactly that. In a huff. And I left London.

No comments:

About Me | Contact Me | 2007 Joey Goldman