Londoners are really nice people. I mean, imploringly, exceedingly, almost obnoxiously, polite and affable people. Upon arriving in the city I popped off the tube at Oxford Circus and, as I’m want to do, started walking in the direction I thought I was supposed to go, confident I had it right, but after a few blocks had to pull out my map and scratch my head and look around for a street sign. A man approached and practically begged me to allow him to show me the proper way. “Please, may I show you how to go? Let me see your map. I’m sorry, just stand over here one second; I’ll get you on your way. Thank you so much for your patience. Here we are, yes, go back the way you came and then head to the left. Again, I apologize. It’s not far. You’re right there,” he instructed, pointing at the map with an expression of concern and perhaps self-blame. “No problem,” I told him. “Thanks a bunch.” The man smiled at me and doffed his cap – well, not really but that’s how I picture it now – and as I walked back towards the tube station I could see he was really pleased to be of service.
Finally back on track, I proceeded across Oxford Street with a crowd of other people (politely, of course) and then kept going pass a small traffic island only to suddenly stop because out of my periphery everyone else had stopped and that’s when a double-decker bus going the opposite direction passed just two lifesaving feet in front of me, a breeze tussling my hair like a kindly grandfather, actually, more like a backhanded slap from Iceberg Slim. I hadn’t seen it coming at all and if I was just a little more hair-brained, or swift-afoot, than I am that would have concluded the shortest sightseeing trip to London ever!
Then there’s the sign I saw on the way to the Andrew Bird concert. It read POLITE NOTICE: No Parking Here. I wondered if someone parked there if they change the sign the next day to STERN NOTICE: Seriously, No Parking Here, please.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. First I made it to my hotel room, showered, changed and headed out to get some food and beers. There’s one perfect way to always make yourself at home and that’s with a couple of cold beers. When I made it back to my hotel room with a couple of Stellas I was shocked and terribly saddened to discover that what I previously thought was a refrigerator was actually something called an electric trouser press. I don’t own any electric trousers so I had no need to press them and would have much preferred a cold storage for my libations. So be it, I’m in London, man!
Food side note: while out procuring my suds I indulged in my first European meal: a tuna fish and sweet corn sandwich, admirably assembled, and some crisps (chips).
I didn’t sleep much on the plane so the plan was to take a quick three-hour nap. (I guess I could have said a long three-hour nap and what would be the difference?) When I laid down in my bed I became concerned that perhaps my bed was a historical artifact and that there had been a mistake somewhere in time and through some egregious shipping snafu the item was misdirected here to room 23 of the Astor Court Hotel instead of the torture display at the Tower of London, for thus began quite a personal, and harrowing, week-long relationship with each and every spring in the mattress.
Amazingly, without an alarm clock or a wake-up call, (as the Astor Court Hotel and Torture Implements only gives wake-up calls in the morning) and being dead-dog tired, I still woke up in time to head out to the concert; but just barely, as I had about enough time to hop around on one foot trying to apply socks to my feet while simultaneously rummaging a hand through my hair in an attempt to levy it with something approximating a style before bursting out of my room like a madman and rushing for the tube.
Again, it would probably be wise to know where I was going before I head out in a strange city — but what’s the fun in that? I knew I was near the venue, but when I turned right on Uxbridge road and wound up across from a Westfield’s shopping center (a building that sadly would be perfectly at home in Sherman Oaks) I knew I was off-track. Luckily a bus map sorted it out for me and two minutes later I was buying a ticket from a tout (scalper) and entering the beautiful environs of Shepherd’s Bush Empire. It was an ornate theater with multiple seating levels packed full of rosy-cheeked, well-dressed Londoners. I found a decent place to stand after acquiring a Tuborg beer from the bar. I was a merrily contented man. Looking around, I even realized that most of the men at the show had just the sort of haphazard, cowlicked hairdo that presently graced my head, (I am a Woolsey after all) and feeling strangely at home I waited for the show to begin.
I love going to rock shows when traveling because no matter where in the world they are I know exactly what to do: drink beer, nod your head, and whistle at the end of a particular moving song. A new trick I picked up at my first London show was that, due to the tendency to acquire a ton of coins of various sizes throughout the day, you can slap your pockets to make an audible rattling sound should your hand be occupied by a frothy beverage resulting in an inability to clap. It’s not quite as boisterous as a good clap or catcall, but it does the job when you’re in a bind.
Let me just say this, Andrew Bird is perhaps the world’s greatest whistler, and maybe it was the second Tuborg talking but I chalked it up to the fact that his name is Bird after all and anything less would have probably been unseemly. It’s always nice, anyway, to see someone rock-out on the violin, a rare treat in my guitar-driven world. His classical background fit in nicely with my idea of London sophistication, a place where the public bathrooms are labeled Gents. (It’s my theory that they are assuming way to much from their populace, but so be it)
The show was a perfect adventure for my first night in town, he played all the songs I could have imagined wanting him to play, complete with an encore of that song where he sings “My Dewey-eyed Disney bride, what has tried/ swapping your blood with formaldehyde? Monsters.” You know that song. God, I love that song! Fake Palindromes, that’s its name! And I especially enjoyed it echoing in my noggin as I tramped through Shepherd’s Bush Green. (yes, I find the name slightly unsettling as well. There’s all sorts of sexual innuendos scattered through place names here. London might be the only town where a bar called The Cock doesn’t elicit howls of juvenile laughter but is quite serious in its title as evidence by the aristocratic rooster adorning its signage) After the show my fellow concertgoers and I herded ourselves, drunkenly and spiritedly, through the green and towards the tube. The wet grass underneath my feet, the sounds of lively London all around, I felt right then that life is a grand and exciting place of unlimited possibilities. Don’t let it pass you by!
That being said, I hate to admit that on the way back to my hotel room I passed up a bunch of interesting (well, at least interesting to me because they were foreign and I’ve never heard of them, although to London probably represent the drab, philistine side of life) take-away places by Shepherd’s Bush in order to head back to my neighborhood, which left me completely vulnerable to the, unfortunately, only open establishment around, a McDonald’s, and if that wasn’t bad enough they weren’t making new food but were kind enough to allow me to choose between the cold hamburgers they had remaining under the heating lamps. So my first diner in London was a double cheeseburger and fries from MickyD’s. Oh well, can’t win them all! Furthermore, I forgot to purchase a soda so I had to wash down my burger with the warm Stella Artois from before while watching an awful Jason Biggs movie on the telly. The combination is more than slightly nauseating.
Despite the culinary shortcomings (completely my own fault) it was a wonderful introductory day to jolly old England. I saw a show, rode the tube, slept on an authentically medieval mattress and, lest we forget, almost got obliterated by a double-decker bus. I’m checking off the boxes in a hurry!
But this, of course, is why I travel: to get lost, to discover new things, to stumble upon things, and over things, to escape your comfortably known existence; quite simply, to experience a different kind of life.