End of the Line
Monday was my last day in London -- and also my day to take the bus to Covent Garden and buy tea. Not to mention, do the interview that was the reason I went to England in the first place. Boss had sorted me out -- the No. 94 bus on Bayswater Road goes to Piccadilly Circus and ends there, so I just paid my 1.20 pounds and rode to "all transfer." I could've gotten off one or two stops sooner, actually, but that's OK. It was a short walk through Piccadilly Circus -- where there are no elephants, clowns, or other Barnum & Bailey-type characters, as it is a whole different kinda circus -- to Covent Garden, to Neal Street where The Tea House is.
As I was looking for the number on the street, a pretty young black man asked me how long I was going to be in London. He had flyers of some sort and was eager to give me one. "I'm leaving tomorrow," I said. "Why?" he asked flirtatiously, although, to quote The Crying Game, I don't think I was his type. "Well, I've been here two weeks," I replied, then asked him where was the tea house? Of course it was right behind me, one door down. I do not know how I could've missed it. I mean, look at it:
A rather eye-catching display. Inside, the narrow shop was very tall and multi-leveled, crowded with wooden shelves and tables holding tea and various accessories -- strainers, pots, cups, saucers. Totally overwhelming. I asked the guy behind the counter for help, then selected some of what he offered. Got some weird South African red herbal tea with vanilla for one friend. And a big bag of Earl Grey for me. Some smashing loose black tea for the Divine Ms. M. And then I was about tea'd out.
After all that tea-shopping, I was hungry. Around the corner was a Marks & Spencer, which is a chain department store, but it has a giant prepared-foods section, like a super-deluxe 7-Eleven. I got a chicken/bacon/avocado sandwich, prawn-flavored crisps, some juice, and some water. On my way back to the bus stop I passed a souvenir stand and bought my younger sister a tiny, adorable stuffed bear wearing a blue fleece "London" hoodie, with a UK flag on the sole of one foot. Awwwwww!
It was a bit of a challenge to find the 94 bus going back ... mainly because at first I realized I was on the wrong side of the road, then I had to hike a while on the right side to find an open stop for the proper line. But on the return I sat on the top deck at the very front, which was kewl. I took a groovy picture of the tops of all the red buses seeming to mesh together along Oxford Street. Hope it comes out.
Felt proud of myself for getting off at the right stop (could've gone one more ... oh, well), and even better when a woman asked me for info, and I knew the answer.
Hung around the hotel for a while, prepped the interview some more. Took a cab to the band's place to interview one of the members -- the other was not available due to some personal problem or other. It cost me 20 pounds, but I just could not deal with the tube. Despite our mutual exhaustion -- she jet-lagged, me just plain tired -- the conversation went well. She was smart and interesting. I think the story will come out good.
Made it back to Le Dump in a minicab (much cheaper at 13 pounds), driven by a man about Mick's age who, upon learning that I am a rock critic, proceeded to good-naturedly harangue me about how he never understood rock music and much preferred classical. Even as a young man. He had a whole riff about the Beatles that was actually pretty funny. And he urged me to go buy the recordings of ... uh, something? Maybe Bach? ... that he found the be-all end-all of music. Which is sort of funny, since a lot of people feel the same about the Beatles. He was a very nice man, quite educated, and he reminded me of someone. Later I realized: Ian McKellen could've played him in a movie. Although I dunno why they would make a movie of the guy's life ... but you never know. Eh, he probably saw The Lord of the Rings as populist claptrap too. Heh.
Cabbed it over to Boss's around 8. He was cooking for Tony after Tony's first day at his new job, supervising a home for deaf persons with disabilities. Each of whom uses a different kind of sign language. Dinner was beef stew and peppery dumplings, with tender li'l potatoes and delicious stir-fried green beans. Ice cream for dessert. I drank Spanish gin. We smoked hash. Played music (Stones, Johnny Cash...) until the first half of the Scorsese Dylan doc, No Direction Home, came on TV. Which I watched with increasing fascination. Can't wait to see the other half.
Then it was time for goodbye, as I still had to pack and get up early to catch my flight back to L.A. It was only a minute in the hallway, not enough time to convey my deep appreciation for all of Boss's hospitality, kindness, fun, and general good-eggness. At the end of this very intense trek through the wilderness (including Glasgow) was this surprising bit of home-ishness -- an old mate of my mate Mick's. Who could not have been a nicer person. It was good to have that kind of anchor ... I have already noted that I didn't even wanna do touristy things by then. Being able to hang with Boss and Tony was oddly perfect.
My minicab driver on the trip back was the only driver of either mini or black cab I had over the three days who ... didn't exactly make me nervous, but definitely wasn't a poster boy for London tourism. He seemed surly and angry, so I did not try to converse with him too much. But I did learn that the young man was Afghani, very furious about what America had done to his country, and angry that he was stuck in London at a job he obviously hated, because somebody had to support his extended family. Even though he longed to be back there, despite how awful it was. All I could do was say, "Dude, I'm with ya" (translated into more appropriate English) and tip him well. My politeness seemed to soften him somewhat, but I was glad when the ride was over.
I didn't sleep well nor long. This morning (oy, only this morning? it seems a million years ago) I checked out -- they wouldn't give me a receipt because I "booked through a travel agent" ... and did I mention that the housekeepers went into my room despite my "do not disturb" sign, and then just took all the dirty towels and refolded them as though they were clean? Even the ones on the grungy floor? Well, they did. Le-fucking-Dump. But to be fair they didn't charge me for the Internet time (on the lobby computer) even though it was supposed to be an added fee.
Rashly decided to walk to Paddington Station, which was totally insane. Soon reconsidered and tried to flag a black cab. One went zooming by. Then another did the same, but stopped and backed up. I said I needed to go to Paddington Station. The driver, I swear, looked like Austin Powers and even sounded like him: "Sorry, darling, I got a paid job," he said brightly, regretfully. I must've looked ready to cry (because I was), or so I thought, because then he said, "Tell you what, it's on the way; I'll take you to the station and then get the job." I thanked him profusely and hauled my stuff into the back of the cab. Black cabs are brilliant, BTW. They always look the same, and you always know what you are getting.
Anyway, the cabbie asked if I was going to Heathrow, and I said yes, on the express. So he said he'd drop me 'round at the best entrance, the side, so I would not have to walk as far. I could have kissed him. I tipped well instead.
I am sure it was a practiced routine, but the guy really did me a solid. As I was getting out of the cab amid the driver's well wishes for a safe trip, a man ran up to the vehicle. "Sorry, sir, I got a paid job," said my knight in shining armor. "I was just doing the lady a favor ... tell you what, where you going?" I didn't catch what the man said, but it must've been too far out of his way for the cabbie to squeeze it in, because he gave the man his regrets and sped off. Still, I wondered how many times a day the cabbie used that bit. Good riff. Anyway, he saved my life and made some jack. I can't complain.
True enough, the walk was short, and I snagged a seat on the express just a few minutes before it took off. I stared at London rolling by and tried to think of it as farewell. I was pretty burnt but felt good. More like myself, somewhat educated. And very glad to be heading home.