This time a bit more of a touristy type deal than a bedraggled zombie shuffle through the nightlife deal.
Starting off with Big Ben and Buckingham.
There’s still flowers on the bridge,
a little tension in the air.
Plenty of cops on patrol.
Big Ben towers overhead, always looks a little tilted in every photograph.
The palace itself is mobbed by travellers with selfie sticks
hoping to get a shot with the guard right as it changes.
We’re just on time to see a parade of fuzzy hats and bayonets go marching past
to the steady drum beat, striding with pride.
Next up, the National Gallery,
Rembrandts and Michaelangelos abound,
in hallowed halls, divine faces staring down at both the wide-eyed and the disinterested alike
with the same oil-on-canvas disdain.
Teenagers have to compete with arts students for a sliver of couch space.
One disappears into their iPhone, the other into her sketchbook
opting to bring back a piece of the Renaissance in pencil lines
instead of Instagram pixels.
Out in Trafalgar Square, breakdancers spar with political activist rallies
for audiences, dope beats mixing with the call
to stand up against racism and inequality.
Traffic is still difficult to reckon with
and pedestrians become sprinters at the drop of a hat.
Across the Thames, the Imperial War Museum stands tall with cannons poised outside
and a shard of the Berlin wall takes a solemn seat on the path up to the entrance.
While I’m inside, I learn that one of my great-grandfathers
was gassed during the Great War.
He carried a rattle in his lungs for the rest of his days.
Finally, the West End
Art Deco Restaurants that look like you’d easily find Noel Coward writing in a corner, brandy glass in hand, dissecting his fellow diners with knife-and-fork eyes.
Dinner service before The Play That Goes Wrong, where
everyone loses their collective shit.
“If you’ve eaten the raspberry ripple ice cream during the interval,
please seek medical help immediately.”
As the play falls to pieces (intentionally).
Enough of that.
On to Scotland.
Festooned Hen Parties barrelling down crowded sidewalks yowling after taxicabs.
ELBOWS UP! in the pubs if you want to get anywhere.
Blondes in dresses giving vicious side eye to the tourist at the bar who lingers a moment too long.
The tourist is me. Naturally.
Clusters of lads lads lads around a kebab kiosk on the street corner, smells of spices and charred meat wafting past.
All the sauces belong on the kebab, according to my sister.
Inside the pub, a Noel Gallagher lookalike in a pork pie hat is telling a tale with every inch of his body,
letting his gangly limbs flail like kites in a strong breeze before he doubles over a table, barely able to contain his mirth for his own joke.
His mates oblige.
Along the bridge, across the water. Yellow-vested police officers stroll in pairs, eyes up for troublemakers.
Everyone’s a troublemaker.
The bouncer at the second pub looks at me three times, says I’ve had too much.
Don’t feel like explaining that I’ve just flown in and that my exhaustion is all dressed up as a pint too many
so we go to a pub where the doorman isn’t as scrutinizing.
The bog is a swamp.
I’m immersed in new accents at every turn.
Prowling packs of young men with sharp haircuts and groomed skin roam in artisanal torn jeans and shoes stained with vomit from the bloke round the way that couldn’t hold his kebab.
The World’s End is a hard rock apocalyptica that seems to go on forever.
The Fruity lurks in the corner, batting its lashes at anyone with some spare pounds in their pockets.
Above the clamour and din, figures in housecoats smoke on their window ledges, watching the river of people below and letting their ashes drift like spring pollen.
The steady rattle of the train is punctuated by a PSSSHTCLK!
as the man behind me starts his day off with a Lucky Lager.
There’s maybe four other souls in the car aside from me, one’s a snail
with his world on his back, pine-freshly returned
from a tour tree-planting, hallowed earth still carried
under his fingertips as he sips his large double-double,
shifts the weight of his backpack bundle sideways
and squint through the cracks in his cellphone to try and tell
what his buddy meant.
One has nails clicking like talons across tile as she
finesses ferocious missives on a Macbook,
readying a full clip fo emails to fire off the second
she’s back in WiFi. Her hair’s pulled back
tighter than tuned piano strings, her rainjacket so precision-engineered
both bullets and raindroplets would roll right off it, she looks ready
to conquer a mountain because she has to conquer one every damn day,
and god help you if you don’t leave space for her flag at the summit.
One catches ten minutes of rest, leaning against the glass
as the views of the mountains become crowded out by condos.
He was halfway into the second chapter about macroeconomics
when his 2AM texting blitz with the girl from the library
finally caught up with him, so he gives himself ten
against the windowpane, assuming his body will automatically
jolt back to full power once he’s close enough to campus
to smell the heady blend of anxiety and optimism.
And the last is the man behind me,
grinning sideways at the grey skies and the skeletal outlines of new Brentwood towers
as the station lumbers into view. He tucks the emptied can out of sight
under his seat, pulls his headphones from a bulging coat pocket
and lets whatever music he has at the ready carry him on
out of the station, out of sight, hands gently thrumming
drum solos on the seat in front of him, both serene and enlivened
before the sun even had time to get its slippers on.
The surface is as clear and smooth as glass.
This lasts until a lone vacationer on a seadoo revs his engines and cuts an azure line across the water, from west to east.
I get buzzed by a pair of hummingbirds as I take my morning coffee on the back porch, watching the water stand perfectly still and the more ambitious residents take their dogs out for walks before 9AM.
If you walk to the waters, take the longest dock to the very edge, you see clouds of minnows darting, flowing, hiding among the reeds.
When I was younger, I’d use butterfly nets to try and catch them.
I’m really not sure what for. They didn’t taste good in the slightest.
My father’s never caught a fish at this lake in sixteen years.
I’ve never gone out fishing with him here either, I was
usually too busy with comic books and teenage sulking,
never really took an interest.
The first time we went out, as he was teaching me the finer points of casting out,
he flung the five-of-diamonds lure idly off the side of the boat and was
about to start elaborating on how fast you should reel in,
when a three-pound jackfish abruptly became
more gullible than usual.
He barely looked like a meal, so my father and I
threw him back in, assuming lightning would naturally strike twice.
We spent the rest of the week pulling in nothing but seaweed
and nobody believed us (we didn’t bring the camera.)
But we knew.
That said, the size of the fish grows by about a pound each time
the story gets retold around the campfire, over Coors and cocktails and
The baritones of the CKUA radio hosts slinks
through the walls, rumbling about thunderstorms
and community events
and abbreviated national news,
the glut of details left to clickbait articles
and in-depth analysis nobody out here
has any use for.
Slowly, your eyes stop searching
for the refresh button
and the iPhone chimes are buried
under birdsong, tall shoreline reeds
played by offshore breezes
and the hundredth retelling of
your favourite ghost story.
“This one time, while I was in the woods…”
Kinda fell off again there awhile.
I’ve a few months worth of distance from my trip now, which wipes away some of the gloss and the fog and adds a nice layer of perspective; still wouldn’t trade it all for anything. I definitely wouldn’t want to live in New York, but damn if I don’t want to get my work there in the near future.
The rest of the trip after the Day One recovery was split between museums, galleries, endless walking around Brooklyn and Downtown, more than a few instances of nearly getting lost, a passerby politely offering to sell me coke in the Village after a night of live jazz (and holy fuck the jazz!), conversations with total strangers in a cinema bar, and Hamilton.
There’s still nothing I can really say about Hamilton. They have all the words on that stage. I have none. I didn’t mob the theatre doors after the show angling for an autograph, but I did manage to snag an extra copy of the program, which I mailed to my grandfather, who’d always wanted a bonafide piece of New York city. Well, now you do.
After making the trek back, I stumbled right into the final rehearsals for my own show. Smaller black-box theatre, small cast, beautiful folks. Our run came and went and it felt good to be back in the thick of things. Cut to several months later and the summer is riding high, new projects are cooking along on all burners and I’m about ready to shuffle off from the city again for awhile. Instead of heading back to the grimy glorious heart of America, however, I’m aiming straight for the middle of nowhere, where I’ll have the time and the opportunity to stare out across an empty expanse of stick-thin trees and open gravel roads without hearing a single damn siren unless someone’s fireworks show gets really out of hand.
More to follow. Coffee now.
The Fox and the Crepes, mere steps from my temporary lodgings. Pictured: Lifesaving coffee. Not pictured: Lifesaving crepes.
Off the plane by a little after 7AM, bleary eyed stumbling through JFK, onto a waiting train to a waiting train to a wrong train to a right train to Brooklyn, where my host whisks me away to brunch almost as soon as my bags hit the floor. We’re diving back down into the metro and I completely lose track of where we are until we resurface and suddenly we’re in the guts of Chinatown, wandering past slabs of fresh fish on ice and noodle houses by the dozen. We walk until we find the intended restaurant is backed up out the door, his Toronto friends that have joined us recommend a nearby taco shop and before long I’m putting away banana-leaf-wrapped flank steak tacos and tall cups of coffee and staggering back to catch three extra hours of sleep before the evenings adventures begin. When they do, we’re navigating a construction-wracked warren of train transfers until we arrive at the Harlem apartment of one of my hosts classmates. It’s an exposed-brick sixth floor artist’s nest with books and scripts scattered across almost every available surface, the walls lined with hand drawn portraits of famous dead men (her “harem,” with King Charles, Kafka and Aaron Burr among her favourites.) Everyone there is sociable and welcoming, the conversation ranging wildly from the historical (did you know Aaron Burr tried to declare himself Emperor of Mexico?) to the bizarre (toilet paper versus paper towels, the ultimate showdown.) By the time the wine bottles are emptied and the guacamole consumed it’s nearing one AM, and the various train delays and long stretches spent wandering the platform waiting for an errant F train to materialize drag the journey out until it’s well after 3:30 in the morning by the time I stagger back and hit the couch like an astronaut suddenly becoming very reacquainted with gravity.
First impressions? I like it. I like it a hell of a lot.
More to follow once I get some coffee in me.
The Cheesecake Factory is full to bursting, ravenous young diners sparking cigarettes outside or huddling into seats in the waiting area as they pore over menus and down cocktails, killing time until their hockey-puck pager starts rattling like a fault line dwelling and they get a proper table. The place was recommended to me by the late-teen cell phone jockey who set up my phone with Stateside service for the duration of my visit, but I suspect I only would have managed a few bites there if I’d arrived on an earlier bus. Maybe yesterday’s. Instead I wander the streets for a short span until the Daily Grill stretches out on the street corner, and that’s where I’m writing this while I tuck back a Dark and Stormy and wait for the chefs to throw together a chicken pot pie.
Washington State is beautiful, as far as I’ve seen from the Greyhound bus windows that have been my main viewpoint for the lion’s share of the afternoon. Halfway to Seattle, we passed through the town where my mother spend most of her youth, and she commented that the West Coast must simply be in our blood, through and through. I couldn’t disagree; between the tiny towns lining the highway after the border crossing, I was fixed upon the scenery so much I almost forgot to watch the new Sorkin film I’d made sure to download for the trip (Good, but the Social Network still reigns supreme.)
The alcohol is starting to works it’s wonderful magic now as the stresses I was feeling earlier today begin to dissipate like a morning mist getting burnt off before noon. I woke up with a belly full of fire and my heart in my throat like it was ready to stay there, an obstinate occupier, for the rest of the week. I’ve been getting better at managing my neuroses, though not enough to avoid doubling back to check to see if I’d locked the door behind me after I’d left (I had).
When they bring me the chicken pot pie I ordered, the damn thing is bigger than my face.
Welcome to America.