There. I finally said it. For the record, out of the 25+ countries I have visited so far, I have only whole heartedly given the single-digit salute to “Seouless”, Korea (which I refer to as “The Land of the Morning Qualm”), and most of Honduras (the towns of Copan and Tela are exempt.) I consider Honduras the armpit of Central America (and note: I am a fan of Central America.) Now I offer my thin, long middle finger to London. Nevermind the gap! I now understand why the English flock daily to the Holy Pub and worship the Hops gods. The only way anyone could possibly cope with London life (without resorting to acts of violence), is drunk (or stoned); I speak from experience. When one is “pissed”, there are three standard outcomes: (1) the happy, goofy, tube-dancing, badly-singing drunk (like me!), (2) the disgruntled, “aggro” drunk (usually males from Essex, “City Boys” and the “Sloane Rangers”) or (3) vomiting-optional catatonic phase, or passed out anywhere (which is just about everybody else.) I encounter category 2 and 3 drunks EVERY day! And I am not talking about 2 AM on a Friday or Saturday night (like anywhere else in the world), but 8:00 pm on a school-night, every day of the week. I have already witnessed two alcohol-inspired fights on the trains (in which fellow witnesses/passengers watched with heightened interest, but said and did nothing.)
One night, a menacing drunk followed me too closely for my comfort, in which I used telepathy, in combination with my most stone-cold “Bring it on” stare: Dude, I know Tai Chi; I could meditate you to death. He decided to suddenly walk on the other side of the street. I will be honest: London is not working for me. I have been here a month now and my experience is not getting any better. Every new day adds more substantial evidence that London is grossly over-rated and over-priced, or as we say in America: London sucks. First of all, I do not think I will ever be able to reconcile with the weather (cold, wet, rainy, windy, wet, repeat cycle)—no wonder these people are visibly miserable (rarely smile—in public, at least) and chose to invade just about all the warm tropical nations! Thank Pele, they never discovered Hawaii! I do not think I will ever adapt (or want to adapt) to the Tokyo-esque pace of life here (without Japanese grace): running up and down escalators, pushing/shoving people in and out of lifts (where are the English manners you people boast about?!), running to catch a train (unless you are taking the Victoria Line—you may not have a train to catch at all!)
Green Park Station: A 30-something British woman jumps queue (just in front of me) in order to get into an already human-packed lift (elevator.) Simultaneously, I am shoved ungracefully from behind. This causes me to step, accidentally, on her foot. Queue-Jumping Woman screams (with a posh accent, I might add), “Ouch!” So I project in my clearest, booming Jack Nicholson-esque accent: “Well, if you hadn’t cut the queue that might not have happened!” No one on the lift would make eye contact with me the rest of the ride; they gave me wide berth to exit the lift. Good. One night, when the Victoria Line (underground route) closed early (not a surprise, but the norm, in fact), subsequently my train was “out” (out to dinner? Out where exactly? Were people out in the train as well?!), and then, when my “bus replacement” never arrived, well, I went autistic. I just short of hijacked another bus to Walthamstow, demanding the bus driver take me as close to Wood Street as possible. I handed the bus driver my lipstick as “fare replacement.” Bus Driver just let me on the bus, without a word (or fare)—smart man, he knows psychotic when he sees it. I resent having to pay first world costs for fourth world public transport systems—for the record, I pay an equivalent of $60 USD a week for this abuse! I do not think I have unrealistic expectations of London—this is not Nairobi, Mexico City or New Delhi. For example, when the sign says the shop will open at 9 AM; forgive me, but I expect the shop to open at 9 AM—not 10 AM. Basically, I am living in third world living conditions, but paying first world costs: I have to wait an hour for the water to heat up. And when the water does actually heat up, the banging pipes make the flat sound as if we are on a construction site. We use clotheslines and radiators to dry our clothes. And yes, I have had to use a chamber pot more than once. And the whole separate faucet taps thing is maddening: you either get ice cold water or skin-scalding lava. Perhaps, this is the root of all English psychoses: they have no concept, or experience, of warm? “English customer service”, “tube-etiquette”, “English manners”, yes, these are all oxymoron’s that have been well documented by me, and others. As a gift, I will save you my growing list of mundane annoyances, but I will share the incisive incident in which I lost my faith of ever adapting to London, much less liking this city.
The incident, which I will now refer to as “The Crack-Head Incident”, occurred in Brixton. I was raised in Washington DC, the Crack Capital of the Universe. Our infamous mayor, Marion Barry, got busted on film, smoking crack with a prostitute, during his term in office. Mayor Barry’s historic response to the DEA (our federal Drug Nazi’s) and local DC swat team: “Bitch set me up!” “Bitch set me up!” is now a household term, or catch-phrase, throughout the DC Metro area. Whether you are loosing backgammon to your grandmother, or receiving a parking ticket from a meter-maid, chances are, if you are from DC, you will respond: “Bitch set me up!” Please note: that despite the drug charges, Marion Barry was re-elected as mayor the next term. This would suggest, that we “Washingtonians” are not at all phased by crack. So to run into a crack-head in Brixton, is not anything shocking to me at all. This could be DC, New York or Soweto. Actually, I saw him coming, assessed he was “cracked-out of his skull,” well before he realized I was even standing there, with all my groceries. But I had nowhere to go. Basically, Crack Head smacked into me (either running from someone, or possibly the demon voices in his head), on a wet, cold street corner in Brixton. My newly (expensive) purchased groceries exploded into the street. I did not expect Crack Head to apologize, much less assist me in gathering my produce, but when I looked up and made eye contact with three Caucasian (assumable British) witnesses, standing not 3 feet from me, not one of them said a word, much less even started to help me pick up my groceries. They just stared at me, most likely thinking, “How horrible.” I looked around and everyone, of all races and ages, just stared at me. No one attempted to help me pick up my groceries. No one shouted at the Crack Head (which certainly in DC or New York, people would have spewed an unconscious stream of indignant obscenities at the Crack Head.) I looked at the white woman and said with a touch of venom, “Can I bother you to hand me my milk?” She obeyed wordlessly. The two blokes with her did not even blink at me, much less make a move to assist. I trust that if this same scenario occurred in an American city, or even in Jo’Burg, Guatemala City, or Bangkok, that witnesses would immediately assist me in picking up my groceries, at the very least.
Here, as I witnessed again and again, during drunken brawls and teen gangs taking over the buses: people say nothing, do nothing. And they call this behavior civilized? Is this what “polite” means? It brings to mind a quote from an Englishman, ironically, Edmund Burke: “Evil exists because good people do nothing.” I find it difficult to reconcile my affinity for British music, literature, art, and especially, humor, with how people (British and not) behave here on a daily basis. I do not see their admired humor on the tubes, or in their shops and restaurants. Most disconcerting, is that I do not see enough examples of their humanity. But not all is lost, just yesterday while walking to the Wood Street Train station, listening to the Stone Roses, two pre-teen girls walked towards me. One girl, of Middle Eastern descent, was wearing full Muslim girl gear (head-scarf and all) and the other, a white British gal, was dressed in trendy jeans and a sparkly shirt, wearing what looked like a rosary around her neck. They were giggling like all girls do. This suggests there is hope for London after all.
This is Kelly Patterson reporting from the Gap .