I left Miami in a daze, a fog of too much alcohol and too little sleep. As in New York, I brought with me a debt of six years of beautiful California weather - the rain and the bitter, cold wind. It would, of course, later follow me to Amsterdam, but I owe an apology to all Londoners for that first week. But still, it was a good feeling to leave the comfort of the States.
London made the list immediately for a few reasons. Of course, to get to know the city. I like to do that - just go to a city and feel it's pulse, slowly and steadily aquaint myself with its geography and people. Get a taste of life there and see how it agrees with me.
I also had every good intention when I started the trip to think about work and talk to companies on the way. As I got further along in the planning process it became clear that people from larger companies would be less than excited to talk with me if I had no particular idea when I would be interested in working - since I don't.
But if I'm honest, I really just wanted to come have a good time in a big city with my friend Chris.
Think of every cliche about time and how it just slips past us, since we met first on Ghost Rider, a full four years ago and change. At that time, I was working a brutal 'morning' shift in a different department, starting at four in the morning and ending at two in the afternoon or later (so I saw very little of anybody.) We both transitioned onto Spider-Man 3 a few months later, and I moved over to a swing shift that allowed me to see a little more daylight (though of course I still never left work.)
Around the same time, for a variety of reasons, I moved from funky, bohemian Venice to posh, old-money Santa Monica. Chris and I had had some limited interaction at work, but really barely knew one another. A few weeks after moving we ran into each other in the liquor store on the corner of my street. As it turned out, it was our street - he lived less than half a block away.
So then, I took the plane to the train to the tube to a pub, and then I was in London. Catching up on the last few weeks over a pint. London is a beer town - mixed drinks are expensive and weak. Well, everything is expensive, but beer is at least more reliable effective. It's a very different rhythm, people go out and drink very early and go home very early. At 6pm bars are overflowing and then empty by midnight.
Say what you will - the Brits make good use of their time. We saw one woman so drunk she tripped and broke the glass she was holding, then kept drinking out of it.
One drawback I didn't consider - when you're travelling for so long, there is no downtime, no recovery period. No boring tuesday nights when you make hot pockets, do some laundry and watch nonsensical Lost reruns. That first week in London I was so wrecked from Miami that trudging out in the cold and the rain was a tall order indeed. I did my touristic duty, though, visiting museums and Big Ben and Picadilly Square and Trafalgar Square.
One day I had so little motivation that I contacted some local couchsurfing people and just sat in a pub drinking all day and night. This is known to insiders as the 'Columbian incident.'
There were some low points. London is a working city, and very little goes on before sundown. I would have several days in a row where I wouldn't talk to anyone in the daylight hours. Wandering without aim in a city filled with purposeful people can make you feel ghostly, anonymous. I felt a little homesick, a little lonely, a little stupidly sorry for myself. I would wander into an internet cafe and write long, melancholic letters to friends at home.
I spent a lot, too much, time thinking about the chain of events that got me here, with no comfortable answers.
When I started getting frustrated at how down on myself I was being, I took a bus over to the British War Museum and walked through the exhibit about the holocaust. It didn’t exactly cheer me up, but, well, it did something.
But Chris and I found plenty of goofy shit to distract ourselves in the evenings. One night we took the tube out to a bar that was holding a 'pub quiz.' This was a staple of 10th Street Santa Monica life, 'bar trivia' at our local, grungy watering hole. Despite our general ineptitude at retaining random factoids from popular culture, we always did pretty good. This time, dead last by a mile. To be fair, we made it clear to everyone we were Americans, which was to excuse our complete ignorance of anything British and maybe our general stupidity. The last laugh was ours, though. We drank all the other teams under the table.
Chris, by the way, deserves a medal for letting me sleep on the floor of his room in the flat he shares in Islington for almost two weeks. I snore.
And so it went. But in a general kind of way, I didn't fall in love with London in the same way I did with New York nor did the novelty wear thin quickly like Miami. I was reminded in so many ways of Los Angeles, really - a frankly quite ugly city that offers everything in the world at your fingertips if you can spare the money and the patience. It's not a romantic city and as a tourist I found their historical narrative murky and perhaps a little inauthentic. Like, nice giant clock guys.
But after two weeks I knew. In the same way that Los Angeles and I are inextricably linked, I knew I would be back to London. For someone like me, it's an elephant in the room during any discussion about my business and my nebulous plans for the future. Much more so than anywhere else I've been or will go during this trip.
So, this unfinished story will end here.