Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Strange Days

Here I sit in a hotel room in London that is so small that I am struggling with claustrophobia. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that I have been in larger elevators. Any money that I have saved the company by staying in these digs have been more than compensated by the copious volumes of beer that I have consumed this evening. In the aftermath, as I eat a few wasabi covered peanuts purchased at a neighborhood convenience store, I will begin to regale you, dear reader, with my day's endeavors.

I awoke on this "beginningly-dismal" day when Julian awoke. While I cannot recall my latest pean to his wonderful humanity, this brief missive must suffice. He awoke before six AM, at which point I was required to assume his care. Despite admonitions to the contrary from my wife, I secretly hoped he would resort to his typical patterns, and fall asleep in my arms. He did not.

Lise had the brilliant idea to phone a taxi well in advance of any thoughts I might have had for making such sane preparations. Unfortunately, the dispatcher indicated that there was a poor reliability factor involved with spiriting me to the airport at such hour, so Lise graciously volunteered to shuttle me to the airport. I arrived with incredibly excessive time, as it took a mere five minutes to reach the gate, for I was checking nothing. That is not to say that the dutious security specialist was not remiss in securing my miniscule quantity of toothpaste as a potential weapon of mass destruction, but alas, I knew the risks of smuggling such contraband on an international flight, even if it only was to the UK.

I arrive in fine form, dressed nattily in my black suit, with a striped shirt, and a red tie that annoyed my wife. Yes, it was a "power tie," well-chosen and well-suited for its chosen purpose. My flight was uneventful, and I had a full row to myself. I easily found my pick up person at Heathrow, which is no mean feat, even on a slow day-- for it is by most arguments the worst thought-out airport since mesoproterozoic times. He was both younger and more pleasant in demeanor that I had expected based on prior assumptions from previous phone contacts. We ate lunch in a rather tony London suburb--- in a noisy Italian cafe. Conversation was a bit difficult, considering our mutual language barrier.

Following our lunch, I separated from my gracious host, and headed toward Paddington station. It is really the only part of London I can even pretend to know about. It is quite possible I do not appear as a hackneyed tourist there (in Bayswater). I had a meeting at Chelsea Harbor in a few hours, and thought I might check in prior. I could not have been more misguided in my assumptions, as there were extraordinary delays on the tube. At every stop the conductor recommended that everyone "detrain." As I was near my expected stop, I largely ignored such admonitions, only to be exposed to a 20 minute delay. Unbeknownst to be, I was to suffer considerable anxiety waiting underground "in the middle of nowhere" in the London tubes. It took minimal motivation for me to depart at my expected transfer. My bladder was most appreciative of a nearby Starbucks, that served both espresso in actual porceline cups, as well as free public urinary facilities for the pay-toilet impaired. On my return venture to the tube, I secured some cash bearing the Queen's likeness.

I declined the uncertain opportunity that the tube presented, rather opting for the adventure of taking a London taxi. I quickly secured refuge in a proper cab, and shortly arrived at my destination, a mere £5 poorer for the effort. Upon arriving, well early due to the change in plans stemming from the train problems, I settled into the hotel restaurant, whereupon all sensibilities were assaulted by the live filming of the British TV show "Top Model." My lofty allusions as to the heights of aesthetic and intellectual prowess of the models were quickly and summarily obliterated. That does not mean that my sublime visage is not visible should you chance upon the broadcast of this highly entertaining debacle. As an aside, I had no clue that the show was so heavily scripted. They ran multiple takes of even the most mundane reactions. I took a phone camera photo that I many eventually publish for your confirmation.

Following my afternoon meeting, I took a taxi to the hotel, whereby I was greeted by two east-European immigrants with identical vowel-deficient names. When I finally opened the door, I realized what a marketing boon a fisheye lens was, as my habitute was only slightly larger than my bed. I wish not to dwell upon such unpleasantness, so I headed out to eat. I chanced upon an Italian restaurant with the full intention of ordering a pizza. A solo diner nearby was eating pizza, and I quickly reconsidered and opted for sea food. The highly Runyonesque waiter highly recommended the sea bass. I took it in. As I waited an indeterminate time, the woman eating the pizza summoned the waiter to inquire about the oven temperature used to bake the pizza, characterizing it as the best pizza she had ever eaten. Initially I was plagued with doubts, since I had initially considered it, but opted for sea food assuming the pizza was excessively cheeseladen. I still ended up with a bit of food envy.

When my sea bass arrived, I was filled with both regret and deja vu--- as it was fully dressed, codeword for "entire fish, skin, head, eyes--- everything". Last sea bass I ordered was in Manchester. It all came back to my like a very bad check from a very close relative. At least I had some clue as to how to eat it, as all eyes were on me. I managed quite well, leaving nothing but the spine and the head. It was worth the effort, although I must admit: the vegetable truly stole the show. You are at liberty to take that comment any way you desire.

Following dinner I chanced upon a pub, where I ordered the most foul excuse for beer that I have ever encountered--- a "blanc" beer that tasted nothing like beer. As if to atone for my sin, I over-compensated by my consumption of Fosters--- always a safe bet. I encountered some crazed British political author who provided interesting conversation, even if his politics were a bit right of mine. Somehow I found my way home.

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