On the train to Waterloo, a newspaper on my lap, unread, choosing instead to watch the world flip by outside the train’s windows. I arrive at Waterloo Station, exit down concrete stairs and take my first steps onto historic London ground, careful to look right before left when crossing the street (since cars drive on the opposite side of the road here). My breath catches, this very real London town unveiling itself to me like a maiden with a million admirers.
The Thames runs its course as I walk against its watery grain on the South Bank. Scaling upwards in front of me is the London Eye, were tourists ride the large ferris wheel and children laugh and run around, sometimes speaking in British accents- which makes me laugh, I don’t know why, their tiny voices with those tiny accents so very innocent- as the older men and women take out their cameras and snap pictures of their children at play, oblivious to me as I walk by with my scarf wrapped tightly around my American neck.
It’s quite cold outside, and the skies are grey, but I prefer it that way, the drizzly weather more suitable for my London journey than California sunshine. I have been warned that this type of grey will grow uncomfortably drab the more I linger in London, but I disagree, the way it wraps itself around the buildings and cold Thames water like a suitable arrangement I might hang in a window at Christmas, or from my bed on nights when my racing mind needs to chill itself.
Across the Thames, the Houses of Parliament building and Big Ben linger in grey skies like misty sentinels. A thousand paces or so across the Westminster Bridge has me in front of them, looking up in serious awe, and the bell rings, and I am so thankful for this, the way the chime runs all over my tourist body, the jagged peaks of the Parliament building and the ringing of Ben authenticating my experience as I continue along toward Westminster Abbey. I choose to pass the abbey without going inside; all the lines to get in seem to drown its beauty a bit, make it more like a plaything for adults who must caudal their overwhelming desire to throttle the people at the front of the line while cutting their way into the abbey with multi-cultural obscenities roaring.
I turn onto Downing St. and pass statues of famous Britons and the home of the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, which is guarded heavily by men wielding guns, before fumbling my way into St. James’ Park, where thousands of people mill about on the grainy dirt path or near the water or near trees which hang leafless, their spindly branches jutting out in all directions like the trees themselves have stuck their London limbs into outlets and have been electrocuted rigid. I feel a sense of remorse, thinking how beautiful it would be to have this park to myself, quite possibly during the night, when all the tourists have laid their heads to rest, so I could breathe in the mists and run under lamplight and over the expansive grasses until my lungs were exhausted and my childhood love of climbing on trees and hiding behind bushes could melt into a joyful tiredness.
The end of St. James’ Park deposits me near Buckingham Palace. I walk on The Mall, which is painted red, careful to dip and dive past loads of teachers trying to tame their schoolchildren- the boys too busy playing grab-ass with the girls and the girls too busy staring into makeup mirrors to hear their teachers’ pleas or to recognize the importance of their surroundings- as I approach the palace. I think more than once how great it would be to have my parents here, looking at this structure, and how my mother would be clamoring to catch a glimpse of the Queen. I have my photo taken with Buckingham Palace in the background; this will have to suffice, for now, so I can show my mother that, indeed, I tried searching for the Queen in her stead.
A rather lengthy walk back up The Mall has me in the heart of Trafalgar Square, looking up into the grey sky at Nelson’s Monument. I climb up its steps and share a cigarette with a friend at the top, having taken up the habit in this moment for memory’s sake. Looking around, I notice a gang of tourists are busy eating McDonald’s food. How funny, how seriously sad. I feel like the presence of hamburgers and fries dulls the aura of this historic place, and part of me wants to slap the food from all their faces, maybe yell some curses like an American madman and run away before they can react. Instead, I have a few photos taken of me and end up walking along Hungerford Bridge, which straddles The Thames, and catch an old-school double-decker bus back to Waterloo Station.
By this point my feet are tired from all the walking, and my mind is in a frenzy with things I want to write, so I take the train back to Barnes, deposit my belongings in my suitcase and stretch out on the bed for a much needed rest.
A few hours later, I walk into the Trafalgar pub in Chelsea and settle into a nice wooden table near the entrance so I can watch all the cars passing on Kings Road. Candlelight illumines my computer as I type into the night, enjoying the suds of local English brews and listening to all the accents that make me smile. The clatter and clamor of sounds is different here than in Los Angeles, and I am again reminded why I left the West Coast and California so I could fly, uninhibited, to this beautifully brilliant London town.
I take another sip of my beer and say , Thanks, London, for this fantastic day.
See you in the morning…