07 November 2012
My last time in England was so different than this time, that it feels like I was another person in a different country. I can’t even understand how much everything has changed and the fact that I’ve pretty much been living in a small Moroccan town where donkey’s are considered effective transportation for farm goods and hot water is considered a luxury means that in the past five years, the modern world’s many changes have really slipped by me until now.
Don’t get me wrong – we have smart phones and DSL in Morocco and I’ve been traveling enough to see things are changing but this is the first time I’ve been in a major, English speaking city for nearly five years and let me tell you – I feel like Rip Van Winkle (who, by the way, was not one of the twins who tried to found Facebook).
Suddenly, I’ve emerged into a world of electronic billboards and smart phone video editing where you can book a ‘Megabus’ ticket online using your cell and make your purchases using a chip in the same phone. Maybe I should tell you about the last time I was here. Just to give you an idea of how long ago – there were no cheap digital cameras and I had film. I could only afford three rolls while I was here and I have no idea what happened to the rest of my pics. Long gone in some used bookstore.
The year was 1998. Everyone was starting to talk about how the internet was going to change the world but as a morning radio show producer, the most I’d seen was that we could get the best jokes from across the country for our morning show before anyone else had heard them. The radio station sometimes let me use the station cell phones which were the size of my wife’s shoes.
I’d taken a break from radio and gone to Alaska where I got a job working on a film by one of my favorite directors, John Sayles. It was a great opportunity but as the midnight sun shone down on the land of raging alcoholism, I made the mistake of telling everyone what I really thought of them. I finished up the film with a wad of cash in my pocket but no offer to be on the next one.
I went back home to Bellingham, Washington and found that my Grandmother had died. She was Scottish and so I decided to take a trip to England and Scotland – even though it was October. Arriving in England, I met up with my friend Danny from the film (okay, actually he was the guy who started screwing the girl I was into and yet somehow we became friends anyway when he started screwing a girl someone else was into). Danny was a raging alcoholic too but had the benefit of coming from money so could support his drinking. Me? I was broke after about four days of London binge drinking and so I hitched out of London.
Along the road, an Irish Gypsy picked me up and offered me 20 GBP a day for busting up pavement driveways that he and his crew would then offer to replace for the English Middle Class. After four days of living in the Caravan Gypsy Camp, I made my escape and jumped trains up into Scotland where I proceeded to tie my Grandmother’s scarves around the necks of marble busts of famous Scots or the beautiful alabastar necks of Scottish lasses.
Back to London, drunk, nearly suicidal and completely broke and I called Danny whose mom happened to be a casting director and offered me a job as her assistant since I was an aspiring script writer and had worked with Dan in Alaska. This was where it got fun since at this point, Dan and I were running around doing what high rolling film people do in London – getting wasted on high powered stuff and having a blast with beautiful women and famous dudes.
So much of this is just a blur that it’s not fair to tell any of the stories, but suffice to say, you’ve heard of these people and you know what they look like and I can tell you, they know how to party. Unfortunately, I was always a bit of a terrible partier and the booze started to make me suicidal so between long walks around London, spending time in the museums, and doing my job – I began to get incredibly depressed. One morning I listened to two English guys who had just gotten wife-shoe size mobiles and were texting each other on a double-decker bus while comparing the sizes of their Thai bought gold chains (Yeah, if you’ve read Douchebags, Fags, and Hags – those guys were the genesis of Bob and Bing).
Eventually, and believe me, I’ve kicked myself for it again and again – I left what probably could have been a very nice career and instead went back to Washington where I founded a magazine that failed after a year and ended up working for a dot-com.
When I was here in London last – there were still the old double decker buses, the London Eye didn’t exist, cell phones were just starting to become mainstream, the internet was pretty well misunderstood, there was no Facebook, no Google, no WordPress, no Twitter, and no bloggers. London was the first place I came outside of North America and it was exotic and wonderful.
Today, it is still exotic and wonderful but that may be because I live in a place where I never smell bacon and can’t walk into a pub and drink a pint of beer without worrying what my breath will smell like later as I am jammed into a grand taxi with six other people.
My impressions of London, thus far are that it is the world’s largest and most impressive amusement park. The London Eye, the boat tours, the free museums, the exhibitions, the food, the restaurants, the gift shops, the wax museums, the Queen, the other English characters – it’s all really quite wonderful. It’s also expensive, but I’m happy to report that I’m not checking payphones for spare change as I was the last time I was here – which is very good because there are far less payphones and probably much less spare change in them.
As to my friend Dan – well, I can’t say I blame him for not getting back in touch with me. I dropped by his office and left one of my cards but he wasn’t in. I can imagine his thought is something along the lines of “Oh, shit, not that guy! I don’t want to be reminded of those days!” Although, I’m not sure he would have remembered me 15 days later, let alone 15 years.