My mind was flooded. Unable maintain all the information Mike Masters was feeding me, I grew wary, then dizzy, my vision blurring trying to navigate his directions on Google Maps. The data overload fried my circuits, and the harder I tried to concentrate, the faster he talked, my condition worsening with each additional landmark mentioned.
“Ok, so you are here, Trafalgar Square.” Right. Trafalgar Square, got it. “Go North a few blocks, and you’ll be at Piccadilly Circus. Go there…” But why would I want to go to the circus?
“Go back the other way, and you’ll be at BBBBBBBB…” …I’m waiting… “BBBBBuckingham Palace,” he finally said, emphasis on “Bucking” for some reason. That must be the place with the guards in the goofy hats…
“Go across the bridge, and you’ll see the Eye of London. An eye, like the one in Lord of the Rings? Wait a minute!
“Across the river is Big Ben.” …Who’s Uncle Ben, and how do you know I’m going to see him? “Keep going, though. You’ll pass a couple bridges. First, there’s the Millennium Bridge, like the one in Harry Potter.” Harry Potter? Who cares about that dingus? “Then, there’s the Tower Bridge, not to be confused with the London Bridge.” London Bridge? I thought that thing fell down years ago??? “Cross it, then go to the Tower of London…” Hold on, which one do I go to? Tower Bridge or London Tower?
“…You have got to see the Crown Jewels…” See the family jewels, check… “And while you’re over there, go ahead and check out St. Paul’s cathedral.” …Saint Turkey—who? “Oh, then there’s the clubs!” I hope he’s not talking about that Playboy Club he was going on about earlier…
“Oh, you’re going to London?” said another Mike. This one was bigger, scarier, and has been known to give me a creepy look or two in the past. “Go check out Harrods. Fanciest department store you’ll ever go to, and the Toy section; biggest and best anywhere.” Now I have to go to a toy store? “Also, they have the most upscale food court you’ll ever see at a mall… And make way for the Queensguard! They don’t mess around. They can’t even drink alcohol…” No alcohol???
My legs began to numb. My head spun. Each word spoken from a Mike fell into obscurity. How in the world will I do all of this in one day?
…I wouldn’t. I would have a night and a day. There was still a chance, and the moment I checked into my hotel at the grandiose Trafalgar Square, across the street from the massive courtyard standing at the helm of the National Gallery, I’d waste no time.
I followed the pink signs off the Knightsbridge underground station. “Winter Wonderland” they said, with an arrow pointing in the direction of darkness. Some would call me foolish, putting blind faith in such an arbitrary sign. Yet, through the eternal dimensions of black space, bright, neon lights could be spotted, if only ever so slightly. It glittered through each breath that precipitated under the moonlit twilight; lights shrouded in mystery, begging for discovery. I crossed the street with the light as my guide. It was where I needed to go. It must be…
It was a lonely walk along the dirt path, silence being my only companion. One side sat a long pond that wrapped around a few acres of grassy fields and scattered trees. The others side was just that, an endless plain of grass and flora, though it was hard to tell exactly what lay beyond the darkness. I kept my conscience occupied with Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” playing inside my head, resounding the closer I made my way to the source, anticipating a crescendoed climax the moment I reached my destination. In time, civilization would seem to rejoin me in my quest, for a group of hooligans sharing some naughty British slang snuck up on me. They looked to be some Ben Woodward lookin’ chaps, greasy, long hair, lanky stature, spider fingers, all smoking their cigs and holding their lovers. They didn’t bother me, nor did I bother them. All of us seemed to be looking for the same thing. So, we journeyed further into the park…
Yes… I was in Hyde Park.
A large plot of carnival rides stood before me, lighting up the night sky with music, laughter, and excitement. This is what I had come to see, an electric super show, erected in desolation. I reveled in its magnificence as it tempted me inside. As captivating as it was, I could not stay. Another destination called my name, and time was of the essence.
It wasn’t hard to spot Harrods, the enormous castle of a department store that the Mikes talked so highly of, only a brisk skip away from Hyde Park. It lit up like a Christmas tree; t’was the season after all.
The inside was just as glamorous as the outside. Layered in elegance, each floor was home to a maze of showcases; scents and perfumes, men’s and women’s clothing, home and décor, appliances, Christmas decorations, and the ever so anticipated toy section, each segment connecting to another with just as much style and curiosity as the one before it. It reminded me of IKEA in ways, minus the frustration (PS: I HATE IKEA).
Proper, orthodox, and classy, Harrods was everything I’d imagined it to be, as was London.
First stop was the clothing section, drawing me in like a woman from the better side of the West Virginia border. So profound, profuse—profligate… Louis Vuitton, Versace, Prada, Gucci and more… all names I had recognized, thanks again to the lyrical selections of Kanye West. Section after section, I was tempted with a suit or similar garment from one of these merchants, affording me the opportunity to match the genteel fashion sense of London’s natives and set me apart from those back in the motherland. Only the lack of room in my suitcase prevented such a purchase, and having already been asked for directions on the streets (the charade given away once my American accent was noticed), I could assume my appearance was satisfactory, at least for the weekend.
Then… I saw them.
They were the most stunning pair of shoes I’d ever laid eyes on. Just the thought of me strutting around Idaho with these beauties gave me chills. Mike Gibson’s face would boil with rage. Ben Woodward would follow me around like a sick puppy, clinging to the faux fur lining. Bill would of course give me his classic scoff, acting disgusted, but only to conceal his pending jealousy. And Josh Ulrich… why, he couldn’t even muster the words for a proper insult, nor an erudite Instagram post, too frozen awe to speak.
“Excuse me sir, how much for the shoes?” I asked. The question was unnecessary; there was no doubt they’d be mine. At this point, I could pretty much feel them clinging onto my feet, a confidence I had not felt since the first time I set eyes on the Yeezy Boosts. It was only a matter of time—
“That would be six hundred and seventy-five pounds sir.”
“675 pounds? Well, shucks. My budget was 500,” I told him. I thanked him for his time and settled for a stuffed Christmas pooch at the Toy Store for 15 pounds. It was either that or the ball point pen for 7.
It’s too bad he wasn’t willing to negotiate. I was serious. I would’ve bought them for 500, though apparently, according to the credit card company, 500 pounds isn’t the same as 500 dollars (still arguing, but don’t worry, pretty sure I’m going to win this one).
I made my way towards the exit, finding the food court on the ground level. With a full-service steakhouse, oyster bar, whiskey bar, and an artisan dessert shop in the middle, the Mikes were correct; it was the fanciest food court in town. Easily ready to spend 25 pounds plus on a fish and chips basket with a fine brew, I took an open seat next to the bar. Unfortunately, it was too late, as I was quickly shoed along. 9:00 PM was far past this bartender’s bedtime.
I found refuge near what Masters referred to as “The Piccadilly Circus.” Though quite an interesting place of commerce and innovation, it didn’t have much to do with the actual circus. They do know how to do up Christmas however.
“Shake Shack…” I whispered softly, as if the words naturally echoed out into obscurity, drawn to its neon sign. “Shake Shack… Shake Shack… Shake Shack…” I had to give it a try.
Turns out, British burgers are about as good as the American counterparts. If not… better. Proud to make that my first meal in the UK, no anarchy needed.
The night was young, and I’d have loved to stay out longer, but partying wasn’t an option—not on this night. A big day was ahead of me. So, I headed back to the hotel lobby and settled for an old fashioned, a fancy one at that (the bartender took 5 minutes to make it!).
“So where are you from?” asked the Bartender, who was a foreigner from Milan (the “city of fashion”) himself.
“Do you know where Washington State is,” I asked, just so he didn’t confuse it with Washington, DC.
“Oh C’mon!” he snapped back with slight offense. Apparently, many Brits are familiar with Washington State, for I received the same reaction with the same exact words by others when the same question was asked. Nothing to get too worked up over. I actually found it a bit flattering that so many in the UK were familiar with the homeland!
Back in the room, I settled the night with a few scenes from American motion picture classic, “Total Recall” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Hmm… they have pretty good taste in cinema too,” I thought to myself before fading into a slumber.
Rise and shine. A run around the bridges and a hearty breakfast with a cup of tea, and I was off to take the Mike Masters tour.
Anybody ever watch that movie, “Get Out”???
Saw Buckingham Palace. Looked like a nice place, except those dudes in the goofy hats wouldn’t let me in. Much feistier than they look in the movies.
And it turns out, Uncle Ben’s was kind of a bust…
Here’s where the London Eye’s supposed to be, except all I saw was a stinkin’ Ferris Wheel.
The Tower Bridge. Didn’t see any London Bridge, so I think I was right. It did fall down a long, long time ago.
The Tower of London, just an old castle. This is where the Family Jewels are. It cost me 28 pounds just to see them though, and they wouldn’t even let me take any pictures!
You could however take pictures of some of their guns and armor and stuff.
Speaking of Family Jewels, this guy kept his well protected! Heheh.
And finally, St. Turkey’s Cathedral. Man, did they have a killer organ in there! I stood in humility as the organist laid down a long string of heavy Castlevania riffs, the eyes of St. Turkey and his friend Paul donning, urging me to confess my sins! I left an hour later, purified, ready to face the world with a clean slate. It’s only a matter of time, however before I make my return, the adulterations of the mortal world too much for one soul to handle. Until then, St. Turkey’s got my back.
I managed to find a pub or two before the night was over. Though not much for Cask Pub Beer, their fish and chips were decent enough to keep me satisfied. Once again, I retreated back to the hotel a little early for my nightly slumber. After a full day to touring and running, I was pooped, and had a plane to catch tomorrow!
Though proud of myself for nearly completing the Mike Masters’ challenge in its entirely, there was still more to be seen. Not just in London, but in England all together. I want to go back and hang out in the old pubs built in 1200 AD and watch a soccer game or two, maybe hang out in the old villages and farms a little bit. Something seems so quaint and wholesome with the whole experience. And what about Scotland? I am part Scottish after all, and St. Turkey’s got nothing on St. Andrews. You think having a church is cool? St. Andrews has an entire golf course!
And with such elegance and prestige, it’s hard to believe they pissed us off so hard back in the 1700’s, not to mention the beef William Wallace had with em’. But I’m good with the Brits. They treated me well, and all that war and fighting crap was a long time ago. Forgive and forget, that’s my motto.
So don’t worry London. Like our buddy Arnold used to say, “I’ll be back.”