(New York City) – Common petty thugs, banding together to form a violence gang, highlighted Micah Laaker’s visit to London, the "Foot-and-Mouth Capital of the World."
Kickstarting the 2001 leg of the Laaker.com World Tour, Mr. Laaker and the charming Ms. Carrie Patton visited the birthplace of colonial imperialism for 4.5 days this past week. To record the memories for posterity, Mr. Laaker has released his travelogue of their journey. The text follows below:
Day One (03/22/2001)
Our outbound British Airways flight was eventful only for the impressive feat of my falling asleep on the runway and not awaking until our descent upon Heathrow Airport the next morn. Our arrival at the Hertz car rental counter was sadly not as uneventful, as British Airways had apparently not filed the correct paperwork for our rental. An hour-and-a-half later, after chatting with a limousine driver bemoaning the ravaging foot-and-mouth disease and its effects on the English countryside, we were on our way southwesterly towards Salisbury.
Several roadside naps later, we were still on our way to the Salisbury Cathedral. A giant helicopter gunship circled above our car and the roadway for a period of time, causing minimal excitement and interest. We soon arrived at the cathedral and began walking the grounds, the sanctuary, and the Charter House (wherein one of four copies of the Magna Carta is "housed").
Having already displeased our innkeeper for announcing our late arrival later that evening via phone call, we made our way northwards towards the afore-warned closed Stonehenge. Due to the accursed foot-and-mouth disease, all rural attractions (minus cathedrals and Charter Houses) were inaccessible to tourists; and so we sped our uncontaminated feet by the stone monoliths at 40 m.p.h., marvelling at the small stature of the stones.
We arrived in London around 8:30p.m. to meet our paranoid hotel manager. We were ushered up to our room which overlooked Argyle Square Park and a series of early morning construction assignments. Upon examining the bathroom, we were both excited to find a temperamental toilet that had yet to learn the art of disposing. I was also saddened by the regular appearance and texture of English toilet paper, as my Irish and Icelandic journeys had opened my eyes to a new world of T.P. shapes.
After being scolded for attempting to stay out late by the front desk attendant, we walked the incredibly grimy streets of the King's Cross area, surprised at the profusion of litter and wild-eyed loiterers. More surprising, however, was the curfew on pubs and restaurants. Relegated to a lone, closing Chinese buffet, dinner was far from pleasant, I returned home with a wrenching stomach- and head-ache.
Day Two (03/23/2001)
A heavy dosing of NyQuil and melatonin eased sleep the night before, and 9:00a.m. started a full day of Londonese adventuring. Breakfast was acquired at the internationally ever-present McDonald's, in celebration of the opening of their new Golden Arch Hotel in nearby Switzerland. Showing a rogue streak, this Mickey D's broke with American conventions of 35 possible sizes and prices for Value Meals, instead offering one price for all value meals, regardless of sandwich or nugget choices.
Shocked by such daring and the lackluster smatterings of ice in their Cokes, we walked to the British Library. Inside was my bookworm dream-come-true: a collection of virtually every printed document. Darting from the philatelic collection spanning 200 years of stamp collecting worldwide to the four-story, glass-enclosed King George III library to an Armenian art exhibit and then on to a display room showcasing Shakespeare's first folio, a Gutenberg original Bible, and a Lindisfairne illuminated manuscript, I was in a state of bliss...
...not to mention the usual state of hunger. We soon crossed the library plaza to a pub across the street. Language barriers soon flared, though, as the bartender struggled to understand my seemingly simple request.
MR. LAAKER: "Hi there. I'd like a Guinness Steak Pie and a Tuna Melt."
BARTENDER: "Two Guinness pies?"
ML: "No, no. One Guinness Steak Pie and one Tuna Melt."
B: "OK, one Guinness pie."
ML: "...and one Tuna Melt."
B: "A wha'?"
ML: "Look. Here, on the menu. A 'Tuna Cheese Melt.' I want one of those, too."
B: "Ohhhhhhh, a Tune Cheese Melt. Gotcha."
Matters got more complicated when asking for the drinks.
ML: "I'd also like a Guinness, and do you have Harps?"
B: "Na', we don' have Harps."
ML: "Do you have anything like it?"
B: "Hmmm... maybe a bitter beer? We got English bitter beer?"
ML: "Nah, I don't think Carrie'd like a bitter beer. How about a Stella (Artois)?"
ML: "No. Stella."
ML: "Stella. This one."
After pointing to the Stella tap, I assumed matters were under control. Briefly looking back at Ms. Patton to make the international "wacko" guesture, I returned to see the bartender pouring a Guinness and... a Carlsberg.
ML: "Sir, I said Stella. This one. The one that says 'Stella.'"
A nasty look later, and a mumbling about stupid Americans, the bartender passed a Guinness and a Stella to the famished and now agitated me. Lunch was begun soon after, and next up was a casual stroll through Green Park. At the edge of the park were gates commemorating something about Canada, and, beyond them, Buckingham Palace in all its unimaginative dullness. Apparently, America's founding fathers drew plans for the equally unimpressive White House after seeing the monarch's palace centuries ago. (Ed. - Mr. Laaker is well aware that the "Founding Fathers" did not physically draw plans for a presidential manor in a city that was not even yet conceived as the nation's capital.)
After several attempts at understanding their location, we made our way along Bird Cage Walk towards Parliament and Big Ben. Both were surprisingly more attractive than photographs had pictured. As Westminster Abbey was next door, a tour of the hallowed sanctuary was in order. As was the case at Salisbury and Ireland, tour guides and tourists alike rubbed their hands over the marble effigies to kings, queens, earls, and knights from times afore. The prissy, elitist American "Do Not Touch" signs were very rarely seen at the Abbey and most other museums.
After the Abbey came a walk along the Embankment: a walkway along the northwestern edge of the River Thames. A brief tour through an adjoining park dropped us upon Cleopatra's Needle (an Egyptian obelisk surrounded by forged sphinxes, ravaged from WWII bombs). London never being a town to disappoint expectations, we endured nonstop rain most of the day, and dawdling at the memorial was avoided.
We proceeded to walk up through Covent Garden and stopped for a bit in Trafalgar Square to see a symphonic concert in St. Marten-on-the-Fields chapel. Weary from a walking extravaganza, we collapsed in the pews to witness a performance of selected Beethoven works by candlelight. After the calming performance, we ventured to Thai Square for dinner. The pain of my incredibly spicy meal was somewhat offset by the remarkably calming sounds of "Take Me Home, Country Roads" as performed by Thai musicians. (Ed. - Mr. Laaker assumes the band was fired shortly after his departure.)
The evening ended dramatically as Carrie muscled her way through the Underground's turnstile into the waiting attention of the subway police. A quick, tourist explanation about using the wrong subway card allowed us on our merry way, and I was quick to begin the beratement for such acts of civil disobedience.
Day Three (03/24/2001)
Day Two proved rather eventful, so Day Three began much later than Day Two; thus, we were greeted by the snide quips of the innkeeper on our way out the door. Not letting "that old bag" ruin our day, we headed down to Russell Square for lunch. At the subway terminal, I again jokingly reminded Carrie to use her correct ticket so that we wouldn't be delayed. The joke turned on me, though, as I used the wrong ticket and was directed to the attendants for an explanation. Carrie was quick to begin the beratement for such acts of irony.
Thankfully, language posed no problem during ordering, and the bartender guessed that we were from the northern U.S. Asked how he could tell, he replied, "Cause you're not rude like those Southerners..."
True to my inherently polite nature, I thanked him, and we finished our lunch. We then journeyed to the British Museum, wherein the riches of antiquity, plundered from numerous countries, lay before us. We saw the Elgin marbles and a plentiful supply of mummies and sarcophagi. In the center of the museum was the remodeled Millennium Reading Room: a circular, domed library residing in the courtyard. The room's plush chairs allowed a moment's relaxation, and we were soon off to experience the splendor of phenomenally large Assyrian gates and gateways.
We made our way towards the Marble Arch, which seemed nothing more than just a marble arch in a hard-to-reach park square. Seeing a subway stop not 20 yards away, we spent 20 minutes trying to get access to the stop via various misleading and lengthy tunnels. The subway whisked us down to Leicester Square, and we were off to relax our weary feet in the Odeon Cinema theatre, boasting a part of Europe's largest cinemaplex chain. Entering the theatre quickly illustrated, however, that the size of the chain had no bearing on the size of the theatre. We watched critically-acclaimed "Quills" on the "big screen," a 5' by 3' board that humbled Kansas City's Seville and New York's Cinema East theatres with its unacceptable moviegoer experience.
As the movie ended around 10:30 p.m., we headed back to the King's Cross area, only to find every pub and establishment in the neighboring 12 block area closed. We walked back to our hotel, tears streaming down our faces, upset over the lies Hollywood had painted of London's swinging nightlife.
Tears soon vanished as a bedtime surprise injected the excitement the draconian curfew had before prevented. In the street below our hotel room, a wandering pack of teens began arguing and fighting. Ten minutes after the shouting started, violence spilled onto a parked car, as the "gang" began hopping upon and smashing the windows of the car. The bashing lasted six minutes at which point a girl passing by shouted for the group to cease their vandalous ways to the horror of her accompanying gentleman friend. The mob and its shoutings swarmed off the car and towards the couple.
Escalating matters further, one of the teens in the mob pushed the girl, who then began to yell even louder at the group. The gang then swarmed on its member who had pushed the girl, and the shouting quickly turned to apologies. The girl seemingly accepted the apology, as she and her boyfriend joined the group as it walked around the park for another 20 minutes, occasionally smashing bottles and yelling at others.
To celebrate the lack of law and order in the area, the group returned for one last stomping and smashing of the victimized car before traipsing off to another neighborhood. Thus concluded Day Three.
Day Four (03/25/2001)
Arising in time for a rather unappealing breakfast at the hotel, Carrie and I soon after made our way to the Temple district. Now home to the legal profession, Temple was originally the enclave of the Knights Templar. We attended service at the Temple Church, originally the Templar's chapel, where several of the knights were buried.
We proceeded towards the City, where we paused for a potentially Mad Cow disease-tainted lunch. Ignoring the possible horrors ahead from such a disease, we headed to the Tower of London, a sort of medieval-style Decapitation Disneyland. We walked the halls of the Bloody Tower, the castle, and the display room of the Crown Jewels, all the while enjoying the sights of little children touching and tugging on ancient artifacts of war in the various weaponry museums.
After an ice cream break, we headed down to the waterfront to examine the British Airways London Eye: a monolithic Ferris wheel that affords a view of the entire town. The Eye also afforded a three hour wait, so we proceeded down to County Hall to marvel at the cityscape before it. Ducking into an arcade to catch our bearings, we plotted our course to the South Bank for dinner at recommended restaurant "fish!" We spent the next 45 minutes ducking through seedy alleyways trying to find our destination.
Upon arrival, we were informed that there was no more fish at the restaurant. We were directed back to County Hall, where indeed a sister store still had fish to serve. We wined and dined and then waited for an hour for our waitress to return.
Dave Five (03/26/2001)
We awoke in time to check out of the illustrious Howard Winchester Hotel and made our way to the Tate Gallery of Modern Art. From the museum, we saw the laughingstock Millennium Bridge and decided to cross it before heading back to pick up our luggage. Unfortunately, the bridge was closed, due to its inability to stop vibrating when two or more people walk across it.
Thus, we crossed a regular bridge, passing Shakespeare's Globe theatre, and began our journey back home. With luggage in hand, we arrived at Heathrow early, and refamiliarized our stomachs at Arbuckle's American Cafe. We were soon on our way back to New York; and seven hours and three viewings of "Meet the Parents" later, we were home.
Home: where a fellow world traveller, who had apparently been imbibing himself the entire trip, began stumbling and tumbling through the crowd before falling over at Customs. Home: where someone forgot to place the foot-and-mouth disinfectant strip across our path. And so we, newly learned cosmopolitan kids, re-entered the country, spreading disease and death with our every footstep...
Photos from the London tour are available online at Mr. Laaker’s Shutterfly gallery.