Saturday, November 27, 2004

Many Lands, One People

I consider myself to be somewhat well traveled, I have been to every state but one (My product line has no clients in Alaska); I've done business in every one of Canada's southern tier provinces; I've been to Mexico, though admittedly, that was only for dinner and I was only "South of the Border, Down Mexico Way" for about two hours' time.

Now, here in the UK, I am once again reminded that despite our differences, we are all the same.

I was in the process of writing my daily missive while riding the Hampton Court line into London. It had started out as a screed on how everything seems so alien here, probably brought-on by the continuing overcast and drizzle, but my mood (and the subject of this entry) changed five minutes ago in Wimbledon.

I'm getting fairly adept at getting around with the Hampton Court Line and the London Underground becoming old hat. The English seem to be a rather staid people, no surprises, nothing to gossip about. Nothing out of the ordinary ever happens; it is a very “nothing to see here…” type of place. So when the doors opened at Wimbledon and two boys exploded onto the train, gasping for breath among uncontrolled fits of laughter, it was something to take note of. I have no idea what it was that they found so funny, all I could gather from their few coherent words was that it had something to do with a teleportation cupboard being on the rumpus such that they had to run to get to the train on time.

Their conversation from that point roved the open range from each accusing the other of being loud and obnoxious, to whether the guy sitting across the aisle playing with his PDA (that would be me) was going to successfully ignore them or would get up and move if they got any more rowdy, to the theory that they were the only real people on the train and l that the rest of us were made of wax. This last theory based on the fact that they are the only people talking loud enough to be heard by the entire car.

I am fairly certain, that they have no idea that I am actually not ignoring them; far from it. I am enjoying their youthful exuberance and living this moment through their eyes. They remind me of my brother Charles and me when we were that age.

I am reminded of two events, both of them when I was their age or younger. The first concerns a game that Charles and I would play when confronted with the prospect of an unsupervised moment. Such moments often occurred when mom had to pop into the store for a thing or two and didn't want to have to deal with our shenanigans while she was in the store. At such times, she would admonish us to "behave!" Please note that there was no modifier to the imperative, so even if (and I'll use one of mom's terms here) we behaved "like wild indians," we would be fulfilling her request. At times like this, we'd pass the time by guessing the stories of the people coming out of the store.

"That woman is a school teacher." One of us would say.

"That man is a bank robber." The other would opine.

The "guessing" would get wilder and the game would get louder the longer it took mom to get back. The game reached its ultimate moment, however, the day my brother discovered a way to "win" it.

On that particular day, mom was in the store for a very long time when Charles, suddenly and without warning, yelled "Oh, my God! That man's a freak!" just as a man was leaving the store. But that didn't win him the game. He won because as he yelled it, he ducked down into the foot well of the seat he was in so that he could not be seen. The man looked directly at the car and, being the only one in it as far as he could see, he assumed that I had been the person yelling. He gave me a stern look and shook a finger at me. Charles dissolved into fits of laughter and, eventually, so did I… I’ll admit it, it was funny. This became a normal part of the game from then on. To this day hearing or saying that phrase brings a chuckle to my throat. Just thinking about it makes me smile.

The other incident of which these two remind me is the time when we were about their age, that Charles and I were allowed to take the bus alone down to the theatre to see a movie. I cannot remember what we saw or where we went, I can only remember that Charles had decided to get a handful of chocolate chips to enjoy at the movie and rather than putting them in a bag or in his pocket or anything sensible like that, he held them in his hand. By the time the bus had come he was loosing them out the cracks between his fingers because they had become liquid in the Florida heat. He kept trying to “share” them with me and with the other passengers and would offer to show them to anyone who wanted to see them. As if they were not sloppy enough, he kept kneading them in his closed fist so that they were thoroughly soupy. As I recall it, the people on the bus acted toward the two of us in much the same way that my fellow passengers and I are reacting to these two. Who by the way have happily changed to a subject that the rest of the passengers, though still outwardly ignoring them may at least be able to follow.

They are talking about the “upended table” we are about to pass. I noticed it the first time that I took the train into London. If this is not the power plant that appears (with a giant flying pig) on the cover of the Pink Floyd album, Animals then at the very least it looks just like it. And yes, it does look like someone has taken a sturdy oak table and laid it top down with the legs sticking up in the air, now that someone comes to mention it.

The guys have gotten philosophical on me. One of them has spotted a cup of coffee on the next train in the station (Clapham Junction – England’s busiest train station – or so the sign proclaims.) it was just an abandoned cup of coffee (though how they knew it was coffee in that paper cup and not tea I do not know) sitting on a table in an empty compartment. They waxed philosophic about how the cup of coffee must feel about being abandoned. On impulse I feel like leaning over and offering the opinion that it is a rather well-to-do beverage that has hired the entire compartment to itself for the trip to London because it is on holiday. It’ll be staying at a coffee house in the West End. (Hey! It could happen!) But I suppress the urge. This is their story; I let it play itself out. The eventually decide that the coffee was ordered before the train reached the station and the steward brought it after the ordering passenger got off the train and it will not be missed until they clean the train.

Okay, so, final check on the guys. As we are approaching the terminus of the trip: for the last five minutes (since we passed “the table”) the one sitting next to the window has been pointing at obvious land marks out the window and screaming “Look MI5!” (Or, “Look, an apartment block!” or “Look, another train.” or whatever happens to have caught his attention.)

To which the other invariably responds “Where? I can’t see it.” Just as loudly.

This last time, the one by the window “spots” The London Eye and points it out to his friend who in great consternation exclaims – what else? – that he cannot see it. The one by the window keeps pointing it out. Apparently this is their destination. By chance, he grabs his friend’s head and points it in the right direction. When the friend still cannot see it, he (the one by the window) cranes his neck to see what his friend can (or cannot) see and realizes that the wall is, in fact, obscuring his friend’s view and until we make the final turn into the station he would not be able to see it without leaning into his space.

I hope the guys have a great weekend. I hope you do too! Have a great day!
Don Bergquist – Waterloo Station, London, United Kingdom – 27 November, 2004

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