Friday, April 4, 2008

Old Friends, Good Times

My last night in London was not what I had originally planned.  My girl had left a couple of nights earlier, leaving me in an empty hotel room waiting to go home.  "Low key" was the theme as my project wrapped up and I was going to have everything ready for my 11:30 am flight the next day.  This did not happen.

In one of those "small world" moments, I found out that my friend Jorge from middle school whom I haven't seen in around 10 years was in London for business as well.  Friday night was the only night he had free and the last night I was there, so we decided to meet up.  Someone had recommended he hit one restaurant above all others while in London.  Thankfully their suggestion was Wagamama, one of my favorite places to eat in the UK (why is Boston their only US location!?!?)  Sitting down to piping hot plates of Chicken Chilli Men, Wagamama Ramen and a large hot sake we began to catch up a decade's worth of life.

With my constant traveling while growing up and also professionally, it's difficult to keep friends for any long period of time.  The few I have history with I try my damndest to keep in touch.  Most periods of my life can be defined by the one or two good friends I had.  In middle school it was Jorge and Ben.  We were the three musketeers back then, but as growing up has a tendency of doing, everything changed when we hit high school.  We all went to separate places, found new friends and generally did a poor job of keeping in contact, which is to be expected at that age.  Throw in a change of geographic location and you have a recipe for lost ties.  Through the magic of the Internet and social networking sites, we've found each other 10 years later and as grown ass men. 

It was good seeing my buddy.  It gave me a sense of history that I rarely have.  Finding someone who knows me from an earlier time is difficult, but when I do it lets me look at a snapshot of who I was at one point.  Leading a gypsy lifestyle is exciting, but when it comes to roots its as they say "a rolling stone gathers no moss". 

The dinner was great (as per usual) and we migrated to a local pub.  We chatted some more, had our mandatory pints of Guinness and would have called it a night if it weren't for that last round.  As senor Jorge went to make beer into water, I ordered what was supposed to be our last drinks of the night.  At this point most of the patrons are quite sloshed, so I had to squeeze through drunken bastards to make it to the bar.  Once there I bump into an unusually friendly group.  One small Asian man with flamboyant tendencies and his two what appeared to be Indian lady friends.  We made the "ordering drinks" small talk.. how's your night going, yada yada yada, ok I got my beer bye.

I meandered to an unoccupied wall, leaned back and waited for Jorge to return.  When he did, alcohol was distributed and we began to enjoy our "last drink" of the night.  Many comments were exchanged regarding the soused clientele, jokes were enjoyed, things were wrapping up nicely.  Then the friendly group walks by on their way out.  As they do, mister flamboyant comes up to give me a high five like we're old drinking buddies.  He was amusing to say the least, so I accepted the high five and we all begin to chat.  Seems my earlier assessment wasn't entirely true.  Yes the little Asian dude was Asian and flamboyant but his compatriots were not Indian (dark skin and features tend to steer me that way).  One was from Australia (with a thick Crocodile Dundee accent) and the other was from Belize (fluent in Spanish).  They were headed to a nearby club, were on the guest list and wanted to know if we would join them.  They seemed cool so Jorge and I decided to tag along.  We chatted some more as we walked while the little dude acted like a hyperactive gerbil on speed, jumping from place to place, swinging on light posts and being as light in the loafers as he could.  We get to the club and find out their coolness wasn't as far reaching as they let on.  They were indeed on the guest list, but had no +1's to share.  The bouncer then told us there was a 20 quid cover charge.  We said "yeah right" and skeedadled.

What sucked was that we were originally winding down to go back to our hotels, then got all wound up again about hitting a club with false promises of free entry.  Taking matters into our own hands, we jump into a black cab demanding he take us to the nearest hot spot.  That's how we landed at Tiger Tiger.  The term "meat market" was specifically coined for places like this.  Banging music, massive bars, slammed with people.  We upgrade our Guinness' for Jack & Coke (me) and Gin & Seltzer (him).  The place was huge with three floors and lots of side rooms.  As an impartial observer it was an amazing example of human interaction, but for someone who has to navigate it for prey I can only imagine the obscene amounts of bullshit that need to be endured.

We navigated the labyrinth, swimming between music genres.  Some places sporting a good vibe and others reeking of desperation.  Thankfully due to England's smoking ban all reeking was metaphorical and not actual.  I thoroughly enjoy going out without the tobacco ass smell afterwards.  Eventually we get bored and hungry, making our exit into the busy streets of London.  Our immediate goal was to find a Kebab shop.  Many passersby were queried for their knowledge of local food vendors.  Many passersby were stinking drunk.  We changed tactics hitting up rickshaw drivers with slightly more success.  Since neither of us knew London very well there was a lot of wandering involved in our quest.  As time passed another immediate need became apparent, a toilet.  Every place we went to involved a ridiculous cover.  Finally we find a punk bar (no joke) and shuffle in for much needed relief.  Piercings, tattoos, liberty spikes, mohawks and great music filled this little hallway of a club.  Jorge scouted out the facilities while I acquired our next round.  Out of all the places we had been to that night, I found the freaks to be the most friendly.  Which is especially surprising if you take into account the fact that we were both dressed in business casual with long black coats which is about as square as you can be in one of these joints.  Bladders were quickly emptied and then refilled.  We say our goodbyes continuing the search for kebabs.  Through dumb luck we stumble upon a fine vendor of grilled meats.  Late night drinking munchies in the States are usually Denny's, IHOP, Waffle House, the occasional Jack in the Box or 24 hour Taco Bell, but in the UK it's the kebab shop.  There really is nothing else available, but thankfully they tend to be really really good.

We order our pita wrapped morsels, scarfing them down in record time.  At this point we realize not only is it much later than expected (2am-ish), but that we're not as young as we used to be.  The wave of tired hits us both squarely in the face.  Taxi's were hailed, directions mumbled and our festivities came to an end. 

All in all it was a great night with an old friend.  Moments like those don't happen often for me.  Hopefully we'll meet up again (possibly in the States) for another night of merriment.  If the stars are in alignment, sacrifices made and the groundhog hasn't see his shadow maybe Ben will make it out to join us too.  A three musketeers reunion would be a great thing indeed.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Man, I'm so glad you guys had such a fun time, although I wish I could have been there. Your description really brought it to life. I now know more about London nightlife and 2 a.m. hunger solutions :).

You write poignantly about friendships. We all kept in touch decently through ninth or tenth great, really better than we had a right to. After that, it was pretty sporadic. At one point, I was reduced to asking my Mom to ask your Mom how you were when they encountered each other at work!

I still have pictures of the last time the three of us got together. It was towards the end of Senior Year of high school. We all put on winter hats and sunglasses and made fake gang signs. There's also a great picture of you and Angelica. I forgot what we did, but seeing you guys meant a lot to me. I remember speeding towards your house in Jorge's car, talking about how we were going to surprise you.

Then you visited me one night at Tolbert Hall, which places it at freshman year of college. I remember being amazed that you were able to get through all the security doors, but you've always been cool like that.

And then, ten years... So, I hope a reunion does happen soon.