A travel writing piece I did while in London. Our assignment was to go for a hundred meter walk and write about it...
When he first got to the city I warned him about the pace everyone kept. "Londoners are always in a hurry. Taxis and buses are on a mission, they will not slow down for you. Pedestrians will over take you, walk through you." But he still walks slowly, even crossing the streets, which makes me fear for his life. Seeing my exasperated face he simply said, "What's the rush? We can't see anything if we rush." But I had become accustomed to the London rush, it felt unnatural to walk slow. But he is right, if we only focused on our destination we would miss out on the journey. So we head towards Kensington Gardens.
Normally, back home, I wouldn’t go out on a day like this. Rainy, murky days are excuses to stay inside. We must avoid the weather and the mud. Where I come from there’s a lot of mud. But London has no mud and the puddles are minimal despite the continuous fall of rain. At first Jake complained about the rain, but if he wanted to see the real London, this was it.
A young woman walks by on her cell phone. I notice her shoes, I’m always noticing shoes. They are boots, could be Fryes, camel in colour, expensive. I point them out to Jake, but while I notice shoes, he notices cars. And the cars are beautiful on my street, and expensive. I have never seen so many expensive cars in one place, and Jake is mesmerized. I don't know the names of any of the cars, which he cannot believe, but I've already moved on. As I turn to my right I see the opposite of wealth. “Burney” is the homeless man on our street. Very elderly, he wears an old suit and ratty sneakers. He sleeps on the front stoop of number 44, Burney House (from which he gets his name) where he meticulously folds and unfolds his cardboard house, sleeping odd hours, and heading off all night. Today we catch him packing up his house. For the first time I notice his rolling suitcase. I have never seen him with it before, and wonder briefly what could be in it. He wears only his suit and sneakers every day. He does not have a hat or mittens or a coat to wear over his suit. I shiver thinking about it. Jake and I look at each other, I see color rising on his face, probably mirroring my own. We marvel at all this wealth while he packs up his cardboard home.
A few steps more and Gloucester Road comes into view. Gloucester Arms is just ahead of me across “hell road,” a nickname lovingly given to it by the Richmond students who refuse to walk to the side with the cross walk. Instead they dodge the oncoming fury of taxis and buses who have no intention of slowing down, let alone stopping.
The road is busy as usual, but thankfully no buses. I hop around a couple taxis, Jake is meandering along behind me and narrowly avoids being clipped by the Tiffany taxi. I love the taxis here and although it almost ended my dear friend's life, the Tiffany one is my favourite, very elaborately done, in the famous Tiffany blue, very hard to miss. But even the plain black taxis are elegant, not an eye sore like the yellow taxis of New York, glaringly obvious even on the darkest nights. London taxis are so chic, so very London. You almost expect the taxi driver to hop out, open your door and say “Your coach, m’lady” with a bow. But Jake says no taxis for us, the best way to experience a new place is to walk around.
We turn right on Gloucester Road where I point out Gloucester Arms, a great place to get fish and chips, a pint, and meet forty year old Irish men. While we pass by the shops I look in, a couple Indian restaurants line the street, as well as a small twenty-four hour convenient store that sells two pound samosas, and the small man behind the counter always expects me to buy a beer, I never do. A couple windows down is a pastry shop. We stop to look longingly at the delicacies behind the glass and I notice a small sign in front of a piece of chocolate cake, "Gluten Free, Suitable for Coeliacs." I grab at Jake's hand, we run in quickly for a piece of cake then continue on towards the park for a small picnic.