The Dinner Crew Does London

A few months ago, as Loc and I were contemplating the remainder of our time in Europe, we cajoled our dental dinner friends into coming to London with us, simply to watch The Lion King and have a good ethnic meal. That trip, long scheduled, came due this past Friday.

As arranged, the Lassiters met us at our house at 1900, and we left for the airport consolidated in our one car. This worked nicely until a fierce red ‘Generator Werkstatt’ message came on, complete with bright red lights and jarring beeps on a three-second interval, as we were approaching the highway. Kevin directed us to a parking lot just beyond the junction, and we flipped a U, beeper beeping and lights alight, and drove home. With no time to troubleshoot our vehicle, I backed it into a spot outside the garage, and we transferred both personnel and baggage to the Lassiter’s vehicle. Disaster averted, we departed anew a mere fifteen minutes after our first attempt. The ride passed without incident.

We met Griffiths at the airport, got our visa stamps from the counter, got the Lounge Pass card from the information desk, and went through security – an easy process at that hour. Boarding was called as we processed through security, so we briefly went to the lounge, grabbed a few snacks, then walked to the gate. RyanAir is getting smarter – they scanned our tickets on our way into the gate’s waiting area, and once we began moving, we boarded the plane without any delay. Sweet.

We landed at 2320, short the trumpet fanfare typical of RyanAir. It was a decent flight by RyanAir standards, though the kid behind me woke up to a nightmare or sinus pressure or something of the like as we began our descent, and he whined and whimpered the whole way down – and substantially beyond. Clustered together as we were, we all appreciated stepping off that plane.

Border security was not terribly scrutinizing, nor busy at 2330. We managed to get through it all by midnight (yes, that’s typical of the London border fence), then walked to the rail station to take the Stansted Express into town – a 45-minute ride. That ride was uneventful, and a few of us even managed to stay awake. I love Liverpool Station – it is an awe-inspiring building from the early 20th century with almost cathedral-like architecture and much wrought-iron embellishment. We walked the platform at our leisure, then got shepherded out of the atrium in single file by transportation workers clad in neon yellow, who hustled us out along a narrow corridor into the night.

We queued (because that is what one does in Britan) to purchase Oyster cards at the metro station across the street, but there was only one machine functioning, and the line to use it was both very long and very drunk. Recoiling from the mess, we opted to take an Uber, which Kevin requested in short order. We walked a few hundred yards down the street, passing a number of embarrassingly drunk and scantily clad girls in 3” heels… on cobblestones. The common sentiment among us was one of thanks for having made it through that phase of life with our dignity intact. Our car arrived, and we took it to the traffic jam a few hundred yards from our hotel. Checking in was a breeze, and we all turned in for the night – it’s been a while since any of us have been up that late.

Our plans for the day were few. They included breakfast, then a stop at Anthropologie for Ellie and Made in London for Loc, then the show that evening. We did breakfast at Muriel’s, which is a cute pastel-colored restaurant with a swinging table and chairs at the front window. We were too numerous for said table, but we enjoyed a hearty breakfast all the same. Ellie and Kevin then split off to get a tag removed from an article of clothing she’d bought in the States, and Loc and I led Bethany and Ryan to Made in London, where we picked up a lithographic print of London by air – it’s cool. We moseyed up the road after that, meeting the Lassiters at Hamley’s. where four employees danced cheerfully to an earworm-worthy tune in the street. We all agreed that mustering such cheer all day must be exhausting… they reminded me of David Sedaris’s Santa Diaries: so much secret snark. We explored the basement Star Wars section, but made it no further; it was enough.

IMG_5037Inspired by an ice cream join, we took the metro up to Camden, where we spent the day in the Horse Market – a market in a massive complex that was formerly a stable. There’s a bustling counterculture scene there, with lots of art and solid street eats. The architecture is all brick, with hints of Spanish influence in its adaptation to its modern purpose. Loc and I bought a bunch of small superhero prints, then joined the crew at Chin Chin Ice Cream, which advertised razor-thin ice cream scraped off of a nitrogen-frozen slate board; it was good, but not *THAT* good. We wandered, ate, wandered some more, ate some more, (I) burned a little, and then took the tube to Hyde Park to see the blooms.

Row upon row of browned daffodils greeted us; the blooms were past their prime. Loc proposed, then led, a course from our location to our hotel through various gardens. We passed in front of Buckingham Palace and got our fill of vibrant and orderly floral arrangements, then walked through St James Park and enjoyed more traditional English gardens and a diverse array of waterfowl. It seemed that the whole city was out, soaking up one of the few dozen sunny days they get a year – there were even sunbathers aplenty in the park! Before we knew it, we were again at our hotel.

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Opting against the typical dinner before the show, we took an hour to refresh, then capitalized on the hotel’s three-hour happy hour – wine, cheese, wine, and ice cream! Those of us drinking drank the better part of a bottle apiece, and we all enjoyed our second helping of ice cream that day – vacation is nice, eh? To balance the heavy snack and aid in restful slumber, we booked a reservation at a Japanese restaurant near our theater and left around 1840 to wind our way over there.

We had prime tickets to the Lion King, and Loc picked them at 1900 while we waited outside the theater. We then we descended on the Wellington, the bar at the corner, for a drink. I thought it would be a stodgy British place, but it was pumping club beats and churning out pre-theater drinks. It was a quick one – by the time I was halfway through mine, the theater workers were calling everybody inside… curtains up at 1930 sharp. Bottoms up, we filed inside and to our seats.

Ours were six seats right of center in rows I and H. Loc and I sat behind our four friends, two empty seats to our left. After the awe-inspiring opening number, probably a dozen people filtered in to fill their seats in the front ten rows (I could write a volume on why this irks me); a large Syrian man and his wife filed in next to me. Of course, the man sat on the inside to protect his wife, and of course, he had the widest leg stance he could possibly have, which he maintained for the entire first act; I felt my Arabic returning to mind as if I’d spoken it yesterday. I held my tongue, happy for their happiness.

The show’s a good one, and largely true to the movie. The set, costumes, and stage work impressed me most – they’re simple, yet wonderfully rich in their simplicity. In our final tally, Loc enjoyed the opening number most, while I favored the opening of the second act – He Lives in You; I was blown away by the kaleidoscope of puzzle pieces that coalesced into Mufasa’s face, and then faded away just as fluidly into the night. And, well, Elton John wrote the score – what’s not to love?

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Satisfied by the performance and worn out from our travels, we emerged from the theater and walked to dinner, where we found my friends Megan and Annette waiting. We enjoyed a wide array of unique and delicious sushi and sashimi while discussing the show and catching up with my friends. Megan is moving back in with her parents in New York in 17 days and is super anxious about it all – I don’t blame her; moving, especially transcontinental, is stupid stressful. Following dinner, we parted ways with Megan and Annette and went to the hotel and up to our rooms – no alarms set, thank you. The girls went out; I just couldn’t.

Loc and I woke up around 0800 and checked out around 0930. Our friends decided to go to church for Good Friday mass, and we considered watching Power Rangers in Leicester Square. We opted instead to have a small breakfast at Muriel’s, then worshiped in our own chapel, a bookstore (I opted against mass because I felt underdressed in my jeans and t-shirt). We emerged with books on Brexit (for those who still trust experts), urban gardening, and a xenophobe’s guide to Americans – a solid win; check out their work at http://www.xenophobes.com!

Instead of fancy dining, we all opted for a burger at Shake Shack, where we all convened following the church service. ‘Twas a satisfying meal; the strawberry lemonade was on point, and I’ve never enjoyed cheese fries quite so much. Even we European-minded foodies sometimes pine for the fast food of our home country.

Loc and I had passed a Harry Potter ephemera store on our way up to Shake Shack, and we broke away to work our way back down there after our communal lunch. The store is four floors of limited edition Harry Potter prints, the work of the two artists behind the movies. There was some really impressive art, though prices were a bit more than either of us was willing to pay. We may regret our choice someday; the premium stuff was all signed by the artists. We burned the rest of our time at a TK Maxx, where I acquired two Pyrex loaf pans for a song, the French stuff. My pack gained ten pounds in two days… worth it.

With that, our time was nigh, and we returned to the hotel to secure our baggage and begin the trek to the airport. Our friends met us there, and we took the metro to the train and the train to the airport. We made said train by a whopping 70 seconds, and only found seats in the last car – but we found seats, by prodding people to remove feet and luggage from otherwise vacant spots. It was hot – warmer than yesterday – so we opened the windows in our compartment. I dozed off in the heat.

Stansted Airport is… a zoo, but one that played to our advantage. We made it through security, by my count, in seven minutes and thirty seconds, then through the commercial melee and to the Escape Lounge in another fifteen. Credit for the short security line goes to a worker who opened a new lane and ushered us from the middle of the queue to it. That latter part was utter chaos; whoever designed the terminal did not design for traffic flow. Thus, the Escape Lounge was truly an escape – good food and drink in a peaceful setting. My greatest regret there was that I did not grab brownies earlier; as I closed in on them to grab them (there were six little bites remaining), a worker picked up the slate slab that held them, and took them away. I skulked away in defeat – wah. Loc and I walked up a few minutes later to ask for them, but were rebuffed; a cake slate took the brownie slate’s place.

In compensation, I bought a bag of M&Ms at our gate. We boarded the plane and found ourselves in the company of an American family, father, mother, and three girls. They were a boisterous lot that calmed after takeoff, and the most eventful in-flight happening was a sunset that I managed to capture – schön.

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It turns out that that American family was both American and military, as were a number of families on the plane. This one, however, had a trick to clear customs up their sleeve. They deployed daddy, looking worn, to weave his way from the back of the customs line to the front, then mommy conspiratorially coaxed her three daughters, from youngest to oldest, to go stand with daddy; I watched this all from the baggage carousel. The only two people separating the family were… Kevin and Ellie. Traffic in another lane flowed by as a man ahead of them worked through documentation issues for his young child; I watched the Rasta family who joined the line last pass through while the Lassiters waited. As this drama unfolded, Ellie turned around and asked the woman bluntly if she’d like to pass her. The woman stuttered, sputtered, and choked, then passed anyway, caught red-handed but carefree. Kevin was the last passenger on that plane to clear customs – it made for good comedy on our ride home.

We arrived home to find our car truly dead, five weeks short of our homebound flight. I suspect marmots, but it is an eighteen-year-old car, so perhaps it’s just lived its natural life.

Watch this video. Get hyped. Go see Lion King.

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