Another day seat queue character

13 Oct

ink play londonOf the record-breaking(!) 14 shows I’ve seen in London this year, I surprisingly only got day seats for 2 of them. So I was due for a good queue.

I decided to see Ink, a new play about Rupert Murdoch and The Sun newspaper, because I feel like I don’t know enough about the London newspaper scene, and it was a transfer from the Almeida Theatre, and every Almeida West End transfer I’ve seen has been nothing short of phenomenal.

The play has been getting rave reviews, but it doesn’t seem to be extraordinarily popular, so I arrived at the theatre 30 minutes before the box office opened. There were only a handful of people queuing. I proceeded to kill time on my phone until the character arrived. Every day seat queue seems to have a character.

This one was a full-blooded New Yorker who would have been a prime contestant on a Buzzfeed “Homeless Man or Aging Hippie?” quiz. He wore a tie-dye Bob Dylan T-shirt, an “Impeach Trump” button on his hat, had a scraggly beard and walked with a cane. And he was a talker, as only Americans can be. Every once in a while queuers will strike up conversation, but most keep to their phones, books, magazines, or even use their laptop whilst standing up like the guy in front of me. But this character wanted to talk and he didn’t particularly care who wanted to listen. The Australian woman in front of him wasn’t biting, so he tried the man next to me. He was properly British, giving polite responses and appeasing the character, but I could tell he’d much rather be reading the magazine in his hand.

“So how does this work?” the character asked to no one in particular. I wanted to say, “What do you mean how does this work? Are you so New York that you just saw a line of people and decided you must queue?” (Wait, New Yorkers don’t say “queue” or even “wait in line.” They wait “on line.” And yes, that scene about New Yorkers waiting on line from The Gilmore Girls reboot is still fresh in my mind.) He lamented about how he must have an aisle seat, but doesn’t want to spend too much money. Eventually I couldn’t handle it anymore and had to jump in.

“Front row day seats are £15,” I said. And just like that I was roped in. Luckily the box office doors had just opened, but there was only one window and each transaction seemed to last 5 minutes, so I had plenty of time to hear about why I absolutely must see Bob Dylan live, what it was like to see Anthony Hopkins play King Leer at the National Theatre back in 1986, and how badly the Bengals are playing this year. By the time we got to U.S. politics, it was my turn to buy my ticket.

“See you later, Cincinnati!” the character called out after me when I left. I smiled, thinking I would never see the guy again, but sure enough there he was on the aisle, 3 seats away from me at the matinee. Though he didn’t seem to recognize me with makeup on and my hair down as I crawled over him to get to my seat, so the poor English guy next to him had to hear all about his thoughts on how Rupert Murdoch ruined the New York Post.

At the interval I jumped up to use the ladies room, but because I was sitting front row center and there was little leg room, I wasn’t able to bolt there first like I normally do. So I had to queue. There were only 4 stalls, so naturally it was a long queue. In fact, it somehow became two queues, as women poured in from both sides. An outspoken American (of course!) devised a plan.

“We will merge just like we’re on the highway,” she announced. “One person from this line, then one person from your line.” Everyone within earshot agreed, and for a while the merging technique worked surprisingly well. Until a lady from the other queue got talking with her back to us, and so no one from her queue was moving, so my queue slowly became the main queue. An American woman 5 people behind me apparently did not see this occur, and jumped in front of the woman behind me.

“I’m sorry, what are you doing?” the British woman behind me asked her politely.

“We’re merging, isn’t that what we’re doing?” The American woman said, rather hostilely.

“Yes, we were, but you were behind me. We’ve all been waiting much longer than you have.” She smiled and continued to be incredibly polite. The American woman realized her mistake, but in typical American fashion, was not about to admit it. She jumped back a few people in the queue.

“Is this OK?” she said with an attitude. The British lady smiled again. “As long as you’re behind me.”

“Whatever” the American woman muttered under her breath.

It would be hard to make up a more stereotypical exchange between the two cultures if I tried!

Besides that little bathroom kerfuffle, the show was excellent. My seat was so good I had fake money thrown at me (of course I saved one of the notes!) and was even splattered a bit with ink. (It was only when I got home that I realized it was on my face. Good thing I was wearing dark colors!) The world of London newspapers during the 1960s is a fascinating one, but watching the show made me glad I’m no longer in that industry.

Advertisements

London’s latest protest

9 Oct

On Saturday morning we went out for our usual run through the Royal Parks. Starting from the minute we stepped outside we noticed an increased police presence. As we got to Hyde Park it was hard to ignore — there were officers, horses and police cars everywhere.

“Is it some kind of protest?” Stephen asked me, and I tried to google it on my phone. Googling “Protest in London today” only brought up results of past protests, ranging from Muslims against ISIS to Harry Potter fans against the construction outside the Palace Theatre. I’m not exaggerating when I say Londoners really like to protest.

We noticed large groups of people walking towards Park Lane and Piccadilly, which is where we guessed the protest had to be happening. Except they were mostly middle-aged, balding, white men, which — if I may racially profile — are not the usual protesting demographic.

“Are they skinheads?” I asked rhetorically with trepidation. That would explain the excessive police presence.

Our curiosity got the best of us and we approached a police officer who was standing on the corner.

“What’s going on?” Stephen asked him.

“There’s a protest,” the officer replied. “Which way are you guys going?”

“Into the park,” we said, and he told us we’d be fine then. But we couldn’t end the conversation there, we needed answers.

“What kind of protest is it?” Stephen asked.

“Football fans,” the officer replied, pausing, then smirking slightly. “Protesting against terrorism.”

We couldn’t help but laugh at the seemingly randomness of it, but the protest was no laughing matter — the Football Lads Alliance (because of course they have an official name, and of course it has the word “Lads” in it) drew a crowd of 30,000+ supporters who marched through the streets of London. I’m guessing the police were out in droves because the group reportedly has some ties to some far right and racist movements, plus with that many people you can never be too careful. From what I read, though, the demonstration was peaceful aside from some heated words exchanged with counter-protestors.

…Just another weekend in central London!

football lads association march london

Photo courtesy of The Daily Mail

One year later

18 Sep

Exactly a year ago today I ran 13.1 miles. I remember the overwhelming sense of accomplishment I felt immediately after finishing the half marathon, followed quickly by an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, then — after a big meal and a nap — an overwhelming sense of pain. I thought I’d never be able to walk, run or use the toilet pain-free again, and yet eventually the achiness vanished… along with my long distance running motivation.

Yesterday I struggled through our usual 4 miles. Who knew taking two weeks off running and fueling your body with gelato, gnocchi and truffle oil could be detrimental? I foolishly brought my running gear on holiday too, not even realizing that none of our accommodations had gyms. We did manage to rent bikes one day and cycle around the beautiful walls of Lucca, Italy.

lucca bike rental.pngAnd one day we managed to seemingly walk the entirety of Budapest, logging 21,324 steps and 9.3 miles on my Fitbit. But now it’s time to get back on track. The Cincinnati Thanksgiving 10K is just over 2 months away. It’d be nice to get another PR, but realistically it’d just be nice to actually run 6 miles again without stopping.

Though as I reflect on my experience training for and running the Richmond Half, I wonder if I have another one in me. Should I keep trying to get into the Royal Parks Half, or sign up for a different one in England… or Cincinnati. And even crazier — if I miraculously am allotted a spot in the full London marathon, should I give it a go? For the moment I should probably focus on acing that 10K and running a mile without stopping, wheezing or catching a Pokemon. But the race bug really is contagious!

That time we were stranded in Italy

15 Sep

gelato siena.pngIs there anything better (or worse) than coming home from vacation? You get to sleep in your own bed again and return to the daily routine. On the other hand, you have to return to the daily routine — no more sailing along the Danube, driving with the top down through Tuscany or eating gelato for both an appetizer and dessert.

We just returned from an epic holiday to Prague, Budapest and Tuscany (as per our tradition, three places that are not really close and have absolutely nothing to do with each other). It was one of our best trips yet — until we tried to get back to London.

We booked a flight out of Florence on CityJet — an airline that previously canceled our Paris flight and made us take the Eurostar train. But that was weather-related, so surely we’d be fine flying out of Florence. It was a bright and sunny day the day we were scheduled to leave. And yet no planes seemed to be doing that — leaving. As we sat in the terminal, slowly we saw each flight on the monitor go from “delayed” to “diverted” to “canceled.” It was a clear day and yet no planes were taking off or landing in Florence. I was tracking our plane on my phone and noticed its landing time kept getting pushed back by 5 minutes before it finally switched to the dreaded “diverted.” It was diverted to Rimini near San Marino, a 2 1/2 hour drive from the Florence Airport.

High winds was the excuse they gave us, though the weather reports were showing only 20mph gusts. Stephen has his own theory about an air traffic control officer who took a long riposo (Italian siesta). Something didn’t add up.

Since no flights were landing at the airport, every airline bused their passengers to nearby cities like Pisa or Rome. CityJet put us on a bus to Pisa. The employee at the gate ensured us that we would be put up in a hotel and that CityJet would text us about our rescheduled flight, which would likely be flying out of Pisa airport the next morning. Another passenger told me this had happened to her before and they rescheduled her flight for 6am. At least we’ll get back to London early and not waste another entire day, I thought. I envisioned us staying in the center of Pisa as we had just a week before, enjoying one last Italian meal and stroll by the leaning tower at night.

Instead the bus pulled up to a hotel 20 minutes outside of Pisa with absolutely nothing nearby besides a gas station. We were stranded. Our room didn’t even have WiFi. CityJet texted me that they were working on sourcing a crew and aircraft for us to fly out of Pisa and would continue to send updates. The next update was that they were rebooking us on alternate airlines and would email us our new itinerary. As we entered the lobby of the hotel, we were greeted by a chorus of CityJet hold music emitting from fellow passengers’ phones. We overheard one woman who had managed to get through to someone.

“You bused me out to Pisa then booked me on a flight leaving tomorrow night from Florence Airport with a layover in Amsterdam? That is unacceptable!”

We hadn’t received our rebooking yet, but I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be on the direct British Airways flight out of Pisa. I was correct.

“Paris,” I told Stephen. “They’ve rebooked us on a flight out of Florence Airport tomorrow with a connection in Paris.”

He immediately got out his phone to call CityJet.

“Are you going to complain?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I’m going to get our money back. We’re not taking that flight. We’re not risking it with Florence Airport again. Look up cheap flights from Pisa or Rome.”

And that’s how we ended up spending the next day taking a taxi to Pisa’s train station, riding a 4-hour train to Rome, riding a 30-min train to Fiumicino airport, sitting at the airport for 3 hours, finding out our flight was delayed 30 minutes and wanting to cry, but finally landing at London Gatwick.

We left our Florence hotel at 9:30 am on Tuesday, thinking we’d be back in London at 2:30pm. We got back at 11:30pm on Wednesday. That is two entire days of our lives wasted on traveling. Though I suppose I should look on the bright side — we did manage to get home safely, our transportation costs to Rome should be reimbursed by CityJet, and the refund we’ll receive from our original flight should cover the cost of our EasyJet flight from Rome. But, man, talk about putting a damper on an otherwise amazing trip. We’ll certainly be back to Tuscany, but the next time we’ll think twice about flying in and out of Florence.

London salon struggles

29 Aug

I went to a new hair salon for my highlights the other day. In the U.S. I’ve had the same stylist for almost 10 years (and before that I went to her colleague for almost 10 years!), but in London I can’t seem to find one I like. I thought I found one, but her salon is in a sketchy neighborhood (the police came in during my appointment once to talk about the break-in the previous night), and she was a bit flaky with last-minute cancellations and double bookings. So I found another salon near our new flat. The trainee did a great job for a good price, but on my second visit I mistakenly booked just parting highlights, which I understood would be just the roots on top that show. But apparently parting just means only the front of your head, so I had awkward dark roots in the back and was too embarrassed to say anything because I got exactly what I asked for and paid for. So my solution was just to never show my face there again.

So it was back to Treatwell (a Groupon-like site just for beauty services). The other day I found a salon with decent reviews offering 50% off a full head of highlights for new customers (making it even cheaper than I pay in Kentucky!). The place seemed nice and my stylist was friendly without being chatty. I sat and read magazines while he did my foils. And then I sat. And sat. My Kentucky stylist and about half the salons I’ve been to in London put me under the dryer while the bleach works its magic. It seems to be a point of contention among stylists, and this guy was not about it — I don’t think his salon even had a dryer you sit under. He made a big deal about how bad it was for your hair, though I’m not sure I’ve noticed a difference. He seemed to know his stuff, though, so I trusted him. And sat some more. For some reason, my natural dark brown hair takes forever to turn blonde without the help of heat. I had flashbacks of a previous salon trip in which I sat for an hour with the foils on, only to walk out with slightly orange hair. I lamented this to the stylist after he checked on me for the sixth time.

“Don’t worry, I am not letting you walk out of here with orange hair!” he said.

“But am I ever going to walk out of here?” I wanted to reply, because I had been there close to 3 hours and was starting to forget what life outside of that salon chair was like.

He finally removed the foils and applied a toner, which is a purple solution that is supposed to tone down any brassiness (which is probably what the other stylist should have done to remove the orangey look.) I asked him how long to leave a toning shampoo on, because I use one once a week and can’t really tell if it’s making a difference and was wondering if it was because I wasn’t leaving it on long enough — the label warns that it can turn your hair purple. He said 5 minutes, which is definitely longer than I’m used to, and he worked the toner into my hair and let it sit. Then we walked over to the styling chair, and he decided the minute he turned the blow dryer on was the perfect time to ask me my thoughts on Trump. Is that the equivalent of a dentist trying to make conversation with his hands in your mouth? Obamacare is hard to explain on its own — I’ll admit I don’t fully understand it, but it’s nearly impossible to discuss over the roaring sound of a dryer.

He noticed my roots were still a little brassy looking, so he decided to wash it with the toner again, leaving it on even longer this time. Then it was back to blow drying and Trump talk while I wondered if I’d ever be able to eat the emergency protein bar I had packed in my bag — I had not planned on spending my entire afternoon at this place!

He complimented how good the highlights had turned out, and it seemed like they really had — they were not orange or only covering half my head, which is more than I can say from past experiences. I thanked him, took his card, and walked home, tucking into the protein bar like I had never eaten before.

Since I always seem to let my dark roots grow out way longer than I should, it’s always a bit of a shock when my hair is back to completely blonde. It takes a few glances in the mirror to get used to. That night I was washing my hands in the bathroom with the better light when my hair caught my eye. It didn’t look different because it was blonder. It looked different because it was purpler.

Yes, the toner turned my hair purple. A very faint purple, like a lilac or silver that is actually all the rage now, but definitely purple.

I rocked it for a day, then washed my hair with the clarifying shampoo I got in my Birchbox, which I read on Google would help. The purple is much less noticeable now, if at all.

My next highlights will definitely be done in the U.S. though, under the dryer and all, then maybe enough time will have passed and I can show my face at that other salon again, because I’m definitely not going back to a place that makes me sit for 3 1/2 hours to turn my hair purple.

mizore shirayuki purple hair

What’s that smell?

21 Aug

On Friday night Stephen and I decided to drive out to our friends’ house to surprise their son with a birthday cake. But first we had to go to Chinatown to pick up a cake, because everyone knows Chinatown has the best cake (OK, maybe not everyone, but now at least you know). I admittedly don’t go out at night very much in London, partially because I’m slightly afraid of getting mugged or harassed, but mostly because I’m an old soul who’d rather just stay in and watch Netflix. It was interesting seeing Chinatown at night — all the same shops and restaurants were still open and it was as buzzing as ever. In fact, it was so crowded that I wasn’t watching where I was walking and stepped in a puddle, splashing water up on my leg.

The cake shop we intended on visiting was just closing up shop, so we made our way to our second choice. The woman behind the counter was quite curt, refusing to help us until she had rung up everyone in the queue, even those who had come in after us. Finally she boxed up our cake, then made a beeline for the toilet.

“Oh my god I think she crapped herself!” Stephen said. That would explain her grumpy mood and the horrid smell that seemed to be intermingled with the sweet smell of cake and buns in the shop.
“At least she didn’t touch the cake,” I replied, and we walked back to the car.

As we pulled out of the parking spot, I smelled something horrid — could the poo particles really have penetrated the cake? I wondered. I bent down to smell the cake resting between my legs on the floor.

“I think it’s the plastic bag she put the cake box in,” I said, holding it closer to my nose. It was plausible for a plastic bag to just smell like a mix of pee and vomit, right? I removed the cake from the bag and gave the bag a good sniff.

“Wait, I don’t think it’s the bag,” I said. I brought the cake box up to my nose and held it up to Stephen at the stoplight.

“It smells like strawberry cake, it can’t be the cake either,” I said. What could be creating such a vile smell?

And then I remembered. The puddle. My shoes. My leg and jeans. The Chinatown puddle I had stepped in had not been filled with water — it had been filled with “garbage juice,” which was surely tainted with hobo pee and drunk person vomit. It made me want to vomit too.

We pulled into a petrol station to fill up and I ran to the bathroom to try to clean my leg and shoes. The only problem was the petrol station bathroom actually smelled worse than the puddle I stepped in, so I couldn’t really tell if I was making any progress and just wanted to get out of there.

When we arrived at our friends’ house, I quickly removed my shoes by the door, wished their son happy birthday, and made a beeline for the bathroom.

“Renee stepped in vomit!” Stephen proudly declared. Not how I like to make an entrance, but I was not about to correct him with “garbage juice.” I scrubbed the leg of my jeans with hand soap, then sprayed the ever-loving crap out of my leg and foot with the “home fragrance” I found on the shelf. We ended up having a nice night after that and the cake was delicious. I did smell strongly of orange blossom the entire time, but that’s 100 times better than eau du tramp  (or eau de toilette in the most literal sense!).

inbetweeners tramp shoes

My shoes rode in the trunk/boot on the way home, and after a good scrubbing now smell like Tesco Super Concentrated Non Bio Liquid Detergent. I’m just hoping one of these days they’ll fully dry!

Raiding with the people still playing Pokemon Go

11 Aug

Pokemon go raid

When Pokemon Go announced the new “raid” feature a few weeks ago, I was apprehensive. I’m an antisocial introvert who has always played the game alone. Now suddenly I was going to have to work together with other trainers to battle and take down a raid boss. That did not sound appealing. But over the past few weeks, raids have become my favorite part of the game. I went from standing to the side of the group or battling from across the street to actually chatting with other trainers and having some human interaction. And I enjoyed it! The stereotype that Pokemon is for kids or nerds couldn’t be farther from the truth, at least in central London. Every time a group gathers for a raid it looks like an advertiser hand-picked us to hit every demo range — I’ve played with middle-aged white women, Asian grandmas, Muslim university students, men so old I was surprised they could work a smartphone, yet alone Pokemon Go, big-wig businessmen who snuck out during their lunch break, tourists from mainland Europe or America, and parents who were clearly way more into the game than their children who introduced it to them. I joined an online Discord group where players chat and organize raid meetups, but I’ve been too shy to participate. But in central London I’ve learned you can just show up and there will always be at least 6 other people ready to battle with you (or cheaters sitting at home and spoofing their GPS location to the raid gym).

A lot of people credit Pokemon Go for making them get off the couch and walk more. Pokemon Go pretty much killed my desire to run faster and farther, but it has helped me actually interact with people in my city, which I guess is important too.