Monday, August 4, 2008

Two Very Important Lessons I Have Learned in My Travels

1. Never trust the locals in regards to open container laws:

This lesson was learned in London back in 2004. I have been to the UK plenty. I am definitely familiar with the sight of drinking Strongbow or Carling out of cans on the Tube or on the street on a good night out. During one of those brisk nights, in what was probably a slurry and spirited conversation, I asked my friend Michael the Manc if there were open container laws in London or if this was just one Big Easy. I don’t remember if I phrased it that way. I hope I didn’t because knowing me I probably did some bad Cajun jazz funeral Zatarain’s Jambalaya rice mix jazz hands sort of dance to go along with it. But Michael, being as fond of the hops and barley as I can be, assured me that “Naoowwwwww, it’s fine.” Which I processed as Michael being thoroughly familiar with the laws of Britain and knowing for a fact that having an open container of alcohol on the streets of London was completely legal. Cut to a few days later. It’s a weekday and all my friends are working. I do what I normally do when I’m in London on weekday when I have no one to drag around the streets with me. I just sort of wander around trying to find weird things in the city I haven’t seen yet. A big part of this experience is eating as many weird sandwiches from Marks and Spencers. While there, I hear the howl of gin and tonic in cans and tiny champagne bottles swelling up from the beverage aisle. Oh my god. I can drink you in the streets. Like a hobo. Like a classy, sightseeing hobo! Get in the cart. You’re coming with me.

I eat some sandwich with sweet corn in it (really?) wash it down with a gin and tonic straight out of the can. While sitting next to the river surrounded by a group of very poorly behaved French teenagers most of whom really love Slipknot and Staind. I will later run into the same group of surly metal loving French teenagers at the V&A where one particularly pouty one responds to all of her friend’s inquiries about the “coolness” of the darker paintings with the most insolent and apathetic “Non” I have ever heard. Thanks three years of French in public school! So back to my journey towards vagrancy.

I saved my mini bottle of champagne for the arduous journey across Tower Bridge because no matter how many times I go there and no matter how many times I cross it and no matter how many times bad flights and expensive drinks and sinking dollars and ruined heels and bad minicabs rides sour my view of London I always love the ten minutes I spend walking across Tower Bridge. It’s just about one of my favorite things to do and if you’re one of the unlucky people who has to walk across it every day to get to work you’ll forgive me for being the smiling asshole that’s probably annoying you for existing. So I’m walking across Tower Bridge on an uncharacteristically sunny and breezy London day drinking my champagne. I think about all my friends back in Dallas who are probably doing much less interesting things than this right now. I think about calling them to remind them of how much less interesting what they are doing right now is compared to what I am doing. Decide against it. Then notice I am getting stared at by people. Actually see a mother pull her small child away from me. This is London, the city where I have seen grown men in business suits puke into shopping bags on the Tube. I’m just a silly little girl from the South drinking my cheap champagne at 1:30 in the afternoon on a bridge. What’s the harm in that? End up on the other side where I am now kind of being looked at like the Replacements were when they were the musical guests on SNL. Find a trash can near the Tower of London to throw away my empties. Started off on one side of the Thames feeling like I was in my own personal version of the opening of The Mary Tyler Moore Show but end up on the other side throwing away a tiny champagne bottle as if I was Judy Garland’s understudy. All in the shadow of a fortress once used for tortures and beheadings. My first foray into public drunkenness didn’t go so well. Oh yeah and I wasn’t drunk at all. Later at the pub, after relaying this story Michael informs me that there are open container laws. The cops just tend not to care when it’s late at night. I think his quote was something along the lines of “because they assume no one’s going to be drinking gin and tonic out of a can walking across Tower Bridge at noon on a Tuesday.” Ouch. Michael: 1 Me: nil.

2. When you are 18 and lost in Downtown LA, always let the guy from the halfway house be your chaperone:

I took a Greyhound to LA when I was 18 to see a band I really liked. Of course, now I realize there are a few things that were wrong with this plan. First off, the band were not very good. Two, it’s a 36 hour bus ride each way. Third, I was 18 and had little to no money which meant that I didn’t really have any sort of financial cushion to fall back on if I found myself in a pickle. Actually, I could probably go on and on listing reasons why this was an ill-advised trip and if you are really interested in reading what I had to say about it then (along with reading what I "blogged" about ten years ago), feel free to read here and here. Yes, I liked really bright colors back in 1998. Shut up.

So I'm in LA. I have a very scary hotel room and I have a bag and I have a handwritten list of shady nightclubs at which this band I love is playing shows all around the Greater Los Angeles area. I can ride buses! This will be great! I get out to the first show in Long Beach relatively unmurdered and I'm feeling pretty good about my mad urban coping skillz. I am told by the band that the next night's show is at a club called Al's which is in Downtown Los Angeles, just outside the area known as the Diamond District. I consult the only map book I brought with me when I get back to my hotel. That book being a book of all the sites famous murders, scandals and infamous Hollywood shenanigans. Turns out the Diamond District at 6th and Hill is also the site of the old Pantages Theater. Neat!

The day of the Al's Bar show, I decide that I will head down to this Diamond District on the city bus a little early to find out what kind of food one can buy for less than $4. Then I will find out what kind of horrible acts of depravity occurred at each intersection as I make my way to this bar that I have already been told is (and I'm thinking I am remembering this verbatim) "a total toilet" to see "the ABSOLUTE best trash rock band of the Vancouver scene right now."

The corner of 6th and Hill is not so much a district as much as it is office buildings with a different version of Sam Moon on the ground floor of each. Oh yeah and no one wants to tell me where the Pantages Theater is because apparently this is the same block where the courthouse where the OJ Simpson trial happened. I just decide to start looking for the nightclub and give up on finding anything interesting in LA. Operation Find Nightclub not going well. Sun starting to go down. Absolutely not seeing anything that looks like any of the street names I have written on my hand. Definitely should not have worn this outfit either. Not practical. Really wish that hand-held cellphones were cheap and commonplace enough for them to be readily available in 1998 right about now.

I finally decided to take refuge in a Pizza Hut once I lost all sunlight and desperately needed to eat. After a few minutes, I was approached by a handsome man in his late 40s. This isn't going all porn-y, I promise. You can take your choice of what it was about my demeanor that told him that maybe I was vulnerable. Was it that I paid for my slice of pizza with dimes? My book of Hollywood scandal and murder sites? Maybe it was the t-shirt I was wearing with the following scrawled across the front in Sharpie. Because apparently I had no idea what the phrase "laying it on too thick" meant back then:

"Then came human beings, they wanted to cling but there was nothing to cling to" - Camus

Regardless, the nice older man who looked more than a little like John Doe from X asked me if I was lost. Not like in a metaphysical sense. Or if he did mean that, I didn't get it despite what my Camus-quoting shirt may have suggested. I confessed that I was and that I was trying to see what some people were calling "the best trash rock band in the entire Vancouver scene" at a place called Al's Bar but having no luck finding it. He told me he knew where it was and could show me how to get there. Clearly, at this point in the story you are waving your arms in the air and yelling "STRANGER DANGER" and the thought of it now is absurd to me. But 18 year old Amanda was a different kind of person. The kind of person that took the stranger up on the offer.

On the way out of the Pizza Hut, Stranger Man mentions that Al's is conveniently located a few blocks from his halfway house at which he must be checked in by 11pm so this will all work out perfectly. Again, Camus-shirt Amanda thinks this is all just too neat. What luck! Stranger Man tells me stories of being an actor and musician then getting into directing for horrible television shows. Of making lots of money. Then of spending all of that money on heroin which he is currently only still able to tear himself away from for a few days at a time. All of this time, we are walking through barely lit back streets which provide ideal locations for body hiding. But Stranger Man instead wants to just warn me to not do heroin and debate me on why Mick Taylor was a waste of space in terms of Rolling Stones members.

We get to his halfway house where he runs upstairs to his room to draw me a detailed map of how to get the rest of the way to Al's. Gives me yet another heartfelt speech about the dangers of heroin, about how the world is full of people out to hurt sweet girls and how rock and roll is a losing game. I am pretty sure he's liberally quoting from a TV show he may have worked on once. I thank him and head to see what some very optimistic writers in the Pacific Northwest were calling "quite possibly the best band to come out of the Vancouver's burgeoning trash rock scene of the late 90's." High praise indeed.

Only when I get to Al's, it's strictly 21 and up. So the owner kindly allows me to listen to the band's set from the comfort of a room above the bar which is painted red, has no furniture, a light bulb hanging from the ceiling which shorts out halfway through the set and walls covered in pictures of various S&M techniques. But she didn't make me pay cover, which was awfully nice of her.

So the moral of the story is: always let the junkie be your tour guide.


Michael The Manc said...

Nice use of accent there, noooaaaaawwwwwww?

amandacobra said...

I knew you would but my balls on that. Sorry I made you sound like Mick Jagger admonishing Keith Richards in a skit. My bad.

Michael said...

OK, next time make it sound like - "Michael said 'Eh, nice one fella', then snapped his fingers and did a monkey shuffle away". You know, like all us Mancunians do.