Editor’s note: Jimmy Fremgen, the “Escape from I.V.” columnist, really escaped – to London. He will be writing a weekly online column, “Escape from I.V.: Extreme Edition,” documenting his foreign adventures.
Arriving in London from California, you know what to expect: rain, wind and dark skies. When the wheels hit the tarmac at Heathrow after a 12-hour flight, I desperately threw open my window shade to take in my new surroundings. What did I see? Blue sky, sun and not a cloud in sight. This was not what I was promised.
A good friend, and former Gaucho, , met me at Heathrow Terminal 5 and proceeded to drive me into London. Now, I don’t know how many of you enterprising individuals have made the trek to this tiny island they call Britain, but prepare yourself for a shock: They drive on the wrong side of the road here! OK, so they have a few advantages over us: .
However, all of these things are null and void when you consider that they put the lives of foreign tourists in peril on a daily basis by switching up on us. Let me emphasize the panic that sets in when we pulled onto the road to face what I saw as certain death. The car turning onto the road in front of us became an instant concern when he swung into our lane and started barreling toward us. My panic was assuaged when I realized that the driver of the Skoda was simply a moron with too wide a turning radius. Let me emphasize to all of you Brits: Right is right, and left is just plain wrong.
Something else that I had not entirely counted on when I made the leap across the pond was the ban on firearms. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those individuals that believes the right to own a weapon in the U.S. means that everyone should be . However, there is something discomforting about the fact that if you are being mugged, murdered or otherwise harassed on the streets of Great Britain, the best the police can do is to ask your assailant to “Please hurry off, ol’ chap.” Oh, and don’t think that it’s a perfectly safe environment. The Brits hate guns, but oh, do they love their knives.
I traveled into Nottinghill Carnival on my second day here – immediately after the 2012 Olympic handoff party at which we got to see Michael Phelps swagger like a gorilla onto the stage. I was informed that it would be a relatively sketchy environment there and was supposed to call a friend as soon as we emerged from the underground. As fate would have it, my phone died on the stairs out of the station, and we set off looking for a phone booth.
We stopped to ask a friendly looking “bobby” for directions.
“I wouldn’t even be here after seven if I were you,” we were pleasantly informed. In our quest for a phone booth, we spotted one after another, each one of which was occupied by patrons performing some sort of dubious act. The first was a drug deal in progress, the second booth was an unofficial urinal, the third a barf station and the fourth – the seemingly fine one – had garbage piled waist-high inside.
After abandoning the phone quest, my buddy and I wound ourselves through a crowd that shames the crowd during Halloween on Del Playa Drive. A few days later, on a flight to Prague, we read that the following day, the Carnival had devolved into London had seen since the end of the Cold War.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty to brag about here. Just don’t tell a Brit that, or you’ll never hear the end of it. Behind the daily stabbings, and ridiculously strong currency, there is a wonderfully chilly but welcoming country here for you. But don’t worry, if you can’t adjust to the cold, there’s always a friendly pub willing to lend you a beer jacket.