When I was young, my parents collected teenagers. Some were related, others friends of the related, and some were exchange students from all over the world including Japan, Kazakhstan, and Malaysia, attending high school in the United States. Most lived in our basement, from six months to a year, and all became members of our family for life. There is just something about having someone in your home, living right along beside you, eating what you eat, experiencing what you experience, living your reality – a bond is forged and fastened. That person is now a part of you. What I didn’t realize until Warm Showers is that this process doesn’t have to take very long; all it takes really is an open door, an open mind and an open heart.
Given its size, we expected to be doing a lot of bed hopping during our time in London. We had booked a train from Bath so that we could be in the city in time for a planner interview Wednesday morning and a train to our ferry departure in Harwich Thursday evening. Thus, we needed places to stay from Monday night to Wednesday night in the largest city (correction, metropolitan area) in the UK. Surprisingly, we are contacted by two different potential hosts offering an accommodation for all three nights! We accept the invitation from our first responder, David, agreeing to meet him in Clapham neighborhood Monday night. From the first drink at a local bar, we hit it off with David. Originally from Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, David has been living in London for 15 years and currently works for one of the world’s largest publishing companies.
Entering his small flat, maps of London decorate David’s walls, evidencing his love for the city and giving away his identity as a touring cyclist (we all tend to be map people). David immediately shocks us both with the level of his hospitality, offering up his own bedroom to us for three days and showing us the gluten-free goodies he had stocked up on after reading that one of us had Celiac on our profile. He gets to work cooking us a delicious spaghetti dinner with gluten-free pasta, refusing any offers of assistance, insisting we relax (he serves us amazing curry the second night and another delicious pasta meal the third). After conversation over dinner, David introduces us to his current after work obsession – Le Tour de France. He has been taping it while at work and watches it in the evenings, taking in the gorgeous scenery, laughing at the commentary, and admiring the inspirational cycling. We soon find out it isn’t just a race; David explains to us the set-up and all the various strategies, cycling favorites, and other tidbits that make the race even more exciting to watch. It isn’t long before we are hooked, too, cheering for Chris Froome as he puts on a dramatic show for the first mountain stage.
On our last evening, David takes us on a cycle tour of London, first up Primrose Hill for a breathtaking view of the city, then past the American Embassy, The Albany Pub, through Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus to the Soho area where we stop for a drink at the pub of David’s first drink in London. We make it to Buckingham Palace to say hi to the Queen and take a picture, wave at the guards with machine guns in front of the Prime Minister’s residence on Downing Street, and then end our tour back in David’s neighborhood, enjoying another drink at his regular hangout. Through it all we bond over world views, struggles and adventures during young adulthood, and future dreams.
With our city tour and one last session of watching Le Tour, our visit with David and London comes to an end – but not before we discuss several what ifs. What if – we decide to tour Scotland sometime and the Scandinavian countries – well David will certainly join us for that! What if – David comes to the US for a tour – well he should certainly stay with us! We leave David with the feeling that perhaps one day we might just meet again (after all, our favorite place in the world just happens to be three hours from New York City, not an unlikely place to travel to on business). The world, as we’ve discovered to some extent on this trip, isn’t that big after all (not to sound overly cliché). We started out on this adventure wanting to see the world (specifically, its spatial dimensions) and through Warm Showers, we’ve accomplished so much more – we’ve discovered its pulse. We’ve forged bonds with people who live in different places, with different perspectives, and different experiences – bonds that make us feel just a little more connected to everything. Cheers David, you made London amazing for us.
Now, just to clear one little thing up –
At one point during our tour, David tells us his coworker had suggested the “Monopoly Tour” of London – “Do you know that game?” Well duh, everyone knows that game. “Oh, you have a Monopoly here? Does it include Boardwalk and Park Place?” I ask. “Oh they must have all kinds of versions out there – no I mean the ORIGINAL version,” he tells me. What!? Isn’t our Monopoly the original version? Iconic. Boardwalk. Advance to Boardwalk. The question haunts me for several days before I finally think to look it up on the ferry we take from Harwich to the Hook of Holland – which Monopoly came first? Well I look it up and apparently all kinds of articles have been going around in recent years on the real inventor of Monopoly – a woman named Elizabeth Magie Phillips – who came up with the concept of the game in 1903 (in America) as largely a teaching tool and expression of her progressive political beliefs – meaning to demonstrate that Monopolies are in fact bad. Charles Darrow is the man formally credited with the game, having patented the game in the 1930s, selling it to Parker Brothers. The ORIGINAL version was based on Atlantic City, but around the same time a UK version was developed. So after thorough investigation my world has not gone completely off-kilter, but I certainly learned some new things about my favorite childhood board game. Now, hopefully I haven’t just thrown our wonderful host for a similar loop…