Do you remember streaking? It may have been the cultural high water mark of the 70’s. College students changed into their birthday suits and ran naked through public places on campus. Dinner would be interrupted at least three times a week by guys in ski masks racing through the cafeteria. Sometimes they’d even be recognized.
On a spring day during my sophomore year, I was in the Dean’s office pleading with him to let me spend a year abroad despite my less than illustrious academic record. He had his back to the window. Facing the window, I had a good view of the quad. I was assuring him that my grades would improve in a new environment, when suddenly, I heard a loud, roaring noise. I stopped in mid-sentence, looked up and saw a girl go by on the back of a motorcycle. She was naked. She drove past again, and again. I moved my lips a few times to try to tell the Dean what was going on. Then, I thought better of it and went on pleading my case.
I had this great idea that a year in London was just what I needed to complete a well-rounded education. My only obstacle was an “F” in Computer Programming. One lousy “F” in my entire academic career was not going to stand between me and my European fantasy. I had to beg Dean Simmons to approve me for the school’s “London Abroad Program”, and eventually he consented. Unfortunately, by the time I left his office, the Naked Rider was gone.
My first two years of college were a lot of fun, but now, it was time for a change. I went to a small school located in the heart of New York’s snowbelt. The best part of the school year was the two days of spring just before summer break. The entire school would be out in from of the Union drinking beer, playing frisbee and listening to music. There was love in the air too, but that’s another story.
When the school year ended, I spent the summer doing odd jobs to pay for my plane ticket. In August, I flew to England with two good friends, Peter and Matt. We were unprepared for our arrival.
Our flight out of Canada lasted forever. Every time I fell asleep, someone was waking me to give me something to eat, watch, or listen to. The long flight coupled with a five hour time difference cost us one night’s sleep, a shave and a shower. We got to shave and shower at our hotel; we never made up the sleep.
Problems began as soon as we landed at Heathrow Airport. For instance, no matter how much money we exchanged, we always got back two pounds in return.
Mouths open, we watched our life savings vanish as some pretty English woman, with a plastic smile, took all our money and gave us back a few pound notes.
After very little sleep, Peter, Matt and I decided a night on the town was in order. Based on a tip, we made our way to Sloane Square and began barhopping (or pub crawling as the British call it) across London. At first it was hard ordering a beer, what with money conversions, metric sizes and the British variety (back then no one from America ever heard of a beer called bitter). After a while, we got the hang of it, and we were soon downing pint after pint of British lager. In no time at all, we forgot that it was served warm. And eventually, we lost our taste American beer.
Some beers into that evening three British girls came towards us as we were leaving the King’s Head. They were attractive and unescorted. Three of them; three of us. It was fate.
“Where do the kids hang out?” Peter asked. Not much of a line, but it would have to do.
They stopped; I had a vision of what lay ahead.
“Kids… hang out?” one of them repeated mockingly.
Then, in unison they laughed, turned and walked away. What a let down! Shaw was right. We were two countries separated by a common language. I can only guess what they thought “hang out” meant. Oh well, there would be other English girls.
We had about a week before classes were scheduled to start. First, we rented a flat in Battersea, a semi-slum on the other side of the Thames. The neighborhood was being renovated, and we got a good deal. It was a large, well-furnished place with two bedrooms, a decent kitchen and a good view. It had plenty of character.
After we moved in, we began exploring, soon becoming Masters of the Underground, that massive expanse of train tunnels that crisscrossed London. Now and then, we came above ground to do a bit of sightseeing.
On one of those occasions, we exited the Parliament station and Peter’s first words were, “That’s not Big Ben. It’s too small.”
The houses of Parliament were old and dirty. We skipped the tour. Instead, we sat in an nearby park and drank Cokes. Then, we walked across the street to Westminster Abbey, where we wandered around before catching the subway home. The only thing I remember was a nameplate on a door, which read “CLERK OF THE WORKS”. I never found out what it meant. So much for being tourists.