I've been dreaming of coming here my whole anglophile-by-Hollywood life. And it was everything I wanted: the rain, the British accents, the bottled frustration masked superbly by compulsive English decorum. IT WAS SO PERFECT. Kind of expensive, though.
My first night, I was greeted with a little welcome-wagon of oddities; my Airbnb host took me out on the town, got us turned away from a private party, but then got us into a different, also private party. And, we ran into a Fox News war correspondent?
After spending my first half-hour in town being squished, ever-so-politely, between bewildered and quietly angry passengers group-gliding through the subway corridor ("the Tube" is a name that describes it in more than one way), I arrived to my Airbnb in Notting Hill, which meant that I was walking down streets of very large, very white houses and shiny cars. (The best was a red MINI Cooper with the British flag painted onto its roof.)
My host, Mark, wasn't at home, but he'd left instructions on how to let myself in, with an invitation to meet him for a drink after I got settled. From his profile, I kind of thought/hoped Mark would be some fabulously gay Englishman, so I was totally game to meet up and be shown around. This was, however, not the character who greeted me when I got to the Very Trendy Bar busting at the seams with Very Trendy People and moody lighting. (I was still wearing what I'd worn on the plane: leggings, a wrinkled blouse and my rain boots. I felt a little underdressed.) Honestly, I'm not sure which part was more disappointing: his Americanness, or his heterosexuality. Either way, it was a bummer combo. I noticed myself sprinkling a few too many mentions of the phrase "my husband" into the conversation. And he was surprised, and asked why I was traveling alone. (There was zero indication that he had read my Airbnb proile AT ALL.) But if he was disappointed, he didn't really show it; at the very least, his hospitality didn't falter.
Side note: At one point he recognized some people he knew and started chatthing with them, one of whom turned out to be a Fox News war correspondent named Greg Palkot. I didn't recognize him or know his name, as devoutly anti-Fox News as I am, but I stood politely and aloofly while he obviously wondered how Mark and I knew each other; for his part, Mark enjoyed the ambiguity for as long as he could, before introducing me as his Airbnb guest.
So, I know this is terrible to say, but because he paid for my drink, I kind of felt like I should hang out with him a bit. Even though we made kind of an awkward pair, I wasn’t getting any scary warning vibes and I decided he was just being friendly to a fellow American, who he'd thought was fresh off a plane from the homeland. (Despite missing the part in my profile where it's clearly stated that I'm married, he did get part where I say I'm from the States... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
Disclaimer: I’m totally aware that this story seems like it’s going in a weird direction. But I assure you that while it SOUNDS super sketch, Mark was totally harmless, despite seeming a little too proud to be out and about with a young female companion.
So, he mentioned a friend of his was having an “private” costume Halloween. (His use of the word “private” was meant to indicate “VIP”, nothing untoward, though as I'm writing this I KNOW IT SOUNDS BAD). When we reached the line-up, we were sticking out pretty sorely as the ONLY people not in costume. At this point, I was more convinced than he that our lack of costume might be a problem. And guess what? We got turned away. I mean, there was also a guest list that we weren't on (minor detail?). But the costume issue wasn't helping our case.
Well, rejection is rejection, whether it was obvious that we weren't ever getting into this party or not. And I think he felt like he was failing in his project to show me a fun and hip time. So it was resolved that we'd grab a last drink nearby, at another Very Trendy Bar. There, we ended up running into a few more of his acquaintances, and despite having the feeling that his opinion of them was higher than theirs of him, he sort of piggy-backed our entrance into another private costume party going on upstairs. For whatever reason, we had better luck getting into this one, and we weren’t the only ones not dressed up (but were still in the minority). The party turned out to be hosted by some American expat vice presidents of somethingorother. Ugh, MORE AMERICANS. Seriously, anyone who ever again comments about how we don't travel...
After the initial complete awkwardness of party-crashing, Mark managed to locate a few more acquaintances who received us warmly enough that I began to feel slightly better about, 1) not being in costume and, 2) not being invited. (Distant 3rd: presenting in my airplane clothes and rain boots, which did not even remotely resemble Party Clothes, costume or otherwise. One guy straight up asked me, somewhat incredulously, "Are you wearing rubbah bewts?" and I was like, IT SUPPOSEDLY RAINS HERE SOMETIMES, but I actually said, "Um, well, yeah," and laughed weirdly.)
When it got to be 1 a.m. and I'd chatted to enough uppity people in costume, it felt time to excuse myself to go back to the flat. Mark, being as young-at-heart as he was, stayed behind; around 4 a.m., I heard him arrive back at the apartment. Homeboy knows how to party like a 23-year-old Ivy League drop-out, I'll give him that!
Next: Part II | The Sunday I Walked 7.5 Miles in Rainboots and ate Cake for Dinner