The Reunion World Tour, Day 2: Friendly British strangers and the people you encounter at midnight at a Chicken Box


One Lisbon stopover and short in-flight nap (FINALLY) later, I arrived in London. My flight landed around four in the afternoon, and the race to get into the city as fast as possible was on.

I had plans to meet Becca, one of my Kiwi friends that I met in Romania, for drinks at 5:30pm downtown. I first had to get to my hostel, them check in, then meet her. My flight landed at 3:40pm. It looked less and less likely that this meeting would happen on time.

I raced out of the airplane and I like to make a game of how many people I can pass on my way to customs. Thirty points for me! I got some cash at an ATM after passing through customs, and then got a ticket for the train towards downtown. Of course, the station I needed to transfer at, King’s Cross, was closed due to electrical failure. A random woman around my age saw me wandering aimlessly and asked me where I needed to go. She was equally pissed that we had to walk to the Euston station, especially with the vague directions that the Tube attendant provided (“exit the station and go left”).

“Of course the station is down because of electrical failure. This ALWAYS happens when I am in a hurry. If I don’t make this doctor’s appointment I have to push it off until next month!” said the woman. She told me how the station always seems to have the dumbest excuse as to why it is closed. “Once,” she told me, “it was closed off for being too crowded! In London! Can you imagine?” The woman led me using her phone’s map and I used my compass to get us walking towards the station. I never would have found it myself had it not been for her. I had yet to get a city map, and the station was more than just a “left” because it was down several blocks and a good twenty minute walk from where we’d been.

She was London born and raised, and she told me I just HAD to have Yorkshire pudding while I was here. She didn’t know certain areas of the city too well as she had just moved jobs and she hadn’t been to Camden too often, which is where my hostel was located. She heard it was nice, though. In our brief twenty minute walk, she told me about how she’d gone to New York and how it was different from Chicago and even from Philly, and she suggested some good pubs but I doubted I’d have time to check them out in my short stay here. We finally arrived at the Euston station. She asked me if I knew which train I was taking and we parted ways at the entrance as she was taking another line. I never got the friendly stranger’s name, but it was nice to have such and warm welcome to a city where I’d never been.

The tube itself was small, as the train was circular almost like an airplane, which allowed standing room only in the very center of the car. The seats were wide with thick cushions and armrests, limiting the number of passengers that could sit. The center of the cars were squished with people, and the open windows near where the cars connected let through a gentle breeze. It was familiar but also a bit strange, compared to what I now saw as the large grandeur of a CTA train in Chicago.

I arrived in Camden which seemed like a lively neighborhood with all sorts of interesting people, and I rushed to Vodaphone to get my travel phone started up with a SIM card. One long conversation, one purchase and one refund later, I learned that it wouldn’t work as the phone was registered in Romania, despite it being from the right carrier.

Off I went to my hostel to check in, and I quickly messaged Becca as I changed out of my airplane clothes into something more bar-worthy. The hostel was pretty small, with my backpack scraping against every wall I walked past with their narrow structure. I also had to pay for the use of a locker, which is silly as there is nowhere else in the room to stow luggage. I selected my bed, the bottom of three bunks, which was literally on the floor. I wanted that one instead of the middle so I wasn’t at eye level with anyone when they got into bed. The place was clean and it did have curtains on the bed allowing for privacy but it was just so small and the principle of paying for a locker was just too stupid to be worth it. My advice? Don’t stay at the Smart Camden Inn.

Off I went on the tube to see Becca in the Covent Garden area. Before I left I messaged her with profuse apologies for horribly underestimating my timing. It was now 8pm and I was just arriving in downtown. Luckily she had kept herself busy in the shops nearby. We said our hellos before deciding to get to a pub before catching up on our lives. Becca explained that most pubs were very similar, so you just need to find a basic one and you’ll be fine. We popped into a couple, and they are fairly small with little space, so we couldn’t find seating. I noticed many customers stood outside smoking, pints in hand, something you wouldn’t see back home as it would be considered an open container.

We settled on a pub called Punch and Judy's which said the bar was closed, but families are welcome downstairs. We walked downstairs and it was…a pub with a bar filled with adults over drinking age. So I’m not sure as to what they were referring.

Becca treated me to a cider as she ordered one for herself. They were only 5 quid, which I was surprised at as they were quite large glasses and this was in a popular/expensive area.

As we sat and chatted and she told me of her amazing nine-month RV adventure with Mitchell through Europe, some older forty-something year old man walked by and complimented me on my tights. He asked me where I got them, and then he eventually walked away as his friend pulled him. “Stop bothering the locals,” his friend joked, and the man said “But they aren’t locals!” The man returned and looked at me and said, “Let me guess. You’re from… northern California.” “No, Chicago.” “Ah, but American, I was close!” Eventually they left and Becca and I continued to catch up.

I’d brought my tablet with me since WiFi would be my sole communication in London, and I messaged Deniz to let him know where we were. He joined us around ten or so, he met Becca, and we had a second round of drinks as Deniz enjoyed his first, and we shared some great laughs. Obviously, Becca had planned on an earlier night, but I appreciated her sticking around so late for me.

Becca wrapped up around ten or just after, and Deniz and I left to get food, as travel keeps me so busy and distracted that it sometimes can starve me to death. I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since the free mini breakfast sandwich I received on my flight from NYC to Lisbon early this morning.

Deniz first suggested McDonalds and I laughed, but then I realized that he wasn’t joking, as he didn’t know of my aversion to the fast food chain. He then suggested a series of American fast food chains without realizing such (including Five Guys and Shake Shack) before we settled on Wetherspoon’s, which is a British pub chain. We entered, but they stopped serving food at eleven, so I was out of luck. We stayed anyways for a drink, and then moved on to the nearby Chicken Box, a cheap chicken fast food restaurant.

Here, we were the only non-plastered patrons. I only ended up ordering fries as the fried chicken just wasn’t looking that great to me, and we sat and watched as the drunkest of the drunkest came into the little place looking to get their late night fix. First we witnessed two girls come in, one too drunk to walk without her friend’s physical support. The “sober” one dropped her friend on a chair and proceeded to the counter to order. The drunk one sat there, staring out the open doorway into the dark street, dazed as dazed could be, until she suddenly jumped up with the energy of a bat fleeing from hell, as she ran out the door and bolted out of sight. Another male patron turned to the girl at the counter and says, “uh, your friend just left” and the girl tells the server that she’ll be right back as she leaves her money on the counter and runs out the door as the patron shouts behind her, “SHE WENT LEFT! LEFT!!!” Why the girl departed so quickly and with such determination is yet to be known, but it reminded me of that scene in Girls when Shoshanna smoked crack. Maybe this girl smoked crack.

Then two dudes walk in wearing full soccer gear, as though they just played a game, which Deniz believes is unlikely. I tell him that I thought that it was the uniform of any true Brit. I also commented on the fact that we were the only ones who appeared to be seeing straight and Deniz just said, “We’re in a Chicken Box at midnight on a Wednesday. Not sure what you were expecting to see.”

After some late night fries I headed home and got a few hours of sleep to rest before a full day in London tomorrow, which includes a reunion with my Transsiberian friend Taylan!