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Thursday, July 7, 2005

London Calling

Posted by on July 7 at 9:32 AM

I feel like Sean Nelson after the waves washed over Thailand: Terry and I have tickets to the UK next week. We’re going to Glasgow to see friends. We weren’t going to stop over in London, although we have a layover at Heathrow, but we hope to change our tickets and spend a night in the city. We want to spend some money and ride the Tube. I had the same reaction after 9/11 - soon after the attacks I was in New York, spending money, riding the subway. I documented that trip in a chapter of my last dumb book, Skipping Towards Gomorrah.

I lived in London for two years - 87/88, really 16 months - and fell in love with the city. The food revolution had yet to hit, and all the food I could afford was total crap; apartments were outrageously expensive; I was broke when I arrived and practically homeless. But the theater was amazing, and that’s all I cared about then. I wound up finding work at two high-end restaurantsJams of London and Orsowhere I waited on lots of nutty celebs but, sadly, couldn’t afford to eat the food I was serving.

Coming from Chicago, which has a subway and El, I was proud that I quickly made an effortless transition to riding the Tube everywhere I needed to go. The system had yet to fall into disrepair - an American is in charge of turning the Tube around, the guy who turned around the New York City subway system (that’s why one of the people at the London press conference this AM had an American accent).

Anyway, I’m rambling. London is one of the places I feel most at home in the world - it really is a wet dream of a place for anyone who loves big, vibrant, chaotic urban environments. And the way the people of London live in, love, and use their city is a model for urbanists everywhere. I’ve traveled there a lot - a couple of years ago we took DJ on his first ride on the Tube. Watching the news this AM, I got very upset - although the death toll was much lower than the 9/11 attacks on New York, I found myself just as upset and angry. It was like learning that a great old friend had been mugged and brutalized by some awful thugs. Sitting at distance, you feel nothing but a hopeless, helpless rage.

Anyway, the best thing I read this AM (hat tip, as they say, to Andrew Sullivan), was this quote from Ken Livingston, London’s ass-kicking, car-taxing, lefty mayor:

“This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful; it is not aimed at presidents or prime ministers; it was aimed at ordinary working class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christians, Hindu and Jew, young and old, indiscriminate attempt at slaughter irrespective of any considerations, of age, of class, of religion, whatever, that isn’t an ideology, it isn’t even a perverted faith, it’s just indiscriminate attempt at mass murder, and we know what the objective is, they seek to divide London. They seek to turn Londoners against each other and Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack… I wish to speak through you directly, to those who came to London to claim lives, nothing you do, how many of us you kill will stop that flight to our cities where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another, whatever you do, how many you kill, you will fail.”

Yes, yes: We must defend the cities, and remain in them, and build them up, and defend our shared urban values.