Thursday, September 22, 2011

High School Reunion

If you had told me back in high school that one day I'd be giving Mike Patterson a tour of London -- where I lived -- I would have assumed you were high on something.

I'm still fairly close with a few friends from high school, and keep in touch with several others through Facebook and Christmas card updates.  But since I keep moving further and further away from the the central California town where I grew up, the rest I have only seen a couple times since graduation, mostly at our 10- and 20-year reunions (yes, I'm THAT old!).  So the last thing I expected was to hear from my friend Matt that Mike was going to be in London this week and could he give him my contact information.

Mike is one of one those classmates that falls into "the rest" category.  We went to the same junior high and high school, and had some classes together and a few mutual friends (like Matt), but we weren't particularly close.  Still, I remember having a nice conversation with him at our 20th reunion, so I told Matt to feel free to share my contact information with him.  I was pleasantly surprised to get an email from Mike the next day.  He and his wife, Jennifer, were coming to London on the first leg of their deferred honeymoon (they got married last summer).  Fortunately, their visit coincided with my in-laws' trip to Cambridge, so I had some unexpected free time.  We made plans to meet up on Wednesday.

We found one another at the south end of the Westminster Bridge exactly as planned.  I think we were both equally happy to see a familiar face in a foreign place, and managed to avoid the potential awkwardness of the situation and jump right in to role of old friends.  Mike introduced me to Jen, and we caught up as we walked along the south bank of the Thames. We eventually got hungry, so we crossed the Waterloo Bridge and headed towards Leicester Square in search of some lunch, ending up at Cafe Rouge.  I had our waitress take a photo, so you can see that I'm not making this all up:
Lunch at Cafe Rouge with Mike & Jen
As we were walking around, we came across this peculiar musical group wearing matching British Gas shirts and playing instruments made out of junk.  We watched in amusement as they performed "Rescue Me," especially as the entire 'horn' section sounded like they were playing kazoos.  As we were applauding the performance, we were approached by a couple people who asked if we'd be willing to sign release forms.  What?  Apparently they were filming this for a national TV commercial for British Gas, and we were in the background of several shots. 
"Weapons of Sound" performs at Gabriel's Wharf
I'm sure they did a few more takes after we left, so we may or may not get our 30 seconds of fame on UK television.  I'll have to keep an eye out for this ad...

Anyway, after lunch I showed Mike and Jen where the half-price ticket booth was, since Jen mentioned she wanted to see a show while they are in town.  Then we made our way back to Trafalgar Square, which is a part of London everyone should see at least once.  There's always something going on there, and this time was no exception.  In addition to the usual assortment of street performers, there was an exhibit of giant, knotted handguns painted by different artists/celebrities.  I think this one was by a German soccer player:
Mike poses with an art exhibit in Trafalgar Square
We hung out and enjoyed the scene, and the sun, for a while.  The day had started out cool and drizzly, but it was turning into a lovely afternoon.
Blue sky!!!
Over lunch, Jen had expressed an interest in seeing Buckingham Palace, so we headed in that direction, stopping in St James Park for a cup of tea and cake along the way.  (Since I had taken on the role of tour guide, and had visited most of these places before, I didn't take many photos.  Sorry!)  The park was full of the usual assortment of aquatic birds and pigeons, and was a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.  We walked around the perimeter of Buckingham Palace and then continued on through Green Park to the Wellington Arch and into Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, where we saw a fox and dozens of parakeets.

At that point we had probably walked 5 or 6 miles and were running out of steam.  Since I had mentioned that Josh was working in London, Mike and Jen suggested I see if he could meet us for dinner.  I caught him just as he was walking to the train station, so he hopped on the Tube instead and met us at the South Kensington station.  Mike and Jen described the rest of their itinerary over crepes and gelato -- Amsterdam, Paris, Greece, Italy, Barcelona! -- and then we walked back to the Tube station and traveled back to our opposite ends of the city.  Josh and I went southwest on the District line while they took the Piccadilly line northeast.  I think we all had a good time, and I feel like I'm getting to know my way around London better and improving my tour guide skills.

It was a full, but fun day.  And a tiny bit surreal.

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