After three and a half months in a place, you tend to stop thinking of it as a business trip – you have favorite routes, favorite pubs, you stop to help confused tourists find the landmarks. I don’t think it would be unfair to tell people that I lived in London for a while. And while I’m going to be very glad to be home, there’s a part of me that is going to be sorry to leave. Yesterday, London was practicing a little tough love to help that last part.
I blew my alarm and woke up to the air conditioning out in my hotel (again). I butchered my face shaving with lukewarm water, stumbled through a shower and out into the pouring rain to get to work. I almost got hit by a car because, for once, I looked the right way before crossing the street but he was on the wrong side of the road. A massive man bowled into me on the sidewalk because he was so intent on his phone while walking that he never looked up. The client had a series of panicked fire drills in the morning. Just after lunch, I’d put those to bed, so I ducked out to buy a proper umbrella and toys for my children.
Two stops along the Central line seemed no big deal, until I reached the platform and remembered that it’s crowded and triple-digit degrees down there. After power walking through the fetid London air (Summer has finally shown up, and she’s a real bitch), the Tube had me sweating through my shoes. Exiting, gasping for breath, I found James Smith & Sons, an iconic London shop for umbrellas and walking sticks, only to realize that they’re too long and vicious looking to ever get through security at Heathrow. I heaved a sigh and turned my prow toward Hamleys, an iconic London toy store.
Riding the Central line again seemed more horrible than the humidity at ground level, so I set off westward down Oxford Street. There were approximately 1,645,902 other people who had the same idea, around the same time. Except that all of my fellow geniuses were waddling four-wide with their faces jammed in maps or phones, or pointing cameras at anything that held still. It was about a mile down to Regent Street and by the time I got there, Your Humble Narrator was feeling positively stabby.
As a parent myself, I know there are a variety of less-than-savory people whom you’re obliged to tolerate being somewhere near your children. Similarly, as a parent, I can tell you that when a red-faced, sweat-drenched, homocidal-looking man by himself wanders into a toystore, it is a cause for concern. Thank goodness I knew what I was looking for because it minimized the time spent up and down Hamleys’s five floors and probably saved me from touring London’s penal system. The return to work had me on the Central line again, literally dripping sweat as other passengers snuck horrified glances at the sweaty-toothed madman.
All in all, things were going so well.
I don’t have many complaints about this city, but they all made an appearance. It was like they filmed Ocean’s Eleven, but cast it with Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Nick Nolte, David Hasselhoff and all my other favorite wastes of wind. It was as if London were saying, “You think you’ve enjoyed it here? Joke’s on you, Yank. Have a little real life.” And by the end of the day, I was thinking, Yes, home on Saturday will be just fine, thank you. London, I can quit you.
Then everyone had to go and ruin it today.
The litany of chaff London threw at me yesterday was therapeutic, and thanks for bearing with it, but I won’t repeat a long list of reasons why today has been maddeningly better. Today is the deadline for this odyssey and with our team short a couple of members, it’s been insanely busy. But it’s a good kind of busy, with everyone buoyant about a job well done.
All week has been a slow farewell tour as people catch on that we’re flying out tomorrow, but at noon today, the entire gang crowded into an office and presented me with a set of books on London. They’ve been filing by to sign the inside jacket of one of them for me. The weather is gorgeous, and reputedly, there’s “leaving drinks” in the offing. I may even survive happy hour well enough to catch my plane.
It’s funny when you spend enough time in another office that the people embrace you as one of your own. Next week, I’ll probably still be answering email about this case, but here and now, well … I feel like Tom Sawyer listening in on his own funeral. To hear people talk and bestow compliments, you’d think I were leaving the company. There are a lot of hugs brewing.
Those hugs will have to go both ways. My company’s London office is staffed with some of the best people I have encountered in the legal technology industry. Hard-working, cheerful, cooperative, creative … before I lose my proper English reserve, I just have to say that anyone able to work with this crew is a lucky professional indeed.
Don’t worry, London says. You’ll be back.