Thursday, January 10, 2008

The mad dash to Kingston

When I got back to the hotel it was a mad dash to get all my shit packed. This is not the way I like to do things, this is not the way I like to approach travel but what can I tell you I kind of fucked up. I say fucked up because I didn’t really break out a map to see exactly where Kingston Upon Hull was. I had assumed that it was within 50-60 miles of where I was staying...yeah well that was kind of a colossal mistake. Not only was I going to eat a day in this hotel (I pre-paid the entire hotel stay) but I had no idea what train to catch or what time it left or any of that shit (hey, pussy will do that to you).

I was really just trying to get all my shit inside this hockey bag and get the fuck out of dodge. I didn’t have time to whine about not being prepared or “oh my God, how am I going to do this”. I wanted to be a world traveler and this is what it is, spontaneity. I took me about 45 minutes to pack all my shit. I sent a flurry of text messages to my new London peeps (I had since spoken to Matt and Jody and realized that my Blackcherry never received a bunch of text messages) and told them that I’d be back in a few days.

I hopped the 47 to Vauxhall station and then it was the train dance (2 connections over 150 kilometers) all the while afraid to go to sleep because if I missed my stop I was fucked. I spoke to Gary a few times during the trip and he told me not to worry, it’s kind of hard to miss Hull. I was sure what he meant by that but I made a note of it.

The train stations were frustrating as usual. I still had a heavy American accent which will get you fucked in urban places like London; it’s when you go out into the rural areas that things start to change. Take the train station for instance, I have to repeat myself several times and ask a multitude of persons about where to go, not because Briton’s don’t know their shit but because you tend to get several different answers to the same question. You quickly learn to try and figure out yourself which platform you need to be on and then ask people and see what they tell you. If you ask four people follow the majority opinion and you should be fine. This is a traveling technique that I could use other places I’m sure. It made me wonder how non-specific I’ve been when someone asks me directions in Los Angeles.

I didn’t know shit about Kingston Upon Hull till I got there. All I knew was that I received a strange reaction when I repeatedly asked which train went to Hull. I was unaware that there is only one stop for Hull on the train and it is at the end of the line. I noticed that the dress and manner of the people on the train changed a little as the train got closer to Hull. We entered the station and I disembarked with all my shit and started looking for Gary. He left me a message saying he’d be at the station looking for an American (“whatever they look like”). It initially seemed like a joke, but once I got to the station I realized that there are not a lot of travelers that come to Hull.

I met Gary outside the station and then we trekked about 50 miles to his flat (I’m not joking we walked forever…but hey, Brit’s like to walk). As soon as I hit the door he packed me a bowl and put on some tunes and then made me something to eat. Gary is a straight-up Homie who’s really into the Roots, that totally tripped me out that I was thousands of miles from Philly and I’m sittin’ here talkin’ about Black Thought and Ques-Love…trippy.

We chilled for a few hours, smoked hella more weed and then we hit the bars. As we walked through the town the place had a strange feel. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first but I knew something was different.

We went to this reggae spot that was off the chain. It was kind of weird at first cause I’m a dread and they are all Brit’s and we’re listening to Peter Tosh and they know all the words and I don’t and people are wondering how that’s possible. I’ll have to give the Brit’s credit because never once did they assume that I was Jamaican or Rastafarian which is always the assumption in the states. I met a bunch of his friends and we all started drinking…no, I mean drinking. It was then that I learned that Hull is a rather violent place that is plagued with unemployment and poor access to education. As soon as he said that I knew what I was feeling. I was all my years of economic training and my finance background that kicked in. As soon as he said that I knew what these people were facing and had faced for more than a generation. It is one thing to read white papers and to climb over demographic data and census extracts but it’s another when you meet people that make up statistics.

It’s cold in Kingston and many of the houses are kind of rundown…not that the place looks like some type of a ghetto in a movie or Public TV special…but evidence of neglect, of a lack of priorities and the like (not that I’m dissin’…just reportin’.) When federal and city governments gut social programs, this is what happens. Even more startling was the way Hull is viewed by the rest of the country; they try to forget it. They try to pretend that it’s not there which really explains why it takes so long to get there on a train and why there aren’t that many trains that travel there.

I was here to talk about my film and filmmaking in general? Are you fucking kidding me? I was overwhelmed with emotion. Gary had told everyone that he introduced me to that I was a filmmaker from Los Angeles which seemed to amaze everyone. They could not understand why I would travel to see them, and what I expected to get from it. I replied that I’m here to meet Briton’s… real Briton’s and last I checked Kingston Upon Hull was still part of the UK…they were tickled.

As the night progressed I had wild experience after wild experience. For starts these motherfuckers can drink. And please keep in mind that I went to undergraduate in Pittsburgh which is famous for its occupants drinking till they puke and then drinking some more (it’s called making room)…I should also point out that I lived in Phoenix for nearly three years and witnessed how much 115 degree weather will make you drink…and none of it prepared me for Hull. Let me clearly point out that the excessive drinking is not alcoholism. I didn’t see anywhere near the level of sloppiness and public passed-out-ness that I saw in London when I was in Hull. Drinking is a part of daily life as is weed smoking and bitching about Parliament.

I really have never been physically embraced by as many people as I was when I was in Hull. I was getting hugged all the time and all I did was answer questions. It was really tough not to feel the massive emotional and cultural distance between me and them. For instance I met several people who had never seen a blackberry (or any other Smartphone) for that matter. It’s kind of strange to meet people who don’t know their email address but have them written down at home…I was flabbergasted.

As Gary and I sat down and chopped it up over a pint. He told me about the 80’s and Margaret Thatcher and the 1st George Bush and how it affected his town. Gary is a character…he’s a rebel, a revolutionary and provocateur. You can’t just make a statement in front of the guy without defending it. I had many lively debates when I was in his house, oh did I mention that he put me up. That I lived in the guy’s house and shit in his toilet and smoked a lot of his weed and made international phone calls and he was totally cool with it. I mean I know peoples like this…but they are my peoples, I’ve know them for decades but a totally stranger…amazing. Say what you want about the Brit’s being uptight and shit but I’ve seen nothing but hospitality since I arrived on this Island and this is the height of it.

The next thing I remember I was dragged out of this bar and we started walking to another bar. It was hella fucking cold and I was starting to thing that I should be in Philly or some shit. I mean it had to be like 30 degrees in this bitch. We walked fast and tried to avoid the Bobbies. Apparently the Bobbies have scanners on their police cars and when you drive by they scan your license plate and they find out your registration, if you are insured, if you have unpaid parking tickets, if you are behind on your taxes; I couldn’t believe it. Gary barked about it and about the man and about being under the thumb. As we crossed street after street I noticed these black fences around all the intersections with small opening for you to cross the street near the corners. Gary told me that this is the most clear example of how the British government tries to dictate every aspect of your life…even where you cross the street. In an act of protest, Gary climbed over a few of the fences as we traversed the streets.

Yes, I am a revolutionary, yes…I speak ill of the American government but not like Gary. He had an insight and a passion that I could not match. He’s down for whatever and though he’s not a large man, he’s definitely a scrapper and I would not recommend mixing it up with this guy.

We went to this afterhours club where the owner is a personal friend of his (talk about being connected). We walked past the entire line after a few hello’s and we were in the club. Half of the club was like a top 40 mix and the other half was house music…yes, I said house music. For those of you that know me personally, I’m a house slut. I proceeded to drink 5 more pints and dance by myself. I mean it was bad enough that I was like the only black guy within like a thousand miles, but I was bustin’ out this 90’s era Philly House step that these motherfuckers had never seen before. Before you knew it I was on top of a speaker shaking my ass and rubbing my chest like an extra in an 80’s Madonna video. Gary and his friends were cracking up as I showed no shame.

During a respite at the bar, Gary asked me how I got so into house music. I told him I’m from Philly…Land of house music. Tightly packed clubs with scantily clad people dancing on speakers is a situation that is very familiar to me. I drank and I flirted and I flirted some more and then I hit on one of Gary’s friends…and then I hit on another one of Gary’s friends, none of which was successful, but hey…I’ve never been one to hesitate so if there are attractive women around I’m probably going to say something.

The night wound to a close and next thing I knew I was back at Gary’s house…passed the fuck out on the couch.


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