The End

I keep putting off writing this blog, as if not writing it would mean that my time in London wasn't over yet. But now that I'm sitting in Baldwin, New York and have been fully unpacked for over a week, I think it's time we rip the Band-Aid. Because Toto, I don't think we're in London anymore.

I had a pretty eventful last week or so, which is going to make this update a bit of an adventure. I had all sorts of friends come to London within a very brief period, starting with Natasha. She's in the city for the summer for an internship, so she headed out east to meet up with me a day or so after she arrived. I took her to Westfield mall to get a phone and see Olympic park, and then we took the tube to Westminster and walked around for a few hours. It's gotten to the point where I can find my way to most of the major sites by foot; we hit Parliament/the London Eye, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, and Hyde Park, where we lounged around and enjoyed what was to be the last of the beautiful weather.

Then I had an Olympics shift. :)

The next day, Amanda, Jen and I went to Spoons to have a full English breakfast in the morning, and then I went to the Cabinet War Rooms. I'd been there when I came to London in 2004 and thought it was the coolest thing ever, so even though I had to pay for it, I knew it was a must-see this time around. I absolutely love this kind of walk-into-history thing -- things that have been left exactly as they were way back when, or recreated to look like it. It's one thing to look at and read about things, but it's so cool to see and feel the way they actually were. This museum is the underground bunker that the British government worked out of during World War II, and many of the rooms were just left and closed up when the war ended. So all the maps and papers and such are still on the walls and desks, which I just find insane. I went alone, so I meandered through with my audio guide, and it was awesome.

I had some time afterwards, so I walked around St. James's Park for a little while (and my camera broke! </3) before going back to Mile End to meet Ali, who'd just flown in from Chicago, at the tube station! This kicked off a weekend of hosting two friends at once. It was almost more than my poor little room could take, but we made it work. :P

I only had a little bit of time before my shift that night, so we hung out in my flat for a bit before going our separate ways. She wandered around central while I was at work, and we were both quite exhausted when we got back. But that was Jen's last night in London (depressing), so we went to be social for a bit. Everyone else had been having a British themed party that was winding down by the time we got there, but we had plenty of time to play sappy goodbye music and get a little bit melancholy.

Christina arrived from Miami early (though later than expected) the next morning, and we went right out to take the free Sandeman's tour of the city. It was really good! I don't think I saw anything new, but our tour guide was great and hearing all the facts and stories helped me see everything with a more informed eye. And we passed the Royal Marine band practicing the Olympic theme. :) And we actually went to the pub suggested by our guide, which I hadn't done until then, and we made friends with a couple that had been on the tour with us.

After that, Christina and I saw The Sunshine Boys while Ali did some more wandering. The show was okay, though the humor wasn't really my cup of tea. Neither of the main characters was really likable and they just bickered the entire time. I was really there to see Richard Griffiths and then meet him outside the stage door... and that was a total failure. He never came outside. Let's not talk about it.

The next day, I had an uber early shift and Christina was taking a day trip to Bath and Stonehenge, so we left my flat at some ungodly hour... and by that, I mean like 7:30. The last vestiges of the gorgeous weather were completely gone by this point, so I spent a damp and chilly day at Dagenham. We all reconvened back at my flat at night and spent the night in, since we were all pretty wiped.

I had the afternoon shift on Sunday, so Christina and I got some sightseeing in in the morning. Ali was off doing her own thing -- I'm glad my friends are independent! But anyway, we went to the Tower of London (I got in for a pound because of a library card and being a Tower Hamlets resident. Awesome!), which was an experience, as it was the day of the Diamond Jubilee flotilla. It looked like the Union Jack threw up all over the city, and the crowds along the Thames were massive already despite the rain.

We spent about two hours at the Tower, and I'm very glad I didn't have to pay full price for it. As a whole it's really cool, but each individual exhibit inside was kind of a disappointment. I was kind of looking forward to being able to say "I lived in London for five months and didn't go to the Tower of London!," but all in all it was worth seeing again. For a single pound, of course!

Then it was off to Dagenham again. I was a little bit more prepared for the weather this time but, since the site is almost entirely concrete, it was basically a lake. And it poured. So, not the best conditions, but they handed out Ceremonies t-shirts. That's really all I've ever wanted in life. :') That was my last Dagenham shift, so by the end of the day I was wet, cold, and emotionally drained. But it was also my friends' last night in London, so we went out for dinner and a drink at Spoons. It was all I could do to drag myself back to my flat after that!

Ali left the next morning, and I took Christina to Westfield to buy Olympics souvenirs, have tea, and see Olympic Park. I'm saving all of my Olympics souvenir buying for when I'm there during the Games, but man was I tempted! Tea was lovely as well, and we had it served specially for us -- technically it was only on the afternoon menu, but we asked for it and they made an exception. Sweet.

Then it was Christina's turn to depart, and I had a few hours reprieve before one last tea at the Tate Modern with Celeste, Amanda, Carly, and two of Amanda's friends. I also used this as an excuse to buy a limited edition Diamond Jubilee Oyster card -- because who doesn't want an Oyster card with the Queen's face on it? It was back to Mile End for dinner, and then we reconvened in honor of Liz, Erin, and Celeste's last night in London. This was the first time our group took a really significant hit -- only half of us would be left -- and it really, really sucked. :( I hate goodbyes.

I didn't do much the next day. I think I packed a little bit, and watched the Jubilee procession and balcony wave streamed live online. Hey, it was raining, and I didn't feel like braving the crowds. I think I hung out with Amanda and Angela that night? The days are kind of blending together in my mind. But the next day I definitely had an Olympics shift, and Angela and I went to Covent Garden and found the filming location for Grimmauld Place in the Harry Potter movies!

The next day was my big packing day. Woooo. Depressing.

On my last full day in London, I braved the weirdly intense wind and spotty rain and walked around the city by myself for a bit. I went to 7 Pembroke Lane of Parent Trap fame --

-- and then did the Westminster-Trafalgar Square-Leicester Square walk. Big Ben is probably my favorite sight in London; Trafalgar Square might be my favorite place; and Leicester Square was the site of my first outing into central in January. Chinatown is right there as well, so I got myself a bubble tea and sat in Leicester Square for a little while as I tried to fathom how to say goodbye to a city. I'm still not really sure it's possible, but I think my last wanderings through the city gave me a decent amount of closure.

I went back to Mile End after that -- I'd invited Natasha over to pick through my stuff and take what she wanted from what I was leaving behind. She stayed for a bit, and then I headed out to my last Olympics shift. It was a pretty good one, but saying goodbye to everyone was rough. Jo baked me cupcakes, and everyone signed a card for me, and aaahhhhh I just love them all so much. I wasn't expecting to join a family when I signed up to be a volunteer, but they made my experience so much more than I ever could've dreamed. It also didn't hurt that I got to talk to Danny Boyle before I left. More on that conversation after the Olympics!

I was kind of a mess when I got back to my flat, but after some recovery time, Amanda, Angela and Lorraine -- those of us that remained -- came over for one last time. We sat around, drank a little bit, and watched N'Sync videos on YouTube. It was excellent, until it ended. Then it sucked, 'cause that was it.

Thankfully I shared a car to the airport with Amanda the next morning, so the final goodbyes were staggered a little bit. Moving out was bizarre. I had to throw out so much perfectly good stuff that I bought at the beginning of the semester -- towels, dishes, toiletries, everything. And then I had to lug my obnoxiously heavy bags downstairs while trying to process saying goodbye to my flat. It was poetic, though, leaving with Amanda. We met at the airport and came to campus on the bus together, and now we were going back to the airport together.

I got dropped off at Terminal 3 and, after that final goodbye, I was on my own. Somehow I got my luggage to the desk (adrenaline can do crazy things!), and then began the hours of waiting for my delayed flight. I'd saved my card from my coworkers to read, so I got to do some crying and blogging from the airport.

And then I boarded, took one last look at England, and then... it was over.

Olympic Adventures: Meeting John Carlos

A few weeks ago, I read an article that said that John Carlos (one of the men that participated in the infamous black power salute incident at the 1968 Olympics) was going on a speaking tour in the UK. After flailing for a bit, I realized that the only London date that wasn't sold out was on May 29th, and I had a London 2012 Ceremonies shift that night. But I couldn't NOT go to this discussion, right? Right. So I withdrew from the shift, and on Tuesday evening, I headed to a movie theatre in Stratford to hear the wise words of an American sports icon.

I got to the theatre pretty early (just in case), and it was definitely unlike anything I've ever seen before. I mean, there was a bar there. So you could buy an alcoholic beverage (or tea, if you prefer) and bring it into your movie. This country, man.

But anyway! The theatre was pretty crowded, which made me happy -- I mean, I didn't really know that John Carlos was a big deal here. I managed to get a seat that was about third row center. It started with the moderator introducing himself and such, and then John Carlos walked out.

First impression? He's a big dude. Olympic athletes, especially track athletes, usually are, so I'm not sure why I wasn't expecting it. But he's seriously a giant.

Terrible lighting = terrible pictures. My apologies.

The Olympics actually factored into the discussion very little. It was really about him and his history and how he got to the point where he did what he did. He really stressed that his actions were standing up for human rights, not black rights, but it became about black rights because he's a black man. And he said "the Olympics' platform is human rights."

Growing up, he always thought everyone was a runner because his mother once chased down a purse snatcher and got her purse back. He idolized Robin Hood and thought of him as the first activist that he'd come across, and decided to become the Robin Hood of Harlem. When the police got word that he might be behind it, they confronted him and -- get this -- put him in touch with a track program.

In response to people who call(ed) him a troublemaker, he says that the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus Christ are all called troublemakers. "If they call you a troublemaker because you think out of the box," he said, "just remember you're in damn good company."

When the audience was allowed to ask questions, someone asked about his regrets, and if he would do the salute again if he had the chance. After all, his first wife killed herself because of the fallout from it. But he said, "I was born to do that." I think it's awesome that he's just owning it. No regrets. He felt that strongly about his cause.

He also started the discussion by saying, "If I'm an icon, than everyone in this audience is an icon. I'm you." Proof that a normal guy doing what he feels is right can change the world.

Something else that really stuck with me is what he said about Peter Norman. 'Who?' you ask? The white guy on the podium in the picture. I always thought that he'd had no idea what was going on and looked slightly awkward and out of place, but I couldn't have been more wrong. He borrowed one of the Americans' patches for the Olympic campaign for human rights and wore it on his jumpsuit while receiving his medal. He told the two of them that he supported their cause and, because the environment in his native Australia at the time was akin to that in South Africa, faced a lot of trouble when he returned home. John Carlos was just gushing respect for him, and it was amazing.

After the talk ended, he literally ran out of the room, and I was prepared to write a disappointed blog about how I didn't get to meet him. But wait, dear readers! I was quite wrong! It turns out he was running to get to his merch table before the crowd. I hadn't really wanted to buy anything, but at the last second thought "YOLO!" and bought his book. It was £15 I really didn't need to spend, and another book I'll have to lug home, but who cares? It's now signed by one of the most iconic sports figures in the world!

I love when famous people are gracious about their fame. He'd mentioned that he hates when athletes are rude to their fans, because the fans are the reason they're successful, and he certainly lived up to his beliefs. He offered me his hand to shake, and asked how I was doing. And then I took a picture with him. :)

An autograph, a handshake, AND a picture? Successful day, man.